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Wrestling On The Gridiron: Top 15 Football Players Turned Wrestlers

There have been some big-name football players who have dabbled in professional wrestling, and, there are some big-name wrestlers who have a background in football. But, when putting together a defensive football team that is made up of professional wrestlers, the players’ abilities on the football field and the length of their wrestling careers trump everything else.

So, this team was put together with the mindset of being as dominant on the gridiron as possible, with the players being legit wrestlers with more than one or two matches under their belts. Not surprisingly, heavy on linemen, pass rushers, and hitters, and low on cover guys, this team’s plan is to put pressure on the offense before the offense can work its plan. These are the 15 wrestlers turned football players that would make up the most dominant defense.

15 Mongo McMichael: Interior Defensive Line

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In the squared circle, Steve “Mongo” McMichael took on the likes of Eddie Guerrero, Goldberg, Jeff Jarrett, as well as fighting and later becoming a member of the Four Horsemen. In fact, the World Championship Wrestling performer won the promotion’s United States Title with a victory over Jarrett. McMichael finished his opponents with a tombstone pile driver he dubbed the Mongo spike.

He spiked his opponents like a football because before McMichael was a winner in the ring, he helped the Chicago Bears win Super Bowl XX as a part of one of the best defenses in NFL history. Playing defensive tackle, McMichael was integral in the Bears 46 defense in the 1985 season. By the time his 15-year career ended in 1994, the two-time Pro Bowl selectee had amassed 95-career sacks.

14 "The Big Cat" Ernie Ladd: Interior Defensive Line

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As a professional wrestler, the Big Cat Ernie Ladd was one of the few men of his era who was big enough to be in a convincing feud with Andre the Giant. Legitimately standing 6-foot-9 and weighing over 300 pounds, Ladd was one of the biggest athletes of the 1960’s and 70’s. In addition to battling Andre the Giant, the WWE Hall of Famer also took on Bruno Sammartino and Bob Backlund in heavyweight title matches, and battled the likes of the Junkyard Dog and Mr. Wonderful Paul Orndorff.

On the football field, Ladd would be one of the biggest defensive tackles to play nowadays, so imagine him lining up over offensive linemen 50 years ago. Ladd used his size and surprising quickness to help the San Diego Chargers become one of the best teams in the AFL, while he also became a four-time All-Star selection.

13 Brian Pillman: Linebacker

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A very popular wrestler during his 10-year career, Brian Pillman earned his nickname "Flyin" by thrilling the crowds with his high-level acrobatics off of the top rope. In addition to being a WCW Light Heavyweight Champion, he was also a NWA and WCW World Tag Team Champion as one-half of the Hollywood Blondes with none other than the then golden-locked one, Steve Austin. Performing in the WCW and later the WWE, Pillman was also a part of two legendary stables in the Four Horsemen and the Hart Foundation. In the WWE, he would help Austin’s Stone Cold persona grow in popularity as a feud between the two of them featured a home break-in and a gun.

Not only did Pillman take risks as a wrestler, but he took risks on the football field as well. An undersized All-American nose guard at Miami of Ohio, Pillman tried to make it in the NFL as a linebacker, playing six games in 1984 on special teams for the Cincinnati Bengals.

12 Leo the Lion Nomellini: Interior Defensive Line

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Another big man for his time period, Leo “The Lion” Nomellini used his 6-foot-3, 260- pound stature to become one of the most successful tag team wrestlers of the 1950s. Nomellini won almost a dozen tag team championships, nearly having as may partners as he had titles won – including winning one of the championships with the legendary Verne Gagne.

As successful he was as a wrestler, he had even more success as a member of the San Francisco 49ers. A two-way lineman, Nomellini earned 10 Pro Bowl selections, and after his retirement was named to the NFL’s All 1950s team, 50th Anniversary Team, and inducted into the Hall of Fame. Not surprisingly, his finishing move as a wrestler was the flying tackle.

11 Ron Simmons: Interior Defensive Line

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As a wrestler, Ron Simmons had successful incarnations as a tag team and singles performer, and as a heel and a face. In the early 1990s, he first rose to the top of the heap as one-half of the tag team Doom. Doom held the National Wrestling Association Tag Team Championship and was the first to hold the WCW Tag Team Championship. From there, Simmons made history as the first recognized African-American WCW World Heavyweight Champion. Simmons later garnered a new and wider fan base in the WWE as Faarooq, first a part of the Nation of Domination, and then a part of the Acolytes.

On the gridiron, Simmons was a consensus All-American nose guard at Florida State in 1979 and 80. He is also a member of the College Football Hall of Fame. Simmons was a sixth-round pick of the Cleveland Browns, but ended up playing several years in the USFL after being cut – damn!

10 Kevin Greene: Pass Rusher

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A 2016 NFL Hall of Fame inductee, Kevin Greene’s time as a professional wrestler might be forgotten to some, but that is just what he was from 1996 to 1998. Greene had five matches during that period, with four being on pay per views. His highlights include defeating the Giant, and teaming with Ric Flair and Roddy Piper to defeat the nWo headlined by Kevin Nash and Scott Hall.

That being said, as an NFL Hall of Famer, it is correct to assume that Greene had even greater highlights on the football field. Greene played 15 years in the NFL, playing for the Los Angeles Rams, Pittsburgh Steelers, Carolina Panthers, and San Francisco 49ers. His 160 career sacks put him third all-time on the NFL sack list.

9 Alex Karras: Pass Rusher

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Probably known more for his acting and football careers than his time as a professional wrestler, Alex Karras was indeed a noted professional wrestler in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He most notably fought against former NWA and American Wrestling Association Heavyweight Champion Dick the Bruiser. Karras also teamed with fellow football standout, and this All-Time Professional Wrestling Football Defensive Team teammate, Leo Nomellini in tag team action.

The reason Karras’ fame on the football field was so great was because as a member of the Detroit Lions, he was a lynchpin in some of the better defenses in the NFL in the 1960’s and on to 1970. A defensive tackle during his era, his 6-foot-2, 248-pound size makes him an edge rusher on this team.

8 Marcus Cor Von: Linebacker

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Marcus Cor Von, also wrestling under his birth name Monty Brown, is a former WWE/Extreme Championship Wrestling performer who once was a contender for the ECW Heavyweight Championship. Cor Von battled the likes of CM Punk, Rob Van Dam, and Bobby Lashley. He was a part of the ECW New Breed faction in WWE, and before then, was a member of Jeff Jarrett’s planet Jarrett in ECW.

That is a distinguished career in wrestling, but as Brown, his career playing football was just as distinguished. A linebacker for the Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots, Brown played four seasons in the NFL, starting 13 games before his career was hampered by an ankle injury. During his time with Buffalo, he was able to play in the Bills’ last of four consecutive Super Bowls in 1994.

 

7 Wahoo McDaniel: Linebacker

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Edward “Wahoo” McDaniel had a lengthy and highly-distinguished career as a professional wrestler. During the course of his 30-plus years in the sport, McDaniel held a heavyweight championship belt through much of the 1970’s and mid-80’s. Those years was highlighted by his feud with Ric Flair, which occurred in Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling and the NWA. According to cagematch.net, McDaniel’s career record against Flair was 105-66-16.

With so many years as a wrestler, it is not surprising that McDaniel’s career as a professional football player is often forgotten. A mainstay in the AFL, McDaniel played nine seasons in the league – most notably with the Denver Broncos, New York Jets, and Miami Dolphins. He accounted for 13 interceptions as a pro. Very versatile, he also punted some for the Dolphins and Broncos, and played receiver and running back collegiately at Oklahoma.

 

 

6 "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan: Bandit

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Despite being a very talented wrestler, "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan was known for his persona in and entering the ring as much as for his in-ring talents. That sort of happens when you carry a two-by-four and a huge American Flag to the ring, while periodically yelling out ohhhh during your matches. Nevertheless, Duggan became a prominent wrestler in the WWE and later WCW. In 1988, he won the first-ever Royal Rumble, and some six years later defeated the pre-Stone Cold Steve Austin to win the WCW’s Unites States Heavyweight Championship.

Duggan’s football career ended in Atlanta as a knee injury prevented him from making a mark in the NFL with the Falcons. Before his shot at making it in the NFL, he was one of the best linebackers Southern Methodist University produced in the mid 1970’s. In fact, Duggan was a team co-captain in 1976. His 6-foo-3, 240-pound size, coupled with his athleticism, makes him the perfect linebacker/defensive lineman hybrid on this team.

5 Tino Sabbatelli: Defensive Back

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The WWE NXT performer has over 60 matches under his belt, as he embarks on his career in professional wrestling. He has lost over 70 percent of his trips inside the wrestling ring according to cagematch.net, but Sabbatelli is definitely learning the ropes and could become a big deal in the WWE in due time.

Under his birth name Sabby Piscitelli, Sabbatelli was a big deal as football player. He was first-team Pac-10 as a safety at Oregon State in 2006. He intercepted five passes that year, and finished his career with 15 interceptions. A 2007 second round draft pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sabbatelli started 15 games for the Bucs at strong safety in 2009, intercepting two passes that season. He finished his career five interceptions after also playing for Cleveland and Kansas City.

4 New Jack: Defensive Back

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This former ECW Tag Team Champion put the hard in hardcore wrestling. Known as the Original Gangsta, New Jack was also known for putting his mouth on the line through his trash talking just as much as he put his body on the line when he dove off of top ropes. Returning to the ring in 2016 for a couple of matches after retiring three years earlier, New Jack was still keeping it real for VIP Wrestling on the north side of 50 years of age.

Before his hardcore days began, New Jack, then known as Jerome Young, was a hard hitter in the defensive backfield at Clark Atlanta University – known as Clark College when Young attended in the 1980s.

3 Big Swoll: Defensive Back

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A member of Master P’s No Limit Soldiers faction that took the “rassling” world by storm in 1999, Big Swoll was a menacing figure. Teaming with the likes of Brad Armstrong, Rey Mysterio, and Konnan, the crew spawned by the budding hip-hop mogul had a short feud with Barry and Kendall Windham. Before Swoll wrestled in the WCW, he wrestled a couple of matches earlier in the decade in Japan, after having a debut match in American Wrestling Association in 1991.

Even before then, Swoll, known as Randy Thornton, was a standout free safety collegiately for the Houston Cougars. He went on to play a few NFL seasons with the Denver Broncos, lining up at outside linebacker, because as his name indicates – he had gotten swolled (sic).

2 Titus O’Neil: Pass Rusher

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The 2016 twist and turns of the WWE performer Titus O’Neil, whose out of the ring name is Thaddeus Bullard, have been as up-and-down as his career in the squared circle. Between his back-and-forth commitment to his Prime Time Player partner Darren Young, and his failed feud with Rusev, knowing what O’Neil will be up to next is not an easy task. That is sort how he first gained popularity on WWE’s NXT, teaming and feuding with Zack Ryder.

O’Neil’s football career can relate to his topsy-turvy life in the ring. A highly-rated recruit and USA Today High School All American, O’Neil, then as Bullard, could not live up to those expectations as a defensive end for the Florida Gators. Nevertheless, the 6-foot-5, 270-pound athletic specimen played five seasons in the Arena Football league, notching 4.5 sacks while also catching three passes and a touchdown.

1 Bronko Nagurski: Rover

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A football legend of legends, the name Bronko Nagurski might appear to be as real to some living these days as the names Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett. Nevertheless, not only was Nagurski a real person like Boone and Crockett, but he also wrestled professionally. Nagurski was a two-time NWA World Heavyweight Champion in the late 1930s and early 1940’s, and also won the NWA Minnesota World Tag Team Championship with Verne Gagne in 1957.

Still, it is on the football field where the name Bronko Nagurski leads the pack. A two-way player, Nagurski starred as a fullback and defensive lineman. He helped the Chicago Bears become one of the most dominant teams in the NFL in the 1930’s. Also, one of the best collegiate football players ever, the University of Minnesota product’s name is on a trophy given annually to the best defensive college football player in the country. At 6-foot-2, and 230 pounds, Nagurski fits the profile of a linebacker in today’s game, and with his ball carrying athleticism, he is a rover (linebacker/defensive back) on this team of professional wrestlers.

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Wrestling On The Gridiron: Top 15 Football Players Turned Wrestlers