We have very little patience for people who dislike professional wrestling because it’s “fake.” “Choreographed” and “scripted” are not the same, in this case as “fake.” The WWE (and similar productions) are shows, and while the stories are made up and the fights are predetermined, there is nothing fake about the participants’ effort, training, and athleticism. The bottom line is, pro wrestlers are among the hardest training athletes out there.
With that in mind, we come to the entrance of CM Punk into the world of the UFC. His experience in martial arts is almost negligible compared to many current UFC fighters, but his size (185 lbs and 6’2) is roughly perfect for the Middleweight division and his overall athleticism will be an asset. Unfortunately, his lack of experience, coupled with his age (36 years old) are causing experts and fans alike to predict a short MMA career for him. Playing devil’s advocate for a brief second however, this is pro sports, and nobody can ever predict anything with absolute accuracy. Remember prior to the 2014 NFL season when analysts predicted the Dallas Cowboys going 8-8, in the best possible scenaro? All we’re trying to say is that crazier things have happened. Or maybe not.
What should be taken away from this brief tirade is that professional wrestlers are performers, but along with that they are highly trained and natural athletes. Unsurprisingly, there are at least a few of them who were successful and competitive in other sports. Here is a list of former and current pro wrestlers who excelled (to at least some degree) at sports other than wrestling. We define “excel” as “at least reached some collegiate or professional level.” We drew the line at John Cena, who played center for a Division III football team. He gets an honorable mention, because who knows what Div III is? So too does Antonio Cesaro, (Claudio Castagnoli) who was rumored to have played professional rugby, and had been banned from European leagues for being too aggressive. It’s part of his story, so it doesn’t count.
Adam “Pacman” Jones also gets an honorable mention. This article is about wrestlers who achieved success in other sports. During his suspension back in 2007, the then suspended Tennessee Titan briefly “competed” with TNA Wrestling in what can loosely be called a summer job from August to October of that year.
15. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin
We thought we would start off with a wrestler that is fairly well-known, as Stone Cold is one of the most renowned (if not the most) wrestlers of all time. The outspoken, beer drinking Texan was an avid football player as a young man. He dominated his high school in track, baseball, and football, but his collegiate career saw him receive a full football scholarship from North Texas. He played for the Mean Green in the 1986 and 1987 seasons. He played defensive end, but did not advance further than college ball because of injury issues.
14. Kevin Nash
Kevin Nash, one of the original members of the nWo, was an avid basketball player in his life before professional wrestling. He played center for three years for the Tennessee Volunteers, but after disciplinary issues before his fourth year, he was removed from the team. He subsequently went on to play for several teams in Europe. His basketball career was cut short by an ACL injury. After his basketball career had ended, Nash floated from job to job before being introduced to pro wrestling in the late 1980’s.
13. Leon White/Vader
Leon White had a great college football career and seemed like he would dominate in the pros, but he suffered significant injury problems. He played offensive line for the University of Colorado. He was a two-time All American and was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams.
Prior to the draft he suffered a torn patellar tendon, and while he recovered and played two years in the NFL, his third year saw a similar injury. This would prove to be the end of his career, but he started his career in pro wrestling just a couple of years later.
12. Paul “Big Show” Wight
The seven foot tall giant was a basketball center before he took to the ring. Wight played for Wichita State back in the early 90’s. He also played football in high school but that didn’t last long as he clashed with his school’s coaching staff. He moved around a lot during the early 90’s and played ball for two colleges other than Wichita State; Northern Oklahoma Junior College and Southern Illinois University.
He never went pro, but after college, his athleticism was discovered by Danny Bonaduce and Hulk Hogan, both of whom admired his charisma and thought he would be a great wrestling talent. Right they were.
11. Titus O’Neil
Thaddeus Bullard, known in wrestling as Titus O’Neil, was a defensive end (sometimes tackle) for the Florida Gators in the late 90’s under coach Steve Spurrier. He played four years in the Arena Football League for four different teams from 2003-2007. While at Florida, he played in over forty games, and in his senior year he was elected student body vice president.
10. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson
Before he became “The Rock” and long before he played the Scorpion King and brutalized people with a post in Walking Tall, Dwayne Johnson was a defensive tackle at the University of Miami. He suffered from some injury problems in his junior and senior years, and was overlooked in the NFL draft. He briefly signed with the Calgary Stampeders in the CFL, but was cut during the season. It was in 1995 that he gave up football in favor of pursuing a wrestling career.
9. Ron Simmons/Faarooq
Wrestling Hall of Famer (and first black Heavyweight champion in multiple leagues) Ron Simmons was a defensive tackle who played for Florida State in college prior to a four year professional career. He was one of the most successful linemen ever for the Seminoles and went on to play for the Cleveland Browns and Ottawa Rough Riders of the CFL (both very briefly) before spending three years in the USFL with the Tampa Bay Bandits.
8. Jorge/Giant Gonzalez
Another massive wrestler who, like Paul Wight and Andre the Giant, suffered from gigantism, El Gigante/Giant Gonzalez was an Argentinian basketball player prior to joining the world of wrestling. He was on the Argentinian national basketball team and sought an NBA career when he moved to the United States. He was drafted by the Atlanta Hawks but owner Ted Turner saw Gonzalez as having more potential as a wrestler than as a ball player.
He suffered from serious health issues throughout his adult life and retired from wrestling in 1995 at age 29. He sadly died in 2010, as his health gradually deteriorated over the years. Similar to Andre the Giant, Gonzalez suffered from heart issues, but he also had serious kidney damage and diabetes which contributed to his decline in health.
7. Monty Brown/Marcus Cor Von
In the early 90’s, Monty Brown was a stand out defensive player, mostly playing middle linebacker, for Ferris State University in NCAA Div II. He signed with the Buffalo Bills in 1993 and stayed there for three years. He was primarily a backup but was on one of the teams that made the Super Bowl. 1995 was his best year, as he played in all 16 games and racked up 69 tackles. He played in eleven games the following year with the Patriots, making 34 total tackles. This was the last year of his football career. After 1996, he retired from football to focus on training to be a wrestler.
6. Bobby Lashley
The former ECW and TNA World Champion won national amateur wrestling championships with Missouri Valley College in 1997 and 1998. He wrestled while in the U.S. Army as well, and briefly trained to try out for the United States Olympic wrestling team. Sadly, he sustained an injury when the bank that he worked at briefly was robbed. He then turned to pro wrestling, starting his career with WWE in 2004.
His college wrestling experience has played the basis for what has so far been a successful MMA career. He started out in small promotions, moved to Strikeforce, Titan FC and recently has been fighting in Bellator MMA. His MMA record is 12-2. He has held Heavyweight Championship belts in Shark Fights and XFN.
5. Larry Pfohl/Lex Luger
Luger played offensive lineman for the University of Miami before turning pro. He first played for the Montreal Allouettes of the CFL, before being signed by the Green Bay Packers. He never made an impact with the Packers and never played in a game with them before winding up in the UFSL. After playing for three teams in 1984 and 1985, he ended his football career and started wrestling.While playing for the Tampa Bay Bandits in the USFL one of his teammates was Ron “Faarooq” Simmons.
4. Bill Goldberg
Bill Goldberg currently works as an MMA commentator, but long ago, even before he was involved in WCW or WWE, Goldberg was football player. He played at the college level for the Georgia Bulldogs. The defensive tackle was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams in 1990. He played professional football until 1995, achieving minimal success in the NFL, but winning the World Bowl of the World League of American Football (the original name of the former NFL Europe).
3. Ken Shamrock
The Most Dangerous Man in the World is probably as well known for his MMA career as he is for his time in pro wresting. In terms of his wrestling career, he has worked for WWE and TNA. With regard to mixed martial arts, Shamrock fought in Pancrase and UFC throughout the 90’s and early 2000’s and then fought his last few bouts between 2008 and 2010. He won a few of the first UFC events when the promotion still took the form of elimination tournaments. He had similar success in Pancrase tournaments in the early and mid 90’s.
2. Brock Lesnar
While a two-sport professional athlete is one thing, Lesnar has achieved success not only in the world of pro wrestling but also NCAA Div I wrestling, mixed martial arts and even a brief career in football. In MMA, he signed with the UFC in 2008. After an initial loss to Frank Mir, he went on to win four straight and held the Heavyweight Championship belt for almost two years. With regard to football, he essentially quit the WWE briefly in 2004 to try out for the Minnesota Vikings. His natural athleticism, speed, and strength all worked to his favor and he spent the offseason on the practice squad, but the NFL did not turn into much of a career.
1. Steve McMichael
Steve “Mongo” McMichael was involved with wrestling from 1995 to 1999, working with WWE and then WCW. Prior to his wrestling career, he was a defensive tackle for the University of Texas from 1976 to 1979. He was drafted by the New England Patriots in 1980, but played just one season with them before singing with the Chicago Bears. He was on the 1985 Super Bowl winning Bears team and was selected to two Pro Bowls in ’86 and ’87. In his first three years he barely played, but started 171 games over twelve seasons between 1983 and his final year with the Packers in 1994. In that time, he recorded 838 tackles and 95 sacks.
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