It's rare for a professional wrestler to find his suitable gimmick upon entering the industry as most have to go through various trials before they finally settle on one.Even the most legendary figures such as The Rock and Steve Austin had different gimmicks prior to their fame, and needed time to truly develop a unique identity. After all, there is nothing more important than a gimmick that connects with fans since it is the decisive factor whether he will be over or not.
Being a highly talented in-ring performer has never been enough to make it big in the WWE, so the company always attempts to re-package their Superstars in the early stage of their careers until they find a fitting one. There have also been some wrestlers who may have succeeded away from the WWE, but had to drop their previous act once they made it to the company. Being successful in one promotion doesn't always mean that it will translate over to the WWE due to the company's unique and mainstream style.
Some characters may have worked out in the WWE, although they also came with the risk of limiting their ceiling. How many masked superheroes have gone on to become main eventers in the WWE? That's why it is important for the company to consider many factors to determine the most ideal situation for their performer in the long run. With today's list, we look at 20 WWE stars who had completely different gimmicks before joining the company!
20 Finn Balor - Prince Devitt
Before Finn Balor came over to the WWE, he had a different character during his stint as Prince Devitt for New Japan Pro Wrestling. While he did share a similar look for the most part, he certainly wasn't smiling nearly as much on his way to the ring. In fact, Devitt was among the most arrogant wrestlers in the industry who played the heel role to perfection. He showed impressive mic skills at the time, and it led to arguably his best stint as a wrestler. He has certainly had many memorable moments as a WWE Superstar, but one could argue that his older gimmick was better.
19 Sami Zayn - El Generico
Most independent wrestlers change their ring names upon joining the WWE and such was the case for Sami Zayn who made his transition from El Generico. Not only did he drop the moniker, but he also lost the famous mask that accompanied it, and adopted a different character. El Generico developed a fanbase throughout his run on many promotions but at least Zayn hasn't lost a step since then. What works in some promotions doesn't always translate to the WWE style and it was a wise move to switch into a different character in order to appeal to the company's audience.
18 Bobby Roode - Wealthy Businessman
These days, Bobby Roode doesn't really have a character aside from a great entrance that has practically become his entire persona. The Glorious One has had a decent stint with the WWE - his best run being in NXT thus far - but it doesn't measure up to the Roode of TNA. He had several gimmicks throughout his TNA run, all of which were different beginning with his patriotic Canadian act in the mid 2000s. He eventually transitioned into the Roode of Beer Money before he finally hit his peak with the wealthy businessman act. All the above options would serve him better in the WWE today.
17 Goldust - "The Natural" Dustin Rhodes
It's hard to picture Goldust under a different gimmick since he has played it for the past two decades now. But there was a time when he went by "The Natural" Dustin Rhodes during his time with WCW, where he became a two-time United States Heavyweight Champion, as well as a multiple time Tag Team Champion. Despite his success, it wasn't quite as memorable as his Goldust run in the WWE that most fans remember him for these days. Goldust has also portrayed many other gimmicks along the way to keep things interesting, going by Seven in WCW at some point and later on as Black Reign in TNA.
16 The Undertaker - Mean Mark Callous
During his time with the WWE, The Undertaker did pull off some different characters - whether he was The Deadman or a biker. But it didn't always come that easy to him as he struggled to find an identity as a young wrestler coming up in the industry, which is why he only lasted one year with WCW. At the time, he went by Mean Mark callous and had a very different appearance to say the least - but it was thankfully short lived as he went to join the WWE in 1991. The rest has been history since then with The Undertaker being arguably wrestling's most iconic gimmick.
15 Sasha Banks - Mercedes KV
Before Sasha Banks made it to the WWE in 2012, she had a two year run on the independent circuit where she was known as Mercedes KV. The gimmick was different from The Boss persona that would make her famous later on, and while she did portray a heel character - Banks wasn't nearly as flashy with her behavior and gear. She may have implemented some elements from Mercedes KV, although that was a very rough gimmick that wasn't particularly original. Four Raw Women's Championship reigns later, it's a good thing that Banks switched gimmicks once she made it to the WWE.
14 Big Show - Andre The Giant's Son
Looking back at his early days, Big Show credits being billed as Andre The Giant's son for his success as a young wrestler. It was understandable to an extend as to why WCW rolled with the idea given Andre's popularity, as well as Big Show's similar frame. While they did promote him as Andre's son for a while, they eventually dropped it once he started establishing himself as a legitimate star.
During his WCW stint, his character was much more serious and threatening than his WWE persona that saw him adapt a more comedic personality from time to time, as well as a different look.
13 Dean Ambrose - Jon Moxley
WWE may constantly refer to Dean Ambrose as "The Lunatic Fringe" but he has been hardly acting as such throughout his run. He does show flashes every now and then, but nothing that is comparable to his days as Jon Moxley. One could say that the two gimmicks share some similarities, and an argument could be made that Ambrose is simply a dumbed down version of Moxley. The latter was truly believable as a lunatic due to his actions inside and outside of the ring, as well as some truly memorable promos that made him a popular act for many years.
12 Bayley - Davina Rose
Coming up as Davina Rose, Bayley was portraying a face character on independent promotions. But it was a very bland and forgettable gimmick, which is expected for a wrestler who was still very new to the industry. After landing a deal with the WWE, she wisely changed her ring name while also developing a new character that truly suited her. Bayley went on to become one of the top NXT stars for some time, as well as one of the most popular female Superstars in recent memory. She may have declined in popularity in the past year, but that doesn't take away from her past accomplishments.
11 Sheamus - Sheamus O'Shaunessy
When Sheamus O'Shaunessy made it to the WWE after years of wrestling around the world, the WWE kept the first name while dropping the second, and it was certainly a wise move in this case. While Sheamus became well-known as a heel who took everything in his way, he was the exact opposite early on as he played a fan favorite gimmick. Sheamus was the typical face who generated crowd reaction by doing intense moves and wrestling at a high place, while also being very cheerful with the fans. In this case, WWE pulled the right move by giving Sheamus a change of character.
10 Seth Rollins - Tyler Black
From 2005 to 2012, Seth Rollins had a different ring name that made him gain a following on the independent scene back when he went by Tyler Black. It wasn't a bad gimmick by any means, but certainly doesn't hold a candle to his WWE character. Rollins is a much more polished product who looks much more believable as a wrestler, and has a better aura around him. While Black was good enough for the indies, it wouldn't have translate very well with the WWE audience, so they did well in giving him a different identity upon his move to the company.
9 Kevin Owens - Kevin Steen
You may not see much different between the Kevin Owens of the past and today as far as appearance, and he only changed the last name. But there are vast differences between the two characters to say the least. Steen was a vicious heel who backed up his words with action, while Owens has always been a coward character who may be a loudmouth but not quite as confident in his abilities. And while both characters have their advantages, many fans miss his days as Steen since he happened to be much more exciting as an in-ring performer, while his promos made more sense compared to his actions.
8 Bray Wyatt - Duke Rotundo
Bray Wyatt had an interesting journey on his way to the WWE. He had been apart of FCW for a year before he was offered a contract by the WWE, as Wyatt went through various gimmicks at the time. Known as Duke Rotundo, he was very bland with no real direction as far as gimmick although he did show promising signs as a promoer, which earned him a chance with the company. Following an underwhelming stint as Husky Harris that was very brief, he was once again sent back to FCW where he tried many gimmicks before he finally stumbled on Bray Wyatt.
7 Eric Young - Super Eric
Some fans believed that Eric Young would never make it to the WWE since he had been working for TNA from 2004 until 2016, and he was 36 years old by the time he had left. Despite having a lengthy tenure with the company, Young wasn't always among the most relevant names due to his lack of character - and that led to many attempts of finding a suitable identity. At some point, he became a superhero who went by Super Eric, and that did benefit him to an extent - although it was evident that it wouldn't be sufficient for his entire career.
6 Daniel Bryan - Bryan Danielson
Daniel Bryan's journey to the WWE was a long one as he had to impress on the independent scene for many years before earning a contract with the company. Most fans of the indies will surely remember him as Bryan Danielson, who shared similar traits as the WWE character that we all know. But at some point, he also adapted a different persona known as the Dragon that saw him switch his antics up, while also wearing a mask to the ring. A mask may for a number of wrestlers, but it wasn't needed in Bryan's case so the WWE did right by dropping it.
5 Xavier Woods - Consequences Creed
Before he became a member of the most successful tag team in modern history, Xavier Woods went by Consequences Creed in TNA. The character wasn't bad by any means but certainly not as memorable as that of his WWE run. Although a number of entries on this list may have shown better gimmicks pre-fame, this one doesn't fall under that category. If he had been Creed in the WWE, then Woods may not have lasted too long since he would have just been another forgettable wrestler. But his work in New Day has gained him an impressive following among the WWE Universe.
4 AJ Styles - The New Nature Boy
It's hard to believe that the face of TNA went through many characters during his stint - some of which were downright bad - but AJ Styles had to experiment before he really flourished. He was a bland yet highly talented wrestler early into his career, which was fine until he began moving up the ladder. TNA attempted many personas in hopes of getting more charisma out of him, including a run where he was The New Nature Boy. Ric Flair was employed by TNA at the time and involved in the angle, so it made sense - although fans didn't exactly love it.
3 Cesaro - Investment Banker
Cesaro didn't make it to the WWE until 2011 but he had been wrestling since 2000, making his way through several promotions along the way. He was also known by many ring names from Claudio Castagnoli to Double C - and while the former did have some memorable moments on the independent circuit, Cesaro would probably wants fans to forget that he once portrayed the character of an investment banker. The gimmick was ridiculous in every sense of the word and the outfit only made it worse. Luckily for Cesaro, he didn't have to keep it once he made it to the WWE.
2 Becky Lynch - Rebecca Knox
Seeing the progress that Becky Lynch has made from her days as Rebecca Knox will likely give hope to all aspiring professional wrestlers. She has now become The Man after all but it was a long journey before she truly found a suitable identity, and Knox certainly wasn't it. Some past gimmicks may have topped the newer WWE editions, but such wasn't the case for Knox who was a bland Irish with a fake accent and annoying behavior. It's no surprise that WWE didn't pick up the character upon signing her, and completely re-packaged her for the better in the long run.
1 John Cena - The Prototype
Before earning a contract with the WWE, John Cena had to work his way up from OVW where he debuted as The Prototype. This was long before he became a rapper, and later on a marine, as Cena was a bodybuilder rocking blonde hair. He wasn't exactly known for his charisma at the time, and Cena continued to be known as The Prototype as he competed in several dark matches for the WWE. By the time his debut against Kurt Angle came around, WWE had him cut his hair, change his attire and drop his past ring name to become John Cena.