Last month, I helmed a Grantland staff effort to determine which athletes were most worthy of being drafted from “real” sports into pro wrestling. In that article, I asked readers to suggest other possibilities, and boy did they come through — enough for us to put together another giant list of potential draftees.
First, a couple of ground rules: We’re including active players only except for non-wrestling roles (sorry, Terrell Owens), and nobody gets in simply because they have physically assaulted someone in real life.
I’ve dispensed with rankings for this list, so consider this more of a scouting sheet than a mock draft. But I’ve divided contenders up by position — heel, babyface, tweener — to organize things. Let’s dive in.
Both halves of your double-life are over. A 6-iron crashes through the window of your Escalade, and ever since your life has been a fruitless foray into the long grass. You were our favorite blank-faced billboard man. Well, now it’s time to turn. Embrace the infamy. All that time working on those ripped abs is finally going to pay off. Come out in the Nike gear. Tear the red shirt apart with your hands. Thrust out your arms. Two Hooters waitresses join you at the top of the runway. Go steal a couple of other wrestlers’ girlfriends. There’s nothing the other guys can do about it because you’re Vince’s top guy. Your signature move is the ‘Tee Off’, where you do a shuffling Happy Gilmore-style slap drive to some guy with a chair. At WrestleMania you do it with a ladder. The boos rain down. This is who you are now.
Your name is Tiger. It’s time to RAW.
Masked Man: First of all, when I launch WrestleLand, you’re hired. More importantly, though, I want to apologize to all the readers of the first column for excluding Tiger Woods, and I want to take a second to apologize to Tiger personally. Tiger, you deserved better. You’ve earned this. You were the top reader submission by far, and you should have been on the list. No — you should have been no. 1. You are the most deliciously reviled man in sports, and that means something. Maybe it stings now when some radio schmuck makes a joke about your declining game or your hairline or your personal life, but you don’t have to worry about that anymore. In wrestling, that’s called heat, and it can make you a god.
He loses points because very few non-soccer fans know who he is, but he quickly regains these points in many other ways. Here are a few highlights from this YouTube video of Joey Barton’s most infamous incidents: 1) Joey Barton once put out a lit cigar in the eye of a teammate at a Christmas party; 2) while on a preseason tour, he got into an altercation with a 15-year-old fan of another club; 3) he served 6 months in jail for an assault that was captured on video;1 4) he sent a teammate to the hospital after a training ground fight; 5) after a short period of time playing for a French club, he affected a hilariously awful French accent in an interview despite not actually speaking French.
Barton was sentenced to six months but served 74 days in jail.
Masked Man: I have to admit, my American sports bias is showing. The dearth of soccer and hockey players was a blind spot in the last piece, and I got so many good submissions from those sports that I can’t come close to including them all here. But I’ll say this: Every argument for a soccer player being the perfect wrestling heel was compelling. I’ve watched more soccer on YouTube in the past week than I have since last year’s World Cup, and it’s totally true — they’re incredible heels. I’m pretty sure every soccer team has an evil villain like hockey teams have enforcers. FIFA should capitalize on this and make every team designate a villain, and give him a Darth Vader jersey patch so casual fans can identify him. America will be a nation of soccer fans overnight. But despite all the great entries, one name towered above the diabolical horde …
I can’t even imagine what an amazing heel he’d make. Fans would hate this guy before he even opened his mouth. And yet, he has a way of insulting that makes you want to bow down to him.
If you want a soccer star who would be a natural WWE fit, it’s not Cristiano Ronaldo, It’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Take a look at some of these genuine quotes from Zlatan:
“Zlatan doesn’t do auditions.”
When asked what he got his wife for her birthday: “Nothing, she already has Zlatan.”
FYI, his name is now in the Swedish dictionary (“to Zlatan”, meaning, “to dominate”).
Masked Man: I have nothing to say that Zlatan hasn’t already said. You don’t mess with the Zlatan. In my mind, he’s already Zlataned the competition in this draft.
We know he’s got the mic skills and he wouldn’t even have to change his character. He has a reputation as a guy that bullies point guards, and at 6’11” and 220 pounds, he could be the greatest heel the Cruiserweight division has ever seen. Imagine KG coming out with an elaborate, Goldberg-style entrance, getting circles run around him in a match with [Kalisto], getting more and more frustrated until he hits a giant chokeslam and proceeds to celebrate like he just won the NBA Finals. ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!!!!
—Gurg Oden [Yes, that’s the name that came on the email]
Masked Man: Listen, Garnett would make a top-notch wrestler except that I’m honestly scared to see him in briefs. If they put him in basketball shorts, he’d still look like an indie wrestler, but I guess there’s no rule against that look these days. I love the idea of a wrestler who only picks easy fights. Give him a posse of Hold Me Back guys — a bunch of dudes dressed in matching uniforms who wait till the end of a vicious promo and then get between Garnett and whoever he’s been provoking. The only people he’ll actually fight are the weak ones. Remember last year when Rusev kept feuding with black wrestlers and it started to feel awkward? Imagine if KG only feuded with the Wally Szczerbiaks of WWE. The Miz better watch out.
He’s the smarmy heel. He’s got the million-dollar smile, the million-dollar bankroll, and the supermodel wife. He’s so successful the fans can’t help but hate him and he revels in their negativity. He’ll only get his hands dirty when he absolutely must, and he probably has a bodyguard or team of goons called “The Offensive Line,” to protect him. Plus, he’s the heel who cheats all the time but makes a fuss when someone accuses him of it and feigns innocence when caught. He’ll win championships, get suspended, come back and win more championships.
Masked Man: Of all the crazy Grand Unifying Theories about Deflategate, this is one that I actually buy. Deflategate fits perfectly in the pro wrestling tradition of heel tactics — all the exposed turnbuckles and loaded punches and pulled tights over the years. And I’m just going to say it: Wrestling is better for ignoring those things. It makes the sport more fun to watch, and it raises the level of competition, and the only people who are complaining are sad fans of the losing side. Remember the grandma in the front row of every old-school wrestling show who screams at the heels until her family has to calm her down? That’s who you Deflategate proponents have become. Seriously, after all the enjoyment he’s brought us over the years, let’s leave poor Tom Brady alone.
Feel how your blood is boiling right now? That settles it. Brady is the next Ric Flair.
Love the list, but, how do you not include one hockey player? They’re already the toughest athletes and they play the only sport where you can actually fight mid-game without getting fined. Here’s one NHL player who would thrive in the WWE: Zdeno Chara. He’s 6’9”, absolutely terrifying and Slovakian. This Wikipedia sentence says the rest: “Chára is the tallest player ever to play in the NHL. He is also the second European-born and trained captain to win the Stanley Cup in 2011, and the first born and trained in a country within the Iron Curtain.”
Masked Man: If this WWE draft were a real thing, ESPN The Magazine’s Body Issue would be the Mel Kiper draft report. Here was my scouting process for Chara: OK, he’s tall and Slovakian, but he looks kinda dopey. Well … this does look like a guy who could have feuded with Undertaker in 1998. But he’s still too skinny for WWE, right? Oh, wait. Nope. This is a future world champion.
He often seems more like a WWE guy than a UFC guy. After his last fight, he hopped the cage and ran up to Jose Aldo, whom he thought at the time would be his next opponent. Obviously, he was doing it for show, because he had no interest in starting a real fight in the crowd. At one of the press conferences for their July 11 fight, which Aldo has sinced pulled out of due to injury, McGregor took Aldo’s belt and held it above his head. He also referred to himself as Jose Aldo Sr. and said Aldo should sit on his lap and call him daddy. Every UFC fan I have spoken to has a strong feeling about McGregor. The only other fighter this polarizing among casual and hardcore UFC fans was probably Brock Lesnar.
Masked Man: On one hand, this guy is obviously a heel:
On the other hand, he’s playing a heel, and he’s awesome. There’s no use putting him in the heel column because WWE fans will love him too much. Sure, he’ll debut as a heel, but he’ll turn faster than Dave Bautista. There’s no doubt in my mind that McGregor would be an all-time great in WWE. The problem with this plan is that he’s already basically a pro wrestler. Dana White signed him to a contract before he ever saw him fight. McGregor is a badass in the cage, but that’s not the point — they’ll keep McGregor on the payroll for the rest of his life, even if he has to pull a Mr. Perfect and start being a consultant for other fighters. He’d be a perfect fit in WWE, but what’s the point of quitting one (borderline) pro wrestling job for another? Maybe if his UFC fights keep falling apart at the last minute, he could be convinced of the virtues of a kayfabe sport.
This is Mr. Perfect quality hair, my friend.
Masked Man: Don’t shortchange him. That’s Dangerous Dan Spivey quality hair.
That’s Awkward Shawn Michaels Growing Out the Mullet With Greased-Back Fenders quality hair.
That haircut could be the third member of the Legion of Doom.
In this age of the meta-storyline and the smark fans, there is no doubt in my mind that Tebow would be the greatest heel of this generation. He’s Bo Dallas without the occasional heel-ish tendencies. WWE could bring him in (which would suit WWE’s tendency to acquire pop-culture figures five years too late), make him the classic cheesy, kissing babies, Bible-thumping, I’m-just-happy-to-be-here, good guy, and sit back as everyone boos the hell out of him. Put the WWE Machine behind him, Roman Reigns style, and make him the leader of the New Day.
Masked Man: The best possible angle here would be Tebow avenging Vince McMahon’s 2006 victory over God. After Tebow wins, reenact Tebow’s entire NFL career — have Vince demote him to NXT, then make him an announcer, then have him flat-out fired, and all the while he’s filming YouTube videos saying his dream is to make it back to the WWE ring. Eventually, he enters next year’s Tough Enough contest, determined to earn his way back to prime time. I hate to say it, but when he wins? I might be a Tebow fan.
Chris “CT” Tamburello
The omission of the super athletes from The Challenge, given Grantland’s love of the show, is insane. There are several obvious candidates but the no brainer is CT. The video says it all.
Masked Man: I’m embarrassed I didn’t put anybody from America’s fifth major sport on the list, especially with The Miz sitting there as a shining example of how well MTV athletes transition into wrestling. Honestly, nothing prepares you for the WWE lifestyle like being on The Challenge. It’s massive amounts of drinking and partying punctuated by bizarre physical contests, with cameras in your face constantly and producers coming up with fake rivalries to keep things interesting. Hell, WWE should put a full-time scout in the Bunim/Murray territory. CT probably should have been a wrestler years ago — my only concern is that other wrestlers would be more scared to get in the ring with him than Brock Lesnar.
Clay has all the traits that Vince and the powers-that-be covet: a Hall of fame pedigree (the Matthews football lineage actually tops a lot of pro-wrestling family trees in stature and longevity); a non-stop motor; his hair; he’s white, in that middle-of-the-country, aw-shucks way; and he’s got the facial dexterity to morph from boy-next-door to American Psycho.
—Kelley in Norfolk, Virginia
Masked Man: And he’s already appeared on WWE! Matthews is the only babyface on the list to receive numerous votes, and he deserves them. He would be the top guy in WWE from the moment he arrived until the moment he left. There are more photos of him holding the WWE title belt than I can link to in good conscience. Wait, are we sure this guy isn’t a wrestler already? I’m just going to pretend he is.
How’d you not mention him? He’s a legacy and he would jumpstart the new Road Warriors. McMahon has even stated he’d like Laurinaitis to wrestle after football.
Masked Man: Even though he looks like every guy in WWE developmental circa 2005, I’m all in on Laurinaitis. Who didn’t love the Road Warriors? Who doesn’t love second-generation wrestlers? The real move here is to introduce him with an upbeat pro athlete gimmick — an energetic, fan-hugging, jersey-wearing babyface. But the crowd doesn’t want that. They want the Road Warrior. Eventually, Laurinaitis snaps, and the face paint comes out. Added bonus: The new Mad Max just did incredible box office numbers, so it’s perfect timing for wrestling to start ripping off those movies again.
6’11” at age 20 and possibly still growing. He could be pegged as a green up-and-comer with limitless potential. Right now, he’s the perfect face — full of smiles, charisma, fan-friendliness, and jaw-dropping athleticism. He’s perfect for younger fans in the PG era. Not only that, but we’ve seen signs of Dark Giannis. He has developed a stink face and he even went full heel when he tackled Mike Dunleavy into the crowd during Game 6 of the Bucks’ playoff series against the Bulls. Plus, he’s from Greece, and I’m sure WWE could play that up after he turned heel.
Masked Man: I love the Greek Freak as much as the next guy, but I’m only including him here as evidence for how hard it is to cultivate babyface wrestlers in the modern era. I mean, if he spent all the time he spends working on his handle on adding 50 pounds of muscle, he’d have a great chance. And you know the fans would love him. But come on, this guy could be the next Tracy McGrady — there’s no way he’d ever end up in pro wrestling. If he were shorter and less talented, maybe WWE would have a chance to lure him away, but that’s not realistic. … What the hell, I have an idea:
The WWE needs Swaggy P! He doesn’t have to get in the ring to be a heel. He can always be mouthing that he’s the best this, he’s the best that, and always find a reason to back out of fights. Either that, or he could dominate no-names and rack up stats like he thinks he already does with the Lakers. He’s got the swag and isn’t afraid to let you know about it.
Masked Man: I know what you’re thinking — this guy isn’t a babyface. He’s rich, well-dressed, self-obsessed, and engaged to a pop megastar. He’s everything Tom Brady is turned up a notch — and it goes without saying that he’s nowhere near the basketball player that Brady is at football. But Swaggy P is just too damn endearing. He’d be like a reverse Bo Dallas — he thinks he’s a heel, but everybody cheers for him. And here’s the real thing: He’s got all that stuff going for him, but he’s a role player. He’s created his celebrity by making himself into a character, not by being an elite NBA player. Without the nickname, he might be out of the league, playing in Turkey. He’s the new American Dream.
And One to Grow On
Vince would be wise to draft CM Punk from the UFC. It seems he would be a good fit. Signing him would also lead to the return of those “CM Punk” chants that the fans used to love.
Masked Man: One thing I’ve learned: Always end the show with the pipe bomb.