Professional wrestlers are often seen as being larger than life, but you would be surprised at just how many of them possess deep, dark histories that often times differ greatly from the personas that they portray on television. The wrestlers featured on this list have seen it all in their lifetime, from being raised with very little money or suffering through years of child abuse, learning to fight on the streets just to get by, to things far worse; there isn't much that these individuals can't handle.
We're going to dig deep into the personal lives of fifteen wrestlers that we feel have lived an undoubtedly hard life. Although they may have been through or committed some awful things in their past, all of these wrestlers are testaments to what can be accomplished later in life through hard work and perseverance. Everyone goes through some rough patches in life, but these people personify what it takes to make the most of a bad situation.
Whether or not you loved or hated these wrestlers, you have to respect them after learning some major details about each of their respective lives. So without further ado, let's break down fifteen wrestlers whose pasts may be a bit troubling compared to the average person.
15 Dean Ambrose
Not much is known about Dean Ambrose's childhood due to his mysterious nature, but from what can be gathered, his childhood was anything but typical. Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, Ambrose remembers growing up in the city's public housing system in an area full of dilapidated apartment buildings. He recalls having to bite the bullet and sell drugs in order to get by, and also the times that he constantly had to prove himself to random people on the street who tried to push him around while he was still just a kid, knowing that he never had a chance to really come out the victor in a potential brawl.
However, little by little, it earned him the necessary respect that he desperately needed in the neighborhood in order to find a way out. That way out would prove to be professional wrestling. He specifically remembers setting up a TV in his building's fire escape because it was the only place that had good enough reception to watch ECW programming in the late 90s. He learned all that he could by watching wrestling on television and by renting video tapes, and he was eventually able to start to training after he turned 18 years old.
14 Adam Rose
Adam Rose's (real name: Ray Leppan) journey to American professional wrestling was infinitely harder compared to pretty much everyone else on this list simply because he had to leave his native country of South Africa just to see if he could even land a job in the WWE. But his early life well before his tryout is another story altogether...
Leppan's early struggles started when he decided to run away from his home at the age of 14, despite Leppan stating that he came from a very loving family. He denounced the idea of the routine family life and hit the road, sleeping in the streets and in abandoned buildings for two whole years before his mother attempted to lure him back home with the idea of training to become a professional wrestler. He agreed and was immediately thrown into the South African wrestling scene.
More recently Leppan was one of the featured wrestlers of an ESPN E:60 documentary that showcased his struggles to maintain a roster spot and even more recently than that it was revealed that his sister had died from complications due to heroin usage. Rose now currently wrestles on the independent scene, but we hope he makes it back to the WWE at some point, if only because he's truly a good guy and deserves a spot.
13 A.J. Styles
A.J. Styles found wrestling through very unconventional means. Many of the people who are featured on this list found wrestling as a means of survival through a love and passion for the industry, but A.J.'s story is a little different.
Growing up in a very poor area of Georgia, A.J.'s family life was shaky at best. His father was a very abusive alcoholic and A.J. remembers living in a small cramped trailer without cable television because his family was unable to afford it at the time. So how did he find wrestling if he was unable to watch it as a child growing up?
He and his friends joined a wrestling school with A.J. having absolutely no background in the sport whatsoever, but as fate would have it, he found out that he was a natural. Since that day his life has been devoted to becoming one of the best talents the industry has ever seen, earning respect as The Phenomenal One across the world.
12 CM Punk
CM Punk grew up in a typical suburban setting on the south side of Chicago, but his family life at home was anything but enjoyable. In his WWE documentary CM Punk: Best in the World, he details the problems he faced by living in the same household with an alcoholic father and a parental structure that gave everything to his brother Mike Brooks, while leaving very little for their other son, Phil (Punk).
He made a decision in high school to essentially run away from home and opted instead to permanently stay at a friend's house, where they became his new family by default. Punk would again have problems with his real family after he and his friends started the renegade backyard wrestling promotion called the Lunatic Wrestling Federation and, after he learned that Mike was stealing thousands of dollars from the same company that they all got off the ground together, he vowed to never speak to his brother ever again.
His mother has also repeatedly threatened to commit suicide if Punk doesn't give her large amounts of money, so Punk recently filed a restraining order against her as well. Poor guy.
11 Roddy Piper
Canada isn't exactly known for its mean streets, but before he was ever Rowdy Roddy Piper, he was just a thirteen year old kid who was sleeping in cars and hostels across the country in order to get by. He had been expelled from his junior high school for bringing a switchblade to class, which his father didn't exactly think was acceptable behavior, so they had a major falling out and Piper was left to fend for himself for the rest of his life.
He'd sleep in alleys or when he had enough change to rent a room he'd stay at a youth hostel, but it's when he finally found an odd job running errands for local wrestlers that his life would make a change in a positive direction. He got humbled in his very first match by getting his head split open in the first ten seconds, but he took his bumps in stride and became one of the best heels in the history of professional wrestling.
10 Chris Kanyon
Chris Kanyon is often regarded by many former wrestlers as one of the better guys that you could ever meet in the entire industry. Diamond Dallas Page often says that the person that he always preferred working with in the ring was Kanyon, but the reason why he makes the list is because of all the personal demons that he suffered from throughout his entire life.
Kanyon recalled that the exact moment he realized he was gay was when he was eleven years old and first kissed a girl. "There were no fireworks. I then knew that I would be gay for the rest of my life and that my life would not be easy." Depressed, anxious, and being diagnosed with bipolar disorder -- at one point ready to commit himself into a mental hospital -- on top of living his entire life as a closeted homosexual in the world of professional wrestling, it seems as though Kanyon was unfortunately never allowed to fully be himself, which inevitably led to his suicide in 2010.
9 Ric Flair
Maybe it's common knowledge by now, but Ric Flair wasn't actually born as Ric Flair. According to several documents Flair was actually born in Memphis, Tennessee as "Fred Phillips" on February 25th, 1949, and due to the circumstances of his birth, he probably has the distinction of being the only person on this list who was sold to an illegal orphanage. Thankfully, he came out of the situation no worse for wear after he was adopted by the loving "Fliehr" family and moved to Minnesota to start a whole new life.
Throughout the years. Flair has been known to be just as flamboyant off-screen as much as he is on-screen, which has caused him some major financial troubles in recent history. Flair has also: had multiple run-ins with the law, frequently being unable to pay his extremely high bar tabs, and has been known to expose himself to female flight attendants on a fairly regular basis... the man simply doesn't know when enough is enough.
The most important thing to know about Edge's troubling past is that he was raised by his mother all by herself, often taking on two or three jobs at a time in order to make ends meet and that Edge has never even met his biological father to this day.
Edge recalls how brutal the winters would be in Canada and how they couldn't really afford a heated house, and that all he ever wanted to do was grow up and somehow repay his mom for all the hard work and sacrifice that she had to endure just to raise him. Luckily Edge made it to the WWE and his dream was realized in front of millions of fans, but he wasn't always squeaky clean in his newfound stardom.
Edge had an affair with Lita, Matt Hardy's girlfriend at the time, while Matt was home recovering from an injury. The real-life story line got him a lot of heat from the majority of the locker room during that period and he recalls it being some of the hardest days he faced while in the business that he loved.
Dave Batista was born and raised in Washington D.C., but he doesn't look back all too fondly at the situation he was given. Fights were common, stealing became a way of life, and apparently by the time he was nine years old there were already three murders that happened on his front lawn. His mother often didn't have very much time to raise two children and he never really even knew his father since he split well before Dave could even remember, so he was left to fend for himself most days.
His mother would eventually realize that D.C. wasn't the safest place to raise her children, so she made the choice to move her family across the country to San Francisco. However, Dave started to get into a lot of trouble in his new setting and at the age of 14 was sent back to the east coast to live with his father. He never really meshed with his dad all that well and was kicked out of his house at the age of 17, officially on his own and living by himself as a senior in high school.
Through it all, he merely looks back at his childhood in D.C. as "pretty rough," but he says that he plans on eventually retiring to D.C. at some point, despite the hard times he had there in the past.
6 The Rock
The Rock may be the world's biggest superstar on the face of the Earth right now, but times weren't always so great for The Great One while he was a child, way before he ever laced up a pair of wrestling boots.
Although he comes from a long line of successful professional wrestlers in his family, Dwayne Johnson spent his early years getting into fights and robbing high-end luxury stores while living with his mother in Hawaii. He vividly remembers coming home one day and seeing an eviction notice hanging on their front door, his mother instantly bawling, not knowing what to do or where to go next. Dwayne didn't exactly help matters, either, as he frequently got into trouble with the law and was eventually booted out of his home at the age of 14.
He would attempt to turn his life around by starting to work out and train to become a football player, and his efforts paid off by getting a scholarship to play for the University of Miami, but a shoulder injury instantly derailed his new career path, which sent him into a spiraling depression.
Broke, alone, and nothing to show for any of his efforts, he scrounged up all the money that he had -- seven dollars -- and went with his dad to start training to become a professional wrestler. The rest is history...
5 Booker T
Booker T is the youngest of eight children who were raised in Houston, Texas, but things got a little out of control when both of his parents died by the time he was only 14 years old.
Left with seven other siblings in the same house and no parents, Booker's real-life brother and eventual Tag Team partner Stevie Ray stepped up and helped raise the household, but that couldn't keep Booker from engaging in a plot to rob local Wendy's restaurants. Booker and a group of his friends had been working for Wendy's for two and a half years, so they dressed in their employee gear and went around robbing several of the stores in the Houston area. They were eventually caught and Booker pleaded guilty for the crimes, serving 19 months of a five year prison sentence for two counts of aggravated robbery.
After he was released, he took a long look in the mirror and asked himself why he wasn't half the person his mother was, which he says is what motivated him to change his path in life, leading him to professional wrestling at the suggestion of his brother Stevie Ray.
4 Scott Hall
Scott Hall can actually pinpoint the exact moment when his life started to slip out of control: January 15th, 1983. He was working at a nightclub when an argument over a girl started to quickly escalate, causing Hall and the man in question to take it outside.
According to Hall, he decked the man with a right hand as hard as he could knocking him down to the ground and that's when he realized that the man was concealing a hand gun in his pants. Hall quickly wrestled the gun away from the man and shot him in the head from a point blank distance, instantly killing him and changing Hall's life forever.
While Hall was eventually acquitted of second degree murder due to a lack of evidence and a convincing self-defense plea, that wouldn't stop Hall from turning to drugs and alcohol to numb the pain of what he had done. His life ever since that day has been surrounded by constant alcohol abuse, so much so that he became part of the focus for Diamond Dallas Page's Yoga and rehabilitation clinic along with Jake Roberts, essentially saving both of their lives.
3 Ken Shamrock
Ken Kilpatrick was born on an Air Force base in Warner Robins, Georgia where he lived the first four years of his life. By the time he was five, his father abandoned his family, his mother remarried, and they settled on moving their family to Napa, California, where Ken didn't exactly fit in seamlessly.
"I got into fights every day," he says. He was also stabbed several times at the age of ten during a robbery and, at the age of 13, he was kicked out of his step-father's house. The young Ken would live in an abandoned car for months and also bounced around living in various foster and group homes throughout his early teenage years. He was seemingly on a career path that would inevitably land him in prison, and that's when he finally found a home.
"Bob Shamrock's Boys' Home" in Susanville, California was where Ken felt welcomed for the first time in his entire life, and he credits that facility for being the only place that actually took the time to get to know him. Ken legally changed his last name to "Shamrock" in Bob's honor (Bob also legally adopted Ken as his son in the process, and Shamrock went onto become the MMA/WWE Superstar we know today.
2 Sean Waltman
The 1-2-3 Kid, Syxx, X-Pac… whatever you choose to call him, Sean Waltman has been through an awful lot. He recently opened up about the sexual abuse he endured as a child and how much it has affected his life, feeling ashamed and never wanting to come forward to the authorities about what had happened until well into his late 20s.
He never made it past the eighth grade and went straight into professional wrestling at the age of fifteen, where he developed a serious drug habit as a result (primarily crystal meth, on top of many other hard drugs).
He also spoke openly with Stone Cold Steve Austin on his attempted suicide while living in Mexico after he had punched his then-girlfriend Alicia Webb "across the room," which led to Waltman taking 40 pills of Valium and washing it down with a bottle of rum before hanging himself in his rooftop garden. Webb would discover Waltman and was able to save his life "mere minutes before death," and as a result his close friend Kevin Nash personally flew to Mexico and shipped him off to a rehab clinic in Houston, Texas, a facility that he says was a major factor in turning his life around.
1 Jake "The Snake" Roberts
Jake the Snake Roberts is the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world of professional wrestlers who have led extremely troubling lives. Here's a horrible list of things that Jake has been through in his life:
- His father was a child molester who raped his mother at twelve years old (she would later give birth to Jake at thirteen).
- He bounced around living from place to place and endured repeated sexual abuse from his father's new wife.
- As a result, he's an admitted alcoholic and hard drug addict.
- At one point he was estranged from his own family and spent a considerable amount of time in jail for delinquent payments of child support.
- And his sister was kidnapped and murdered by her husband's ex-wife.
It seems like Jake was doomed from birth to live a life of depression and constantly searching for acceptance from anyone who would give him the time of day. In fact, there was never a doubt that Jake would inevitably top our list, and that's by no means saying that anyone on this list had an easy life.
But Jake persevered and became the legend that he is today, and his lifelong need to be accepted paid off by being forever enshrined in the WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2014.
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