Pro football players who became pro wrestlers
To celebrate another NFL season, we recognize 50 football players who traded their helmets for tights with WWE and other pro wrestling promotions.
Some did much better in the squared circle, like Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns.
Some, like William "The Refrigerator" Perry, made the most out of a brief in-ring stint.
And then there are the likes of "Chief" Wahoo McDaniel and "Big Cat" Ernie Ladd, who found themselves quite proficient on the mat and between the hashmarks.
Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, left, shown here defending his WWE Championship against John Cena during WrestleMania 29 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. on April 7, 2013, played briefly for the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League before following grandfather "High Chief" Peter Maivia and father "Soul Man" Rocky Johnson into the squared circle. Suffice it to say, the career move went pretty well.
Pat McAfee(Credit: AP)
Indianapolis Colts punter Pat McAfee prepares to throw a pass on a fake punt play against the Dallas Cowboys on Dec. 21, 2014. McAfee is used to improvising, as according to a 2014 Yahoo! Sports story he showed up at a West Virginia independent pro wrestling show in 2009 after graduating from the University of West Virginia. He was supposed to just sign autographs but ended up getting the in ring and scoring an impromptu victory over the War Pig.
Sabby Piscitelli(Credit: AP)
Sabby Piscitelli played safety for parts or all of six seasons with the Buccaneers, Browns and Chiefs after being taken by the Bucs in the second round of the 2007 NFL Draft. But that wasn't it for his athletic career, as he debuted for WWE developmental brand NXT in April 2015.
Mike Adamle(Credit: Wikipedia user Mshake3)
Mike Adamle played six seasons as a running back for the Chiefs, Jets and Bears from 1971-76 before embarking on a sportscasting career that included a stint hosting "American Gladiators." He joined WWE as an announcer in 2008, and his uneven on-air ability was worked into a storyline that ended up with him becoming the general manager of Monday Night Raw. His most famous in-ring encounter came when he slapped Randy Orton -- and lived to tell about it.
'The American Dream' Dusty Rhodes(Credit: Getty Images)
The late "American Dream" Dusty Rhodes talked about going to training camp with the New York Giants and New England Patriots on his 2006 biographical DVD. According to Rhodes the Miami Dolphins also called, but the fast money of pro wrestling lured him into a career that saw him win the NWA World Heavyweight Championship three times and also earn legendary acclaim for his work behind the scenes.
Mojo Rawley(Credit: AP/Mike Roemer)
Dean Muhtadi's NFL playing career consisted of four preseason games with the Green Bay Packers in 2009 after being signed as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Maryland. Muhtadi now hopes to find bigger success as Mojo Rawley, a competitor in WWE's developmental system, NXT. Among those in his corner is New England Patriots star tight end Rob Gronkowski. In April 2015 a video circulated around the Internet with Rawley and Gronkowski teasing a future tag-team partnership.
Bart Scott(Credit: AP)
Former New York Jets linebacker Bart Scott tried to punk out TNA star and ex-WWE Superstar Kurt Angle during a 2011 guest appearance on "TNA Impact." Scott's thinking was misguided, as he ended up in Angle's feared ankle lock.
'Superstar' Billy Graham(Credit: John Jewell via Flickr (CC BY-SA) )
"Superstar" Billy Graham didn't make the cut when he tried out for the Oakland Raiders and Houston Oilers. He did play five games for the CFL's Montreal Alouettes, but found much for success inside the squared circle, beating the legendary Bruno Sammartino for the WWWF title (the precursor to the WWF and WWE) in 1977.
Brian Urlacher(Credit: AP)
Brian Urlacher, an eight-time Pro Bowl linebacker for the NFL's Chicago Bears, made a pro wrestling appearance for the TNA promotion in 2004, press-slamming former "Survivor" contestant Jonny Fairplay out of the ring in the process.
Brock Lesnar(Credit: Chris Ware)
Brock Lesnar's NFL-pro wrestling connection is a unique case. Lesnar won the WWE title in 2002, but soon tired of the company's travel schedule, quit WWE and went to training camp with the Minnesota Vikings in 2004. That didn't work out, but Lesnar went full-circle, returning to WWE in 2012 following an MMA run that included a stint as UFC heavyweight champ.
Jim 'The Anvil' Neidhart(Credit: AP )
Pro wrestling's Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart, left, had only brief stints with the NFL's Dallas Cowboys and Oakland Raiders before finding fame tagging with Bret "Hitman" Hart as one-half of the Hart Foundation. But Neidhart's battles with NFL players weren't over with his career change. Here he fights with William "The Refrigerator" Perry during a battle royal featuring wrestlers and NFL stars at WrestleMania II in Chicago on April 7, 1986.
Fritz Von Erich(Credit: WCCW)
Fritz Von Erich, second from left, was the patriarch of the family that ran the Dallas-based World Class Championship Wrestling. But before that, he was Jack Adkisson, who had a short stint with the Dallas Texans (not the AFL franchise that became the Kansas City Chiefs, but an NFL franchise that went out of business after the 1952 season). Von Erich is shown here with sons, from left, Kevin, David and Kerry.
Ernie Holmes(Credit: AP)
Former Pittsburgh Steelers defensive tackle Ernie Holmes spent a career with a pro wrestling-worthy moniker as part of the "Steel Curtain" defense. But when he finally stepped in the squared circle as part of the 20-man NFL/wrestling battle royal at WrestleMania II in Chicago, he was the third man eliminated, dumped over the top rope by the legendary Bruno Sammartino.
'Hacksaw' Jim Duggan(Credit: AP)
WWE legend "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan spent time with the Atlanta Falcons, but had much bigger success in WWE, winning the first Royal Rumble in 1988 and galvanizing fans by starting countless "USA" chants while carrying his signature 2x4.
Leo Nomellini(Credit: AP/Harry Harris)
Offensive lineman Leo Nomellini played in 174 straight regular-season games for the San Francisco 49ers between 1950-63. His play earned him a Pro Football Hall of Fame induction in 1969, but his resume also includes a run as one-half of the AWA world tag-team champions with Wilbur Snyder in 1961.
Ron Simmons(Credit: Josh Stewart)
After a stellar career at Florida State, Ron Simmons was drafted in the sixth round of the 1981 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns. His NFL/USFL career was short-lived, but he became the first recognized African-American world champion when he beat Big Van Vader for the WCW championship in 1992. He was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2012.
Lyle Alzado(Credit: AP)
Muhammad Ali scores a big right against Lyle Alzado's chin during the first round of an exhibition boxing match between the former heavyweight champ and the then-Denver Broncos defensive end on July 14, 1979 in Denver. Alzado won a Super Bowl with the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XVII, and like Ali -- who squared off with grapplers like Antonio Inoki and Gorilla Monsoon -- the football player found a home in pro wrestling. He starred in "Learning the Ropes," a sitcom in which Alzado played a teacher who moonlighted as a wrestler. Road Warriors Hawk and Animal were two of the many famous wrestlers who guest-starred on the show.
Lawrence Taylor(Credit: AP)
Former New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor, right, gestures while addressing professional wrestler Bam Bam Bigelow as wrestling promoter Vince McMahon looks on at center during a New York news conference on Feb. 28, 1995. Taylor, to the delight of some former teammates and the disbelief of many others, signed with the World Wrestling Federation and battled the 390-pound Bigelow in a feature match at WrestleMania XI.
Bronko Nagurski(Credit: AP)
Fullback Bronko Nagurski,shown here as a member of the Chicago Bears in 1943, was a charter member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1963. But he retired from the gridiron in the middle of his career and won the NWA world heavyweight title twice -- beating the legendary Lou Thesz in 1939 for his first reign -- before returning to the NFL.
'Big Cat' Ernie Ladd(Credit: AP/Bob Daugherty)
"Big Cat" Ernie Ladd, shown here pretending to lock up with a picture of Bruno Sammartino in 1969, played defensive tackle for the San Diego Chargers, Houston Oilers and Kansas City Chiefs before he took his 6-foot-9 frame into the pro wrestling wars. He's the only person who earned induction into the American Football League Hall of Fame and the WWE Hall of Fame.
William 'The Refrigerator' Perry(Credit: AP )
Chicago Bears' William "Refrigerator" Perry is sandwiched between Big John Studd, left, and Tony Atlas during a WrestleMania II battle royale featuring stars from the WWF and the NFL on April 8, 1986.
BILL GOLDBERG, Georgia
WCW Heavyweight Champion Bill Goldberg puts Scott Hall to the mat during a WCW match on July 6, 1998, in Atlanta. Goldberg, a football star at the University of Georgia whose NFL career with the Atlanta Falcons was ended by injury, became WCW's most popular wrestler, but found the competition stiffer when WCW folded and Goldberg made his way to WWE.
Alex Karras(Credit: AP )
Former Detroit Lion Alex Karras transitioned from football to acting, playing iconic roles in the movie "Blazing Saddles" and TV sitcom "Webster." Karras also wrestled before and during his NFL stint, going up against the likes of Dick the Bruiser. But he was also a pro wrestler in a movie. He portrayed grappler George Zaharias, husband of famous athlete Mildred “Babe” Didrikson Zaharias, in the CBS TV flick "Babe."
"Cowboy" Bill Watts(Credit: mainmanwalkin via Flickr (CC BY-SA) )
"Cowboy" Bill Watts, right, with Bruno Sammartino, left, and "Exotic" Adrian Street, gave up on football in the 1960s when the Minnesota Vikings wouldn't let him wrestle in the off-season. He went into wrestling full-time and is best known as the heavy-handed but successful promoter of Mid-South Wrestling (later known as the Universal Wrestling Federation). His contributions to the squared circle earned him induction into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2009.
Ahmed Johnson(Credit: WWF)
Anthony Norris had only a short stint with the Dallas Cowboys. But when he became Ahmed Johnson in what was then known as the WWF, things went much better. Johnson won the Intercontinental Title in 1996 by defeating Goldust.
Quinn "Moose" Ojinnaka(Credit: Getty/Al Messerschmidt)
Quinn "Moose" Ojinnaka played offensive line for the Atlanta Falcons and several other NFL teams before pursuing his dream of squared-circle success with the Ring of Honor promotion.
Darren Drozdov(Credit: WWE)
Darren Drozdov enjoyed a short stint as a defensive lineman for the Denver Broncos before coming to WWE and becoming Droz, joining Hawk and Animal as part of the legendary Legion of Doom.
Arthur P. "Tarzan" White(Credit: Alabama Sports Hall of Fame)
Arthur P. "Tarzan" White earned All Pro honors with the New York Giants in 1938 and Chicago Cardinals in 1941. Later, he went into professional wrestling, competing against the likes of the legendary Lou Thesz. He was inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in 1981.
Russ Francis(Credit: Getty/George Ross)
Former All-Pro NFL tight end Russ Francis starred for the San Francisco 49ers and New England Patriots, and pro wrestling has also has played a big part in his life. Francis was one of the football players who competed in the NFL-wrestler battle royal at WrestleMania II in Chicago in 1986. But unlike other participants, his wasn't a token experience in the squared circle. Francis' dad was a pro wrestling promoter, and Francis competed against the likes of WWE Hall of Famer Blackjack Lanza in singles matches.
Roman Reigns(Credit: Todd Williamson/Invision for 2K)
Among the pro wrestling stars who started out in the NFL is WWE's Roman Reigns. He spent time with the Minnesota Vikings and Jacksonville Jaguars before becoming a star in WWE as one-third of The Shield. Reigns is a cousin of WWE legend Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.
Tito Santana(Credit: WWF)
Tito Santana was Merced Solis when he tried to make the roster of the Kansas City Chiefs. He played briefly in the Canadian Football League, but his wrestling career produced multiple titles and a 2004 induction into the WWE Hall of Fame.
Brandon Jacobs(Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke)
Winning a second Super Bowl wasn't the only athletic highlight for Brandon Jacobs in February 2012. During an episode of "Impact Wrestling," he chokeslammed TNA star Bully Ray through a table.
Monty Brown(Credit: AP/Gene J. Puskar)
Monty Brown of the Buffalo Bills celebrates his team's '30-13 AFC Championship victory over the Kansas City Chiefs on Jan. 23, 1994. Brown joined a select fraternity to both play in a Super Bowl and compete in a WrestleMania when -- as Marcus Cor Von -- he joined the ECW New Breed to face the ECW Originals at WM XXII in Detroit in 2007.
Dick the Bruiser(Credit: onlineworldofwrestling.com)
Among the NFL players who found a home in pro wrestling was William Fritz "Dick" Afflis. He missed out on the glory days of Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers, playing with the team from 1951-54 -- long before Lombardi showed up in '59. But Afflis found his fame as Dick the Bruiser, a longtime staple of the American Wrestling Association. The Bruiser held the AWA world heavyweight championship once, but had his greatest success with tag-team partner The Crusher. The pair held the AWA world tag-team championship on five different occasions.
Before he was Vader or Big Van Vader, he was Leon White, a third-round pick of the Los Angeles Rams in the 1978 NFL Draft. He wrestled as Leon "Bull Power" White in the AWA before he found his nitch in pro wrestling with his assorted Vader incarnations. His signature moment came when he beat Sting at the Great American Bash to win the WCW world heavyweight title in 1992.
Brian Pillman(Credit: WCW)
Brian Pillman played on special teams for the Cincinnati Bengals in 1984 before embarking on a pro wrestling career as Flyin' Brian. His early career highlight was teaming with Steve Austin -- before he was Stone Cold -- as one-half of the Hollywood Blondes. Pillman also had a stint as one of the Four Horsemen before taking on a "Loose Cannon" persona in WCW, ECW and WWE that often confounded both fans and fellow wrestlers on where reality and storyline met.
Steve 'Mongo' McMichael(Credit: AP/Rick Havner)
"Minister of Defense" Reggie White, right, went on the offensive to face Chicago Bears veteran Steve "Mongo" McMichael at WCW Slamboree in Charlotte, N.C. on May 18, 1997. McMichael had previously gone rogue by joining the dastardly Four Horsemen, and he did them proud by nailing White with a metal briefcase to get the pin.
Kevin Greene(Credit: AP/Rick Havner)
Former NFL linebacker Kevin Greene did a unique Bo Jackson/Deion Sanders two-sport athlete impersonation, playing in the NFL for the Carolina Panthers and San Francisco 49ers while moonlighting with World Championship Wrestling. He's shown here while getting one of his biggest wrestling wins on May 18, 1997, as he teamed with "Nature Boy" Ric Flair and "Rowdy" Roddy Piper to beat the New World Order during the the Slamboree pay-per-view in Charlotte, N.C.
Adam 'Pacman' Jones(Credit: AP/John Raoux)
Adam "Pacman" Jones needed something to pass the time after being suspended from the NFL for the 2007 season, and TNA Wrestling was more than happy to bring him in. Despite his suspension he was still under NFL contract and couldn't wrestle, so he helped his "Team Pacman" mates to victory by tossing a wad of cash at an opponent to distract him at Bound for Glory on Aug. 12, 2007. The stunt parodied the "making it rain" antics at a Las Vegas strip club earlier that year, one of numerous incidents that got Pacman thrown off the field and into the ring.
'Mr. Wonderful' Paul Orndorff(Credit: WWE)
Paul Orndorff was drafted in the 12th round of the 1973 NFL Draft by the New Orleans Saints but didn't stick around the NFL for long. It's fair to say his "Mr. Wonderful" moniker was earned between the ropes, not between the hashes.
Shawne Merriman(Credit: Getty Images/Angela Weiss )
Former NFL All-Pro defensive end Shawne Merriman did analyst work for the WWE Network following his retirement from football in 2013. In August 2014 he told the Baltimore Sun he remains in talks with the company about becoming a wrestler.
Verne Gagne(Credit: AP/Gene Herrick)
Verne Gagne is shown here in a Sept. 28, 1965 picture still in his wrestling trunks in Minneapolis while celebrating the Twins clinching the pennant. Gagne was selected in the 14th round of the 1947 NFL draft by the Chicago Bears, but opted for a pro wrestling career. He ran the American Wrestling Association for more than three decades while performing as one of its top stars and training such squared-circle legends as "Nature Boy" Ric Flair. He was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2006.
Bill Fralic(Credit: Getty Images/George Rose)
Bill Fralic of the Atlanta Falcons looks on during a game against the San Francisco 49ers in 1990. Fralic was involved the in the storied battle royale featuring WWF stars and pro football players at WrestleMania II in Chicago in 1986.
'Chief' Wahoo McDaniel(Credit: AP/Dave Pickoff)
Edward "Wahoo" McDaniel of the Jets posed with this expression as the Jets opened their training camp July 15, 1965 at Peekskill Military Academy in Peekskill, N.Y. He played for nine years with the Jets, Oilers, Broncos and Dolphins before starring in a second career as pro wrestler Chief Wahoo McDaniel.
Jimbo Covert(Credit: Getty Images/Jonathan Daniel)
William "The Refrigerator" Perry's appearance provided the star power for the battle royale pitting pro wrestlers and NFL players in Chicago at WrestleMania II in 1986. But what many forget is that the best Chicago Bears player in the ring that night was actually offensive lineman Jimbo Covert. Covert was selected to the NFL's All-Decade Team for the 1980s.
Bob Sapp(Credit: AP/Koji Sasahara)
Bob Sapp played one game at offensive guard with the Minnesota Vikings in 1997. His vagabond athletic route also took him to World Championship Wrestling and K-1 kickboxing. In August 2014, Sapp was part of a contingent participating in a goodwill pro wrestling trip to North Korea. (And no, former NBA star and one-time WCW wrestler Dennis Rodman wasn't with them.)
Baron Corbin(Credit: Getty Images)
Former offensive lineman Tom Pestock played his college ball at Division II Northwest Missouri State before serving brief stints with the Indianapolis Colts and Arizona Cardinals. Pestock is now known as Baron Corbin, working his way up WWE's ranks by wrestling in the company's developmental system, NXT.
Harvey Martin(Credit: AP)
Harvey Martin shared Super Bowl XII MVP honors with fellow Dallas Cowboys defensive lineman Randy White. But he earned no friends while competing in a 20-man battle royale featuring NFL stars and WWF performers during WrestleMania II in Chicago in 1986.
John "Bradshaw" Layfield(Credit: AP/Frank Franklin II)
John "Bradshaw" Layfield once signed as an undrafted free agent with the Oakland Raiders. He found much more success in WWE winning the world heavyweight championship and now serving as a color commentator for both "Raw" and "SmackDown."
Lex Luger(Credit: Getty Images/David Taylor)
Lex Luger, second from left, joins Sting, left, and tag team Harlem Heat in hoisting WCW-sponsored driver Steve Grissom for winning the NASCAR Goody's 300 at Daytona International Speedway in 1996. Luger spent a short time with the Green Bay Packers before becoming a WCW world heavyweight champion.