A whole new crop of athletes who have earned glory on the wrestling mat may soon find fame and fortune in the pro wrestling ring.
Two former wrestlers – Chas Betts and Clayton Jack – have already signed deals with WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment)… while at least two others – Tony Nelson and Mike McClure – have been named in published reports as considering careers in the squared circle.
Jack, a four-time NCAA qualifier and 2010 Pac-10 heavyweight champ at Oregon State, signed a three-year developmental deal with WWE in early 2013. Betts, who wrestled for the U.S. at 85 kilos/185 pounds in Greco-Roman competition at the 2012 London Olympics, inked a deal with WWE last November.
Nelson and McClure – who completed their college mat careers by earning All-American honors as heavyweights at the 2014 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships last month in Oklahoma City – are now considering pro careers, according to published reports. McClure, who wrestled for Michigan State, placed fifth at the 2014 NCAAs, while Nelson was a two-time NCAA champ, three-time finalist, and four-time All-American for the University of Minnesota.
Betts, Jack, McClure and Nelson are hardly breaking new ground. There’s a long tradition of former Olympic and college wrestlers opting for pro wrestling careers, going at least as far back as the 1920s, with Nat Pendleton (1920 Olympian and Columbia University mat champ), Earl McCready (1928 Olympian and three-time NCAA heavyweight champ for Oklahoma State), and Ed Don George (1928 Olympian, University of Michigan wrestler) all climbing into the ring after college. That career option for the big men of college wrestling has continued unabated into more recent times, with former NCAA heavyweight champs Kurt Angle (two-time champ at Edinboro, 1996 Olympic gold medalist) and Brock Lesnar (2000 champ for Minnesota), along with University of Oklahoma All-American Jake Hager (now Jack Swagger in the WWE) making headlines as pro wrestlers.
That said, the pro ring isn’t the only option for upper-weight wrestlers who’ve had success in folkstyle, freestyle or Greco-Roman competition, and want to continue to be in the spotlight… and not just in pursuing an Olympic dream, or becoming a wrestling coach. The NFL beckons for many big men, with Stephen Neal -- two-time NCAA heavyweight champ for Cal State Bakersfield who was a 1999 World champion – and Curley Culp, 1967 NCAA champ for Arizona State, among the most accomplished athletes to make a successful grappler-to-gridiron transition, with Neal earning three Super Bowl rings for the New England Patriots, and Culp being welcomed into the Pro Football Hall of Fame last summer.
In more recent times, college big men now have the option of competing in mixed martial arts, including Daniel Cormier (two-time Olympian and NCAA finalist for Oklahoma State), Steve Mocco (2008 Olympian and two-time heavyweight titlewinner), Mark Ellis (2009 NCAA heavyweight champ for University of Missouri), Chris Honeycutt (2012 NCAA 197-pound finalist for Edinboro), and Mo Lawal (Oklahoma State All-American), to name a few.
Meet the men who may find success in the squared circle… by taking a look at College Wrestling Examiner’s photo-feature focusing on potential WWE stars Chas Betts, Clayton Jack, Mike McClure, and Tony Nelson.