Professional wrestling is a phenomenally profitable type of sports entertainment. Vince McMahon’s enterprise is a form of theatrical performance art with intricate plots, scripted bouts and fixed results. Despite its choreographed nature, the tremendous majority of competitors are standout athletes who became WWE employees for a slew of various reasons. McMahon’s workers hail from across the globe and many of his performers previously flourished playing baseball, basketball, football, mixed martial arts or some other sport. However, for whatever reason, these athletes needed to reconsider their livelihood and they pursued wrestling as a new career.
Contrarily, many of McMahon’s talents envisioned entering the squared circle since preadolescence. Regardless of how or why these talents joined the rasslin' circuit, each grapplers’ future is largely determined by WWE’s creative team. Some industry legends, 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."
Conversely, athletes like Brock Lesnar, Kurt Angle and Bill Goldberg primarily depict an exaggerated version of themselves on-camera, while using their real names. Accordingly, let’s uncover the birth names of these 15 WWE hall of famers.
15 Randy Savage (Randy Poffo)
Randy Mario Poffo, born in Columbus, Ohio, in November 1952, was an elite baseball player who procured employment with the St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds, and Chicago White Sox farm systems. After sustaining a career-ending shoulder injury, the 6-foot-2, 240-pound Poffo competed for a few wrestling promotions using a host of aliases. However, Poffo would become permanently referred to as “The Macho Man” Randy Savage following his WWF debut in June 1985. Savage was a superior combatant in the ring with unrivaled intensity on the microphone. Troublingly, much of that unbridled intensity was authentic and his obsession for his real-life spouse, Miss Elizabeth, was alarming.
“Honestly, Randy was the most jealous man I had ever met, and it created a real problem,” said George “The Animal” Steele.
“Every night it was something different. Randy’s jealousy was driving him crazy. There were times when he would lock her in the dressing room. Randy was always screaming at somebody.”
Savage, passed away from cardiovascular disease at the age of 58 in May 2011. Savage was posthumously enshrined into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2015.
14 The Iron Sheik (Khosrow Ali Vaziri)
The Iron Sheik, born Hossein Khosrow Ali Vaziri in Tehran, Iran, was one of professional wrestling’s most indelible heels throughout the 1980s. The 6-foot, 258-pound Sheik elicited jeers as a proud Iranian who constantly criticized the United States. The one-time WWE World Heavyweight Champion is a genuine bruiser who oversaw security for Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Regrettably, The Iron Sheik’s descended into an unstable lunatic who often visits The Howard Stern Show to spew venom regarding inane topics. The muscled Iranian’s Twitter account, while allegedly operated by a pair of comedians and longtime fans, also offers glimpses into his mental instability.
The 76-year-old Sheik gained induction into the WWE Hall of Fame in April 2005. It's easy to see why he went with the simple ring-name of The Iron Sheik.
13 Dynamite Kid (Tom Billington)
The Dynamite Kid was born Thomas Billington in Lancashire, England, on December 5, 1958. The 5-foot-8, 230-pound Kid became an industry icon by partnering with Davey Boy Smith to form The British Bulldogs. The duo is consistently lauded as one of the business’ preeminent tandems. Pathetically, the Dynamite Kid is also notorious for being an unabashed racist and bully. The Dynamite Kid broke Bruce Hart’s jaw with a single punch and cruelly tormented, mentally and physically, Jacques Rougeau.
For example, according to Pro Wrestling Stories, “Jacques was minding his own business playing cards in the back. Next thing you know, Dynamite storms in, turns Jacques around and goes off on him. He really beat him up, busting Jacques’ nose wide open.”
The Dynamite Kid is now wheelchair-bound and resides with his wife, Dot, in Manchester, England.
12 Jake "The Snake" Roberts (Aurelian Smith Jr.)
Jake “The Snake” Roberts, born Aurelian Smith Jr. in Gainesville, Texas, had one of sports entertainment’s greatest gimmicks. The 6-foot-6, 250-pound Roberts was a darkly charismatic figure who brilliantly employed psychological tactics to derail his opponents. Beyond grim diatribes and his famous python, Damien, Roberts was a solid in-ring talent who frequently competed for championship belts. “The Snake” was presented as a downright broken human being in the 1999 documentary film Beyond the Mat. Largely thanks to Diamond Dallas Page’s guidance, the 62-year-old Roberts is now clean and healthy.
“Jake is almost two years sober,” said Page.
“Now, when you speak with him, you can have a really intelligent conversation with a really smart guy. But there were times when this really beat me up. That first year when Jake was sober, he messed up maybe six times.”
Roberts has been a WWE Hall of Famer since April 5, 2014.
11 Haku/Meng (Tonga 'Uli'uli Fifita)
Haku, a native of the Kingdom of Tonga who was born Tonga 'Uli'uli Fifita, initially achieved mainstream notoriety as part of the The Islanders with Tama. However, the 6-foot-1, 275-pound Haku, who also wrestled as Meng outside of WWE, gained infamy as one of history’s most frightening and menacing professional wrestlers outside of the squared circle. Among incidents, Haku pummeled five men at an airport in Baltimore and he tried to remove Jimmy Jack Funk’s eye from its socket in 1987. Kevin Sullivan was a longstanding grappler and booker in WCW. Sullivan recalled venturing into a neighborhood bar with Haku while they were traveling. According to Sullivan, upon entering the watering hole, a bigoted patron called Haku an ugly racial slur.
“The next thing I know is that Meng goozles the guy like Mr. Spock,” Sullivan said.
“It was fast and furious. He then grabbed another guy who tried to get involved and knocked him unconscious. Meng then bit through the guy’s shirt like a wolf, bit a chunk out of the guy’s back, then spit it on the floor.”
The 59-year-old Haku resides with his wife, Dorothy Koloamatangi, in Kissimmee, Florida.
10 Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake (Ed Leslie)
Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake, born Edward Harrison Leslie in Tampa, Florida, was an unimpressive in-ring competitor. Nonetheless, to compensate for his dearth of wrestling talent, the 6-foot-3, 275-pound Beefcake possessed charisma and he had a relatively-engaging gimmick. In a 2004 mishap that could have depicted in the critically-acclaimed film “The Wrestler,” Leslie dropped cocaine at a Boston MBTA station where he was employed and spawned a massive anthrax scare.
“It was a real eye-opener for me to see what effect drugs and alcohol were having on people’s lives,’’ Leslie, 60, told Boston.com.‘‘I’ve seen a lot of my friends die. They were foolish. They weren’t thinking about their families.’’
The 60-year-old Beefcake still periodically performs inside the squared circle.
9 Lex Luger (Larry Pfohl)
Lex Luger, born Lawrence Wendell Pfohl and raised in Orchard Park, New York, had one of the most envious builds in the world throughout much of the 1980s and 1990s. The 6-foot-6, 275-pound Luger was a feature attraction who headlined dozens of cards while working for the WCW and WWF. Sadly, wrestling’s taxing nature and chaotic environment ruined Luger’s physique, livelihood and overall health.
"If you snort it, spray it, shoot it, inject it, I did it, buddy,” said the 59-year-old Luger, who is now a devout Christian.
Luger’s lowest point transpired in May 2003 when his girlfriend, Elizabeth Hulette (aka Miss Elizabeth in WWE and WCW), suffered a fatal overdose in his Marietta, Georgia-based townhouse. “The Total Package” relies on a walker and is extremely wobbly and frail due to a nerve impingement in his neck that he sustained roughly a decade ago.
8 Kamala (James Harris)
Kamala was born James Harris in Senatobia, Mississippi, on May 28, 1950. The 6-foot-7, 375-pound Kamala was a remarkably acrobatic entertainer for a man of his immense size. The mammoth Mississippian primarily portrayed a barbaric heel from Uganda that was managed by "Classy" Freddie Blassie. Kamala battled high blood pressure and was diagnosed with diabetes in 1992. Quite sadly, Kamala declined dialysis treatment and that unwise choice caused the amputation of both of his legs.
"I didn't even want to look down at first," said Kamala, 67.
"But when I came home (from the hospital), I would look down, and I'd cry a little. I'd think, 'I'm not normal, am I? I'm not normal anymore. People are going to treat me like I'm not normal.' But I made it through. I made it through.”
7 Big John Studd (John Minton)
Big John Studd was born John William Minton in Butler, Pennsylvania, on February 19, 1948. The 6-foot-10, 365-pound Studd was mentored by Killer Kowalski and he premiered as a professional in Los Angeles’ independent wrestling circuit in January 1972. Later that year, in mid-1972, Studd joined the World Wide Wrestling Federation as a loathsome heel who was managed by “Classy” Freddie Blassie. Studd lambasted his adversaries and cherished watching them get removed from the squared circle on a gurney. The skyscraping Studd finally met his physical equal in André the Giant. Studd was defeated by the 7-foot-4, 520-pound Frenchman in a “Body Slam Challenge” contest for $15,000 at the inaugural WrestleMania. Studd, who succumbed to liver cancer and Hodgkin’s disease at the age of 47, was posthumously enshrined into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2004.
6 The Junkyard Dog (Sylvester Ritter)
The Junkyard Dog was born Sylvester Ritter in Wadesboro, North Carolina. The 6-foot-2, 280-pound Ritter was a solid football player at Fayetteville State University. Shortly after permanently shelving his cleats, Ritter debuted as a professional wrestler in 1977 as the JYD. The Junkyard Dog was a dominant force who regularly body slammed beasts like the One Man Gang, Kamala and King Kong Bundy. In addition to extraordinary power, the Junkyard Dog was a lovable individual who was cheered by crowds across the globe. The North Carolinian tragically died in a single-car crash after falling asleep at the wheel in June 1998. Approximately six years following his untimely death, in March 2004, The Junkyard Dog became a WWE Hall of Famer.
5 The Big Boss Man (Ray Traylor)
The Big Boss Man, born Ray Washington Traylor Jr., worked in the early 1980s as a corrections officer in Cobb County, Georgia. The 6-foot-6, 312-pound Traylor trained with Ted Allen and emerged in 1985 as Jim Cornette’s muscle in Jim Crockett Promotions. Following a spat with Dusty Rhodes and stint in the UWF, Traylor premiered in the WWF as the Big Boss Man in June 1988. Handled by Slick, the formidable Georgian became a detested heel and marquee attraction in Vince McMahon’s organization. After a memorable, six-year stay in the WWF, Traylor briefly competed in All Japan Pro Wrestling before resurfacing in WCW as The Boss, and later as Big Bubba Rogers, in December 1993. Traylor endured a fatal heart attack at the age of 41 in September 2004. Approximately 12 years later, Traylor was posthumously enshrined into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2016.
4 Greg "The Hammer" Valentine (Jonathan Wisniski)
Greg "The Hammer" Valentine was born Jonathan Anthony Wisniski in Seattle on September 20, 1951. The 6-foot, 243-pound Valentine worked with Stu Hart and turned pro in July 1970. Valentine grappled for a handful of companies before primarily gaining employment with the WWF from 1981 through 1994. After departing McMahon’s organization, “The Hammer” performed for the WCW and a number of independent circuits. In a career that spanned over four decades, Valentine procured titles individually and as part of tag teams. Valentine, who compiled in excess of 40 belts, became a WWE Hall of Famer in March 2004.
"Ya know what in 2004, WrestleMania XX was being held at Madison Square Garden,” Valentine said.
“(WWE) had the induction at the New York Hilton Hotel, which was not far from the Garden, the night before and then on Sunday during WrestleMania they brought us on stage. It was quite a crew, Jesse Ventura, Don Muraco, Bobby Heenan, John Studd's son was there because he passed away, Sgt. Slaughter was there. Tito [Santana], can't forget Tito was in there too! That was, is a great, great honor.”
3 Koko B. Ware (James Ware)
Koko B. Ware was born James Ware in Union City, Tennessee, on June 20, 1957. The 5-foot-7, 229-pound Ware was a pushover who secured fame for constantly smiling, donning colorful attire and waltzing to the ring with a South American parrot named Frankie. Ware was a beloved competitor who earned a few NWA regional straps in the early 1980s. Referred to as “The Birdman,” Ware mercifully shelved his wrestling boots in 2010. A year before retiring, in April 2009, Ware was elected into the WWE Hall of Fame. Ware filed a class-action lawsuit against Vince McMahon for concussions he reportedly sustained while performing in the ring. In response to claims made by the 60-year-old Ware and some of his past colleagues, the WWE released its own statement.
“It is unfortunate that some former performers have been improperly recruited under the guise of a big ‘pay day,’ and we feel badly that these individuals are being misled and exploited."
2 Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat (Richard Blood)
Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat was born Richard Henry Blood on February 28, 1953, in West Point, New York. The 5-foot-10, 235-pound Steamboat, who was named after a wrestler named Sam Steamboat, prospered as a babyface for various promotions in the late 1970s and early 1980s. However, Steamboat attracted mainstream attention in 1985 when he signed with the WWF and adopted “The Dragon” gimmick. Roughly two years after arriving in the federation, Steamboat outmaneuvered Randy Savage to clinch the WWE Intercontinental belt at WrestleMania III in March 1987 at the Pontiac Silverdome in Pontiac, Michigan. Savage was remarkably detailed and he respected Steamboat’s capabilities. Consequently, because he sensed potential greatness, Savage created a precise outline for their entire scrap.
A few weeks following the memorable tussle, Steamboat asked Vince McMahon if he could use vacation time to be with his wife while she gave birth to their son. McMahon pictured Steamboat’s character as a long-term titlist and he was furious at his request. To penalize “The Dragon,” The Honky Tonk Man overcame Steamboat to capture the belt a couple of months later on June 13. Steamboat never again received a meaningful push in the WWE. Nevertheless, “The Dragon” was immortalized into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2009.
1 "Rowdy" Roddy Piper (Roderick Toombs)
“Rowdy” Roddy Piper was born Roderick George Toombs on April 17, 1954, in Saskatchewan, Canada. The 6-foot-2, 230-pound Piper is arguably history’s preeminent heel.
"He was a very unique person, obviously," Piper’s daughter, Ariel Teal Toombs, told ESPN.
"He was one of the most hated villains, and then two years later he was one of the most beloved. That's something that didn't happen at the time. People learned to love the art of the villain through him, and really started rooting for the heel."
Piper, a Golden Gloves champion who gained praise for depicting John Nada in They Live, secured a spot in the WWE Hall of Fame in April 2005. He suffered a fatal heart attack in Los Angeles on July 31, 2015, passing away tragically at the age of 61.