Considering how often they find themselves surrounded by bright lights, screaming audiences, and an endless sea of cameras, it might be easy to assume most pro wrestlers lead pretty glamorous lives. That may be true if they reach the big time that is WWE, and maybe even the top indy stars manage to enjoy some lavish lifestyles, as well. However, no one is born a superstar, WWE or otherwise, and it can often be a long road to the flashy existence that fame and fortune in the wrestling business bring. Everyone starts and the bottom and some people start at the very bottom, viewing wrestling as a way out of their unfortunate situation.
Just like any other professional in the world, pro wrestlers come from wild and diverse backgrounds, and not all of these upbringings were filled with proverbial roses. The sad reality is that some of the superstars of WWE, TNA, ROH, and various other wrestling companies around the globe had pretty terrible childhoods and that often transitioned into a life as a troubled teen until the saving grace of headlocks and arm drags took them from the gutter to the stars. Keep reading to learn about 15 amazing wrestlers who struggled as teenagers.
16 Rich Swann
Rich Swann has only been in the wrestling world for a few short years and he's already turning heads due to his wide variety of wrestling styles, all of which he first learned when he was a huge fan of the sport as a young child. Unfortunately, as is sometimes the case, Swann became a fan as a means of escaping his abusive, alcoholic father. Things for Swann only got worse when his father was murdered, causing his mother to have a mental breakdown, leaving Swann stuck with religious relatives who felt wrestling was too violent for an impressionable teenager. His mother also died soon after and the combined stresses lead Swann to turn to hard drugs, including cocaine. In a sad twist of fate, the very person who introduced Swann to cocaine passed away due to the drug, leading to him cleaning his act up and beginning to train towards the career he now enjoys.
15 Roderick Strong
While people are ultimately responsible for their own lives, teenagers and children in particular have far less control than adults in terms of their surroundings. Roderick Strong didn’t necessarily commit any crimes or do anything bad when he was a teenager, but his life was still pretty miserable at the time, largely thanks to the fact both of his parents were lifelong drug addicts, which was a known fact throughout his town. On top of that, his family was also extremely poor, as drug addicts often tend to sadly turn up. Strong himself was overweight and barely took care of himself, that is, until his pro wrestling dreams started to look like more than a mere possibility. At the same time, however, Strong’s training to become a wrestler started when his mother was in jail for shooting his father, so it would still take some time before his life completely turned around.
14 Ahmed Johnson
Having a violent childhood can easily lead people to spending a few years as a troubled teen and things can only get worse if they had to watch their siblings endure the punishment too. Ahmed Johnson had a horrifically abusive father, who would unmercifully beat him and his sisters on a regular basis, and then go on to reward Ahmed when his life started to head down a violent path. Johnson claimed to join the “Bloods” street gang by the age of 13 and his father belonged to a gang, as well.
Johnson unpredictably got into fights at school for these and other reasons, and rather than teach his son violence wasn’t the answer, these fights were the only things that allowed Johnson and his father to bond. Ahmed started to piece his life together when he joined the Army, although that would end just as poorly when he was discharged for attacking his captain. Ahmed’s life finally turned around when he started wrestling and his violent tendencies had a safer way to express themselves.
13 Adam Rose
Not all of the wrestlers on this list had bad childhoods due to bad parents and, in fact, some of them even admitted their parents did nothing wrong. Adam Rose ran away from home when he was 14 years old and spent the next two years of his life homeless in the streets of South Africa. Nonetheless, he has reflected on the situation by admitting it was entirely the fault of his own horrible choices and that his parents were of the normal, loving variety, constantly begging him to return home during his time as a vagabond. Despite his rejection of them, Rose’s parents were so loving they ultimately tracked him down and were able to lure him back to a normal life by introducing him to a wrestling trainer. Many fans worry, however, that Rose may once again have undue tumult in his life, thanks to his 2016 release from WWE and a concurrent domestic dispute incident that landed him in court.
12 Perry Saturn
People who struggle with drugs and alcohol tend to do so all their lives and the people on this list for that reason are typically no different. A common thread amongst teenage addicts is that they’ll get “saved” by their hopes and aspirations and the people on this list likewise were often taken out of the streets by their goal of entering the squared circle. The problem is that when the bright lights start to fade, they sometimes wander right back into the chaos that filled their lives before wrestling, which is what happened to Perry Saturn. Saturn had an abusive childhood, with his stepfather in particular beating him nearly every day and, in his eyes, no one would ever beat up the big, strong wrestlers he saw on TV. This led to a profession in the industry, but it also had a negative effect in that Saturn got in plenty of fights as a teenager, so much so that his initial gimmick as one of The Eliminators in ECW wasn’t that far off from reality.
Most bad teenagers are in one way or another products of their environment and the worse the environment gets, the worse the teens might start to lash out. Batista claims to have witnessed three murders on his front lawn before he reached the age of nine, so to say he was in a bad environment from an extremely young age would be a bit of an understatement. Batista himself never took any lives, but he did start stealing cars when he was only 13 and had completely estranged himself from his parents before his teenage years were over.
Batista’s entire family suffered from extreme poverty, which is what led to them living in such squalid conditions and likely helped fuel the fire when Batista started down a wrong path. In his early 20s, Batista was arrested while working as a bouncer at a club, after he had gotten into a fight with patrons that left his opponents unconscious. The arrest turned into a saving grace, as Batista became interested in bodybuilding soon after and thus began developing the physique that turned him into The Animal.
10 Dawn Marie
The ladies of WWE are some of the most glamorous women on television and they don’t come much more glamorous than Dawn Marie. Though her time in WWE is better left forgotten, Dawn was one of the standout females in ECW, with a ditzy valley girl persona proving Marie was one of the top comediennes in the industry. In reality, Dawn was more of a tough Jersey girl, with a family so poor she found herself homeless and living in her car when she was only 17. Dawn aspired towards a career in the entertainment business, though, with wrestling specifically having always been the one thing that brought her dysfunctional family together. Dawn thus managed to be smart and sexy at the same time, working at a bikini bar to put herself through college and ultimately dig herself out of debt. It’s too bad no level of smart sexiness could dig her out of the Al Wilson saga…
Ever since her release from WWE in 2001, Chyna has been an endless source of controversy due to her incredibly volatile personal life. The real life Joanie Laurer was struggling with alcohol, drugs, and mental illness, and people who knew her personally were able to claim these issues weren’t exactly brand new concepts to her world. Chyna herself claimed in her autobiography that her mother had attempted to send her to rehab when she was 16 to deal with an eating disorder, which Laurer refused, instead choosing to live with her alcoholic father. Things got much worse for Joanie when she developed an unrelated ovarian tumor, although her abdominal muscles were so strong she barely felt any pain from the malady. Of course, that was a catch-22 in that doctors were thus even lucky to discover the tumor in the first place. Though she recovered from her childhood drama, things would never quite become stable for Chyna and she passed away at the early age of 46 in April of 2016.
8 AJ Lee
Many of the superstars on this list were forced to live their childhoods in poverty and it led to them making some questionable decisions in their teenage years. Poverty is the sort of problem that can be big enough to ruin a young person’s life in and of itself, though, especially if it cripplingly severe enough to impact an entire family. AJ Lee was so poor at points in her childhood that she lived in motels and even cars with her mother and siblings, with AJ unable to actually free herself of those financial woes until she lived on her own. Even as a teenager, AJ was forced to constantly work and support her family, holding jobs as a cashier and janitor while also in school. Lee was able to get through the tough times by forming strong relationships with her brothers, who in turn introduced her to the world of pro wrestling and spawned her career.
Modern society dictates humanity recognize the struggles of the single working mother and there’s no denying said struggle is real, difficult, and has an incredible impact on the children these mothers are working to support. Many of these children can still go on to have pretty decent lives, though, which is why Edge has one of the more tame, though still difficult stories on this list. Edge never met his father, and as a child, he would spend most of his time with aunts and uncles, due to the fact his mother was constantly working two jobs in order to support him. Nonetheless, the two remained extremely poor and things got worse for Edge when one of his favorite uncles died in a car accident, leaving him both poor and depressed, without any male role models in his life. Luckily, Edge stumbled upon a medium where he would find dozens of male role models, the first of whom he later won the WWE World Tag Team Championships with - Hulk Hogan.
6 Roman Reigns
A common thread amongst this list is poor parents or an outright lack of parents in general, and Roman Reigns rather didn’t have this problem. Reigns father is a WWE Hall of Famer as one half of The Wild Samoans, known during that portion of his life as Sika. The Samoans earned multiple WWE World Tag Team Championships on their path towards the Hall of Fame, but unfortunately, it left them without time to raise their children. Roman’s family was financially successful, but without a positive male role model in his life, he found himself prone to violence and fighting to such an extent he spent five years at the Florida Sherriff’s Boys Ranch due to his various crimes. Despite his father’s absence causing Reigns to lash out as a child, the nepotism that lead him to several WWE World Championships of his own likely made it all worthwhile.
4 Booker T
Much of this list was a result of bad or absentee parenting, leading future superstars to a life of torment and danger, free of adult supervision to guide them away from their more questionable decisions. Booker T lost his father at a young age and his mother passed away as well when he was only 14 years old. Booker’s brother Lane, who would later become known as Stevie Ray to wrestling fans, therefore stepped in to raise Booker and their other siblings. Stevie did as good a job as he could, although it may not have been enough, as Booker spent 19 months in prison during his early 20s as a result of a series of armed robberies he committed with three accomplices. Booker’s teenage years leading up to this incident were no doubt troubled as well, but he was able to quickly turn his life around once he was released from prison on parole and started training to become a professional wrestler alongside his brother.
3 Dean Ambrose
While the wrestlers on this list obviously have by and large been open about the troubles they experienced in their lives, not everyone from a troubled background can be willing to talk about their issues. Dean Ambrose earned a good deal of controversy for his unwillingness to talk about all sorts of topics on The Steve Austin Show, or at least not cover them in a manner satisfying to the host, and that included his somewhat confusing and vaguely troubled childhood. What’s clear is that Ambrose dropped out of high school when he was 16 despite having been a good student until then, primarily because he didn’t see a point to learning what his school had to teach, considering he already knew he wanted to be a wrestler. Ambrose also admitted, however, he was getting caught up in some questionable stuff during this period of his life, although he refused to go into deal when Stone Cold probed him on the matter. Ambrose also admitted, however, that he was extremely poor and lived in public housing, which certainly could lead into some troubled times, as the other entries on this list prove.
2 Jake Roberts
The fact Jake Roberts has dealt with substance abuse issues during his lifetime is one of those things that virtually every pro wrestling fan is familiar with by this point in time. With that in mind, it might still surprise some members of the WWE Universe to discover just how long Jake was struggling, especially upon his claim that his drinking problem started when he was only 11 years old. Roberts didn’t turn to marijuana or harder drugs until he reached 18, but it should go without saying these days that alcohol can be as or more damaging to a person with a serious problem in comparison with any other hard drug. Jake’s problems stem from abuse endured at an extremely young age, or perhaps even from his very conception, considering his birth was the result of his father raping a 12-year-old. In many ways, giving his upbringing, its amazing Roberts even survived long enough to develop the problems that would haunt him throughout his life.
1 "Rowdy" Roddy Piper
“Rowdy” Roddy Piper became one of the greatest wrestlers of all time and maybe the all-around best heel in history, thanks to his combative and in your face personality, which The Hot Rod never quite seemed able to turn off when cameras were rolling. As it would turn out, Piper was irascible and out of control from a very young age and his career as a wrestler began just as early, when he ran away from home at the age of 13. Piper had been expelled from junior high for bringing a switchblade to school and rather than deal with his family’s method of punishing him, he took to the streets and began a career in wrestling almost instantly. At first, Piper would run errands for wrestlers in exchange for training and before long he was getting in the ring on his own to put himself through school. Of course, considering one of the most legendary careers in pro wrestling history was the result, there’s a pretty good chance Roddy never would have wanted it any other way.