Before they were Superstars: WWE's current stars as kids
Most Superstars go relatively unknown until they make their WWE debut, but a few of today’s competitors managed to sneak into the background of WWE and WCW programming in their youth. Only the most attentive fans noticed them — until now.
WWEClassics.com sat down with AJ, Cody Rhodes and other current Superstars to get the story behind their cameo appearances. We also dug into the WWE archives to see if we could spot any Alumni hidden in the background. You’d be surprised at what we found.
If you look just to Dusty Rhodes’ left during his WCW Hall of Fame induction at Slamboree 1995, you’ll see a nine-year old Cody Rhodes holding onto his father’s award. Though he gives off the air of confidence today, the second-generation Superstar wasn’t always so self-assured.
“I think I was more nervous than I anticipated,” Rhodes told WWEClassics.com. “I’m standing next to my dad, not because I was supposed to, but because I was scared.”
Cody may have been reserved, but his polka-dotted, striped and patterned shirt definitely wasn’t. We asked the former Intercontinental Champion about his Technicolor outfit.
“If you look at any ‘90s country star, George Strait or Garth Brooks, that was the template,” he explained. “I would wear a cowboy shirt, completely buttoned up, occasionally with a bolo. It meant tight jeans and a belt that matched my boots, which were monogrammed, and my dad would paint the leather in where it said ‘Cody.’ “
Before she was spinning her webs in the squared circle, AJ Lee was a member of the WWE Universe, just like the rest of us.
WWE cameras found her was while she waited in line for tickets to WrestleMania XX at Madison Square Garden, a moment highlighted in her introduction during season three of WWE NXT.
“We had to wait in line because we were so poor at the time, we couldn’t get a credit card,” AJ said of her journey to get tickets to The Show of Shows. “We had to pay cash after waiting in line for eight hours.”
While her father couldn’t afford ringside seats, just the idea of being at WrestleMania was enough for a young girl dreaming of Superstardom.
“We had such bad seats. My dad was like, ‘I’m sorry I couldn’t get better ones,’ ” she explained. “I said, ‘Don’t worry about it. I’m going to be in the ring one day.’ “
Tyson Kidd & Natalya
WWE In Your House: Canadian Stampede is remembered as a homecoming for The Hart Foundation, in the midst of their crusade against America. But while Bret Hart and his cohorts were celebrating a 10-Man Tag Team Match win, two future Superstars were also making their first appearance on WWE television, almost a decade before their in-ring debuts.
As the Calgary crowd exploded in rapture for The Hart Foundation's victory, the group's extended family — including Tyson Kidd and Natalya — joined them in the ring to celebrate. It’s a moment the current WWE competitors will never forget.
“I thought the pay-per-view was off the air, but it wasn’t. It exists forever,” Kidd said, noting that he has a GIF of his brief appearance on his phone, sent to him by a fan. “I didn’t want it to end, it was awesome.”
For Natalya, the impromptu gathering in the ring was symbolic of the Hart family’s strong bonds, despite any family quarrels.
“We’re a big family, there are conflicts,” she explained. “That night, everybody put everything aside and we were the Harts. We were united in that ring.”
Rob Van Dam
Upon his arrival in WWE, the affluent Superstar took delight in offering members of the WWE Universe a pittance of his wealth to do anything he asked. He humiliated a basketball dribbling child, just one bounce shy of earning the money. He made fans get down on their knees and bark like dogs just to earn a few dead presidents. But no one was forced to degrade themselves like RVD.
After a victory, The Million Dollar Man invited the young Van Dam into the ring and offered him $100 to kiss his foot. To add insult to injury, the tycoon had his bodyguard Virgil remove his sweaty boot and sock.
Van Dam made sure that wasn’t his squared-circle legacy though, as he returned to WWE to win the Intercontinental, World Tag Team, ECW and WWE Championships — all without kissing anyone’s feet.
Shane McMahon knew the way to the top of WWE was to learn the ins and outs of the company from the bottom up. He did just that from a young age.
Intrepid WWE watchers may have noticed a baby-faced referee calling the action in the early 1990s. You weren’t imagining things. It was a young Shane McMahon donning the powder blue shirt and bowtie of a WWE official.
Though The Boy Wonder may have had no problem breaking up the heated action, the young ref was flustered by some of sports-entertainment’s more intricate bouts. In fact, Shane was caught counting a Superstar out during the 1991 Royal Rumble Match.
While refereeing may not have been suited for him, Shane continued working his way up the WWE ladder, becoming an announcer before working under his father and eventually buying WCW to take WWE head on.
Today, he’s known worldwide as The Most Electrifying Man in Entertainment, but three decades ago The Rock was just a boy, watching from ringside as his father, Rocky Johnson, battled back rivals like The Wild Samoans. His family, from his grandmother and grandfather to his father were involved in sports-entertainment, which had a big impact on him from a young age.
“Growing up in a family in wrestling was incredibly influential,” The Rock said in an interview for his DVD “The Rock: The Epic Journey of Dwayne Johnson.”
“I fell in love with the business at four years old.”
While he watched his father make history by teaming with Tony Atlas to become the first African-American World Tag Team Champions, The Rock eclipsed anything he could have possibly dreamed. The Brahma Bull went from ringside to the top of the entertainment business, becoming a multi-time WWE Champion and a huge movie star, achieving crossover success like no other WWE Superstar.