Stone Cold Steve Austin, Ron Simmons, Ernie Ladd, Bill Goldberg, The Rock and John Bradshaw Layfield.
Many of sports entertainment’s biggest names didn’t start in a wrestling ring but rather on the football field.
WWE is looking for more players to make the transition from the gridiron to the squared circle through NXT, its developmental territory. In May, WWE’s Jim Ross met with the NFL Players Association in Washington D.C. in developing a partnership to recruit new talent.
NXT’s Baron Corbin, a former pro football player, hopes to be one of the company’s success stories.
The consummate athlete joined the program last year with an impressive resume. Corbin is not only a three-time Golden Gloves boxing champion, but he was also an NCAA Division II All American offensive lineman. He caught the attention of pro scouts, earning stints with the Indianapolis Colts and Arizona Cardinals.
In Arizona, he met Dean Muhtadi, an enthusiastic defensive linemen also trying to make the team. They forged a friendship. Muhtadi is NXT superstar Mojo Rawley.
“Mojo was a D tackle, so we actually got to play against each other in practice,” Corbin said smiling. “We had some good battles on the football field. He’s an extremely tough, hard-nosed player, and we’re both physical players, so we hit each other a lot.”
“It was a good toss-up,” Corbin, 28, said. “We’re both good in our own ways, and I’ll leave it at that.”
Rawley said: “Baron and I were very similar when we were playing football in Arizona. We were guys who worked extremely hard who came from nothing and fought our way onto teams. We were never the most recruited guys; so when we were in practice or games, you could tell we had an extra chip on our shoulder, out to prove ourselves. Our motors were running a little faster than everyone else, and that created a mutual respect between us.”
When Corbin (Tom Pestock) and Muhtadi decided time to hang-up the football cleats, the next journey began.
After 2 1/2 years of pro ball, Corbin was ready to pursue his dreams of becoming a WWE superstar. So did Muhtadi.
Life is funny sometimes.
Neither knew the other intended to try out for WWE through FCW, now NXT.
Each made the cut, inked a developmental deal and journeyed to Tampa. Surprise. Surprise.
Rawley, who turns 27 on July 17, said: “When we learned we’re ending up here together, that was an unreal conversation. Him and I were great friends in Arizona. We hung out off the field. We joked around. So one day [after the football career ended], I called him at random. I said, ‘Hey Baron. How’s it going? What’ve you been up to? What are you doing these days?’ He goes, ‘You’ll never believe it, but I just signed with WWE, and I’m headed to NXT.’
“I just started laughing. I go, ‘You are kidding me. I just signed the same contract.’ So there was that moment like, ‘Oh my gosh. There’s no way this is happening like this.’ We had the same start date. We came in together. We practiced our moves on each other, trying to help each other assimilate into a completely different industry, a different career, different skill set.”
Corbin said: “It’s nice to have somebody here who’s gone through the same path that I’ve gone through.”
Rawley added: “It’s been a pretty unreal experience to go from buddies in the NFL to buddies here.”
Corbin continued: “It has been something I’ve wanted to do ever since I was a little kid [like Rawley]. My path in life took me to college. I played football in college. That was what I did, but I always wanted to be a professional wrestler. I didn’t know if I was going to go into it in high school or college or what. Then the opportunity arose where I got to come out for a tryout. I had a tryout and did really well and enjoyed it. They offered me a contract.”
The budding grappler believes training for football and pro wrestling is similar, which has helped the learning curve.
“There is a lot of repetition and conditioning,” Corbin said. “It’s about getting your body right, hitting the gym and staying strong. It was a little bit of a transition for me was I was an offensive lineman. I was 323 pounds. It was a business where it didn’t matter what you looked like. If you had a gut hanging out, as you long as you did your job you were fine. Now you have to be aesthetically pleasing.”
Corbin’s challenged himself to get his body in shape for action. He changed the way he ate and the way he trained.
“I would eat, but now I diet,” Corbin said. “There are things I can and can’t eat. It’s difficult at times because when I was playing football if I wanted to eat a large pizza for dinner and again the next day for breakfast I could. Now I can’t do that. As far as the physicality and emotion and all that, it’s about the same.
“When you are in there, you want to win. It’s a fight to win. You’re going to be sore afterwards with all the impact. It’s a good feeling. To me, that is why I played football. I loved the physicality of it, and now with this, it’s the same type of thing. I train during the day, and I’m excited to go to practice.”
The driven performer likes how every week is a different adventure. He learns something new with every experience.
“It doesn’t get boring,” Corbin said.
“Typically, we train Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, some Thursdays and some Fridays. It all depends when you have shows. Sometimes we have four shows, three shows, two shows in a week. We are traveling to different cities. I’m getting to experience everything.
“I’m getting to perform before people when I’m not protected by a helmet and a facemask. I’m out there in the open and have to connect with them. So that is a big difference. Here you are out there and vulnerable. You’re job is to make the people want to see you, and that is exciting.”
The NXT standout believes in keeping his persona true to who himself, but turned up. This mindset has worked for others in the past. For Corbin, it has been a work in progress.
“My goal is to be who I am, but conveying emotion for me can be an issue,” Corbin said. “When you hide behind a facemask, you want people to feel what you are talking about and the things that you doing. Sometimes you have to open yourself up to that. That has been a difficult thing for me is to have to allow people in and experience these emotions.
“I can tell you all day long that I love being physical and I love all of that stuff. I live by never giving up and pushing it to the edge. People have to believe that, and if you don’t show them through your emotions, you won’t.”
The lifelong fan remembers watching “Macho Man” Randy Savage, Lex Luger and even Rick Steamboat, who has worked on developing superstars for WWE in recent years. As he got older, he became fans of the likes of Triple H and Randy Orton. He names dominant forces like Batista as an inspiration. Corbin really knew he wanted to begin his journey to WWE after attending WrestleMania XXVI in Phoenix.
“It was unbelievable,” Corbin said. “The Undertaker versus Shawn Michaels match was out of this world. You get lost in those things. I found myself connected and into it. I was cheering. You just get that feeling. You get chills watching something like that. It’s like the greatest thing you can imagine. Just watching those guys do that jut pushes me to get better everyday and try to accomplish something like that to where I know someone watching will say, ‘Wow, that was amazing!’”
Corbin likes watching NXT alum such as the Shield making strides on WWE television. He hopes to join them sooner rather than later. Corbin comes to training motivated with his eyes and ears open.
“I ride with [NXT superstar] Corey Graves here and there, and he offers great advice,” Corbin said. “[NXT superstars] Leo Kruger, Richie Steamboat and those guys who I’m getting to work with. I had a match against Leo, and he is amazing to work with. The same can be said for [NXT superstar] Rick Victor. You learn so much when you work with guys of that caliber.
“You learn more when you are out there win or lose, and from those who have been doing it for a long time. Those are the guys right now I follow. Everybody here is great, especially the coaches. Norman Smiley is an unbelievable technician, as well as Bill DeMott.”
• WWE NXT web page profile
6-8, 275 pounds
Size, speed, agility and an unmatched competitive nature: These are some of the attributes that best describe NXT’s Baron Corbin.
A three-time Golden Gloves boxing champ, a grappling/jiu-jitsu champ and an NCAA Division II All-American offensive lineman for Northwest Missouri State, Corbin has excelled in various fields of competition. He also spent several years in the NFL, lending his talents on the gridiron to the Indianapolis Colts and Arizona Cardinals.
Corbin’s exploits outside NXT have proven he has the work ethic of a champion. He is firmly focused on making a name for himself in NXT and showing the WWE Universe that he is the real deal.
Follow Corbin on Twitter: @BaronCorbin_WWE
Article on Baron Corbin (Tom Pestock) making a tough enough mark on the NFL gridiron.
• WWE NXT web page profile
6-4, 290 pounds
Passion, perseverance and pride are the three words Mojo Rawley lives by.
Mojo brings intensity to the ring that few can match, while wearing an infectious smile on his face.
Prior to his wrestling career, Rawley played all positions on the defensive line for the University of Maryland and later assumed the same role in the NFL for the Green Bay Packers in 2009 and Arizona Cardinals in 2010.
Known for his explosive style, Mojo shattered countless records in strength and speed. He even earned his MBA degree by age 23.
About his growing list of accomplishments, Mojo proudly proclaims, “I don’t get hyped; I stay hyped.”
Follow Rawley on Twitter: @MojoRawleyWWE
Article on Mojo Rawley (Dean Muhtadi) athletic, strong and always smiling -- appreciative of his opportunities -- on the NFL gridiron (and now in NXT)
• WWE is moving its developmental program headquarters, highlighted by NXT, from Tampa (across I-4) to Orlando with the opening of its new state-of-the-art Performance Center. The 26,000 square-foot space will feature seven training rings, strength and conditioning facility, cutting-edge production studio, best-in-class sports medicine center.
• Follow me on Twitter @smFISHMAN, http://twitter.com/#!/smFISHMAN, where I post links and information. Opinions expressed reflect no other entity. I can also be found tweeting incessantly during wrestling shows weekly.
• Miami Herald pro wrestling editor Jim Varsallone contributed to this story.
• YouTube video interviews with NXT superstars Baron Corbin and Mojo Rawley on the Jim Varsallone (the jimmyv3 channel).
NXT superstar Baron Corbin (Part 1): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iEFK3Qc0yro
NXT superstar Baron Corbin (Part 2): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EcxLNbGVJU0
NXT superstar Mojo Rawley (Part 1): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LDdE3TwgEcY
NXT superstar Mojo Rawley (Part 2): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4utw9tecGX8
• WWE NXT tapings are at Full Sail University at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, July 11 in (Central Florida) Winter Park. See current and future WWE superstars and divas including Dolph Ziggler, Big E Langston and AJ Lee. Tickets are reasonably priced, starting at $10 online. Visit http://www.wwe.com/shows/wwenxt.