The Greatest Athletes to Wrestle in the WWE
by, 10-12-2013 at 09:15 PM (11151 Views)
The following is my list of the greatest athletes to ever wrestle in the WWE. Now for this list, I have 2 simple rules: (1) the entrants must have wrestled at least one singles match in a WWE ring (no WCW or NWA) and (2) they must have a recognizable reputation in wrestling. This was very difficult to objectively rank, so, as usual, enjoy the content rather than go nuts over my order. Most of these entrants were former football players. It is no surprise that wrestling has a history of calling upon players who are cut from the NFL. Hopefully, I didn’t leave out anyone significant. This list will attempt to rank the athletic success of these stars outside of their WWE careers. To my non-U.S. readers, all football references are to American football, rather than soccer. Let’s go.
Hacksaw Jim Duggan (Atlanta Falcons)
Dolph Ziggler (Kent State, wrestling)
Dr. Death Steve Williams (Oklahoma, football and wrestling)
Ahmed Johnson (2 yrs with the Dallas Cowboys, bumped from #15 due to lack of online info)
Ricky Steamboat (New York State, wrestling)
Macho Man (Minor league baseball)
Paul Orndorff (University of Tampa, football)
Scott Norton (Arm wrestling champion)
Floyd Mayweather Jr. (Boxer)
Akebono (Sumo wrestler)
17. Lex Luger- Luger played in college for Penn State in his freshman year, then transferred to Miami to play for the Hurricanes. He didn’t make much of a name for himself in college, and eventually went on to play brief stints in the CFL, followed by the NFL’s Green Bay Packers, where he was sidelined due to injury. His football career came to an end after spending a year in the United States Football League where he was teammates with Ron Simmons.
16. JBL- JBL played college football for Abilene Christian University as an All-American offensive lineman for 2 seasons, followed by a brief NFL stint that saw him released before ever playing a regular season game for the LA Raiders. He also played one season in the World League of American Football for San Antonio, Texas. JBL has often bragged on television that he played his last 2 college games with a broken leg.
15. Brian Pillman- Like numerous stars in this countdown, The Loose Cannon played defensive tackle. In college, he played for Miami University in Ohio (same as Ben Roethlisberger) where he still holds the school records for both season and career tackles for a loss. The Cincinnati Bengals signed him as a free agent in the NFL in 1984 and sent him to the Buffalo Bills, where he was eventually cut before the start of the 1985 regular season. Pillman also briefly played in the Canadian Football League before embarking on his professional wrestling career.
14. Bill Goldberg- Goldberg is yet another former NFL player to turn to wrestling due to injury. He played as a defensive tackle in college for the University of Georgia before being drafted late into the 1990 NFL Draft. Goldberg played for the LA Rams, the Atlanta Falcons (majority of his career), and finally, the Carolina Panthers. A terrible career-ending injury saw his abdominal muscles literally tear from his pelvis (ouch!). Suffice to say, his NFL career was lackluster, playing in only a few games and never recording a single sack.
13. Shelton Benjamin- Shelton Benjamin was a wrestling prodigy since his early days, and it is a shame that he never became a main eventer in the WWE. However, that does not take away from what he has accomplished in his career, which began as a high school state champion in heavyweight wrestling. In 1996, Benjamin won a national heavyweight title in junior college before attending the University of Minnesota where he became a 2-time All-American heavyweight wrestler and even worked and lived with Brock Lesnar there.
12. The Rock- The Great One is up next on my list. His wrestling career speaks for itself, while his football career does the same. A member of the 1991 National Champion Miami Hurricanes, he played defensive tackle, which by now should be common knowledge to many wrestling fans. Although he only started in 1 out of his 39 career games at Miami (anyone would come off the bench for Warren Sapp), Johnson recorded a total of 77 tackles and 4.25 sacks. Rocky’s popularity even scored him a guest appearance on Martha Stewart Living during the championship season. Following college, he briefly took a crack at the CFL, before eventually finding his true calling. The Rock and Lex Luger are to this day the only 2 WWE wrestlers to both play college football at Miami and play in the CFL.
11. Jack Swagger- Barely edging out The Rock (due to individual college achievements) is Jack Swagger. At the University of Oklahoma, Swagger actually played 2 sports. He was a back-up defensive tackle on the football team in addition to his specialty, wrestling. Swagger was named an All-American and famously set a record for pins in a season (30). Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to win the NCAA Championship in either year and finished with a personal best of 7th place in 2006.
10. Wahoo McDaniel- Wahoo started his college career playing football for Oklahoma and went on to have a full NFL career. He was a linebacker for the Houston Oilers, the Denver Broncos, the New York Jets, the Miami Dolphins, and the San Diego Chargers during the 1960’s. McDaniel didn’t get to start any games until the latter stage of his NFL career, however, he was still able to record 13 career interceptions and even run one of them back for a touchdown. His football career came to a halt after assaulting 2 police officers, which caused Wahoo to transition into his wrestling career.
9. Ron Simmons- Simmons had an incredible college football career that led to a brief professional football career. He began in college at Florida State where he played in back-to-back Orange Bowls. FSU would retire his jersey, as he was actually a leading candidate for the Heisman Trophy in 1979, and he was even inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. He would go on to play in the NFL (Cleveland Browns), CFL, and USFL in the mid-80’s, but nothing notable came from his professional career.
8. Monty Brown- Easily the least known wrestler on this list, but one of the most notable football careers, is Monty Brown. His stage name was The Alpha Male, Marcus Cor Von, and he was a member of the ECW New Breed. Brown began his college football career at Ferris State University, where he set several records, won multiple awards, and was named an All-American linebacker. He played multiple seasons for the Buffalo Bills, including a Super Bowl appearance in 1994, which they lost to the Dallas Cowboys. In his final season in the NFL, Brown signed with the New England Patriots and had his season cut short due to injury. Brown began to show promise in his final 2 years in the NFL, which happened to be the only seasons in which he started any games, and he even recorded over 60 tackles and nearly 40 assists on tackles in those 2 seasons.
7. Kurt Angle- How can we leave out Kurt Angle? The guy’s entire gimmick is based on his Olympic success of winning a gold medal in the 1996 Games in Atlanta. Angle faced a renown Iranian wrestler in the heavyweight class, and defeated him by official decision after they wrestled to a draw. Oh yeah, and he did it “with a frickin’ broken neck”. Other accomplishments include being a 2-time NCAA Division 1 Champion and a 3-time Division 1 All-American. He once even tried out for the Pittsburgh Steelers NFL football team. Kurt is one of the best athlete-turned-wrestlers of all time.
6. Dan Severn- Up next is another renown wrestler, UFC pioneer, Hall of Famer and former Superfight Champion, Dan Severn. Specializing in Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestling, The Beast has held over 100 titles in his illustrious career. He is a Hall of Famer at Arizona State University, where he attended college, and competed in all 3 Summer Olympics in the 1980s as a team alternate for amateur wrestling. He famously feuded with Ken Shamrock in UFC, WWE, and NWA.
5. Ken Shamrock- Cracking the top 5 is Ken Shamrock. The UFC Hall of Famer has headlined over a dozen ppvs and is one of the all-time greats of MMA. The World’s Most Dangerous Man is the first UFC Superfight Champion (3X total) and the founder of the infamous Lion’s Den. His battles with Royce Gracie, Dan Severn, and Tito Ortiz set records in the UFC and turned Shamrock into a legend. He also still holds the record for the longest UFC fight ever, at a whopping 36 minutes. In 2002, a deal fell through that would’ve brought him back to the WWE for a program with Kurt Angle, but scheduling disputes robbed the fans of what would have potentially been one of the best feuds ever.
4. Ernie Ladd- “The Big Cat” is up next in this countdown. Most young fans won’t recognize this WWE Hall of Famer because his wrestling career ended in 1986. Ladd wrestled in the former WWWF, going up against the best of the best, including Sammartino, Morales, and Backlund in the 1970’s. Although he competed for the original WWE title, Ladd was never successful in his quest, but was a trailblazer, as he was one of the first African Americans to become a true threat to the title. Additionally, Ladd was the first football player-turned wrester to become really successful in the ring. Before wrestling, Ladd played over 100 combined games for 3 NFL teams, most notably the San Diego Chargers, which played in 4 championship games while Ladd was with them, eventually winning an AFL Championship in 1963. He technically had the longest NFL career out of any full-time wrestler on this list and was a 4X AFL All-Star.
3. Mark Henry- A fellow Texan and one of my favorites on this list is Mark Henry. Prior to the WWE, Henry was a power lifter and weightlifter, winning so many medals and setting so many records that it would make your head spin. He is a 2-time Olympian, 2-time National Champion, and gold medalist in powerlifting, as well as a 3-time National Champion in weightlifting. Henry set numerous world records, along with dozens of other achievements, such as the first ever winner of the Arnold Strongman Classic. All of this, in 1996, led to a then-unprecedented, lucrative 10-year, 8-figure WWE contract, which even allowed Henry to take time off for competitions.
2. Lawrence Taylor- Yeah I know, cocaine and under-aged prostitutes have marred this legend’s legacy, but luckily, I’ll still allow him entry in my countdown. The 10X Pro Bowl, Hall of Famer is arguably the greatest linebacker in NFL history. He set several records in college at UNC before turning pro. LT famously main-evented WrestleMania 11, and although he only wrestled one time in the company, it is still a hell of an achievement, considering the fact that he had no wrestling experience. As we know, Taylor defeated Bam Bam en route to perhaps the single greatest feat that any pro athlete has ever accomplished in WWE, winning the company’s biggest match of the year.
1. Brock Lesnar- What can I say about The Beast?
-NCAA Heavyweight Champion (University of Minnesota, 2000)
-UFC Heavyweight Champion
-Signed with Minnesota Vikings
Brock is arguably the greatest physical athlete in history. No one can duplicate his list of career accomplishments. I have been a fan of Brock since his WWE debut, and even supported him in his MMA career. In college, Brock finished 2nd place for the heavyweight championship in wrestling in 1999, then went on to win it the following year. The guy took on nothing but monsters from when he first stepped foot into The Octagon. UFC 100 and 116, which he headlined, are the 2 highest grossing UFC pay per views ever. As a matter of fact, Brock headlined 4 out of the 6 highest grossing UFC ppvs, making him the all time biggest draw. He also set numerous other records in his short run with the company. I personally was excited to see what Brock could do in the NFL, but unfortunately, he and the Vikings weren’t on the same page. All this and he still managed to become a 3X WWE Champion in his 2 year TV stint, something only a dozen other men have done, usually taking them most of their careers to accomplish.
There you have it, folks. There were too many athletes out there to mention in this blog, so here's your chance to drop some extra names. Please feel free to share any additional thoughts or insight.