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Then and now: Superstars reflect on their careers

 

It takes years for a Superstar or Diva to reach the pinnacle of sports-entertainment, WWE. But once they arrive, years can pass and it only feel like days. WWE Magazine found classic photos of in-ring veterans — past and present — causing nearly every Superstar or Diva to stare at the picture and say "Wow!" The gear and haircuts may be a little more modern, but how different is the person holding that picture today?

WWE NXT: The Superstars of tomorrow |  Photos: Paul Heyman's Guys

Kofi Kingston

 

WWE.com: What would Kofi Kingston of today say to the man in this photo?

Kofi Kingston: He would definitely tell him to upgrade his tights. And I’m talking about the quality. These tights never made it onto TV. The material just wasn’t as high-quality as it should be. And you know me: my gear is one of my staples. I get new gear at least once a month! So, I would absolutely tell myself to be prepared to upgrade the gear.

WWE.com: What was the most important thing on your mind when this picture was taken?

Kingston: I’ve always wanted to be a WWE Superstar, so this picture is like the calm before the storm. I was anxious, just wanting to debut and make my dreams come true. I was thinking, “This is my shot!”

WWE.com: How different is Kofi then from Kofi now? 

Kingston: I’m more comfortable and calm. I was nervous back in the day. I’m definitely smoother in the things that I do. My arsenal is very different. I’m more mature and more fine-tuned as a performer.

Watch Kofi challenge Chris Jericho at Night of Champions 2009

Layla

 

WWE.com: What was the most important thing on your mind when this picture was taken?

Layla: We’d just spent three days auditioning for the WWE Diva Search, and they were starting to cut girls from the show. So I was just hoping that the photo would turn out to be especially attractive. That really was the most important thing — that people would like me and vote for me. So if I looked attractive, people would cast their votes for me. And I won!

WWE.com: How different is Layla then from Layla now? 

Layla: I was very naïve back then, and thought that the whole process was going to be a lot easier and glamorous than it turned out to be. I’d say that I’m a lot more focused, perhaps I’m even a bit more jaded. And I’m a lot more mature, for certain, and I know what I want — and how to say no.

WWE.com: Did you think you had “it” back then?

Layla: I didn’t know that I had “it.” I’ve learned a lot in the last eight years, and I still have a lot to learn. Honestly, I’m one of my harshest critics, so I didn’t even think I was going to win. I always wanted to believe that I had the “it factor,” but that little voice always tells you, “Who are you kidding?” But I was determined, and I put myself out there.

Watch Layla return at Extreme Rules 2012                                

Dean Malenko

 

WWE.com: What would the Dean Malenko of today say to the man in this photo?

Dean Malenko: Wow, he’s got a lot more hair! That’s when I had 1,000 holds, now 12 years later I’m down to 850.

WWE.com: What was the most important thing on your mind when this picture was taken?

Malenko: Making the change from WCW to working in WWE, and coming here and making an impact, making a name for myself. It was risky, but basically I was going from one line of work to another company. But life is all about risks and taking chances, and I was willing to take the opportunity at the time. I try to compare leaving WCW to a prison break: I got out unscathed, and the guys left behind were happy for me.

WWE.com: How different is Dean Malenko then from Dean Malenko now?

Malenko: I’m a little bit older … a lot older. And a little bit wiser, too. I enjoyed the time that I had in the ring, and I really enjoyed the camaraderie of traveling with all the guys. Just going out and entertaining people, and having people look up to you and see you as a role model, and just going out and doing what you enjoy doing — doing what you love and are passionate about and getting paid for it. I’m not physically in the ring anymore now, but I’m helping young talent hone their craft and watching that talent grow and achieve success. I live vicariously through them, so I can still get that rush, so to speak, by watching talents that I had a hand in helping reaching their goals.

See Malenko challenge for Chris Jericho's Cruiserweight Championship

Christian

 

WWE.com: What was the most important thing on your mind during that time?

Christian: I was just new to the company and coming in, so the most important thing on my mind was trying to establish myself, trying to make my mark. I always kind of viewed getting to WWE as my ultimate goal, but getting here and staying here were two completely different things. Having longevity and being able to stay relevant for a long time was truly important to me. I always had confidence in myself, but I had to make sure to take advantage of every opportunity and also to create opportunities of my own.

WWE.com: Christian then vs. Christian now. And the winner is?

Christian: Christian now, without a doubt. I’m smarter. And I’m a little more sly. I just think I’m better at this age than I was back then, and that comes from experience. But if you were to ask that guy in the photo, he was pretty cocky, so he’d probably tell you that he would win . ..but he wouldn’t.

WWE.com: What are the current whereabouts of the outfit  in this photo?

Christian: I still own this one. I think it’s packed away in a plastic container at home. I don’t have it marked or hanging up or anything, although I know exactly where it is.

Check out The Brood's sinister entrance                                   

Hornwswoggle

 

WWE.com: What would the Hornswoggle of today say to the man in this photo?

Hornswoggle: “Watch what you eat!” I’m sure everyone in the locker room will love that answer. But also, I’d tell him to remember everything, take a mental picture of everything that happens around you. It will make for a good book someday!

WWE.com: What was the most important thing on your mind when this picture was taken?

Hornswoggle: The most important thing on my mind was making sure that the dirt on my face was perfect. I don’t know why, but it always mattered how my dirt looked. And it was an easy five little marks of dirt, but I always wanted to make sure that they looked the same for every picture.

WWE.com: What are the current whereabouts of this outfit?

Hornswoggle: The jacket got stolen at an arena. That’s one thing that upsets me. The pants, believe it, I still wear to this day. Every guy on the roster has gotten on my case. I just got my first new pair of pants in seven years. I keep everything from all my outfits over the years. I’m going to frame them and put them in my office. It’s a piece of history for me.

Watch Hornswoggle win the Cruiserweight Championship                                 

Paul Heyman

 

WWE.com: What would the Paul Heyman of today say to the man in this photo?

Paul Heyman: “Wow, what an amazing future you have ahead of you, sir!” I can pinpoint when this was taken: May 1992, because I not only remember the suit, but that was one of my favorite telephones. And, as you can see, it had already been damaged because I cracked it over Sting’s head in Kansas City, while managing the U.S. Heavyweight Champion, Rick Rude. This was right before the dismantling of The Dangerous Alliance in WCW, so at this particular moment, I was on top of the world and, moments later, was about to face the greatest “fall from grace” of my career up until that moment.

WWE.com: What was the most important thing on your mind when this picture was taken?

Heyman: How I could keep “Stunning” Steve Austin under contract, because there was no doubt in my mind that he was going to become the single biggest star in the industry.

WWE.com: How different is Paul Heyman then from Paul Heyman now?

Heyman: I have the same ambition, drive and passion to create and be part of something extraordinary. I’m different because I know how to channel that energy much better. And I’m far smarter than I was 20 years ago because of how many times I’ve gotten my tuchas kicked, and I’ve learned a lesson from each and every beating — whether physically, emotionally or in business. That which does not kill you not only makes you stronger, but in my household, makes you smarter and far more dangerous than Paul E. Dangerously could ever have been.

Watch Joey Styles interview Paul Heyman in 1995                                                       

Chris Jericho

 

WWE.com: What would the Chris Jericho of today say to the man in this photo?

Chris Jericho: First of all, “Why are your pants pulled up so high?” But I’d also tell him just to keep fighting for what he believes in. It wasn’t the easiest time when I first came into WWE. Even though it was a dream come true there were a bunch of obstacles in front of me. So I’d say, “Don’t stop believing in what you know is right. You have the talent, tenacity and courage to become one of the greats.” 

WWE.com: How different is Chris Jericho now?

Jericho: I’m a completely different person, but there are elements of Jericho in both of us. The face is there, the confidence, the arrogance, the pomp and circumstance. I’ve gone from a silver rave shirt to a studded silver jacket with lights on it.

WWE.com: What are the current whereabouts of that outfit?

Jericho: I could probably find it. I have a big closet in my house that has all the stuff I ever wore on TV. If it’s not there, then I gave it away to charity. But I could probably find that exact outfit or a close approximation of it.

Re-live Chris Jericho's debut on Raw                               

Beth Phoenix

 

WWE.com: What would the Beth Phoenix of today say to the woman in this photo?

Beth Phoenix: I didn’t have a lot of money at that point, but I would definitely tell her she needs to get a proper manicure. Also, I’d tell her to forget the necklace. This look was inspired by “Kill Bill,” but I wanted to make it my own, so I flip-flopped the colors and gave it my signature cut on the sides. I had a gold, Japanese-style jacket, too. It only made a couple of appearances on Raw, but it was really neat.

WWE.com: What was the most important thing on your mind when this picture was taken?

Phoenix: It was completely mind-blowing for me that my image could be featured on trading cards or in the magazine. I would break my face a few weeks after this photo, but at the time, that smile was 100-percent real.

WWE.com: How different is Beth Phoenix then from Beth Phoenix today?

Phoenix: I would say that I haven’t wavered in my confidence, and even then, I knew I was the best female wrestler alive. My hair is shorter, and a different color, and the style’s changed over the years. My body has gone through changes, too. I’ve gotten bigger and leaner but overall, the foundation is still there, as well as my love for the business.

Beth Phoenix says goodbye after her last match                   

Jack Swagger

 

WWE.com: What would the Jack Swagger of today say to the man in this photo?

Jack Swagger: What the hell are you smiling about? This country is desperate to be saved and you call yourself an All-American American?!? Wipe that smile off your face — who are you? I don’t even know you. You’ve got a lot of growing up to do.

WWE.com: What was the most important thing on your mind when this picture was taken?

Swagger: There was a lot of hype. I had a good background. Kurt Angle had just left, and I felt pressure to live up to a certain level. Trying to be different but trying to reach everyone’s expectations for me and my own expectations, which I often set higher.

WWE.com: How different is Jack Swagger then from Jack Swagger now?

Swagger: I’m grizzled. I can grow a beard now, but I think there are many similarities. For my size, I’m one of the fastest guys on the roster. But the main thing is knowledge and that comes from five years of working with some of the best wrestlers to ever step in the ring: The Undertaker, Triple H, Shawn Michaels, John Cena, Randy Orton, Chris Jericho, Edge. Those guys all come from a different generation. And what they’ve passed down won’t be available for new generations.

Remember the All-American American                                     

Kelly Kelly

 

WWE.com: What was the most important thing on your mind at the time of this picture?

Kelly Kelly: I was a nervous wreck. I actually had no idea what I was doing — I was just thrown into it. So I realized I just had to be myself, do what I know and hopefully the WWE Universe would like it. If I was able to prepare, I’d probably be dwelling on it too much. I found out what I was doing day by day, so those were crazy times. I had to just go out there and not think about it.

WWE.com: How different is Kelly Kelly now from the person in that photo?

Kelly Kelly: I feel like I’ve grown up so much. I’ve grown up in front of the entire WWE Universe, basically. Each week, they’ve gotten to see me and know me inside the ring and out. It’s been me 100-percent. I’ve always been myself. It’s been cool to be able to grow, and I’m not a kid anymore. If you’ve watched from day one until now, you can see that I’m a much improved person. I think it would be really hard to be someone else.

Get a special look at Kelly Kelly                                

Road Dogg

 

WWE.com: What was the most important thing on your mind at the time of this picture?

Road Dogg: The first thing on my mind was that I was young and hungry to succeed in this business. Most importantly, I wanted to be the best I could. I loved wrestling, and now I was getting an opportunity to do it every day.

WWE.com: How different is The Road Dogg now from the person in that photo?

Road Dogg: The Road Dogg was an extension of my real self, but it was just that — an extension. It wasn’t who I really am. When I was The Road Dogg, I got away from the self-discipline that the military and my upbringing taught me. I’ve come back to that.

WWE.com: The Road Dogg then vs. The Road Dogg now. And the winner is?

Road Dogg: Without a doubt, Brian James today. A lot of people still remember me as the crass Road Dogg, and they may think that dude was cool. The truth is, I didn’t realize or appreciate the fans, the fortune, or my status in the company. I only appreciate it now when I look back in retrospect, with a clear head, and see how big a role I played in The Attitude Era. I think, “Wow, I wish I could’ve been sober so I could’ve appreciated that.”

Check out more Road Dogg photos                                    

Santino Marella

 

WWE.com: What would the Santino Marella of today say to the man in this photo?

Santino Marella: Wow! I guess I would tell him to watch “Rocky III.” Also, don’t get caught up in the hype of being a Superstar. Make sure you keep the “Eye of the Tiger.” And always stay as hungry as you were before this photo was taken. I would remind myself to stay great from day one to day one million.

WWE.com: How different is Santino Marella then from Santino Marella now? 

Marella: I am the same, and have been since the age of 17! I guess I’m a little heavier, and losing my hair a bit, but they say that builds character. And perhaps I have a couple more scars, and certainly a couple more tattoos. I’ve separated both shoulders, too. It’s funny: Basically, before this point, every time I was injured I would heal immediately. As I get older, the injuries accumulate.

WWE.com: What are the current whereabouts of this ring gear?

Marella: That is a regular, off-the-shelf bathing suit from the TYR store that I had embroidered on the back. I still have it somewhere. I keep all my firsts, like the red boots I debuted in, or my amateur singlet, and my first jacket. And, of course, I have my sister’s gear, too!

Check out the origin of Santino's Honk-A-Meter                               

Billy Gunn

 

WWE.com: What were the origins of The Smoking Gunns?

Billy Gunn: Throughout wrestling history, cowboys had always worn black hats and had these big nasty looks. Our idea was, “Let’s change this around.” 

WWE.com: What were the origins of The New Age Outlaws?

Gunn: I got to be the man every guy hates and every chick loves. We played with it, as much as we wanted, because there were no reins!

WWE.com: How different is Billy Gunn today?

Gunn: Today’s Billy Gunn is about, “What can I do for the company?” I spent 14 years with WWE and then went out for a little but then came back to win the WWE Tag Titles and coach down at the Performance Center.

WWE.com: A Fatal Four Way: Smoking Gunn-era vs. Rockabilly-era vs. Attitude-Era vs. today. The winner is?

Gunn: The Attitude Era one because I had an awesome partner at the time in Road Dogg. He was my man. I would have him in the crowd yelling. Actually, I can hear him right now

Watch The Smoking Gunns in action                                                                     

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