It’s been a busy and worthwhile two months for WWE Superstar Titus O’Neil, making the most of his Florida roots at two important Florida events.
In November, O’Neil (Thaddeus Bullard) was the primary speaker for the Navy UDT-SEAL Museum’s 30th Annual Muster and Music Festival Weekend during Veterans Day Weekend in (South Florida) Fort Pierce.
“One of the [Navy SEAL Museum] advisory board members, Jim Shafer [MD], is a good friend of a friend of mine, and he asked him if he had heard my story -- things I’ve had to deal with throughout my lifetime. He asked if I would be interested in speaking to the Navy SEALs. I told him absolutely. I was very shocked especially when I looked at the list of people who had done it before.”
That prestigious list includes ADM William McRaven, ADM Sean Pypus, Ross Perot, CAPT Phillips, Tom Norris (SEAL MOH Recipient), Mike Thornton (SEAL MOH Recipient), Patrick Murphy and Allen West.
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“[Asked to give the speech] had more to do with the content of my character as a person than it did with my television character,” O’Neil said. “That really humbles me. I understand the commitment and sacrifices that they make, but they also understand the things that I had to go through in order to get to the point that I’m at today. There’s a lot of mutual respect for what they do for living, what they’ve done for a living and what they continue to do on a daily basis. It’s definitely a lifelong relationship that I will have with them, and I’m very grateful for it.”
O’Neil, a proud University of Florida graduate who played for the Gators’ football team, was born and raised in Florida. His family tree features military branches. His aunt, who lives in St. Augustine, her husband and their daughter served in the U.S. Navy. They married into military families, representing the U.S. Air Force. Several of O’Neil’s uncles served in the U.S. military with a couple of relatives in the U.S. Army.
With a military lineage, O’Neil delivered the keynote address for the festive and commemorative event.
“The inspiration for my speech was basically derived from my own story,” he said. “I shared my own story and how it correlated with what a lot of them have to go through on a daily basis. Some of the women who were in attendance are living the lives of single parents. Some of them lost their loved ones or significant others in combat war. So they’ve had to struggle a lot financially, and I was very open and honest with them about my background, my upbringing. They key to my success has been consistency, and the overall theme of my message to them was consistency is the key to their breakthrough. I don’t feel anyone exemplifies that consistency more so than the Navy SEALs.”
The day included an early morning 5K beach run, followed by an afternoon of special guest speakers, including O'Neil, and several SEAL capabilities demonstrations on Museum property.
“I got a chance to ride in a helicopter for the first time. That was pretty cool,” he noted, “but the most inspiring thing -- which I have a picture of it, too -- was meeting a guy who lost both legs while on duty. He had two prosthetic legs, and he was in the run earlier that morning. He had his family with him, and he came up to me and said how thankful he was for me to be there. ‘It’s an honor to have you here.’ I said, ‘No sir. It’s an honor to have the opportunity to be here with you.’ His son hugged me, and his daughter did, too. One was 2-years-old and the other 3 1 /2. He said, ‘My kids are usually very shy, so you must be like a kid magnet,’ and I said, ‘Yea, I kind of am.’ I guess they picture me like a big teddy bear.
“To hear him say that...He’s been through a lot, but he was out there, getting ready for the run. He’s got his family there. They’ve stuck through some tough times together. That to me, talking about family and commitment, he displayed it all. He was committed to do the 5K. He was also committed to having his family out there, being involved. They were enjoying the beach and the water, and it was cool for them to kind of embrace me, a stranger, with open arms.”
At the event, O’Neil was joined by former WWE Superstar Batista, who is also an action movie star.
“Once the Navy SEALs asked me to do it, I shared that great news with people who are close to me, and Dave [Batista] immediately text me back and said, ‘When is it?’ He was also there for me in Chicago when I got the humanitarian award from Jesse Jackson [at The Rainbow PUSH Sports Awards in 2014]. He always wants to be there for me in big moments. Same with me. I always want to be there when he’s doing movie premieres and stuff like that.”
Batista went the extra mile to make the Navy SEAL event, traveling from one side of the state to the other, after a long PR jaunt.
“He’d been on a whirlwind media tour,” O’Neil said. “He literally got home late that Friday night and came over that Saturday morning early. He got home in Tampa, and then a buddy of mine drove him over, so he could rest and sleep in the car. He just came from promoting 007 [the James Bond film] ‘Spectre.’ [Batista plays villain Mr. Hinx.] He’d been overseas, everywhere. So for him to be there for me. He is one of the closest friends that I have. He’s like a brother to me, a big brother to me, and he always has been, even before I got into WWE. I was very proud to have him there, and a lot of people were very excited about having him there, too.”
Batista and O’Neil met as neighbors in Tampa, and the former WWE champion encouraged O’Neil to try pro wrestling/sports entertainer, the WWE way.
O’Neil recalled: “ I literally got started when I was driving to South Tampa one day to pick up a pair of dress shoes, and I saw the building where he told me FCW was, which is now NXT [in Orlando]. I called him and said, ‘Is this black and yellow building the place you were telling me about to speak to someone to look into this?’ He said, ‘Yea,’ and I said, ‘Well, I’m going to poke my head in and see what it’s about.’ Two weeks after I poked my head in, I was in that same building learning how to become a WWE superstar.”
With Batista’s success on the big screen (“Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Spectre”) as well as WWE producing its own movies via WWE Studios, O’Neil is interested in movie making, too. Currently, he is enjoying his role on WWE Raw (8 p.m. Mondays USA Network) and SmackDown (8 p.m. Thursdays Syfy) as well as in the community.
The Navy UDT-SEAL Museum’s 30th Annual Muster and Music Festival Weekend also showcased the SEAL parachute team, the Leapfrogs; the K-9 tactical team; and additional enemy apprehension displays.
Elaine Ryan, Marketing and Public Relations, Navy SEAL Museum, wrote via email: “The overall impression of Thaddeus Bullard, aka Titus O'Neil, is he is a genuinely warm and authentic guy. He has a quiet confidence about him, but he is humble and understated. For a large man who commands the presence he does when he enters a room, he is not one to draw attention to himself. Heads crank around and mouths fall open to witness his size, and repeatedly strangers would ask him, "Are you a football player?" Every time, he patiently and gently provided a different answer, ‘No, I am a professional ballerina,’ or, ‘I am a pro tennis player,’ or ‘No, I am a gymnast,’ and he would continue on his way.
“At the same time, he was never bothered by people who did recognize him, those who got in his face and asked for autographs. To me, he was almost childlike, gentle and inquisitive, happy to take it all in, never afraid to ask questions about that which was unfamiliar to him. He loves kids– his own, and any with whom he came in contact. He clearly adores children and has endless patience for them.
“His keynote speech was personal and invoked emotion. It was encouraging and amped the crowd. It was sincere, not recited routinely or read from cue cards. Titus spoke from the heart.”
She noted he is authentic, humble, generous, humorous, kind, warm, approachable. She said: “For a giant, he is gentle.”
Rick Kaiser, the Executive Director of the Navy SEAL Museum, added: “We were pleased to host Titus O'Neil as our 30th Annual Muster keynote speaker. As an enthusiastic patriot and proud supporter of our military, Titus proved to be an asset to another successful event Veterans Day Weekend.”
O’Neil has also been involved in WWE Tribute to the Troops.
For information, visit www.navysealmuseum.org
- WWE Tribute to the Troops
To honor more brave men and women of the U.S. military, O’Neil joined more WWE superstars, divas, personnel and staff in December for the company’s 13th annual Tribute to the Troops.
“Every year this is something that we all look forward to,” O’Neil said, “because it’s a way for us to say, ‘Thank you.’”
On Wednesday, Dec. 23, from 8-10 p.m. ET, USA Network will air the 13th annual holiday special WWE TRIBUTE TO THE TROOPS.
“It’s an honor for me to be there,” said O’Neil, who participated in his fifth Tribute to the Troops event. “To see the people’s faces light up when we’re there. To just be human. It’s not about us being a WWE superstar or diva. It’s not about us the [WWE] character. It’s about us being people, real people who they can relate to. That’s something I’m very proud of...with not just the talent but also the employees and everybody involved in WWE as a whole...how humbled we are with them.”
In the tradition of Bob Hope, WWE brings together the best of sports entertainment and pop culture with celebrity appearances and performances from music’s most popular acts, performed for the U.S. servicemen and women to honor their commitment and dedication to our country. This year, Grammy Award-winning rock band Train will perform.
WWE TRIBUTE TO THE TROOPS has become a holiday tradition and is considered TV’s most patriotic and heartwarming show of the year. It will chronicle WWE’s visit to Florida’s Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena for military personnel and their families stationed at the Jacksonville Naval Air Station, Naval Station Mayport and Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base.
“We visit hospitals, and we visit schools on those bases,” O’Neil said. “We get to go on some really cool things and do some really cool stuff. Last year we got to shoot rifles, and I was in a submarine, even though I could hardly fit. Big Show can echo that, too. So it’s a chance for us to have some funny moments, too, because we’re in their element...We welcome that because we like to have fun.”
While in town, WWE Superstars and Divas will spend the day giving back to those who serve and their families with visits to each base, a Be a STAR anti-bullying rally and military outreach.
“It’s a great honor to be able to be associated with our United States military women and men, because they are true heroes,” O’Neil said. “They make great sacrifices for the benefit and betterment of people worldwide.”
WWE is very supportive of the U.S.military.
“So when we get a chance to tell them ‘Thank you,’ it’s a great honor for us,” O’Neil said. “It’s also a great time to listen to their stories and see how excited they are that we are there. They remember stuff about our careers that we don’t even remember sometimes. Last year I got constantly reminded of the Thanksgiving feast that I put in JBL’s hat on SmackDown.
“It’s pretty cool that they get to mingle with some people who they see on television, but it’s a greater honor for us to mingle with them and associate ourselves with them, because of what they stand for. The commitment to preserving our safety is very important to me for several reasons. I have two sons, and I’m very grateful we have a United States military, women and men, to help protect us. So I will do my best to entertain them on a weekly basis.”
- Deserving nomination
O’Neil has been nominated for DoSomething.org’s annual “Celebs Gone Good” list, which celebrates entertainers around the world who are using their voice and platforms to support important social causes.
DoSomething.org is a Be a STAR Alliance Member and one of the largest global non-profit organizations that empowers nearly 4.5-million members to combat social issues from poverty to bullying.
O’Neil is in good company, making a strong list of nominees, including Adele, Amy Schumer, Blake Shelton, Ellen DeGeneres, Justin Timberlake and fellow WWE Superstar John Cena.
To vote for O’Neil
Voting closes Friday, Dec. 25. The winners will be announced on Monday, Dec. 28.
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- WWE in Florida
The Royal Rumble, one of WWE’s biggest shows, is Sunday, Jan. 24 at Orlando’s Amway Center, home of the NBA Orlando Magic.
The event is already sold-out, but to check if any tickets have been released, go to
The Royal Rumble drop kicks-off the Road to WrestleMania with the winner of the 30-man battle royal earning a WWE World title match at WrestleMania 32 on Sunday, April 3 at AT&T Stadium in Dallas.
- Raw in Miami
Tickets are on sale for WWE Monday Night Raw in Miami, the night after the Royal Rumble. The AmericanAirlines Arena, home of the three-time NBA champion Miami, will host Raw on Monday, Jan. 25. It will be broadcast live on the USA Network.
- NXT at UCF
To drop kick off Royal Rumble weekend, NXT TV tapings are Friday, Jan. 22 at the CFE Arena on the campus of the University of Central Florida in Orlando. The CFE Arena is the home of the NCAA Division I UCF Knights basketball team.
WWE NXT is 8 p.m. EST Wednesdays on WWE Network.
- More WWE in Florida
WWE will be at the Germain Arena, home of the Florida Everblades hockey team, for a super house show (no TV) on Saturday, Jan. 23 in Estero/Fort Myers. Bell time is 7:30 p.m.
WWE visits the Amalie Arena, home of the NHL Tampa Bay Lightning, on Tuesday, Jan. 26 in Tampa for a SmackDown TV taping. Bell time is 7 p.m.
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