What does it take to be a great wrestler? It’s a combination of skills, charisma, look, and dedication. Sure, a performer can get away with having more of some attributes than others, but it’s really a thing a beauty when they are firing on all cylinders. Getting to this level can be a difficult process for some. The fine tuning to become a superstar can take years to perfect. They might need to lose weight to get the best look, find confidence that allows them to cut amazing promos, or put together whatever gimmick they need to get over with the audience.
In today’s WWE, thanks to their Wellness Policy, folks have to go the au naturel route to get themselves in shape. Thankfully for up and coming performers, they have the luxury of having unlimited access to NXT’s performance center. There, they can not only get inside of a wrestling ring pretty much whenever they want, they can also train in their state of the art weight training facility. This has led to some pretty incredibly physical transformations. Confidence and character are built up the same way, through training. Practicing the perfect way to carry oneself and speaking to a crowd can be just as important as having all of the muscles in the world.
So right now, let’s take a look at folks who have been able to shed their proverbial skin and actually look like a wrestler. Here are 15 superstars who used to look like bums, but by the time they got to the WWE, they became superstars.
15 Triple H
“It’s all about the mane and how you tame it.” Look at that pretty boy on the left, he definitely spends all of his time quaffing his hair and juicing his pecs. It doesn’t even look like he has any time to train to be an actual wrestler. Oh, by the way, his name is Terra Ryzing. See, too much time at the gym and salon, buddy doesn’t even have enough time to come up with a decent wrestling name. It’s seriously impressive that Triple H’s career was about to rebound from this total mess of a gimmick. After a solid but uninspired run as Hunter Hearst Helmsley, H joined up with his behind the scenes running mate, Shawn Michaels and, as a founding member of D-Generation X, his career really took off. He quickly abandoned any semblance of his Connecticut Blueblood persona and would transition into “The Game.”
14 CM Punk
Even up through his retirement in 2014, CM Punk never had the look of a traditional wrestler. Especially not one who could be the face of a company. His hair was a bit scraggly, he had tattoos all over his undefined body, and he preached the benefits of a straight edge lifestyle. But at least he wore trunks. The look he would cultivate towards the end of his run in Ring of Honor and would keep throughout his tenure in WWE was lightyears ahead of what he first wore when his career began. His look could be best described as “Mark McGrath by way of Hot Topic.” His scrawny body combined with sporadic tattooing was laughable, but it was his choice to wear jorts that really takes the cake. By looking at the older picture, you’d be crazy to think he would go on to have the longest WWE Championship reign of the modern era.
13 Akira Tozawa
Former Cruiserweight Akira Tozawa has been wrestling professionally since 2005. He was one of the first graduates from the legendary Dragon Gate dojo and was a promising rookie during the promotion’s early years. Three years in and Tozawa bulked up significantly, the only problem was that all of the bulk went right to his gut. Knowing that he needed to make a change, Tozawa created the “Akira Tozawa Diet 7 Match Series.” The series consisted of him not only going on a crash diet to lose all of the unwanted weight, but also involved him competing grueling matches agains some of the best wrestlers Dragon Gate had to offer. Nowadays, Tozawa looks incredible. He’s shredded and no longer looks like he could pop at any moment. Also, it probably doesn’t hurt that his best friend and workout mate happens to be Apollo Crews, who has one the best physiques in WWE today.
12 Rey Mysterio
Rey Mysterio has one of the most iconic looks in all of wrestling, especially within the modern era. His mask is instantly recognizable and creates an immediate connection between the man and the audience. So what did WCW decide to do in February on 1999? Well, if you used context clues, you may have deciphered that they unmasked the little fella. This hurt Rey, it thoroughly removed his entire mystique (the dude’s name translates to King Mystery!). Plus, he had such a babyface, that even at 25, he looked 14. Thankfully, by the time he was signed to WWE in 2002, his mask came with him. This opened up a whole slew of opportunities for Mysterio. He was able to experiment with a variety of different looks and colors and would save the most exciting ones (like the Aztec-inspired ensemble pictured) for the grandest stage of all, WrestleMania.
11 Bret Hart
In his biography (the must-read Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling) the Excellence of Execution wrote that he never wanted to become a wrestler. It was simply what his father expected of him. That can definitely be seen in the picture on the left. There, Hart looks like he lacks any and all confidence. He looks like he’s suffering from a serious case of “Ricky Bobby Hands.” His Farrah Fawcett haircut doesn’t scream “pro-wrestler,” especially when you combine it with his unimpressive physique. Remember, this was the late-70s/early-80s where bigger was better. It wouldn’t be until he was paired up with brother-in-law Jim Neidhart and could hide behind a pair of shades that Hart would start his evolution from “son of a famous wrestler” to “The best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be.”
10 Dean Ambrose
When he wrestled for independent promotions like CZW as Jon Moxley, Dean Ambrose was one of the most feared hardcore wrestles of the mid-2000s. He was known for his violent matches that saw him shed blood all over the East Coast. Interestingly enough, it is his current appearance that would go much better with his former, bloodier persona. There isn’t a hard and fast rule when it comes to what makes for a good wrestling outfit. When CM Punk made the decision to switch to trunks, it was the right call. It fit his body better and allowed him to be taken more seriously. For Dean Ambrose, the more clothes seems to be for the better. I don’t know if the tank top and jeans combination is just something we’re used to now, but he just looks naked. It doesn’t help that he seems to have put on about 15 pounds of muscle since joining the WWE.
9 The Miz
When Mike Mizanin first debuted the character of “The Miz” on The Real World in 2001, it was seen as a joke, and rightfully so. Sure, he was a huge fan of wrestling, but it came off as a bad promotional tool for Sunday Night Heat, which was also on MTV, rather than a serious attempt at getting into the business. Miz would prove his seriousness by training at Ultimate Pro Wrestling’s Ultimate University and debuting two years later. It wouldn’t be until he was a contestant on Tough Enough that things would start to click. Although, he didn’t win the competition, Miz was given a contract and trained in WWE’s developmental system. The main difference between the two pictures here is simple. The guy on the left wants to be a superstar, he’s trying to look and act like how he thinks a wrestler should. The guy on the right, with almost 15 years as a wrestler, IS a superstar. He’s taken his time, given everything he has, worked his butt off, and has become a truly “Awesome” performer.
8 Sami Zayn
Before I get any flack, I want to say that the character of El Generico was a lot of fun. Even as the generic luchador, Sami Zayn often put on high quality matches in places like Pro Wrestling Guerrilla and Ring of Honor. The biggest problem, when you break the character down, is that he is a joke. A white guy in a mask a cape, screaming “¡Ole!” on his way to the ring can really only go so far no matter how heated and bloody his rivalry against Kevin Steen was. The switch to Zayn has been nothing but positive for his career. He was able to open up his vocabulary, which let him connect with the audience even better than before. Sami has been able to take everything that made the character of El Generico work, the talent, likability, and charisma, without it being tied to a goofy gimmick. The only good thing he’s missing is his trademark “Brainbustaaaaa!!!!!!!”
7 Kevin Nash
Nash has a good sense of humor. He’s been in films like The Longest Yard and Magic Mike, so he seems to know a joke when he sees one. The look on his face when he was portraying Vinnie Vegas seems to go along with this. His expression reads, “look how stupid and ridiculous this is.” I don’t know why in the world somebody thought the near 7-footer needed to portray a Las Vegas card shark (probably the same person who thought a great gimmick for Nash was the Wizard of Oz), but boy, did it not work. His polyester suit along with a voice that wouldn’t get you cast in a regional production of Guys and Dolls certainly didn’t help. Thankfully, when he came to the WWF, Big Daddy Cool was given much more fitting gimmick. Diesel, the monstrous bodyguard of the fast talking bad boy, Shawn Michaels, was a better role for Nash than Vinnie Vegas. That gimmick flopped faster than a… there’s a great Texas Hold’em reference to be had here, but I’m going to fold.
Today, Rhyno might not have the best look going. He seems to only get wider and wider as time goes on, and often opts for the “fat kind in a swimming pool” look by wrestling in a T-shirt. There was a time when the Man Beast has one of the best looks in professional wrestling. From his time in ECW through his first run in WWE, Rhyno was a squat-but-jacked gore-machine who would literally run through the competition. Seriously, and this should be considered high praise, the dude looked like a musclebound Meat Loaf. But let’s jump back a few years before that. The year was 1995, Rhyno was a chubby 20-year-old competing as a jobber in WCW. Wrestling in what looks like a singlet he borrowed from his local high school, the future best friend of Heath Slater, could be seen counting the lights for the likes of “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan and Road Warrior Hawk.
5 Ric Flair
It’s common knowledge that when Ric Flair first began wrestling, he idolized Dusty Rhodes. Who can blame him? The American Dream is one of the most influential performers to ever grace the squared circle. Despite his look (rumor has it his belly was just a little big and his hiney was just a little big), Rhodes had more charisma than most wrestling locker rooms combined. Early in his career, the Nature Boy certainly looked the part of a Dusty wannabe. Not only did he have the platinum blonde hair, but he weighed nearly 300-pounds. Then, in 1975, Flair was involved in a plane crash that broke his back in three places. He was told that he would never wrestle again. Eight months later, Slick Ric would be back in the ring. Changing up not only his training regimen, but his wrestling style as well, Flair would slim down considerably and would soon become the, "Limousine Ridin', Jet Flyin', Kiss Stealin', Wheelin' Dealin', Son of a Gun” that we know today.
4 Shawn Michaels
Talk about getting your act together. The picture on the left looks like a dude who put minimal effort into his Shawn Michaels Halloween costume. The sunglasses are there, and so is the colorful zebra print. Heck, even the color scheme remained the same. Even with those similarities, everything just feels off. The young Michaels, about 21 at the time, still has a good deal of baby fat that he needed to shed. His wardrobe also straight up lacked the budget in the American Wrestling Association that he would have in WWF. Eventually, after making it to the big leagues, and defenestrating former teammate Mary Jannetty, Michaels was able to upgrade his wardrobe. Gone were the days of plain red pants and poorly yoked shirts. He leaned heavily into his “Sexy Boy” persona by wearing more and more leather and chains that were a perfect fit for the newly established heel.
3 Solomon Crowe
Sami Callihan was unfortunately unable to make a splash in WWE’s developmental system when he wrestled for NXT from 2013 through 2015. Maybe it was the dated “computer hacker” gimmick that he was saddled with during his time there, or perhaps it was that creative couldn’t figure out what to do with the hard-hitting brawler from Ohio. Who knows? What we do know, is to get to NXT, Crowe came a long way. When he first began his career in 2006, he weighed 330-pounds. At only 5-foot-8-inches tall, that’s a lot of extra eight to be carrying around. It fit his hardcore style, but was definitely not good for his health. Within a year and a half, Crowe dropped 135-pounds, weighing less than 200-pounds. The dude looked great. Thankfully, he’s been able to keep the weight off and, despite no longer working for WWE, can be seen putting on awesome matches all over the world.
2 Eddie Guerrero
The late Eddie Guerrero is often regarded as one of the most complete wrestlers of all time. He had a ludicrous amount of charisma, was terrific on the microphone, had a chiseled physique, and could put on excellent matches with any type of wrestler, whether it be a brawler like JBL or a highflier like Rey Mysterio. His career peaked when he dethroned Brock Lesnar to claim the WWE Championship. This victory may have come as a surprise to fans who had been following Latino Heat’s career since he first bursted onto the scene. His original appearance wasn’t really one that would drive the mamacitas wild. With a wispy mustache, a mullet that looked to be cut with hedge clippers, and a mediocre body that did nothing for a man standing at a mere 5-foot-8, Guerrero did the best he could with what he had. Thankfully, his skills drastically outweighed his look and his matches soon became the stuff of legend.
1 The Undertaker
Mark, what are you doing? It looks like the future Big Evil was worried his eyes were going to be closed in the picture so he way overcompensated. ‘Taker was about five years into his wrestling career at this time and was wrestling for Jerry Jarrett’s USWA as The Master of Pain, a character who was recently released from prison. Although he would defeat Jerry Lawler for the USWA’s top prize, he was still very green. The character wold prove to be more Nailz than The Undertaker we know and love today. Eventually, Vince McMahon would take a gamble on the future Lord of Darkness and, after a very brief stint in WCW, bestowed him with the character of The Undertaker. If it was any other wrestler behind the gimmick, it would have been a total failure. Mark Calaway’s commitment is what brought the Dead Man to life. The Phenom has been able to outlast just about every wrestler he came up with and established himself as one of the greatest of all time.