The professional wrestling industry has been somewhat of a fallback option for athletes who have been unable to make it in their desired professions. There are numerous examples of football players who were not able to have lengthy careers playing in the National Football League who eventually made their way to World Wrestling Entertainment. Roman Reigns failed to catch on in the NFL and in the Canadian Football League before he first ventured into pro wrestling, and he has won the WWE World Heavyweight Championship on multiple occasions. Baron Corbin, another former football player, will look to follow in Reigns' path.
Not every pro wrestler who makes it on the WWE roster just happened to fall backwards into the industry. Many, in fact, had dreams during their younger years of becoming stars either in the WWE or for other promotions such as World Championship Wrestling. While some of us who were fans of wrestling as youths pretended to have matches either in our backyards or on wrestling mats, these individuals were learning the business as teenagers. Some, even, won championships in promotions before they turned 20-years-old, and those experiences helped prepare them for what they would experience working in the WWE.
The list of wrestlers who started out at a young age goes all the way back to generations ago before there is even video of that person wrestling. It includes wrestlers who made their names during what was known as The Attitude Era. Last but not least are the wrestlers who started out at a young age and who will hopefully carry the WWE banner well past 2016 and into the future. Just think: somewhere out there is a teenager who is dreaming of becoming a star in the business and who will one day hold the WWE Championship. Keep at it, young one, and dare to dream big.
15 Mae Young
Well before she became known as one of the greatest women in the history of North American professional wrestling, Mae Young was a talented athlete who was an amateur wrestler on her high school's male team when she was just 15-years-old. Three years after that, Young was wrestling professionally in Canada. What followed her first years in the industry was a career that spanned roughly seven decades. Younger wrestling fans may mostly remember Young from the many comedy spots she had on WWE television later in her life, but do not let those overshadow all that she achieved as a legitimate wrestler and athlete.
14 Sean Waltman
Sean Waltman looked like a youth who was in way over his head when he debuted in the WWE as The Lightning Kid during the 1990s. The truth of the matter is that Waltman was already a veteran of the business before fans first saw him on Monday Night Raw. According to the Solie's Vintage Wrestling website, Waltman was not only wrestling as a teenager, Waltman held multiple championships before he turned 20-years-old. While Waltman has been a polarizing figure among fans for years, nobody can deny that the man deserves to be respected for all that he has done in the business.
13 Tyson Kidd
Some people are seemingly just born to be in the wrestling industry. Tyson Kidd is one such individual. Kidd trained in the famous Hart Dungeon that was run by Stu Hart, and it has been said that Kidd is the final graduate of The Dungeon. Before Hart was known for being in The Hart Dynasty while working in the WWE, Kidd had his first matches when he was only 15-years-old in Stampede Wrestling. Unfortunately, it seems as if Kidd's wrestling career may have come to an end in June 2015 after he suffered a freak neck injury while working a match with Samoa Joe. As sad as that may be, we are happy that Kidd is otherwise OK and recovering from that scary incident.
12 Dean Ambrose
The figurative wrestling bug can have a big bite and that bite can be downright infectious. That was the case for a young Dean Ambrose, who desperately wanted to get into the business as a teenager. Ambrose was told by “The Legendary” Les Thatcher that he had to wait until he was 18-years-old before Thatcher would allow Ambrose to begin training. It took a short time for Ambrose to find his voice and his character as Jon Moxley, who was an early version of the Ambrose character that is portrayed on WWE shows today. Some would argue that Ambrose could use more Moxley, but such discussions are for another time.
11 Seth Rollins
Anybody with a passion, a certain amount of athleticism and also a way into the industry can start wrestling at a young age. It takes a special talent to attract the attention of fans, bloggers and others as a teenager, but that is what a young Seth Rollins was able to achieve in the first couple of years of his career. Known at the time as Tyler Black, Rollins showed off an impressive amount of athleticism and also, at times, looked like a veteran of the industry. As good as Rollins would become working in Ring of Honor, it could be argued that he has been at his overall best while in the WWE.
10 Mick Foley
We considered leaving Mick Foley off of this list entirely because odds are that you are already familiar with his story. Foley was a fan of pro wrestling at a young age, he created those tapes of a younger version of himself leaping from the roof of his home, and he made his professional wrestling debut before he turned 19-years-old. That was, of course, well before Foley made his way overseas and eventually became an icon of hardcore wrestling. We have to thank “Mrs. Foley's baby boy” for everything that he sacrificed to entertain fans. We can never repay you, Mick.
9 William Regal
The character that has been associated with William Regal since his days in WCW was that of a no-nonsense grappler who was tough and who could go toe-to-toe in a fight with the best of them. Art imitates life in some forms, as Regal showed how tough he was when many of us would have been OK staying home and studying for exams. Regal, per stories that he has told, made his wrestling debut when he was just 15-years-old. As an adult, Regal found success working for WCW and the WWE, although it could be argued that he is one of the more under-appreciated wrestlers of his time.
8 Jeff Hardy
While there may not be an exact date for when Jeff Hardy had what could be called an “official” wrestling match, it is known that Jeff and his brother Matt began what they called the Trampoline Wrestling Federation before Jeff turned 18-years-old. The brothers worked on their craft, spent some time in the WWE, and then created the OMEGA promotion. After years of hard work behind the scenes when the majority of fans were not watching, the Hardy brothers received a call from the WWE in 1998. What became Team Xtreme was born and the two never looked back.
7 Shawn Michaels
Like so many in the wrestling industry today, Shawn Michaels first wanted to make it as a pro athlete. No offense to The Heartbreak Kid, but we are glad that pro wrestling eventually came calling his name. Michaels trained under Jose Lethario and he made his debut in an outlet of the National Wrestling Alliance when he was only 19-years-old. HBK has talked about the early days of his career in interviews for WWE DVDs and discussions with journalists. Included in some of those interviews are explanations for how the tag team The Rockers came to become a unit.
6 Becky Lynch
Those of you who are avid followers of the weekly NXT program that is featured on the WWE Network have probably heard Becky Lynch discuss her early days in the wrestling industry. Lynch was just 15-years-old when she learned that Fergal Devitt – now known as Finn Balor in the WWE – was going to be part of a new wrestling school. She began training at that school and she made her wrestling debut just five months later. Both Lynch and Balor became stars of the NXT brand, and Lynch was part of what was arguably the best match of the WrestleMania 32 card.
5 CM Punk
CM Punk had a love for pro wrestling as a teenager that went far beyond just enjoying shows that aired on television. Punk first began working in backyard federations as a teenager before he was formally trained by Ace Steel. Looking back and listening to Punk talk about his love for wrestling during interviews that are not all that old, it is a shame that Punk and the WWE went through such a tumultuous split. While Punk has now found a new career in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, it would be nice to see things come full circle and for Punk to have one final retirement match before he leaves wrestling for good.
4 Jay Briscoe
In what may be one of the greatest interviews you will find on the Wrestling Observer/Figure Four Weekly website, Bryan Alvarez interviewed the Briscoe brothers and also their father back in December 2010. During that discussion, it was learned how The Briscoes began working as a unit during their teenage years and technically before doing so was legal. Jay is the older of the two wrestlers, which shows you just how young Mark was when he was first introduced to the business. Truth be told, The Briscoe Brothers were not even teenagers when they first became diehard wrestling fans.
3 Mark Briscoe
Mark and Jay Briscoe were, per their own words, barely teenagers when they encouraged their father to take them to shows at the old ECW Arena. That may explain quite a bit about the matches that Mark and Jay had when they were young men. Mark was (allegedly) 16-years-old when he first had hardcore wrestling matches, which could understandably make one feel a bit uncomfortable. Nothing too terrible happened to either Briscoe all those years ago, however, and the two continue to work to this day. It still isn't too late for the WWE to sign these two and have them debut in NXT. We're just throwing that out there, WWE.
Paige has discussed her introduction to the wrestling business for a WWE.com piece and also in other interviews. She came from a wrestling family, and thus it was only natural that she had her first official match when she was just 13-years-old. Wrestling may be a work, but that does not mean that Paige could not hold her own. To make money on the side as a 15-year-old, Paige worked as a bartender and also as a bouncer who sometimes had to take matters into her own hands. Paige was clearly never a “Diva,” and she thankfully will no longer be called one on WWE programming.
1 Rey Mysterio
Even back during his first year in WCW, it was discussed that Rey Mysterio began wrestling as a young teenager. Mysterio had his first match when he was 14-years-old and it only took him a few years to get involved in AAA. From there, Mysterio received a chance to work in ECW. Mysterio was involved in multiple tremendous matches during his short stint in ECW before he made a debut in WCW in June 1996. Fans who only saw Mysterio work in the WWE need to go back and watch the matches that he had back in 1995 and 1996 before he became an international superstar.
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