His name was War Pig, he wore a bloodied apron and he was fixin' for a brawl.
It was 2009 and kicker Pat McAfee had just graduated from West Virginia. He went to meet some fans and sign autographs at a South Charleston community center. There was a semi-pro wrestling exhibition going on, and McAfee's new agent knew that would draw his client's interest.
"Whatever you do," the agent told the punter. "Do not get in the ring."
Then, a few minutes later, a promoter came over to the former Mountaineer and asked him if he'd like to tangle with War Pig.
"Absolutely!" McAfee said.
Suddenly the kicker was in the squared circle in his West Virginia T-shirt and khaki shorts, staring at a behemoth with a Mohawk and a mask with a snout.
War Pig went right for McAfee's kicking leg, but miraculously attacked the left instead of the prized right. McAfee went down, clutching his knee. He somehow summoned the intestinal fortitude to get up and fight back. In a flash, he was delivering a kick to the porcine man's mid-section, sending him reeling. McAfee was ready for the finishing move: an "HBK kick" modeled after Shawn Michaels' devastating blow to the chin.
McAfee fell on top of War Pig, and got the three-count pin to end it. A local news reporter found him and McAfee was still in character. "I'm really happy I got out of here healthy, with my life" he deadpanned.
Four years later, McAfee loves telling the story. "I am happy to say," he told Yahoo Sports in December, "I am still undefeated."
He didn't say "retired undefeated." Because there's a decent chance War Pig won't be the last of Pat McAfee's victims.
On a hot summer day in Orlando, an SUV with tinted windows pulls into an industrial complex and a wide-shouldered man in a coat and tie steps out. He is famous the world over, but not as much in these formal clothes. He enters the lobby of a one-story building and extends his hand in greeting. It's Triple H.
His real name is Paul Levesque, and he's spent as much time thinking about this building as he has about his wrestling moves. This is the WWE Performance Center he dreamed up, designed, and opened in July 2013. "There's no facility like this in the world," he declares. It's a school of sorts for wannabe wrestlers – a D-League for the WWE. One of Pat McAfee's former Colts teammates trains here. And after McAfee is done with football, whenever that may be, there's a chance you'll find the punter here too.
Levesque gives a tour. There's a room for wrestlers to work on their characters giving their snarls and shtick to a camera. There's a bigger room for mock interviews, including an attractive interviewer with a microphone against a green screen. There's a state-of-the-art treatment and rehab facility. There's a huge weight room (of course). And, the coup de grace, there's a huge gym with seven wrestling rings for practice. Levesque has branched out the world over for talent, and even hired former LPGA star Jane Geddes to help him find and manage the next stars. There is also a liaison to reach out to sports leagues, including the NFL.
On this early afternoon, there are dozens of grapplers (and divas) perfecting their kicks, elbow drops and body slams. One of them is named Baron Corbin. His real name is Tom Pestock. He played offensive line at Northwest Missouri State and was signed by the Colts in 2009. He met McAfee at training camp before getting cut, and they hit it off immediately. They had a common interest that predated their love of football: pro wrestling.
"We talked about how much we enjoyed watching it and what we loved about it," Pestock said. "We just told each other it was something we wanted to get to when that path ended."
There was a concern that the path might end quickly – for both of them.
"We knew a lockout was potentially in the future," Pestock said, "so we said we're going to go to wrestling school."
The lockout came two years later, but it didn't cost the NFL any regular-season games. McAfee focused on football and Pestock eventually signed with the Arizona Cardinals. (He found more wrestling buddies there too, and says there were sometimes "matches" in the locker room.) After his football career ended, Pestock found his way to Orlando, where he developed Baron Corbin, who he describes as "kind of a risk-taker, an adrenaline junkie."
The two lost touch, but McAfee knows his old friend is in Orlando, and Pestock is almost certain the punter will be there too one day.
"I'm sure he'll try to do something when he's done," Pestock said. "He's a very entertaining guy to say the least."
McAfee has a role model not only in Pestock, but in his WWE hero, The Rock. Dwayne Johnson played football at the University of Miami and then transitioned to the business his dad thrived in. But while Rocky Johnson was a star in the ring, The Rock was a megastar. He's right up there with Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair as one of the most popular wrestlers of all time, and McAfee was one of his fans growing up.
"I modeled my whole personality after him," McAfee said.
Even though McAfee is just a punter with the Colts, he's as brash and vociferous as kickers get. He famously laid out Broncos return man Trindon Holliday in a Week 8 Sunday night game, saving a touchdown with a flying tackle. When Cincinnati Bengals punter Kevin Huber got his jaw broken by a vicious hit against the Steelers last month, and the NFL's "defenseless" rule became a topic of conversation as it applies to kickers, it was McAfee who made headlines by calling the rule "a setback" for those at his position. He's about as outspoken as he can be in a league where kickers are meant to be seen and not heard. McAfee even has a radio show and a successful foundation devoted to helping the sons and daughters of U.S. military personnel.
When he has time, though, his thoughts drift back to the ring. Last month, he sent out a Vine in which he doubled over a team manager in the Colts' locker room with a swift kick and then gave him a rendition of Stone Cold Steve Austin's "Stunner." Another equipment guy, playing the role of a ring manager, rushed in behind McAfee to wave the punter's jersey in the ambushed guy's face. It looked about as authentic as wrestling ever gets.
McAfee even has a finishing move in mind for his hypothetical second-act: a "million-dollar leg drop" in which he climbs to the top rope, leaps off and drops his money-maker onto a helpless opponent in the center of the ring. No, he won't be trying that while he's still in the NFL, but in a way he doesn't need to. Triple H is looking for personality more than athleticism, and McAfee already has that. With his slicked hair and his easily-curled brow, the man looks like a pro wrestler even when he's complaining about gas prices.
"I will take someone with charisma and desire over anything else," said Levesque, who made up his detestable aristocrat character in 30 seconds backstage before a tryout. "It's hard to teach someone how to be charismatic. You ever met that person who has something about them? That's the biggest factor, I think. Nobody pays to just see a wrestler. You pay to see superstars."
It's likely some fans would pay to see McAfee. He says he would be happy to be a "babyface," though, "It would be interesting to see what it's like to be hated."
The only thing he hasn't thought of is a handle. (No, he's not going by War Pigskin.) So far all he's got is "Pat McAfee."
Actually, that might just work.
- Sports & Recreation
- American Football
- Pat McAfee
- Paul Levesque