Professional wrestling is a tremendously lucrative form of sports entertainment. Vince McMahon’s business is a type of theatrical performance art with elaborate storylines, choreographed matches and predetermined outcomes. Despite its scripted nature, the phenomenal majority of grapplers are elite athletes who became WWE workers for a host of different reasons. McMahon’s employees hail from across the globe and many of his talents previously thrived playing baseball, basketball, football, mixed martial arts or some other sport.
Nonetheless, these athletes needed to alter their profession and they chose wrestling as a new livelihood. Conversely, some of McMahon’s grapplers dreamed of entering the squared circle since preadolescence. Regardless of how or why these individuals joined the rasslin' circuit, each scrappers’ future is largely crafted by WWE’s creative team. Some industry icons, like The Undertaker, The Ultimate Warrior, Hulk Hogan and the beer-swilling, anti-authority badass Stone Cold Steve Austin, are given a gimmick.
"I can’t tell you how many times I left the ring and I had a little bit of a buzz because of all the beers I was drinking,” said Austin, who was born Steven James Anderson in Austin, Texas.
“When you’re shotgunning anywhere from six to 12 beers, and maybe you get half of ‘em in. On an empty stomach, after you’ve wrestled, it goes to your head pretty quick."
Meanwhile, talents like Brock Lesnar, Kurt Angle and Bill Goldberg mainly portray an exaggerated version of themselves on-camera. With that noted, let’s unveil the real-life names of these 15 current wrestlers.
Sheamus is probably the most accomplished Irish superstar in WWE history. The 6-foot-4, 270-pound Sheamus, born Stephen Farrelly in Dublin, Ireland, is a redheaded force in the ring. Portraying an Irish warrior, Sheamus is a four-time WWE World Heavyweight Champion, two-time United States titlist and the 2012 Royal Rumble victor. Following a strong push, the brawny Irishman was dealt a series of heinous storylines. However, Sheamus’ fortunes changed when he formed an unlikely alliance with Cesaro. Sheamus and Cesaro have prospered as a duo and are currently the Raw Tag Team titleholders.
“I know. It's worked for both of us,” said Sheamus, 39, who periodically oversaw security details for U2 as a youngster.
“We don't know where it's going to go and fans don't either. It's a lot of fun. And like I said all I want at this stage of my career is to go out and have fun, because I've pretty much done everything else.”
14 ALEXA BLISS
Alexa Bliss has overcome more obstacles outside of the squared circle than she has inside of it. Born Alexis Kaufman in Columbus, Ohio, the 5-foot-1, 102-pound blonde bombshell battled a severe eating disorder as a 15-year-old. Thankfully, medical practitioners helped Bliss successfully treat her condition and she became a Division I cheerleader at the University of Akron.
“Going to Akron, I was a Division I college cheerleader,” said Bliss, 25, a gifted sportswoman who also excelled as a competitive bodybuilder.
“It was the goal I wanted to reach. I did it for a little bit, but I was like, ‘You know what? This isn’t really for me.’ When I saw the opportunity to try out for WWE, I knew I had to jump on that opportunity for sure.”
Bliss debuted on WWE’s main roster on a July 2016 edition of SmackDown LIVE. Since premiering nearly a year ago, Bliss has captured the Raw and SmackDown Women’s belts.
13 JINDER MAHAL
An unfit Jinder Mahal, born Yuvraj Singh Dhesi in Calgary, was fired by WWE’s suits in June 2014. However, roughly three years later at Backlash on May 21, a curiously sculpted, 6-foot-5, 220-pound Mahal trumped Randy Orton to win SmackDown Live’s WWE belt.
“I’m an example that in the WWE there are opportunities for people who work hard, improve constantly,” said Mahal, 30, the first grappler of Indian descent to capture the WWE World Championship.
“I think it’s great for morale, too, for guys who are lower on the card. Sometimes you get unhappy with your position. I was there with them. I was opening matches, once losing to El Torito in an opening match in 30 seconds, and now I’m WWE Champion.”
12 ROMAN REIGNS
A member of the Anoaʻi family, Roman Reigns was born Leati Joseph Anoaʻi in Pensacola, Florida. The 6-foot-3, 280-pound Reigns, who Vince McMahon envisions as his company’s next megastar, emerged on WWE’s main roster as a member of The Shield at Survivor Series in November 2012. After The Shield imploded in June 2014, Reigns headlined three consecutive main events at WrestleMania. Regrettably for McMahon, the strapping and dynamic Reigns is dull on the microphone and completely disconnected with the WWE Universe. Fans spurn The Big Dog and jeer his every word and action.
“Typically if you hear the boos, it generally is grown men my age and I’m not really in this business for the grown men,” Reigns, 32, said. “I’m in this business for the families. That’s what we are; we’re a PG product. We’re a family-based product. We’re here to entertain families and give them enjoyment.”
Former Raw Women’s Champion Bayley utterly adores the professional wrestling business. The 5-foot-6, 120-pound Bayley, born Pamela Rose Martinez in Newark, California, was promoted to WWE’s main roster in July 2016. Since her promotion, the lovable underdog has won a number of huge scraps. Bayley’s foremost career highlight occurred when she outmaneuvered Charlotte Flair to secure her first title on a February edition of Raw.
Two months later at WrestleMania 33, Bayley successfully defended the belt against Flair, Sasha Banks and Nia Jax in a Fatal 4-Way elimination match. Sadly for "Everyone's Favorite Hugger,” she lost the strap to Alexa Bliss at Payback and then failed to recapture it in a rematch at Extreme Rules. Recent losses notwithstanding, Bayley is in the midst of living her dream.
“It's all built up in the heart and that's like everything that I've had since then, since I was 10 years old, this is it,” said Bayley, 28. “It's just... this is it, this is my heart.”
10 FINN BALOR
Even at the somewhat advanced age of 35, Finn Bálor has a chance to eventually supplant Sheamus as WWE’s premier Irish attraction. Born Fergal Devitt in north County Wicklow, Ireland, Bálor was selected by Raw with the fifth overall pick in the July 2016 draft. The 5-foot-11, 190-pound Bálor then won a couple of bouts to secure his SummerSlam 2016 scrap against Seth Rollins for the inaugural WWE Universal Championship. The ripped Irishman conquered Rollins to procure the belt at “The Biggest Party of the Summer.” Unfortunately, Bálor sustained a labrum tear in his right shoulder versus Rollins and he relinquished the title the following night on Raw. The “Demon King” reemerged in March and immediately reassumed his position as a top contender.
“I'm gonna come back a lot more rounded and focused than I was before,” said Bálor. “I'm excited about the Finn Bálor that's going to come back, as opposed to the Finn Bálor that I left behind.”
9 SAMOA JOE
Samoa Joe was born Nuufolau Joel Seanoa in Orange County, California. The 6-foot-2, 280-pound Samoa Joe challenged Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, Finn Bálor and Bray Wyatt in a Fatal 5-Way No. 1 Contender’s Match at Extreme Rules in Baltimore, Maryland. Joe defeated his four opponents when he clinched the Coquina Clutch on Bálor and rendered the Irishman unconscious. The “Samoan Submission Machine” is now preparing to meet Brock Lesnar for the Universal Championship at Great Balls of Fire on July 9 in Dallas, Texas.
“When the timing’s right, things all fall into place,” said Joe, 38. “It definitely gives you a lot of momentum.”
Regardless of what occurs versus the 6-foot-3, 270-pound Lesnar in the Lone Star State, Samoa Joe has seen “things all fall into place.”
8 BRAUN STROWMAN
Braun Strowman, born Adam Joseph Scherr in Sherrills Ford, North Carolina, is one of the most physically imposing athletes to ever enter the squared circle. The 6-foot-8, 385-pound Strowman won the North American Strongman Amateur National Championship in November 2011 and, roughly five months later, the Arnold Amateur Strongman Championship in March 2012. “The Monster Among Men,” who underwent elbow surgery in May, surprisingly returned to the ring on the June 19 episode of Raw to confront Roman Reigns and reignite their long-term feud. Strowman pummeled Reigns and challenged him to tussle on July 9.
"If you think you're man enough, then I'll see you at Great Balls of Fire pay-per-view in an ambulance match," Strowman, 33, yelled after delivering yet another vicious attack on The Big Dog.
7 ENZO AMORE
Enzo Amore was born Eric Joseph Arndt in Hackensack, New Jersey. The 5-foot-11, 200-pound Amore signed with WWE in August 2012. Amore, who previously earned paychecks as a disc jockey, piano mover, Hooters manager and ticket salesman for the New York Jets, premiered on WWE’s main roster alongside his former partner, Big Cass, on The Raw following WrestleMania in April 2016. A spectacularly captivating tandem, Enzo and the 30-year-old Big Cass instantly became one of the promotion’s most beloved acts.
"I would say that my forte is cutting the line," said Amore, 30.
"My entire life's work is me having zero patience and not waiting in a line. Any time I see an opportunity to get ahead, I take it. You put a microphone in my hand on live TV and that's just an opportunity for me to get ahead in life.”
Big Cass backstabbed Enzo on the June 19 edition of Raw and the estranged friends seem destined to fight at Great Balls of Fire.
6 BIG CASS
Big Cass, born William Morrissey in Queens, studied economics and played center for the New York University Violets men’s basketball program. Somewhat surprisingly, the 7-foot, 285-pound Big Cass chose against pursuing a financial career and instead began training to become a professional wrestler with Johnny Rodz in 2010. As previously mentioned, Big Cass debuted on WWE’s main roster in April 2016.
“I was always very passionate about [pro wrestling], always watching tapes, and when I was in college, studying for the MCAT the summer of 2008, I realized, ‘Man, this just isn’t my true passion,’” said Big Cass, 30. “So I decided to finish my final year at NYU, and the second it ended, I started pursuing the opportunity to get to the WWE.”
The Gotham native just turned heel and is bound to receive a massive push.
5 NIA JAX
Savelina Fanene, born in Honolulu, Hawaii, is another member of the famed Anoaʻi wrestling family. The 6-foot, 272-pound Fanene traveled east and matriculated at Palomar College in San Marcos, California. While studying, Fanene also played basketball and worked as a plus-size model.
"Not everybody is made to be a size 0 or a size 4, and I'm not saying there is anything wrong with being a size 0 or a size 4,” said Fanene, 33.
“Being my [plus] size is something I've had to deal with my whole life. I've always been the big girl. I've always had curves, and I never could relate to any of the girls like the Victoria Secret models.”
A multitalented individual, Fanene began training to become a professional wrestler in 2014. Fanene quickly impressed WWE’s decision makers and was introduced as Nia Jax during a July 2016 episode of Raw.
4 AJ STYLES
AJ Styles, born Allen Neal Jones in Jacksonville, North Carolina, is one of the most skilled grapplers to earn a WWE paycheck this decade. The 5-foot-11, 218-pound Styles also flourishes on the microphone, delivers outstanding promos and has the fans’ unwavering support. Nicknamed “The Phenomenal One,” Styles was voted the "Wrestler of the Year" by Pro Wrestling Illustrated and the Wrestling Observer Newsletter in December 2016.
“This is just my first year, so I want to be a part of every pay-per-view on Smackdown that I can possibly be a part of,” said Styles, 40.
“I enjoy being whatever it is that WWE needs me to be. I just want to do my job and do it to the best of my abilities.”
Cesaro was born Claudio Castagnoli in Lucerne, Switzerland. The 6-foot-5, 232-pound Cesaro debuted as a wrestler in December 2000. However, the “Swiss Superman” didn’t enter a WWE squared circle until April 2012. While Cesaro enjoys partnering with Sheamus, the powerhouse wants to eventually prosper as a singles competitor.
"I wanted to be [world] champion by now, and I haven't achieved that," said Cesaro, 36.
"I feel like I'm connecting (with the fans) pretty good. If you see the 'Cesaro section,' when I go out there, it is definitely not silent, and I have a huge fan base all over the world. Of course, there's always room for improvement. I'm the first one to always criticize myself, and I'm trying to find ways to get better.”
2 DEAN AMBROSE
Dean Ambrose was born Jonathan David Good in Cincinnati, Ohio. An erstwhile member of The Shield, the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Ambrose has been a WWE superstar since premiering alongside Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins at the Survivor Series in November 2012. Now a singles performer, Ambrose is a fixture in the main event scene.
“As far as what I want out of a legacy, I don’t really have a clear vision for it,” said Ambrose, 31. “I’m going to do what I do and I how I want to do it. I make it up as I go along a lot in life and in the ring so that is how my story will ultimately be written.”
Billed as “The Lunatic Fringe,” Ambrose exchanged vows with WWE announcer Renee Young on April 9.
1 SETH ROLLINS
Seth “Freakin’” Rollins was actually born Colby Daniel Lopez in Buffalo, Iowa. Widely considered to be one of the industry’s preeminent talents, the 6-foot-1, 215-pound Rollins has headlined numerous pay-per-view extravaganzas for WWE. Known as The Shield’s “architect,” Rollins was forced to surrender the WWE World Heavyweight Championship when he suffered a torn ACL, MCL and medial meniscus in his right knee in November 2015.
"It was more than just a physical struggle, because getting to the gym and rehabbing is easy," said Rollins, 31.
"It's the mental part of trusting the surgery and the rehab and wondering where I would fit in and whether I could maintain the in-ring work that I had before. There were a lot of questions going in, so it was a very challenging, difficult process.”
Fortunately, Rollins completely healed and he remains one of WWE’s standout performers.
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