As a sport whose single-game violence is reported to be much like 63 car crashes, football is the perfect breeding ground for a retirement career filled with similar mayhem. That’s right — the logical next step after hanging up the cleats is donning a pair of tights in the WWE and applying powerful finishing holds on your opponent.
More than a few notable pro football stars have made the transition from gridiron greatness to fame in the squared circle. Some have done it merely as a publicity move, while others have gone on to duplicate their fame as pro wrestlers.
Most notable among the football players who have made a name for himself in the WWE as “Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Part of the University of Miami’s 1991 championship team as a defensive tackle (the position he played in the HBO series Ballers), Johnson went into the 1995 NFL Draft with the hopes of a pro career. Undrafted, Johnson signed with the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League, where he had a brief career as a linebacker on the practice squad, getting cut midseason.
Johnson’s pro wrestling career started soon thereafter under the name Rock Maivia—a tribute to his father and grandfather, both former wrestlers. Still active in the WWE, Johnson has held the championship belt 17 times in various combinations, including tag team champ five times.
A native of Tulsa, Oklahoma, William Scott Goldberg earned a scholarship to play defensive tackle for the University of Georgia Bulldogs. In 1988 and 1989, Goldberg earned All-SEC defensive honors and ended a college career with 348 career tackles, which places him ninth all-time in the category for the Bulldogs.
In the 1990 draft, Goldberg was taken by the Los Angeles Rams, later with stops in Atlanta and the Sacramento Gold Miners of the Canadian Football League. The former college star was drafted by the then-expansion Carolina Panthers in 1995 but was cut before the season started. After being cut by the Panthers, Goldberg’s NFL career ended with an injury where his pelvis separated from his abdomen.
While rehabbing, Goldberg was spotted by WWE legends Sting and Lex Luther, who encouraged him to join the ranks of the growing stable of wrestling stars.
“I’m a masochist! In between playing football and wrestling, I power lifted,” Goldberg said in a 2012 interview with IGN. “Actually, I never intended on wrestling. In my rehab, I intended on going back to football. And unfortunately, with my lack of success at what I did in the NFL, I wasn’t a huge asset, so it wasn’t like I had a lot of teams knocking down my door.”
The rest is WWE history as a football player-turned rasslin’ superstar started his career with an unprecedented 173-0 record, defeating the likes of Hulk Hogan and Bam Bam Bigelow.
William Perry, the 350-pound pride of Aiken, South Carolina, and the Clemson Tigers, is best known for his nickname “The Fridge,” and his pro football accomplishment as a defensive tackle (and occasional running back) for the Chicago Bears. The Fridge, however, also can list a WWE performance on his resume after participating in WrestleMania II in Rosemont, Illinois, fighting against Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart (who had NFL tryouts with the Dallas Cowboys).
While that was Perry’s only WWE appearance, he made the wrestling league’s Hall of Fame in 2006. The former member of the Bears 1986 Super Bowl team, however, is not in the pro football Hall of Fame.