What makes a WWE superstar? The question can be answered in a multitude of ways. But consistently over time what a former NFL player has inside seems to be a quality that is essential in making a WWE superstar. Former NFL players like Bill Goldberg, “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan, Steve McMichael, William “Refridgerator” Perry, Bronco Nagurski, Ron Simmons, John “Bradshaw” Layfield, “Big Cat” Ernie Ladd, Bill Pillman, Wahoo McDaniel, Mike Adamle, Bill Fralic, Lawrence Taylor and Reggie White, to name a few, all have different NFL career portfolios but transferred their football experience to the WWE ring.
In July the WWE opened its new Performance Center in Orlando Florida. This is where all of the developmental talent or as they call it WWE NXT hone their craft to get a shot at being WWE superstars on the main stage.
The facilities are a first-class training camp where prospective superstars, divas, ringside announcers and other personalities get ready for the big stage. I had the chance to interview two young up-and-coming superstars, who are also former NFL players, about their experience so far in the WWE. Former defensive end Dean Muhtadi (Mojo Rawley) and former offensive guard Tom Pestock (Baron Corbin) are two of the guys I spoke with. These two were oddly enough teammates with the Arizona Cardinals when they individually made the choice to try out being a WWE Superstar.
Dean Muhtadi (Mojo Rawley), always a hard worker and the underdog, had to earn his spot at University of Maryland by walking on from a Division III school, as well as walking on as a free agent for the Green Bay Packers during one of their off-season tryouts. Dean started down a different path than the WWE when he walked away from the game. He earned his MBA during his playing career and worked briefly for Morgan Stanley Smith Barney.
Obviously the call of the WWE was a stronger draw for Dean but it shows the versatility of Dean as a person. During the interview Dean attributes his work ethic to being accepted as a WWE Superstar in their locker room. I asked Dean if the other wrestlers treated them differently because they were former NFL players. Dean expressed that the WWE brings in talent from all walks of life and as long as you come in humble and work hard you will be respected and accepted.
Dean shed some light on the WWE culture someone might walk into. Having a bad attitude will get you fired in the WWE. Having an “I have to earn my respect” mentality is the way to be successful in the WWE. Dean talked about how he survives the 52 week grind. He believes that the new facilities are the key to his safety and longevity and also gave an interesting comparison between a match and a game on what it does to your body. Dean spoke about the importance of being on 24/7 or as he puts it “#StayHype”. Having this mentality and work ethic goes a long way when trying to break into a new career.
Listen to Dean’s interview here:
Tom Pestock (WWE Baron Corbin) grew up a fan of wrestling. He was also a three time Golden Gloves boxing champion who’s quick hands earned him NCAA Division II All-American honors for Northwest Missouri State. Tom actually looked at attending a wrestling school when he thought his NFL career was over the first time before the Arizona Cardinals came calling.
Tom, at the end of his career with the Cardinals took the next step in contacting WWE who brought him down for a weeklong tryout/education orientation. During the interview Tom said that he had an opportunity to learn what the expectations were from the WWE staff of him and this new career path and what the experience would be like trying to become a WWE Superstar. Tom talked about the physicality that’s involved in training to become a WWE Superstar, which he missed from his playing days, and also the mental aspect of training your personality to become someone that people around the world will want to tune in to watch.
One encouraging part of our conversation was listening to Tom talk about his transition from the ring to other opportunities outside the ring when his time is over. Tom talked about the way the WWE trains the injuries that might come with a former player when he enters the profession. Tom indicated that because of the way they are trained, in the small details of injury protection and strength training, through continuous repetitions of the techniques they need to perform in the ring, along with close monitoring by medical staff and coaches, they are able to endure and thrive during the strenuous 52 week schedule.
Tom’s advice to anyone who wants to follow the same path he and Dean are on is to dedicate 110% of yourself to the craft and have an open mind because it is a change and a challenge.
Listen to Tom’s interview here:
Nolan Harrison III was an NFL defensive lineman from 1991-2000; he is senior director of former player services for the NFL Players Association. For more about Nolan click here and follow him on twitter @NolanHarrison74 and @NFLPALegends.
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