WrestleMania returns with a nod toward WWE’s connection to American football

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It is exactly a year since WWE Super ShowDown drew thousands of Saudi wrestling fans to Mohammed Abdu Arena on Riyadh Boulevard, and many more on pay-per-view television across the world.

Delighting the crowd was local favorite Mansoor, who defeated American grappler Dolph Ziggler, and WWE legend The Undertaker won the five-man Tuwaiq Trophy Gauntlet match.

Within days, however, the COVID-19 pandemic would bring almost all global sporting activities to a grinding halt.

And yet WrestleMania 36 would somehow go ahead, filmed on March 25-26, 2020 and then broadcast on pay-per-view on April 4-5.

Now WrestleMania 37 is set to return on April 10-11, 2021 with a limited live audience.

This year’s event will take place at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium, which recently hosted Super Bowl LV, where hometown team Tampa Bay Buccaneers, inspired by Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski – who hosted last year’s WrestleMania – overcame the challenge of Kansas City Chiefs to be crowned champions.

The connection between WWE and American football goes further than that however, with many of the current wrestling superstars having swapped the field for the ring early on in their careers.

As the countdown to WrestleMania 37 begins, we take a look at some of those WWE superstars whose journey to the wrestling ring began on the American football field.

ROMAN REIGNS

Current WWE Universal Champion, and one of the brand’s biggest names, Roman Reigns (real name, Leati Joseph “Joe” Anoa’i), initially set out to reach the NFL, and his performances in college football, for Georgia Institute of Technology’s Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets team, provided him with a fantastic opportunity.

Anoa’i was signed, and subsequently released, by both the Minnesota Vikings and Jacksonville Jaguars in 2007, although he was hampered by a serious illness. He then made the switch to the Canadian Football League in 2008, going on to spend a full season with Edmonton Eskimos, before being let go – and subsequently retiring – in 2009.

Reigns has enjoyed a monumental WWE career since signing a contract in 2010, battling it out with many of the brand’s biggest superstars, including the likes of Brock Lesnar, John Cena and The Undertaker, who he inflicted a shock defeat on at WrestleMania 33.

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