Home ARTICLES The Gridiron to the Squared Circle: Successful CFL-to-WWE Transitions

The Gridiron to the Squared Circle: Successful CFL-to-WWE Transitions

by Spencer Love
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James Wilder, Jr | Toronto Argonauts

One of the best football players on this list – and one of the only with more credentials in football than wrestling  – is current Toronto Argonauts running back James Wilder Jr.

The accolades began piling up early for Wilder in his football career. In 2009, Wilder was selected as the High School Junior of the Year. By the time Wilder had graduated, he was a two-time USA Today High School All-American.

Following his standout high school career, Wilder committed to Florida State University. Wilder attended FSU from 2011-2013, winning the BCS National Championship in the 2013-2014 season. Through his time at Florida State, Wilder rushed for 1,363 yards with 20 rushing touchdowns. He would go through the 2014 NFL Draft undrafted, however, he eventually signed with the Cincinnati Bengals. Though Wilder would be placed on their practice roster after clearing waivers, he would be released shortly after. Wilder would get a chance with the Buffalo Bills the next season, though again, he would be released from their practice roster.

Wilder Jr. would sign with the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL in 2017. His rookie year was amazing by CFL standards. He amassed 872 yards and 5 touchdowns on 122 carries, as well as 467 yards on 51 catches. That season, Wilder Jr was named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Rookie. He would win the Grey Cup with the Argos later that year.

Recently, it was announced that the Argonauts stud had received a tryout from the WWE, with the tryout taking place in late April of this year. It speaks to Wilder’s athleticism that he was selected after being anonymously nominated online. However, while Wilder certainly checks all the boxes for a potential professional wrestler, he’s continuously stated his commitment to the Argonauts, where he’s contracted until the end of the 2019 season. Though we’ll have to wait a little longer to truly call Wilder’s potential shift a success, he could no doubt be the latest star to come out of the CFL.

Gene Kiniski | Edmonton Eskimos

Few names in pro wrestling history hold the weight like that of Gene Kiniski.

One of six children of local politician Julia Kiniski, who emigrated from Poland, Kiniski grew up in Edmonton. Kiniski wrestled and played football at St. Joseph’s High School. In 1949 Kiniski captured the attention of Annis Stukus, a scout for the Edmonton Eskimos then of the Western Interprovincial Football Union which later merged into the CFL. Kiniski secured himself a spot on the defensive line, with his stellar play earning him a scholarship to the University of Arizona. He would return to the Eskimos’ in the 1952 season before tearing his kneecap. He would return to wrestling full time in 1953 after retiring from football.

Following his retirement from football, “Canada’s Greatest Athlete” made the transition to pro wrestling, making his debut in 1952. By 1954, Kiniski had already earned his first championship gold (the International TV Tag Team Title) and challenged NWA World Champion Lou Thesz. In fact, it was Thesz that Kiniski defeated in 1966 for his first NWA Worlds Heavyweight Championship, winning the title in front of over 11,000 fans in St. Louis. Throughout his career, the Edmonton native won over 30 championships for upwards of 15 promotions, rightfully earning his place as one of wrestling’s all-time greats.

Sadly, on April 14, 2010, Kiniski passed away from brain cancer at the age of 81.

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