With the WWE Royal Rumble & the Super Bowl both coming up, I started thinking about NFL players that have made the move from pro-football to pro-wrestling.
Let me just tell you, there’s a lot. To help narrow down my list, I set some restrictions. I wanted to find wrestlers that actually played in the NFL. Not just college, not the CFL, Arena Football, or some other football league, but the actual NFL.
I wanted to find wrestlers that just didn’t make it on the roster of a team, but actually saw some playing time.
I excluded football players that only made brief celebrity appearances (Lawrence Taylor, Kevin Greene, William “the refrigerator” Perry, etc…) in wrestling; and included those I felt made a difference in the wrestling world. Many of these not only became pro-wrestling champions but also Hall Of Famers.
10. Brian Pillman
Though Pillman didn’t see much action on the gridiron, he still made the list because he was actually apart of 2 NFL teams, being the Cincinnati Bengals and the Buffalo Bills. While on the Bengals, Pillman won the NFL’s Ed Block Courage Award. Pillman’s football career was short lived however his professional wrestling career was epic. Pillman won multiple championships in multiple promotions and was a part of legendary tag teams and stables such as the Hollywood Blondes (along with Steve Austin), the Four Horseman, and the Hart Foundation.
09. “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan
“Hacksaw” Jim Duggan was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons. He had a short stint in the NFL until sidelined due to numerous knee injuries. Duggan was the 1st wrestler to win the WWE Royal Rumble. He’s won various championships in multiple promotions and has been inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.
08. Verne Gagne
Verne Gagne played for both the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers. However, his love for professional wrestling lured him away from the field and in to the ring. Gagne won multiple championships in different promotions and has been inducted into many pro wrestling Hall of Fames, including the WWE Hall Of Fame.
07. Dick The Bruiser
Dick The Bruiser played for Green Bay Packers for about 3 years and suffered an injury to his throat, which left him with a gravelly voice for the rest of his life. He won multiple titles in multiple promotions and has been inducted into various halls of fame.
06. Wahoo Mcdaniel
Wahoo Mcdaniel played in the NFL for nearly a decade, for Houston, Denver, New York & Miami, and was an AFL Champion in 1960. Upon leaving football, he began wrestling full time, winning multiple titles in multiple promotions and has been inducted into various halls of fame.
05. Big Van Vader
Big Van Vader was drafted and played for the LA Rams, until an injury sidelined him after one season. Vader has wrestled all over the world, winning multiple titles in multiple promotions. Vader has been inducted into various halls of fame, including the WWE Hall Of Fame.
04. Steve “Mongo” McMichael
Mongo spent about 14 years in the NFL, playing for the New England Patriots, Chicago Bears, and Green Bay Packers. Mongo won Super Bowl XX with the Bears and received many awards as a player. Mongo started his wrestling career in WCW as a color commentator but soon became a wrestler and joined The Four Horsemen, winning the WCW United States Title.
03. “The Big Cat” Ernie Ladd
Ernie Ladd spent nearly a decade in the NFL, playing for San Diego, Houston, and Kansas City. Ladd won an AFC Championship with Chargers and many All Star Awards throughout his career. After football, Ladd turned to pro-wrestling, where he won multiple titles in multiple promotions. Ladd has been inducted into various halls of fame, including the WWE Hall Of Fame.
Bill Goldberg played in the NFL for the Rams, Falcons and Panthers. Goldberg’s career ended when he “tore his lower abdomen off his pelvis”. Goldberg’s wrestling career began in WCW, where he became well known for his “undefeated streak”. Goldberg won multiple titles in WCW and WWE and has been inducted into the WWE Hall Of Fame.
01. Ron Simmons
Ron Simmons played for the Cleveland Browns. And although his NFL career did not flourish, his wrestling career did. Simmons broke many racial barriers by became the first recognized African American WCW World Heavyweight Champion and the second African American wrestler to win a World Heavyweight title. Simmons has wrested all over the world and been apart of popular tag teams and stables (Doom, the APA, the Nation of Domination), and has won multiple titles in NWA, WCW and WWE. Simmons has been inducted into multiple halls of fame, including the WWE Hall Of Fame.
As mentioned earlier, several notable wrestlers played football. However, I chose ones that actually played the NFL and had Hall Of Fame worthy wrestling careers.
The Rock didn’t make the list because he never actually played in the NFL. Superstars like Roman Reigns, Brock Lesnar, JBL, Lex Luger, and Tito Santana didn’t make the list because they might have made it to an NFL team’s roster, but was cut before actually playing.
Honorable mentions to some that actually played: Mojo Rawly, Baron Corbin, Ahmed Johnson, Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart, and The Droz…
So who did I leave off? Can you think of anyone worthy of making the list?