It is exactly a year since WWE Super ShowDown drew thousands of Saudi wrestling fans to Mohammed Abdu Arena on Riyadh Boulevard, and many more on pay-per-view television across the world.
Delighting the crowd was local favorite Mansoor, who defeated American grappler Dolph Ziggler, and WWE legend The Undertaker won the five-man Tuwaiq Trophy Gauntlet match.
Within days, however, the COVID-19 pandemic would bring almost all global sporting activities to a grinding halt.
And yet WrestleMania 36 would somehow go ahead, filmed on March 25-26, 2020 and then broadcast on pay-per-view on April 4-5.
Now WrestleMania 37 is set to return on April 10-11, 2021 with a limited live audience.
This year’s event will take place at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium, which recently hosted Super Bowl LV, where hometown team Tampa Bay Buccaneers, inspired by Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski – who hosted last year’s WrestleMania – overcame the challenge of Kansas City Chiefs to be crowned champions.
The connection between WWE and American football goes further than that however, with many of the current wrestling superstars having swapped the field for the ring early on in their careers.
As the countdown to WrestleMania 37 begins, we take a look at some of those WWE superstars whose journey to the wrestling ring began on the American football field.
Current WWE Universal Champion, and one of the brand’s biggest names, Roman Reigns (real name, Leati Joseph “Joe” Anoa’i), initially set out to reach the NFL, and his performances in college football, for Georgia Institute of Technology’s Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets team, provided him with a fantastic opportunity.
Anoa’i was signed, and subsequently released, by both the Minnesota Vikings and Jacksonville Jaguars in 2007, although he was hampered by a serious illness. He then made the switch to the Canadian Football League in 2008, going on to spend a full season with Edmonton Eskimos, before being let go – and subsequently retiring – in 2009.
Reigns has enjoyed a monumental WWE career since signing a contract in 2010, battling it out with many of the brand’s biggest superstars, including the likes of Brock Lesnar, John Cena and The Undertaker, who he inflicted a shock defeat on at WrestleMania 33.
Big E (real name, Ettore Ewen) boasted a rich sporting pedigree in not only one, but two, fields prior to joining WWE.
Having enjoyed an impressive college football career, in which he played for the University of Iowa, Ewen’s dreams of becoming professional were cut short due to injury. He then turned his attention to powerlifting, showing such prowess that he went on to become a national champion, breaking a number of records along the way.
He joined WWE after being introduced to commentator Jim Ross, and subsequently given a trial, in 2009. After making his name as part of three-man tag team, The New Day, Big E recently embarked on a solo career in which he has enjoyed huge success, defeating Sami Zayn in December to secure the Intercontinental Championship.
There is no getting away from the fact that twin brothers Jimmy and Jey Uso have a strong WWE family legacy, with their father Rikishi inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2012, while some of the brand’s biggest names – Roman Reigns, The Rock and Yokazuna – are cousins of the duo.
Their initial plan, however, was to forge a career in American football, and for a while it seemed a possibility. The pair earned partial scholarships to the University of West Alabama in 2003, where they played together at linebacker, but when their progression stalled, they called time on the sport.
They made their WWE main roster debut on RAW in 2010 and have since gone on to become WWE Tag Team Champions, as well as SmackDown Tag Team Champions on multiple occasions.
As a defensive tackle and guard, Bray Wyatt (real name, Windham Lawrence Rotunda) showed great promise during two seasons playing for the College of the Sequoias, impressing to such an extent he earned a football scholarship to Troy University, where he spent two years.
However, harboring dreams of becoming a professional wrestler, Rotunda turned his back on football to focus on achieving his goals in the ring, the pinnacle of his career so far coming in 2017 when he won the WWE Championship at Elimination Chamber.
In more recent times, Wyatt has been best known for the work of his alter ego, “The Fiend,” who captured the Universal Championship on two separate occasions, overcoming formidable opponents such as Seth Rollins and Braun Strowman along the way.
After starring in college football, where he represented Florida Gators for three years between 1997 and 2000, Titus O’Neil made the step up to the AFL, playing for the likes of Utah Blaze, Tampa Bay Storm and Carolina Cobras, as well as trying out for the Jacksonville Jaguars, only for injury to prevent him from showing his undoubted qualities and cutting his career short.
In 2009, he signed a developmental contract with WWE, learning his trade with Florida Championship Wrestling before competing in the second season of WWE NXT. O’Neil went on to become WWE’s inaugural 24/7 Champion and secured the Tag Team Title as part of The Prime Time Players alongside Darren Young.
As a competitor on Monday Night RAW, one of WWE’s key brands, O’Neill has certainly come a long way since swapping the football field for the wrestling ring.
As a former WWE and UFC Champion, it is fair to say that Brock Lesnar does not have much to prove in the world of sport.
But in 2004, Lesnar put his WWE career on the backburner to pursue his dream of joining the NFL. Unfortunately, early on in his journey, Lesnar was involved in a road collision which left him with a broken jaw, bruised pelvis and pulled groin.
He still managed to impress to the point where he signed with Minnesota Vikings and played a series of pre-season matches but, hampered by the groin injury sustained in the crash, he was released just over a month later.
Having caught the eye during his appearances for the University of Georgia’s football team, Goldberg (real name, William Goldberg) reached the dizzy heights of the NFL when he was selected by Los Angeles Rams in the 1990 NFL Draft.
It was with the Atlanta Falcons that he enjoyed his most fruitful period in the NFL, featuring semi-regularly for the side over the course of a three-year period, before his career was curtailed due to an abdomen injury.
After learning his trade in the ring, Goldberg became one of WCW’s most iconic stars, before joining WWE for a short spell in 2003. He returned for a second stint in 2016, embarking on a lengthy feud with Lesnar, who he faced at WrestleMania 33.
Most recently, Goldberg locked horns with Drew McIntire at Royal Rumble for the WWE Championship in November, ultimately losing out to the Scotsman.
WrestleMania 37 can be watched exclusively via WWE Network in the MENA region.