Football and professional wrestling go hand-in-hand when you really think about it. Both sports require dedication, heart, and a certain level of masochism to be able to endure the rigorous grind of either the squared circle or the football field. Many professional wrestlers dabbled in college or pro football prior to their individual career changes, while names like Brock Lesnar have attempted to reverse engineer the process and make the move to the NFL out of the WWE.
However, it’s not just the NFL or college football pushing players from the gridiron to the mat. In fact, perhaps the most successful examples of football-to-wrestling transitions have come north of the 49th parallel. While the Rock is perhaps the most famous, more than one notable superstar has come out of the Canadian Football League. In fact, Friday night will see one of those stars will return home, as former Edmonton Eskimo Joe Anoa’i – best known by his in-ring moniker Roman Reigns – will make a special appearance at that evening’s action as Edmonton takes on the Ottawa RedBlacks. In anticipation of his return to YEG, let’s take a look at some of the more famous examples of CFL-to-WWE transitions!
Roman Reigns | Edmonton Eskimos
Of course, the obvious start is with Reigns himself.
Prior to beginning his wrestling career, the man known as Joe Anoaʻi played football for three years at Pensacola Catholic High School and one year at Escambia High School. In his senior year, he was named Defensive Player of the Year by the Pensacola News Journal. He then joined the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets football team along with Calvin Johnson, who later became arguably one of the best wide receivers in NFL history. Anoaʻi was named to the first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) in 2006 and earned All-ACC first-team honours with 40 tackles. Anoa’i would, unfortunately, go through the NFL draft without being selected. Anoaʻi was signed by the Minnesota Vikings in May 2007. He was diagnosed with leukaemia after his team physical and was released later that month.
Anoa’i would go through one more training camp with the Jacksonville Jaguars before eventually finding his way to the CFL with the Edmonton Eskimos. He would play for one year and started five games. His time in Edmonton was relatively unspectacular; however, he had one game with 5 tackles and a forced fumble.
Since retiring from football in 2008, A’noai has become one of the biggest stars in the WWE today. Under the name Roman Reigns, A’noai is a three-time WWE World Heavyweight Champion, and under the WWE’s current format, Reigns is one of nine Grand Slam champions (Heavyweight, Intercontinental, United States and Tag Team Champion). Additionally, Reigns has won the Royal Rumble (2015) and is one of only two men, with Hulk Hogan being the other, to headline four WrestleMania’s in a row.
Reigns’ impact extends far beyond the squared circle, too; in October last year, Reigns revealed that his leukaemia had returned, forcing him to vacate the WWE Universal Championship after just over two months on top. However, this February, it was announced that the cancer was in remission, with Reigns announcing his return to the ring to raucous applause.
Following in the footsteps of his famous cousin – more on him shortly – Reigns has become one of the most successful football-to-WWE transitions of all-time, both in-ring and out.
Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson | Calgary Stampeders
While his cousin Roman Reigns may be a star in his own right, you won’t find a bigger example of a CFL-to-WWE success story like Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson.
Dwayne Johnson had a promising football career in front of him before getting injured. He had numerous Division I offers but ultimately decided to take the full ride to the University of Miami. While Johnson was on the 1991 University of Miami National Championship team, an injury forced him to surrender his starting position to Pro Football Hall of Famer Warren Sapp. Following his graduation, Johnson attended Calgary Stampeders training camp. Unfortunately, he was eventually cut two months later. However, it was a move he’s often stated was the best thing to ever happen to him.
The Rock’s wrestling credentials, of course, need no explanation whatsoever. Often listed among the greatest wrestlers of all-time, Johnson’s moniker of “the Most Electrifying Man in Sports Entertainment” has been well earned through his nearly 20 years in the industry. The Rock is a 10-time WWE Champion, a 5-time Tag Team Champion, and the winner of the 2000 Royal Rumble. Legendary feuds with the likes of Stone Cold Steve Austin, Mankind and Triple HHH firmly established him as one of the most popular wrestlers of the era. In fact, the Rock holds the unique distinction of The Rock main-eventing the most purchased PPV, the highest-rated Monday Night Raw, and the highest-rated Smackdown in the history of the WWE.
Since leaving the promotion as a full-time star, the Rock has gone on to become one of the highest-drawing actors in Hollywood history, proving that his popularity eclipses more than the squared circle.