Athletes Who Have Had Major Transformations

While an athlete's success on the turf, track, ice, or mat is performance-based, some sports stars have discovered that it doesn't hurt to have a look that the camera loves as well. There are even athletes who have scored Hollywood careers after hanging up their jock straps or sports bras, and remember when "Space Jam" star Michael Jordan was a Hanes underwear model? Lucrative endorsement deals give professional athletes money to spend on tweaking their appearances, and in some instances, these fierce competitors are so desperate to cash in on their fame while they can that it might leave fans questioning whether they sold their souls for a paycheck.

A number of athletes have used plastic surgery to augment their faces and bodies, but it doesn't always take something so drastic to totally transform the way they look. Glow-ups can come courtesy of a simple haircut or an exceptionally talented glam squad. It's also not out of the ordinary for the athletically inclined to change the way they train, which can add bulk to their bods or make them substantially slimmer — for example, Tom Brady lost a noticeable amount of weight when he left the NFL.

Whether they accomplished it with scissors, surgery, or other means, these athletes are competing to see who underwent the biggest transformation.

Why Shaun White cut his famous hair

The halfpipe heroics of Shaun White earned him three gold medals during his Olympic career, but the color of a champion isn't the only hue associated with the retired pro snowboarder. He was instantly recognizable when shredding on the slopes, thanks to the long, red waves streaming down from beneath his brain bucket. His hairdo was so distinctive that it earned him the nickname "The Flying Tomato."

White used to be a rebel when it came to cutting his wild curls, which made him look a bit like a rockstar when he wasn't rocking his snowboarding gear. "Every time somebody comes up and tells me to shave it or do something like that, I just decide to grow it even longer," he told Rolling Stone in 2010. But two years later, he cut his hair off and donated it to Locks of Love. On "Jimmy Kimmel Live!," he explained that a chance meeting with another famous long-haired redhead, Carrot Top, inspired the change. White compared Carrot Top to the Ghost of Christmas Future from Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" when recounting what the comedian said to him. "He's like, 'There's still time for you! I'm stuck like this, save yourself!'" Nowadays, when White hits the red carpet with his girlfriend Nina Dobrev, he looks more dapper than dope with his shorter, darker 'do.

Tara Lipinski always looks glamorous for her new gig

Tara Lipinski was once a dominant force in one of the few sports in which makeup application and outfit choice matters. At the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, the figure skater made history by becoming the youngest athlete to win an individual event at the Winter Games. For her free skate, the then-15-year-old rocked a bedazzled blue costume. Her makeup and hair looked immaculate, even though the latter wasn't professionally done; while rewatching her performance on NBC Sports in 2020, she revealed that her mother cut her bangs.

Lipinksi still seems to love the stage-style makeup and flamboyant fashion associated with her sport. "Goodness I miss my Olympic glam," she wrote on Instagram in 2020. These days, she still gets all glammed up to cover the Olympics as an NBC commentator, and she's got to bring it if she doesn't want to get outshone by her stylish co-host, Johnny Weir. She credits professional makeup artist Nikki La Rose-Bonaldi for ensuring that she looks good on television, but when Lipinski started to look a bit different to some viewers, there was speculation that she had gone under the knife. "[I]t appears as if Tara has gotten Botox on the upper face, primarily for crow's feet and on her forehead, and she has had upper eyelid surgery, as well," plastic surgeon Dr. Tal Rounder told Life & Style in 2018.

Travis Kelce couldn't change his hair for his dating show

When Travis Kelce was filmed with Taylor Swift for the first time in September 2023, he was sporting his famous short-cropped skin fade and a thick, well-groomed mustache. But back in 2016, the Kansas City Chiefs tight end had a far different aesthetic while he was looking for love on his E! dating series, "Catching Kelce."

Kelce looked the part of a reality show star with his quiff hairstyle, which was long on the top with a gradual taper on the sides. His face was slimmer than it is now, and he wouldn't have looked out of place among the cast of a Bravo show such as "Vanderpump Rules" or "Summer House."

On Kristin Cavallari's "Let's Be Honest" podcast, Kelce revealed that his look on the show was dictated by the E! Network. "They kind of gave me a 'can and can't do list,' like, 'You can't get the high-type fade. We want to keep the hair a certain length, the beard a certain length,'" he recalled. As for why he's looking hulkier these days, Kelce's personal chef told Kansas City magazine that the three-time Super Bowl champ is on a 4,000 calories-a-day diet.

Gabby Douglas showed off her gym gains

As a member of the Fierce Five, Gabby Douglas became the first Black gymnast to win a gold medal in the all-around competition at the Olympics. She got another gold in the team competition at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, a feat she repeated four years later in Rio.

Douglas was lithe and lean when she competed in her first Olympics, but she started packing on some muscle while prepping for the 2016 Summer Games. "Sometimes I FaceTime with my mom and I'm like, 'Mom, look at my arms,'" she said in a 2014 ESPN interview.

After Rio, Douglas didn't step foot in a gym for six years. She told Gymnastics Magazine that she moved to Texas, where she worked on a farm and contemplated learning how to barrel race just to scratch her competitive itch. Instead, she rediscovered her love for gymnastics and set her sights on competing in the 2024 Paris Olympics. "My biggest goal is to just go out there and just do the best that I can," she said. In April 2024, Douglas shared a photo on Instagram that was taken during a gym session, and she looked like she was ready to go for the gold again — those guns had definitely grown back.

Andre Agassi's mullet is no more

Andre Agassi had a rather magnificent mullet in the '90s. It was so long and lush that the eight-time Grand Slam champion believes it wasn't just the best of that era but possibly all time. "You know how many mullets I see down here now? They're not even close," he says in a promotional video for Uber Australia. But in his autobiography "Open," Agassi spills a big secret about his flowing mane: During much of his career, it was fake. He had started losing his hair and wearing hairpieces. According to Agassi, he used to fret over the reaction of fans and the media if one of his wigs were to fall off during a match.

Agassi credits his ex-girlfriend Brooke Shields for finally convincing him to let go of his fear that people would like him less if he just shaved off what hair he had left and embraced having a bare pate. The tennis great had no regrets about taking her advice once it was gone. "I feel exhilarated, and heavily indebted to Brooke. You were right, I tell her. My hairpiece was a shackle," he writes. Agassi even credits the change for his improved game when he stepped on the court with his new signature look at the 1995 Australian Open.

Lolo Jones is rocking that reality show star look

Lolo Jones is probably most famous for transforming herself from a hurdler into a bobsledder, but she's also one of the many Olympians who look far different now than they did when they were competing in the Games. Jones' best Olympic performance came in 2012 when she finished fourth in the 100m hurdles, and she made her final Olympic appearance two years later in the bobsleigh event at the Winter Games in Sochi. Since then, it seems that she hasn't lost her competitive spirit; she's appeared on MTV's "The Challenge" twice. Her reality show credits also include "Dancing with the Stars" and "Celebrity Big Brother."

Since becoming a reality TV fixture, Jones has gone blonder and regularly made appearances at red carpet events, where she could easily be mistaken for a movie star. But as a teen, she says that she didn't feel anywhere near as glamorous as she looks now. "I considered myself pretty ugly," she told Sports Illustrated in 2021. "I had acne. I had a gap in my teeth." As for how she looks like she's aging in reverse now — minus the acne — she revealed on Instagram that she undergoes Morpheus8 radiofrequency micro-needling treatments, calling them "a non-Botox way to tighten everything up."

Jimmy Butler's emo phase

For NBA media day in 2023, Miami Heat Forward Jimmy Butler showed up rocking a shocking new look. His hair had been straightened and styled with a deep side part so that it covered one eye. He also appeared to have on dark eye makeup and was sporting a few facial piercings. Black nail polish completed his emo makeover. While he looked like he was ready to entertain the media by belting out "I'm Not Okay (I Promise)," Butler did not announce that he was quitting basketball to start a My Chemical Romance cover band. "What's this? This is my emotional state. I'm one with my emotions. So, this is what you get," he told the press (via ESPN). He also told CBS Miami that he actually is an MCR fan.

Butler's transformation wasn't permanent, but he did bring it back in 2024 after getting cast in the music video for Fall Out Boy's "So Much (For) Stardust." Some fans on X, formerly known as Twitter, had dubbed the six-time NBA All-Star "Ball Out Boy" after seeing him embrace his emo side, but the character he played in the video was named "Heat Wentz" after the band's lead singer, Pete Wentz.

McKayla Maroney's explanation for her new look

McKayla Maroney was probably making her iconic unimpressed face when she read comments from internet trolls suggesting that she had cosmetically enhanced her features. One prevalent rumor was that the 2012 Olympic gold medalist had plumped up her lips with filler, but in a 2016 interview with Seventeen, she revealed that she had just started using one of Kylie Jenner's favorite makeup tricks: using lip liner to create the illusion of a fuller pout. She also explained that she had become more interested in makeup after deciding to pursue a post-gymnastics career in showbiz. "I think it freaks people out to see somebody change just a little bit. I don't mean to freak anybody out," Maroney added. One cosmetic change she did admit to making was getting eyelash extensions. "That totally can change the way you look," she told Yahoo! Life.

In addition to experimenting with makeup and showing off the results on social media, Maroney dabbled in acting, appearing in episodes of "Superstore" and "Hart of Dixie." She also started making music, dropping her debut single, "Wake Up Call," in 2020. It was followed by a humorous tune about the pandemic titled "Covid Lockdown," of which she tweeted, "It makes me laugh, and I think we could all use a laugh right now."

J.J. Watt's Super Bowl hairstyle switch stunned fans

It's amazing how much of a difference a simple hairstyle change can make. While playing for the Houston Texans, J.J. Watt usually kept his blond hair cropped pretty short, but for the 2024 Super Bowl, the CBS Sports analyst made viewers nostalgic for the days when *NSYNC said "Bye Bye Bye" to hair that moves. Watt looked ready for aughts-era Carson Daly to introduce his new music video on "TRL" with a headful of artfully arranged spikes — all he was missing was the frosted tips. 

The new look got ruthlessly roasted on X, where former NFL player David Bakhtiari suggested that Watt had adopted a high-voltage hairstyle to match his megawatt smile. "Looks like he was electrocuted getting out of bed," he tweeted. Another person joked that Watt was channeling a character from an "early 2000's Disney channel original movie," and the 'do reminded some users of Jason Bateman's "Dodgeball" character Pepper Brooks. "You ever switch up your hair and wonder if anyone will notice? They notice," Watt tweeted after realizing his hair had gone viral for looking dated. But a true connoisseur of crispy keratin spines was a fan. "I for one thought it was a good look," tweeted celebrity chef Guy Fieri.   

Bethanie Mattek-Sands' major hair transformation

Bethanie Mattek-Sands can boast nine Grand Slam titles and an Olympic gold medal in mixed doubles from the 2016 Rio Games, but it's not just her prowess on the court that has made her one of tennis' biggest stars; it's her rock star style. Per The New York Times, she's even been described as "the Lady Gaga of tennis." Mattek-Sands loves flashy 'fits with funky patterns and bright colors, and she used to swap out her hair color on the reg. For Wimbledon in 2013, she rocked a ponytail that was the same fluorescent yellow hue of a tennis ball. Weeks later, she dyed her hair purple for the U.S. Open. She's also experimented with pink streaks and rainbow hair.

Of her splashy style, Mattek-Sands told Black Label Tennis, "It's something that I would do off the court and I think more people should bring their personalities on the court." She seemingly settled on a more permanent hairstyle befitting of her spunky personality in 2019. On Instagram, she debuted a punk pixie cut that was the work of celebrity hairstylist Ted Gibson. After undergoing that dramatic transformation, she's stuck with variations of the short hairstyle ever since.

Sammy Sosa lightened his skin

After Chicago Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa announced his retirement from professional baseball in June 2009, he debuted a new look a few months later. When he walked the red carpet at the Grammy Latino Awards, the Dominican-American MLB star's skin was noticeably lighter compared to how it looked when baseball fans had marveled over his ability to make moon shots. "It looks as if he dipped his face in baking powder," Jemele Hill wrote in a piece for ESPN.

There was speculation that the change was a side effect of steroids or that he was possibly sick. However, Sosa told "Primer Impacto" that there was no cause for concern. "It's a bleaching cream that I apply before going to bed and whitens my skin some," he said. Sosa further explained that photographers' flashing lights were to blame for his skin looking even paler than it actually was. "I don't think I look like Michael Jackson," he added. Years later at the 2020 Sports Illustrated Super Bowl LIV Party, his skin looked even lighter. 

According to Sosa, the criticism of his altered appearance doesn't bother him. "I don't take garbage from nobody. I do whatever I want," he told Sports Illustrated when asked about it in 2018.

Paige VanZant became an OnlyFans model

Professional fighter Paige VanZant has put her face and body at risk of getting bashed to bits during her tenure with the UFC and BKFC, but she has discovered that she can make a living off her physique without worrying about getting a black eye or breaking any bones. When VanZant joined OnlyFans in 2022, her built-in fanbase helped her rapidly establish a steady flow of income. "I think I made more money in 24 hours on OnlyFans than I had in my entire fighting career," she said on the "Only Stans" podcast. Years before she made this major career transition, VanZant told TMZ that she had gotten breast implants. Since they can rupture during fights, this was a brave move.

VanZant also has a side hustle that doesn't require dodging flying fists. She and her husband, Austin Vanderford, launched a podcast called "A Kickass Love Story" in 2023. In one episode, VanZant defended her modeling on OnlyFans by comparing it to her fighting career. "I sold my body to the UFC," she said. "I got broken bones, my face cut up, I got injured, probably concussions. [...] Isn't that the same thing?" Well, none of those things are hazards of the job over on OnlyFans, but the part about profiting from her body makes sense. 

Conor McGregor looks like a different person without a beard

In 2022, UFC star Conor McGregor looked like he was ready to stage a Tinseltown takeover with a polished, red carpet-ready look. After shaving off the bushy beard that's usually affixed to his face, he showed off the results on Instagram and left some of his fans a bit flabbergasted. "OMG! what did you do to yourself!" one of his followers wrote. "God looks so different without the beard," another commented. McGregor was also compared to the animated superhero Mr. Incredible and "Venom" actor Tom Hardy.

McGregor and Hardy might actually find themselves competing for jobs in the future. McGregor joined the ranks of athletes who have successfully made the transition to acting when he got cast alongside Jake Gyllenhaal in Amazon Prime's 2024 remake of the 1989 Patrick Swayze classic "Road House." The film was a hit for the streaming platform. According to The Hollywood Reporter, McGregor was also boasting that he had surpassed Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson to become "the highest-paid first-time actor of all time."