Who are pro wrestling’s real tough guys, gals?
One thing CM Punk ruined for pro wrestling: the illusion that top wrestlers are all tough guys.
Yeah, OK, it’s probably unfair to pin all of this on Punk, but, hey, he’s the one who wanted to prove himself as a UFC fighter, and for some reason is still trying it, despite the obvious.
Punk made the move from WWE to MMA with no background at all in combat sports, and if he proved anything in his time trying to make himself a legit UFC fighter, it’s that you can’t fake your way through MMA.
Is this a reason wrestling is losing some of its edge with fans? Maybe.
Say what you will about Vince McMahon’s well-known preference for size over talent, it has to help when you’re asking people to tune in that the people in the ring at least come across as the kind of bad-asses that you wouldn’t want to mess with.
With that in mind, let’s look at some of the bigger names in the business now, with an eye toward their credentials.
Kurt Angle: Won gold at the 1996 Summer Olympics, famously competing in both the U.S. trials and then the Summer Games with a broken bone in his neck. Two-time NCAA national champ, three-time All-American.
Brock Lesnar: The 2000 NCAA heavyweight wrestling champion at the University of Minnesota and two-time All-American. Went on to win the UFC heavyweight title in 2008.
Ronda Rousey: Won bronze in judo in the 2008 Summer Olympics. Became the first female UFC champ in 2012 and was named to the UFC Hall of Fame in 2018.
Ron Simmons: Inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2008. All-American nose tackle at Florida State, finished ninth in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1979. Played two seasons in the NFL (Cleveland Browns, 1981-1982) and three more seasons in the USFL (Tampa Bay Bandits, 1983-1985).
Bobby Lashley: A three-time NAIA wrestling national champ at 177 with a 15-2 record as a professional MMA fighter.
Chad Gable: Gable (real name: Charles Betts) represented the U.S. in wrestling at the 2012 Summer Olympics.
Shayna Baszler: The NXT women’s champ had a 15-11 record in MMA, including a 1-3 record in UFC.
Jessamyn Duke: Had a 9-5-1 record as a professional MMA fighter, including a 2-4 record in UFC.
Matt Riddle: Had an 8-3-2 record as a professional MMA fighter, including a five-year stint in UFC.
“Filthy” Tom Lawlor: The former MLW champ had 10-7-1 record as a professional MMA fighter, including a 6-5 record in UFC.
Kushida: The NXT newcomer and former six-time IWGP junior heavyweight champ (real name: Yujiro Kushida) had a 6-0-2 record as a professional MMA fighter.
Shinsuke Nakamura: Had a 3-1-1 record as a professional MMA fighter.
Shelton Benjamin: Two-time All-American wrestler at the University of Minnesota, where he then served as an assistant coach for a team whose wrestlers included Lesnar.
Jeff Cobb: Represented Guam in wrestling in the 2004 Summer Olympics.
Akam: The AOP tag wrestler (real name: Sunny Dhinsa) was a three-time national champion freestyle wrestler in Canada (2011-2013).
Rezar: The other half of AOP (real name: Gzim Selmani) had a 6-2 record as a professional MMA fighter and is a former World Pro Kickboxing heavyweight champion.
Taynara Conti: The NXT performer (real name: Taynara Melo de Carvalho) participated in trials for the Brazilian Olympic jiu-jitsu team in 2016.
Dolph Ziggler: Ziggler (real name: Nick Nemeth) was a three-time Mid-American Conference wrestling champion at Kent State.
Otis: One-half of the WWE tag team Heavy Machinery, Otis (real name: Nikola Bogojevic) won the national title in Greco-Roman wrestling at the Junior Pan-American Games in 2011 and a Greco-Roman bronze at the 2014 Pan-American Games.
Tucker Knight: The other half of Heavy Machinery, Knight (real name: Levi Cooper) was a 2011 All-American wrestler at Arizona State.
Bray Wyatt: Wyatt (real name: Windham Rotunda) was a state high school wrestling champion in Florida. Played two years as an offensive lineman at Troy State.
Sin Cara: The WWE star (real name: Jorge Arias) was a high school state champion in Texas.
Cody Rhodes: The AEW star was a two-time state high school wrestling champion in Georgia.
Kofi Kingston: The WWE champ was a state finalist as a high school senior in Massachusetts in 1999.
Mark Henry: Two-time Olympian (1992, 1996) in weightlifting. Still holds three world powerlifting records.
Moose: The Impact star (real name: Quinn Ojinnaka) played college football at Syracuse and played for four seasons with the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons.
Mojo Rawley: Rawley (real name: Dean Muhtadi) was a three-year standout defensive tackle at Maryland, and was in training camp with the Green Bay Packers in 2009 and the Arizona Cardinals in 2010.
Baron Corbin: Corbin (real name: Thomas Pestock) was in training camp for the Indianapolis Colts in 2009 and spent a season on the Arizona Cardinals practice squad in 2010.
Titus O’Neil: O’Neil (real name: Thaddeus Bullard) was a four-year letterwinner at Florida (1997-2000) and played in the Arena Football League for four seasons (2003-2007).
Roman Reigns: Reigns (real name: Joe Anoa’i) was a first-team All-ACC defensive tackle at Georgia Tech in 2006.
The Rock: Dwayne Johnson was a member of the 1991 Miami Hurricanes national championship football team. He spent part of the 1995 season on the practice squad of the CFL’s Calgary Stampeders.
Riddick Moss: The NXT performer (real name: Michael Rallis) played football at the University of Minnesota and attended training camp with the NFL’s Miami Dolphins.
John Cena: D3 All-American offensive lineman at Springfield College.
Big E: E (real name: Ettore Ewen) was a high school state wrestling champion in Florida, a defensive lineman at Iowa and is a former American record-holding powerlifter.
“Stone Cold” Steve Austin: Played college football at North Texas.
Jimmy and Jey Uso: The Usos (real names: Jonathan and Joshua Fatu) played college football at the University of West Alabama.
Dalton Castle: Castle (real name: Brett Giehl) wrestled in college at SUNY-Cortland.
Ric Flair: Played one year of college football at the University of Minnesota.
Keith Lee: Played college football for one year at Texas A&M.
Braun Strowman: Strowman (real name: Adam Scherr) won the 2012 Arnold Classic amateur strongman competition.
Mandy Rose: The WWE star (real name: Amanda Saccomanno) took first place in the 2013 World Bodybuilding Fitness & Fashion Boston Show and was the 2014 World Beauty Fitness & Fashion Bikini Champion.
Kacy Catanzaro: The NXT performer competed in gymnastics at Towson University and was the first woman to qualify for the finals on the “American Ninja Warrior” competition TV show.
Alexa Bliss: Bliss (real name: Alexis Kaufman) was a cheerleader at the University of Akron and fitness competitor in the Arnold Classic.
Carmella: The WWE star (real name: Leah Van Dale) is the daughter of Paul Van Dale, a former professional wrestler and MMA fighter. Carmella was a cheerleader for the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Lakers before her wrestling career.
Story by Chris Graham