Professional wrestlers live interesting lives during their careers. Whether they made it to WWE or were big stars for other promotions like World Championship Wrestling, Extreme Championship Wrestling or Total Nonstop Action Wrestling, there’s a lot of traveling around the world.
But many wrestlers bring a lot of interesting experiences before they step foot on the biggest stages of pro wrestling. Many wrestlers grew up with interesting childhoods. For many wrestlers, they had humble beginnings where their families were poor and struggled to keep roofs over their heads. Other wrestlers may not have ever gotten a chance to meet their real-life parents for a number of reasons.
Many tried their hands in a different line of work before pro wrestling. As documented well in the past, a number of wrestlers played different sports like basketball and football. Not all of them were able to go pro in those sports and found wrestling. Others went to college to have what some would call a Plan B; in the event that professional wrestling didn’t work out for them and they needed something to fall back on.
The following wrestlers have worked as ambulance drivers, bodyguards (for some, that’s not a surprise) and even flight attendants. They come from different regions of the world where different sports were prevalent. How they were introduced to wrestling and the opportunities to train vary between them. But the one thing they all have in common is that they found their way to wrestling fame in one way, shape or form.
15 Tyrus/Brodus Clay
Whether he was the fun-loving “Funkasaurus” Brodus Clay in the WWE or the more serious Tyrus in TNA Wrestling, it’s hard to imagine anyone would want to try and confront the 6-foot-8 giant that weighed nearly 400 pounds. Or try to bother the person he’s guarding. Before entering the world of professional wrestling, George Murdoch was hired to be a bodyguard for famous rapper Snoop Dogg.
Murdoch has spoken about the experience a number of times and has said that there were always people who wanted to get close to the hip-hop icon. While there weren’t a lot of times when he had to actually enforce the boundary rules, Murdoch did comment that people in Europe tried more often than those in North America.
14 Perry Saturn
While several professional wrestlers have a background in other professional sports ranging from football to baseball, many also served the United States military. Perry Saturn might not be one of the biggest legends who served in the military, but he had one of the more interesting jobs possible in the U.S. Army. After enlisting in the Army at age 17, Saturn would actually become a member of the Army Rangers.
Being a part of the Army Rangers is nothing to overlook. Soldiers who reach this echelon of the Army are considered some of the best. The Army even calls the Rangers their “elite” force. Saturn’s time with the Army was only four years. After that, he would then go train at Killer Kowalski’s wrestling school in Massachusetts before working for ECW, WCW and WWE.
13 Michelle McCool
Michelle McCool certainly made her mark during the WWE’s Ruthless Aggression era of women’s wrestling. She might not be placed in the same tier as women like Trish Stratus and Lita, but McCool was able to grow in the WWE when she first signed up for the 2004 WWE Diva Search. From then until 2011, she was a two-time WWE Women’s Champion and two-time WWE Divas Champion while constantly in the top 10 of the PWI Top 50 Females.
But before going into the WWE, McCool was a teacher who followed the same career paths as both of her parents. She would earn her Bachelor’s Degree from Florida State University and then pursued her Masters to become a middle school teacher in Florida. Like many who go into the field, the chance to help develop young minds was a rewarding experience for McCool.
Sheamus had plenty of job titles in his resume before becoming a WWE superstar. For one, he played Gaelic football that is very similar to both American football and rugby for the Erin’s Isle club. But Sheamus also played rugby for the National College of Ireland. Considering he was still a pretty big man on the rugby pitch, it shouldn’t be a surprise that he was one of the best for the college team.
But in between college and professional wrestling, he also did things away from sports. For one, he was an information technology (IT) technician. This seems a little bit unexpected for someone who looks like he grew up bullying the future IT staff. Sheamus was also a security guard for a nightclub in Ireland. It was during that job where he had the chance to provide security for the famous band U2.
11 The Miz
Mike Mizanin always had the dream of becoming a professional wrestling superstar. But his first foray in major television didn’t involve the WWE, or even TNA. In fact, his debut on television had nothing to do with being in a wrestling ring and winning championships. Mizanin was first introduced to the world during the Real World: Back to New York series in 2001. He was just 19 years old and he was remembered for his attitude.
It certainly took some time after he first started training to be a wrestler in 2003, but his MTV fame helped him get noticed for WWE Tough Enough in 2004. There were critics that didn’t think he was in it and questioned his passion for wrestling. However, Mizanin would evolve into The Miz and become one of the best heels of the past decade.
10 Becky Lynch
One of the most interesting things about Becky Lynch’s wrestling career before the WWE was that she actually took a seven-year break from the ring. At age 19, she felt that she needed to look into getting a regular job. During an interview on Steve Austin’s podcast, she talked about the different jobs she had in her early adult life. One of them was a flight attendant. Her mom had actually worked in that field for nearly 30 years and she would jump in after she became a certified personal trainer.
Lynch also did a couple other jobs. After her two and a half years as a flight attendant, Lynch would work in sword fighting, and was a television stuntwoman, a competitive bodybuilder and even spent time in a clown college. But she would then return to professional wrestling about 10 years ago and would become one of the top women in Europe before coming to WWE’s NXT roster.
9 Wade Barrett
The idea of fighting someone in a boxing match without any kind of gloves or padding to reduce the blow sounds is... well, interesting. Unlike the famous rules from the movie “Fight Club,” the history of Wade Barrett’s bare-knuckle boxing career has been well documented as he entered the world of professional wrestling. He was also one of the best in Europe when he was in his early 20s while working towards a wrestling career.
One infamous story is actually the tale behind a large scar that WWE fans have noticed that starts from his upper back and down to his right triceps. After winning a big fight in Budapest, Hungary, Barrett was looking for a taxi when someone stabbed him with a large blade in an effort to steal his prize money. Barrett also said his bare-knuckle boxing career is part of why his nose is noticeably crooked. He is certainly one of the toughest to recently enter the WWE.
8 The Great Khali
While there are a lot of wrestling fans who would feel that The Great Khali was not among the greatest to ever hold a world championship in WWE, he certainly has an interesting backstory. For one, his size was due to the effects of acromegaly, which causes the gigantism that made him more than seven feet tall and up to 400 pounds. Well before he entered professional wrestling, he actually worked different jobs in an effort to support his family in poor part of India.
While working as a security guard, he was noticed by a police officer for Punjab. In 1993, Khali would have a chance to join the force. There’s a good chance that the crime rate of Punjab decreased during the years Khali served on the force. Who’s going to rob stores when the force has a giant patrolling the streets?
7 AJ Styles
AJ Styles is certainly one of the more accomplished professional wrestlers in the last 15 years. Before finally arriving in the WWE to become the WWE Champion, Styles was one of the biggest names for TNA Wrestling, New Japan Pro Wrestling and some of the biggest independent promotions in the world. But early in his wrestling career, he had a family to support.
In an effort to supplement his income in addition to independent wrestling to support a wife and two children, Styles worked a number of part-time jobs that included driving an ambulance in Georgia. Styles also earned money mowing lawns around the community. The hard work paid off as Styles has been able to make quite a living between TNA, WWE and other major promotions.
6 Kevin Nash
It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise when one of the big men in professional wrestling played basketball at one point in his life. It’s a sport where being taller than the average person usually gets you recruited to join the team. In Kevin Nash’s case, he actually earned a scholarship to play college basketball for the University of Tennessee from 1977 to 1980. However, he never had big numbers with the Volunteers as he averaged a little more than five points per game.
After joining the Army, Nash would play in Germany and started to get attention of local clubs in Europe. There were contract offers to play professionally in that part of the world. But in 1985, a torn ACL in his knee led to his basketball career coming to an end. It wasn’t until several years had passed before he started to learn about the opportunities to train through World Championship Wrestling.
5 Booker T
Booker T is one of the most decorated professional wrestlers in both WCW and WWE history. He’s won more than 30 championships between both promotion, including five reigns as the WCW World Heavyweight Championship and one world title in the WWE. But long before he was even a young superstar in pro wrestling, Booker T had his share of problems growing up in Houston, Texas.
In 1987, Booker T was arrested after he had been found guilty of a number of robberies involving a chain of Wendy’s restaurants in the Houston area. He was working at one during this time. He would plead guilty and spent 19 months in jail for his crimes. He would then work for a storage company when he learned about professional wrestling and went to school with his brother.
4 Verne Gagne
One of the legends from the days of territories in professional wrestling was Verne Gagne. He was a 10-time American Wrestling Association World Heavyweight Champion, while also winning several amateur wrestling championships. However, there’s more to Gagne’s life than just professional wrestling. He took time away from his college wrestling and football careers at the University of Minnesota to serve with the U.S. Navy during World War II.
In addition to being on the U.S. Olympic team in 1948, Gagne was also drafted to play for the Chicago Bears in the National Football League. While playing pro football, Bears head coach George Halas didn’t want him to do both. This led to a decision where Gagne picked wrestling over football. Surprisingly, he made more money in the ring than on the football field.
3 Randy Savage
Most professional athletes who come to the business from another sport usually played something physical like football. Some of the best big men also played on the basketball court. But for “Macho Man” Randy Savage, he actually tried to make a go with a professional baseball career. During his time growing up in Downers Grove, Ill., Randy Poffo was a star catcher. After not being drafted in 1971, he went to an open tryout with the St. Louis Cardinals.
In 1971 and 1972, Poffo spent time playing rookie-level baseball. Scouts found that he had power potential, but he would struggle to make contact on a consistent basis. He also had a pretty good arm with reports that he could get the ball from the outfield to home plate with no problem. After being traded into the Cincinnati Reds organization, his baseball career ended after 1974 with a .254 batting average in Rookie and A-level baseball.
2 Kurt Angle
It’s been a big part of his overall gimmick in professional wrestling. While his amateur wrestling background is extremely well documented, it doesn’t make Kurt Angle’s life before pro wrestling any less special. He grew up playing both football and wrestling through high school and college. It led to him winning a gold medal at the World Championships in 1995; which helped earn him a spot at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Ga.
During the trials, he suffered two fractured vertebrae in addition to two herniated discs and some pulled muscles. Most athletes would have likely sat out. But this was the Olympics and a chance to represent the United States of America. “With a broken freakin’ neck,” Angle would win the gold medal at the heavyweight division after defeating Iran’s Abbas Jadidi. But you probably knew that as he would enter professional wrestling in the late 1990s; becoming one of the most decorated wrestlers of all-time.
1 Ric Flair
Ric Flair’s professional wrestling career alone is fascinating enough, especially when you consider that he’s wrestled for more than 40 years even after being told he wasn’t going to wrestle after surviving a plane crash in 1975. He’s won 16 world championships, a record that stood for a long time before John Cena tied it at January’s Royal Rumble. But Flair’s personal life as a child is even more interesting.
When Flair was born in Memphis, Tenn., his mother was told that her son was dead. The Nature Boy actually was one of thousands of children who were stripped away from single moms by a group called the Tennessee Children’s Home Society. These babies would be adopted by families all over the United States and would be the subject of a 60 Minutes investigation and also the movie Stolen Babies, which earned Mary Tyler Moore an Emmy Award for her performance.
Flair might not have known his real-life mother, but he still loved his adoptive parents who raised him in Minnesota.