The career of an athlete is often a lot shorter than any other. Football players and soccer stars will start honing their crafts as children but by the time they reach their late 30s or early 40s that career will likely come to an end. With pro wrestling it is not that cut and dry. Wrestlers like John Cena and AJ Styles are both over 40 yet they are still in terrific wrestling shape. Then there are competitors like The Undertaker and Triple H who are even older yet still compete in the ring from time to time. The predetermined nature of the business means older Superstars can plan matches and angles so it hides their weaknesses and focuses on their strengths.
The other way that professional wrestling differs from any other sport when it comes to age is their need to reinvent themselves. No wrestler can start their career as one gimmick and end it 20-30 years later without tweaking or changing it in any way. The base of The Undertaker's character may be more or less the same but we have seen it evolve over the course of the last three decades. Some WWE Superstars are almost unrecognizable from how they looked years ago. Here are 20 wrestlers that have changed an awful lot and we bet you wouldn't have recognized all 20 had the photos been put in front of you without the names and descriptions.
20 John Cena
John Cena came into WWE as a member of one of the greatest developmental classes of all time. At the very beginning of his career he shared a training room with Randy Orton, Batista and Brock Lesnar.
The man who has gone on to become a 16 time World Champion (and counting) was actually considered a let-down at the time.
Cena was far from the franchise player that he would become and for a short while played a character known simply as The Prototype. Big Match John knew that he needed to come up with a fresh gimmick in order to keep his spot in WWE and he managed to do that. Believe it or not Cena almost lost his job with the company. How different a landscape WWE would be now if John Cena had never shot to prominence.
Asuka is flying high in WWE right now. The Empress of Tomorrow debuted for the company all the way back in October of 2015 and she is still yet to lose a single match. Plus on top of that just a couple of weeks ago she won the first ever women's Royal Rumble match. Asuka didn't just stumble into a WWE contract however and there are good reasons why they treat her the way that they do. The former NXT Women's Champion had an established career in her homeland of Japan. As you can see from the photo above she brought a few aspects of her appearance to the modelling world as well. Asuka still looks very different and if anything the picture above looks like a different person altogether.
18 Luke Gallows
Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson seem to finally be getting something of a push on Raw right now. The Good Brothers have reunited with their old friend Finn Balor to form the Balor Club which will hopefully be the beginnings of something even bigger. What some fans may not know is that Gallows was actually a WWE Superstar long before this current run.
Back then he was known as Festus, a wrestler who would remain in a catatonic state until the bell rang at which time he would fly off the handle and ultimately win matches.
Weirdly despite it happening ten years ago Gallows looked older as Festus than he does in the present day, probably because of the awful skullet he was forced to have.
17 Alexa Bliss
Alexa Bliss's ascension up the card in WWE has been remarkable. It's probably fair to say that while in NXT she wasn't a massive deal. For the bulk of her time there she was the valet to Buddy Murphy and Wesley Blake. On the main roster though she has been a revelation and is arguably the most valuable female in WWE right now alongside Charlotte Flair.
Growing up Bliss actually suffered from an eating disorder and didn't have a lot of confidence in her appearance at all.
A foray into the world of body building helped her overcome that and that's what started her trajectory to WWE. Naturally as a body builder Bliss was almost unrecognizable compared to how she looks now, although in both worlds she looks incredible.
16 Roman Reigns
Despite Roman Reigns proving that he can put on some terrific matches with a range of different Superstars, a large chunk of the WWE Universe still simply doesn't like him. There are a few reasons for that. Reason number one of course is the eternal push he continues to receive from Vince McMahon. There may also be some resentment related to the fact that when The Shield broke up Reigns got to keep the music and the look. To this day he still wears the tactical vest and all black attire that The Hounds of Justice all wore on their first go around. At the beginning of his WWE career though his look was very different. Reigns had shorter hair, wore trunks, and had a very generic look to him. Not the look of someone who would go on to headline three WrestleManias (and counting) in a row.
15 Jinder Mahal
Jinder Mahal had a pretty incredible 2017. The Modern Day Maharajah went from being a glorified enhancement talent to a WWE Champion in pretty much a matter of weeks. Initially Mahal was a member of 3MB who were effectively a joke faction alongside Heath Slater and Drew McIntyre. Aside from the monster push he eventually received, what was very different when he returned was his physique.
Mahal looked okay for a pro wrestler while in 3MB but nowadays the guy is absolutely ripped.
As is often the case with cynical wrestling fans The Maharajah was accused of using certain unfair enhancements to get into the shape that he's in. Both he and some of his peers have assured us though that the changes are all down to hard work on Mahal's part.
14 AJ Styles
AJ Styles only signing with WWE a little over two years ago may have you thinking that he hasn't been around for long. That's where you'd be wrong. The Phenomenal One has actually been wrestling for so long that during the infancy of his career he actually wrestled for WCW. The man who competed for the failing company in the early 2000s is almost unrecognizable from the one who currently holds the WWE Championship. That's pretty understandable considering almost 20 years have passed. Back then AJ sported a short back and sides as opposed to the long flowing locks he has now, a haircut referred to as soccer mom hair when the champ is portraying a heel. Credit to Styles it's the hair that makes him look different as opposed to the fact that he has inevitably aged.
WWE Superstar Paige has led a pretty incredible life up until this point. What makes it even more amazing is the amount she has already done and achieved considering at the time of typing this she is just 25 years old. Yes there are rumours that her in ring career may be over due to injuries but the two time Divas' Champion has been wrestling from a far younger age than most in the business.
Being from a family of wrestlers who own their own wrestling promotion in the UK Paige got the opportunity to make her in-ring debut at the age of just 13.
As you can see from the photo above she looked very different back then. As a WWE Superstar 12 years on she looks a lot more grown up and has honed her gimmick as an anti-Diva.
12 Matt Hardy
If you want to stay relevant in the pro wrestling business for a long period of time then you have to constantly tweak your character. There are a number of great examples of this, some of which will feature a little later on in this list. When it comes to Matt Hardy however he completely overhauled who he was to the fans and it couldn't have worked out any better. In fact if Matt Hardy had also changed his name when he became Broken some fans probably wouldn't have even realized it was even him. It's as if Hardy felt like he was coming towards the end of his career, sat down and thought 'what's the exact opposite of who I have been for the past 20 years?'. Mission accomplished.
11 Becky Lynch
Sometimes it's hard to imagine that our favourite WWE Superstars are actually just regular people like the rest of us. Their job is to be larger than life on live television each and every week and it feels as if they were born to do what they do. Very rarely do people become WWE Superstars straight out of high school however. Like the rest of us pro wrestlers had regular jobs. SmackDown Live Superstar Becky Lynch was once an air hostess, following in the footsteps of her mom. She didn't have her signature orange hair and obviously didn't wear clothes linked to steam punk. The Lass Kicker had dark brown hair and while you can tell that it's her in the photo above there is no getting around the fact that she looks extremely different to how she looks today.
10 The Undertaker
While we're on the subject of wrestlers tweaking their gimmicks we would be remiss not to bring up The Undertaker at this point. No man in the history of the business has managed to keep his character relevant for as long as The Deadman. It makes it that much more incredible a run when you really think about the fact that he has effectively been pretending to be an undead being for almost 30 years. If The Phenom had simply looked and acted the same as he did during his first night as The Undertaker for the entirety of his career then he would not have lasted. He made some subtle changes and some not so subtle ones, plus after 28 years he looks a lot different than he did on his debut. In this photo from his teen years, he actually looks older than he does now!
9 Samoa Joe
With John Cena being the franchise player that he is to WWE, you wouldn't have thought that he and Samoa Joe had very similar beginnings to their pro wrestling careers. It looked as if the two of them were about to feud with one another on Raw recently but an injury to Joe seems to have scuppered those plans for now. The reason that feud would have been so special is because it would have been the re-ignition of one that happened in Ultimate Pro Wrestling all the way back in 2000. Both men were relatively unknown at the time and as you can see the man who would become The Samoan Submission Machine looked very different back then. Not nearly as intimidating as he looks today.
8 Sasha Banks
The modern era of pro wrestling has seen smaller wrestlers become fan favourites. WWE is no longer the land of the giants and Superstars such as AJ Styles and Finn Balor can be World Champions sitting atop the pro wrestling pyramid. That mantra applies to WWE's females too. The likes of Charlotte Flair and Nia Jax may often have a spotlight shone on them because they stand out compared to the other women on the roster, but Sasha Banks isn't a four time Women's Champion for nothing.
Despite her tiny frame she has made a big splash in WWE.
While she has always been a small wrestler her overall look has changed quite a bit. When she first arrived in NXT she hadn't discovered her boss gimmick and looked a lot more like the girl next door just a few short years ago.
7 Enzo Amore
The recently released Enzo Amore experienced an interesting career trajectory while he was with WWE. For the most part he earned his notoriety alongside Big Cass in both NXT and on Raw and many believed that once their inevitable break up arrived WWE would have no use for Muscles Marinara. That turned out not to be the case of course and Amore's terrific ability on the mic landed him a spot on 205 Live as Cruiserweight Champion. While the former champ has always been that confident, he didn't always have that unique look. As you can see from the above photo he was always heading towards how he wound up looking but still managed to appear very different at first. His hair in particular makes him look like a completely different person.
6 The Rock
Speaking of career trajectories, there is none more impressive in pro wrestling than The Rock. Even without his success in Hollywood his career was pretty amazing. The photo above is of the man who would become The People's Champion making his WWE debut. Despite being a third generation Superstar and a member of the famed Anoa'i family it's hard to imagine that many fans envisioned what he would become while he looked like he did above. This first gimmick even led to fans chanting 'die Rocky, die'. Pretty mean, but it fueled him to change his gimmick, become better, and just look at where he is now. Rock changed his look and turned heel and nowadays the movie star version of him looks like a completely different person to the man pictured above.
5 Bobby Roode
When it comes to Bobby Roode's run in WWE there really is only way you to describe it. Glorious. The current United States Champion was slapped with the gimmick and the music and he has absolutely embodied it. From his robes to his demeanor, WWE probably couldn't have picked a better Superstar to label The Glorious One. What's odd is why they decided to tar Roode with that brush. The former NXT Champion made a name for himself in TNA but it was not with a gimmick anything like the one he has now in WWE. As you can see in the photo above while he was TNA World Champion Roode had far from a sharp haircut and was very dressed down compared to how he looks now.
Some Superstars have incredible longevity. In a career that involves the competitors' bodies taking an incredible amount of punishment on an almost nightly basis it's amazing how long some WWE Superstars' careers are. Kane is one of those Superstars. Despite debuting as Kane over 20 years ago, and wrestling under different gimmicks for even longer prior to that, he is still a main stay on Raw each week in 2018. The Big Red Machine looks very different compared to how he looked on his debut though. Kane in his original form frankly looked terrifying and that was the point. Nowadays his age and other projects have stopped him from staying in the shape he was during the 1990s, plus his mask and costume aren't nearly as intimidating as they used to be.
3 CM Punk
There is an unmistakable face in the photo above that has basically not changed over the course of over 20 years. That face belongs to Stone Cold Steve Austin. If you run your eyes over some of the other people in the photo however you may very well recognize somebody else. The young man who Austin has his arm around is a teenage CM Punk. He may not have his signature tattoos and lip piercing yet but that is unquestionably him. The man who would become The Straight Edge Superstar looks like he was a pretty timid kid. Little did Stone Cold know at the time that he was posing for a picture with a boy who would become one of the greatest ever on a microphone in WWE.
2 Chris Jericho
A couple of times during this article we have touched upon pro wrestlers being able to recreate themselves and tweak their characters in order to keep themselves relevant. No one has done a better job of that in his 25+ years in the business than Chris Jericho. He can throw on a scarf or get a haircut and somehow completely rejuvenate himself in the process. With all of those tweaks and touch ups Y2J naturally looks a lot different to the way that he did early on in his career. When exactly the above photo was taken is unclear but it's not hard to tell that it was taken a long time ago. No scarves, no Jon Bon Jovi haircut, and no List of Jericho.
1 Bray Wyatt
There is perhaps no one on the WWE roster right now who is as unrecognizable compared to his debut than Bray Wyatt. Although he hasn't yet received the push from WWE that he unquestionably deserves Wyatt has a sort of Undertaker feel to him. A super natural presence which is different from anyone else on the roster. The Eater of Worlds didn't always have the creepy aura about his gimmick that he has now. Wyatt once went by the name Husky Harris and was far less intimidating. It was a gimmick that was ill thought out and never going to work for him. Thankfully someone came up with the idea for him to lead The Wyatt Family and the persona he has now is exponentially better than that of Husky Harris.