Since a lot of these guys hit the big time with WWE, they’ve become superstars in their own rights and so every move they make is scrutinized. They’re public figures now, and whatever they do, be it with WWE, in the industry, or post-wrestling, we’ll come to know about it.
We therefore know plenty about WWE Superstars, their lives, other careers, relationship statuses. They’re celebrities and rightly so. A lot have also gone on to conquer other industries too and become superstars away from the ring. Take “The Rock” Dwayne Johnson as an example. What he’s achieved in Hollywood is truly remarkable. He’s gone on to rule supreme in two highly competitive industries and is now a household name the world over. Plenty of other superstar names have tasted plenty of success too.
But where did it all start for these legends of wrestling? What were they doing before getting that all-important contract with WWE, striving to make it in the world of wrestling or doing something else entirely? Some of these guys have truly remarkable real-life stories from their younger days, pre-WWE. I’m going to take you through 15 of them – 15 WWE Superstars who had the most fascinating lives before making real headway in wrestling and joining WWE.
15 Big Show
Big Show’s a colossal figure – literally and in the world of wrestling. He’s been a WWE stalwart since 1999 and is one of the promotion’s most accomplished wrestlers of all-time.
But let’s go back to his earlier days in South Carolina. After leaving school, becoming a wrestler hadn't really crossed his mind. During those days, Paul Donald Wight didn’t actually have a clue what he wanted to do, and so needing the money, he took anything that came his way. The opportunities that came his way were usually brought about by people wanting to use Paul’s physical presence to an advantage. What does a tall, heavy, lump of a lad, fresh out of high school do? He becomes a bouncer.
Paul also earned cash working as a bounty hunter; from one extreme to the other, Show worked a number of other jobs too, including a desk job answering phone calls. But he eventually got a job that would change his life forever. Yes, he got work with a karaoke company. Big whoop, right? Well it was while working here that he was introduced to Hulk Hogan. They hit it off, one thing led to another, and pretty soon Paul had gained a contract with WCW, joining the nWo, before subsequently signing for WWE.
14 Hulk Hogan
The Hulkster had a part to play in getting The Big Show into wrestling. But what was Hogan himself doing before he found his calling and gained fame and fortune with WWE?
Hogan was trying to make it big as a musician with his band. He was studying at the University of South Florida when tons of opportunities began coming his way. So he had to make a decision and he chose to drop out of college to focus on his music career. Playing bass guitar in rock bands around Florida, and for his own band, Ruckus, Hogan soon became a well-known figure in the music scene around Tampa Bay.
By this time he had also begun to lift weights, and it was this – spending hours developing his physique and pounding his body to perfection – that got him noticed. Wrestlers Jack and Gerald Brisco were impressed by Hogan’s physical presence when they were at one of the band’s gigs. They pushed for him to get trained and get time in the ring – we can thank them, and fate for introducing Hogan to wrestling and their part to play in making him a megastar.
13 Roddy Piper
Roddy Piper’s story is not quite rags to riches, but he struggled hard and certainly had a tough time of it while growing up in Winnipeg, Canada.
Roddy Piper – born Roderick Toombs – rebelled against authority as a kid. He was raised in a strict household with a dad who was with the Canadian Police Force, but Roddy and his dad just didn’t get along. After bringing a knife into his junior high school, Roddy was kicked out. Piper had a massive argument with his dad, an argument that resulted in Roddy leaving home. For a time he was struggling to make ends meet, living in youth hostels and getting whatever work he could find. Most of these jobs were gym jobs, being the skivvy boy for the wrestlers who trained.
This tough start to Roddy’s life turned him into a hard man and over the years he turned into a very accomplished fighter. Although he was active in wrestling, boxing was his thing and he even won The Golden Gloves boxing championship. He wanted to be a fighting machine, and so he also trained and earned a Black Belt in Judo from Gene LeBell, American Judo champion. But he chose to stick to wrestling and we’re all thankful for it.
12 Randy Savage
"Macho Man" Randy Savage - Randy Mario Poffo – was one of the greatest wrestlers of all time – especially with WWE where he ruled the roost for several years. Judging from his hard, Macho Man persona, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Randy was always a fighting machine. But before wrestling, Randy’s passion laid in another sport – baseball. Yes, Randy’s baseball career started quite early, as he was signed by the St. Louis Cardinals organization as a catcher. He played in the minor leagues, amassing 289 games in four seasons.
Randy would’ve continued with baseball, but started wrestling during the baseball offseason, and he fell in love with it. His friends and family persuaded him to give it a go, and thus Randy Savage the wrestler was born. For 12 years he honed his skills wrestling with a number of small-time promotions before the sacrifice paid off and he signed to join Vince and his company.
11 Jesse Ventura
Jesse Ventura – born James George Janos – has had a truly amazing, event-filled life. Wrestling, acting, author, commentating and getting involved in politics – he’s packed a lot into his 65 years on the planet.
But what about pre-WWE? Once he graduated high school in in 1968, James immediately enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He served for six years, during the Vietnam War, and managed to graduate from the grueling Basic Underwater Demolition training.
When his time with the navy came to an end, James became part of a biker gang and regularly got involved in turf wars.
He also went back to college which is where he fell in love with the iron game and began working out. His physique meant that he was able to earn some money on the side as a bodyguard, and he even protected several high-profile clients, including The Rolling Stones. His bodybuilding meant that he was able to create a persona for himself and break into wrestling, which he did as the bully-ish beach bodybuilder.
10 The Undertaker
It’s amazing to think that The Undertaker has been on our TV screens as a part of WWE for over 25 years. The fact he’s lasted so long just goes to show what he means to the company, to the fans, and to the wrestling world as a whole.
Born and raised in Texas, Calaway’s childhood was very sports-orientated. He was always into sports and keeping active – something that held him in good stead when he embarked on a wrestling career.
Even his college education veered towards a career in sports – sports management at Texas Wesleyan University. Here he played basketball. At 6'9", Taker was a standout big man for his Division II school and was frequently cited as the team's enforcer in the paint. He dropped out to focus on sports, but still didn’t know what sport. He was playing basketball at the time so thought why not try and make it as a pro baller? Calaway considered going off to Europe to try and make his dream happen, and was offered a contract worth $80,000 per year. Turning down the offer, The Deadman stayed put and turned to wrestling instead.
9 Randy Orton
Orton’s had a long and successful career with WWE. But he also has a chequered past and is pretty much always involved in one controversial incident or other, the most recent one being his fight with a fan over a gym photo which took place in early 2017.
Orton comes from a wrestling family, so it was inevitable that Randy was always going to be tempted to follow in his dad’s and grandad’s footsteps. His family tried to steer him in another direction, and so in 1998, Orton enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. But his career in the Marines was extremely short-lived and was a disaster from start to finish. Just a year later; he deserted his unit several times, was rude to his commanding officers, and was consequently court-marshalled and had a stint in military prison. When he was released there was only one thing for it – get into wrestling, which he did, and about a year later he’d gained a contract with WWE.
Rusev’s an utter beast of a man. He’s a man mountain, and since breaking into the industry in 2008, he’s just gone from strength to strength.
Rusev’s story doesn’t start in the United States. He was born Miroslav Barnyashev in the then People's Republic of Bulgaria, a nation that was in political turmoil. But the young Rusev didn’t care about all of that political nonsense – all he gave a damn about was sports. He lived sports and knew that the way he was going to escape the angst that was going on in his country was to be a sportsman in some capacity or other.
Rusev’s known for his size and powerful physique which he’s built up over the years. Rowing and powerlifting – a strange combination of sports, but there you go – were his sports of choice growing up in Bulgaria. It is rumored that Rusev was so highly skilled in both sports, that he was training to compete in the Summer Olympics. Following a neck injury, Rusev switched his focus to wrestling and tried to make a go of things in the States. His physique got him noticed, he began his training, and a couple of years later he had hit the big time, getting a contract with WWE where he’s been ever since.
7 Matt Hardy
Matt and his brother Jeff gained fame and fortune in the wrestling industry as The Hardy Boyz – a team that dominated the tag team division in WWE. They’ve each also had decent solo careers.
As a kid growing up in North Carolina, Matt was in love with sports. But he was also a smart guy and wanted to get a decent education. He studied for a degree in engineering, although family circumstances meant that he had to drop out early on in his college career.
But he didn’t stop putting that brain of his to good use. Along with Jeff and their friends, Matt formed the Trampoline Wrestling Federation – his first foray into the world of wrestling. They then formed OMEGA Championship Wrestling. It was a struggle during those early days, but Matt’s ambition was to use all of this experience as a stepping stone onto bigger and better things. So what makes Matt's experience fascinating? Well the fact that before becoming "Broken", Matt was a one-stop-shop for wrestling. For both the TWF and OMEGA, Matt handled all aspects of the business, including accounting, building the facilities, booking the shows, dealing with talent, making the ring gear and wrestling in matches. Not too many people could have done all Matt did so early on in their lives.
6 Kevin Nash
Kevin Nash is a legend in the wrestling industry. His time at the top was notable for his 358-day reign at the top as WWE Champion, among a number of other accomplishments of course.
Nash was another late starter. He started out in wrestling in his 30s, previously having dabbled in multiple professions. In high school, Nash was heavily into basketball – unsurprising due to his height. He carried this on and played professional basketball in Europe before an injury brought Nash’s career to a premature end. He was in Germany when his basketball days were over, and decided to stay in the country joining the 202nd Military Police Company in Giessen. He worked his way through the ranks before moving back to the U.S.
Nash settled in Georgia where he worked a number of different jobs. He gained employment with a motor company and then became a floor manager at a local strip club. But he was eager to get back into sports and so decided to pursue a career in wrestling, and we’re thankful that he did.
5 The Miz
Most wrestlers find fame and fortune in the industry and then transition into another. There have been plenty who’ve started out in wrestling and have then made names for themselves in the movies, but Michael Gregory Mizanin, aka The Miz, did things the other way around.
Miz dropped out of business school because opportunities began coming his way. He rose to fame when he appeared on the 10th season of MTV's reality television program The Real World in 2001. He loved being on camera and wanted to make the most of his time in the limelight and began appearing more and more on TV. He’d gotten the TV bug and loved participating in shows that involved challenges and competitions. So, winning Tough Enough was his next conquest. Although he didn't win the competition, Miz made it to the end and his impressive feats were enough for WWE to offer him a developmental contract.
4 Wade Barrett
Barrett has led a pretty interesting life, hence he makes this list. Born in North West England, Barrett loved wrestling as kid. In fact, he loved fighting. He managed to stay out of trouble – well, long enough for him to earn a degree in marine biology. The trouble would soon come.
Barrett had to satisfy his urge to fight, so began competing in one of the most brutal sports around – bare-knuckle fighting. He soon made a name for himself as a fierce fighter; he became a champion, traveling and fighting around the continent. Barrett was raking in the cash during this time and this attracted the attention of some thugs who attacked and stabbed him. His bare-knuckle fighting days were over, but he wanted to keep fighting, so decided to pursue a career in pro wrestling.
At the age of 21 Barrett began wrestling training while he was putting his scientific knowledge to good use, working as a lab technician. Eventually he turned to wrestling full-time, taking part in various events before getting picked up by WWE after a successful tryout.
3 Ken Shamrock
Ken Shamrock’s another guy who’s all about fighting. He’s fought his whole life, fighting in a physical sense and battling mental demons. It’s unsurprising that he’s now tough as nails considering his upbringing.
As a kid, Ken was a so-called military brat and came from a broken home. His dad abandoned the family when Ken was just five, and from that moment on, things began to unravel. He began getting into fights, taking drugs, partaking in robberies and various other criminal activities and was what’s known as a serious problem child. The neighbourhood he grew up in wasn’t forgiving. He and his family were outsiders, so Ken had to fight to survive. He was even stabbed several times during a robbery gone wrong – all of this happened when Ken was just 10!
Ken’s mom couldn’t cope with his antics and by this time a stepdad was also on the scene. They’d both had enough and Ken was kicked out of the family home at the age of 13. After bouncing around foster homes, a man called Bob Shamrock was entrusted with Ken’s care. With Bob, Ken began to turn his life around. He attributes all of his success to Bob, and even changed his last name – which was Kilpatrick – to Shamrock.
At school Ken began taking things seriously and starting thinking about pursuing a career in sport. He was into football and wrestling during this time, and was even offered a tryout for an NFL team, but turned the offer down as wrestling was at the forefront of his mind. He began training in 1988, and nine years later it all paid off when he was offered a contract by WWE. But wrestling wasn’t enough for Ken. The remarkable thing about Ken is that he’s pretty much pursued and has gained success in two careers simultaneously. While he was wrestling, Ken was also heavily involved in MMA, and achieved championship success in both.
2 The Great Khali
Growing up in a rural village in India, The Great Khali’s - Dalip Singh Rana’s – story is a true rags to riches tale.
When he was a kid, Dalip’s family was dirt poor – and being poor in India means really poor. They had a lot of mouths to feed, plus Dalip who probably, even at that age, required more than your average plate of food.
Dalip worked odd jobs throughout his childhood and early adult life to help support his family. He got a job as a security guard and it was during this time that he got spotted. He was spotted by a police officer who just so happened to have plenty of connections in the sporting world. This officer took Dalip under his wing, got him a job as a policeman and introduced him to the iron game and wrestling; imagine being pulled over or sorted out by Dalip at that time! Let's not forget that Khali has multiple Mr. India titles under his belt in his home country. The giant - in his prime - was a very successful bodybuilder, which may have been his entry into the world of professional wrestling. Then things quickly began to fall into place for Dalip, and pretty soon Dalip was on his way to the U.S. to begin specialized wrestling training.
Diamond Dallas Page – born Page Joseph Falkinburg – got into wrestling quite late; he first entered the ring as a professional while he was in his mid-30s, but that meant he’d managed to pack a lot into his life beforehand.
The young Page faced many trials and tribulations. He moved around when his parents divorced, and education was a struggle which he attributes to his dyslexia. Page struggled through school but was illiterate for most of his life, and dropped out to make money and make money he did.
In the mid-80s he had risen through the ranks to become the manager of American Wrestling Association. On the side, he was also known as Mr. Nightlife, as he owned a popular club in Fort Myers, Florida called "Norma Jeans" – a club that was renowned for the pink Cadillac.
From managing AWA, Page got into commentary, and it was his commentary and management skills that got him a stint with WCW. The next transition was to make it in the ring, and Page did just that and began to become a regular in-ring competitor.