Professional wrestlers are generally big, powerful, muscular athletes with a sports background. Many were amateur wrestlers. Many played football. Typically they learned basic moves and techniques at a professional wrestling school. From there they can graduate into local or regional wrestling circuits to work on their skills, develop their ring persona and hopefully get the WWE's attention. Although pro wrestling bouts are usually choreographed, performers take physical risks -- especially in "extreme" bouts featuring long, hard falls and the use of sharp or blunt instruments. The road to the top can be treacherous.
Many former professional wrestlers operate schools that teach you how to get your start in the business. The top schools only take candidates with the physical tools to succeed. Those schools make you earn a spot through a tryout process. Choose one that has a track record of developing top pro wrestlers, such as the Wild Samoan Pro Wrestling Training Center in Minneola, Fla. -- which is run by WWE Hall of Famer Afa "The Wild Samoan" Anoa'i. These schools typically showcase its graduates with wrestling shows and feed them into local and regional circuits.
Before attracting interest from the WWE, you must make a name for yourself in Japan, Europe or in one of the various North American independent circuits. These operations range from very small operations with modest payouts to more ambitious regional operations like Ring of Honor on the East Coast. Wrestler Seth Rollins recalled his ROH tryout in an interview with WWE.com: "It was a grueling two-hour workout that I was put us through – hundreds of squats, sprints and mile-runs. They were trying to get us to puke and quit. It was pretty brutal ... I thought I was going to die, but I got through it."
NXT Developmental Circuit
The WWE got into the developmental wrestling business through its NXT circuit. It took its former developmental circuit, Florida Championship Wrestling, and transformed into a mini-WWE. It signs wrestlers from independent outfits -- many to modest contracts paying about $25,000 per year, according to the Wrestling Observer Newsletter -- and offers them an opportunity to earn bigger paydays down the road. They train at the WWE Performance Center, which took the place of its various affiliated schools. "One of the things I like to look at the Performance Center and NXT as is it's the on-deck circle," WWE executive Paul "Triple H" Levesque told reporters in a conference call. "Do I need a hitting specialist, do I need a pinch runner — what do I need?"
Graduation to Feature Work
Many WWE performers make the debut on undercards or as "jobbers" serving as fodder for one of the established stars. Only the most dynamic performers and personalities take that final step and become feature performers. "Wahoo McDaniel started as a football player. Lots of guys started out doing other things," Levesque said in his conference call with reporters. "To be good at this, you come from anywhere — we're all the same on day one ... What you wanna attract is the right people, the right charisma, the right personality and the best athletes, and then you can train them to do this and teach them how to become stars."