Pro Wrestlers With Backgrounds In Baseball And Softball
In light of the news that WWE would be heavily pursuing the recruitment of NCAA athletes under the recently enacted Name, Image, and Likeness bylaws, wrestling fans can expect to get a greater variety of young performers on Monday, Tuesday, and Friday nights than ever before. Of the big four sports in North America (football, basketball, ice hockey, and baseball), football and basketball have far and away produced the greatest quantity of future pro wrestlers. Amateur wrestling has also made for a natural go-between for athletes looking to transition to a career in the wrestling ring, leaving sports like baseball in the dust.
This is not to say, however, that sports like baseball and softball have not produced quality athletes who went on to become pro wrestlers. The athletic make-up of a baseball player may vary more than that of a football or basketball player, but some veterans of diamond have gone on to have successful and in some cases legendary careers in the ring.
Here are 12 pro wrestlers who come from a baseball and softball background.
The story of Veer Mahan the pro wrestler and Rinku Singh the baseball player is a tale of two careers, even if they are one and the same. Singh got his start in baseball after competing on a reality show in his native India titled "The Million Dollar Arm." The show sought to find the person who could throw the hardest and most accurate fastball in India, with the winner receiving $100,000. Singh topped out at 87 miles per hour despite having never heard of baseball before. After the show, Singh and runner-up Dinesh Patel aimed to take their careers to the next level and emigrated to the United States to train under pitching guru Tom House. With professional training, Singh successfully raised his velocity by five miles per hour and along with Patel earned a contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. The minor-league deal made Singh and Patel the first two Indians to sign MLB contracts.
Despite flashing his immense potential on the mound, injuries ultimately did the 6’4 pitcher in, and he pivoted to pro wrestling in January 2018 when he signed a contract with WWE. The former baseball player bulked up to 275 pounds and rebranded himself as Veer Mahaan. He formed the tag team Indus Sher with another native Indian, Saurav Gurjar, and received a small handful of call-ups to the main roster before petering out and returning to NXT.
These days, Veer Mahaan is back to teaming in NXT with Gurjar, now known as Sanga. However, Singh will forever be etched in baseball lore as one of the sport’s great grassroots success stories. His early life is the subject of the 2014 sports drama movie "Million Dollar Arm," starring Jon Hamm.
Mae Young’s popularity among wrestling fans may have spiked at around the time of The Attitude Era, but Young should not be forgotten as an accomplished women’s wrestler throughout the ’50s and ’70s. Her early athletic experience, namely in softball, helped foster the competitive nature that put her on the map in wrestling. Thanks to an assist from her brothers, Young competed in amateur wrestling during her high school years, which equipped her for a career in pro wrestling perhaps more than anything. She also starred as a placekicker on the high school football team. However, she is also notable for having played softball for her high school in Tulsa in Oklahoma. Moreover, Young is said to have been a standout on the team, which won the national softball championship during one of her years of participation.
Little else is known about Young’s softball career, outside of the fact that all of her athletic exploits adequately prepared her to make her in-ring debut around the time of her 18th birthday. Young wrestled her final stipulated match in 2010 for WWE, becoming the first person ever to wrestle over the age of 80 as well as the first person to wrestle matches in nine different decades. Pat Patterson inducted Young into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2008, and she passed away in January 2014.
The youngest of three siblings growing up in Chuo City, Yamanashi, Japan, former IWGP Heavyweight champion Shingo Takagi turned to athletics in his youth to keep busy and participated in a variety of sports which included baseball. Baseball is, after all, wildly popular in Japan. According to a CNBC study, The Nippon Professional Baseball League, the country’s national baseball league, boasts approximately 27 million fans, equivalent to roughly 20% of the entire population. Both Takagi and his Los Ingobernables de Japon stablemate Tetsuya Naito fall into the aforementioned 20 percent. Takagi’s baseball background also may have come in handy when he once swung at Atsushi Onita with an exploding barbed wire baseball bat.
Takagi also competed in other high school sports, namely combat sports such as judo, which helped him gain a vested interest in one day becoming a pro wrestler. The experimental, albeit physical nature of judo and wrestling seemingly lured Takagi away from baseball for good. "Even when I was in judo club in high school we’d trade lariats during breaks in training," Takagi told NJPW 1972 when asked about the origins of his Pumping Bomber move. "Messing about and wrestling kinda goes hand in hand with judo club, hah." Takagi has also dabbled in bodybuilding and has since gone on to become a key player in the world’s leading Japanese wrestling company.
Pro wrestling was not the first love of WWE Hall of Famer Bobo Brazil’s. Brazil, real name Houston Harris, was born in South Carolina, but ultimately grew up in three different states and took a liking to baseball. He picked up the sport and played professionally primarily with the Black House of David team in the Negro Leagues. The House of David, based out of Benton Harbor, Michigan — where Brazil once lived and was later billed from — is notable for featuring legends of the sport such as Grover Cleveland Alexander, Chief Bender and Satchel Paige during its 50-plus year run. The 6’6 Brazil put himself on the trajectory of a pro wrestling career after a chance encounter with wrestler and trainer Joe Savoldi. Savoldi had, after all, successfully transitioned to wrestling from his own athletic career as he had a background in football having played with the University of Notre Dame and later the Chicago Bears of the NFL.
Impressed with the Negro League baseball player’s athletic intangibles, Savoldi successfully convinced Brazil to trade in his cleats for a pair of wrestling boots. While he was initially resigned to wrestling fellow African-Americans, Brazil began to wrestle in integrated matches and got over as one of the first black stars in Vincent J. McMahon’s WWWF. He also became a seven-time WWWF United States Champion, holding the belt for at least a combined 2,235 days. Brazil passed away in 1998 at Lakeland Medical Center in St. Joseph, Michigan. His legacy is fittingly that of the "Jackie Robinson of Professional Wrestling" as wrestling historian David Shoemaker wrote in his book, "The Squared Circle: Life, Death, and Professional Wrestling."
Retired wrestler Derick Neikirk is best known in wrestling circles for his run in two of the WWE’s developmental territories of the mid-’00s: Deep South Wrestling and Florida Championship Wrestling. However, he aspired to play professional baseball prior to training to become a wrestler and made good headway before ultimately calling it a career. The Ohio native played catcher at Mesa Community College and stood out as one of his team’s best players and made the all-conference team in 1996. Later that year, the Detroit Tigers selected Neikirk in the 19th round of the MLB Draft, giving him a foot in the door to one day playing in the big leagues.
Slowly but surely, Neikirk advanced through the ranks of the Tigers’ system, opening his career in the rookie-class Gulf Coast League at 21 years old. While hitting for average was not necessarily his strong suit, scouting site Baseball Cube graded Neikirk as a player with above-average contact at the plate. He reached as high as the Tigers’ High-A minor league team and was out of baseball by 1999. Neikirk wrestled his final matches in 2016 and has been focusing more on acting as of late.
Kamille Brickhouse, better known simply as Kamille in NWA, is one of Billy Corgan’s best female success stories since taking over the brand. At 5-foot-10, Kamille knows few physical equals in the NWA, and has reigned as the company’s women’s champion for more than 530 days as a result. While it’s possible she borrows some of her physical style from her husband, Thom Latimer, Kamille’s background as a former Division I softball player also lends itself to the level of athlete she has shown herself to be in the wrestling ring.
Kamille, known by her real name of Kailey Farmer at the time, played softball for three years at Campbell University. She played in high school at North Durham, and stood out as a three-time all-state selection and her high school’s female athlete of the year in 2011. She posted strong numbers throughout her high school career, but posted her best year as a senior at North Durham when she hit .579 with 14 doubles, and seven home runs while putting together a .648 on-base percentage and 1.158 slugging percentage. As dominant as she proved to be on the softball diamond, Kamille’s athletic background extends beyond her short-lived softball career. She dabbled with volleyball in high school and after playing softball collegiately, went on to become a member of the Atlanta Steam of the Legends Football League, a semi-professional all-women tackle football league.
Dale Torborg, who had a spell in WCW working under a mask as "The Kiss Demon," is perhaps more known in baseball circles than in wrestling circles. At 6’7, 275 pounds, Torborg had the requisite size to launch up a pro wrestling card in the ’90s, but only chose to do so after he took a fastball to the face, breaking his zygomatic bone and permanently altering his depth perception. Prior to that, Torborg, the son of former MLB manager Jeff Torborg, had a once-promising baseball career in the pipeline, playing college baseball for the Northwestern University Wildcats in the early ’90s before going on to play in the Appalachian League.
Torborg found wrestling in 1995, where he wrestled under the baseball-inspired gimmick, "The MVP." After being discovered by WCW, Torborg trained at the Power Plant and would eventually be repackaged into the Kiss Demon character, a gimmick originally earmarked for the similarly sized Brian Adams. When WCW came to an end, Torborg opted to return to baseball as a strength coach instead of pursuing a WWE tryout but did go on to make sporadic appearances for TNA Wrestling (later Impact Wrestling). Torborg has been a part of two world championship teams as a strength coach: the 2003 Florida Marlins and the 2005 Chicago White Sox. Torborg remained with the White Sox organization up until recently.
The Acclaimed are one of the hottest tag teams in wrestling at the moment, and Anthony Bowens, one-half of the fan-favorite tag team, appears to check all the boxes as a future mainstream star for the company. Bowens, who came out in 2017 and stands out as AEW’s first openly gay wrestler, also stands out as a former baseball player to make the transition to the squared circle. Bowens stands out as a former Division I corner outfielder at Seton Hall University who later transferred within the state of New Jersey to Montclair State University.
Bowens recently opened up about his time in baseball, specifically after transferring out of Seton Hall, to NJ.com’s Jacqueline Carter. "At that point, I was so drained from it — from the love of the game — to me, almost, if we didn’t win it was like we were nothing," Bowens recalls. "Like it was for the manager’s win-loss record. That’s what I felt like we were playing for because he took the love of the game from me. And I was just tired of it. I was playing in pain. And ironically, I went into a different career where everything is pain. But I needed something to fill that time. I had been used to all those years, 11 or 12 years, where I was in the baseball field for five, six hours a day." Bowens, who grew up a wrestling fan, found his future career through the encouragement of his friends and found himself on the fast track to a television wrestling career after connecting with Pat Buck.
Former IWGP Heavyweight Champion Tetsuya Naito is one of the most notable Japanese wrestlers to have gotten his start playing baseball. According to Cagematch, Naito has a background in both baseball and soccer. Naito began his pro wrestling training in 2000 at the age of 18, so it is safe to assume his baseball career started and ended while attending secondary school. However, while he has become fully immersed in the world of pro wrestling in addition to being one of the top Japanese stars in the world, Naito remains a big baseball fan. His favorite team in the Nippon Professional Baseball League is the Hiroshima Toyo Carp, and his NJPW theme song has become a rallying cry amongst the Toyo Carp fanbase. He even threw out the first pitch for the Toyo Carp in a 2017 game, decked out from head to toe in his wrestling gear.
Naito, a native of Tokyo, backed the Yomiuri Giants in his youth but switched teams following the retirement of team legend Tatsunori Hara. Hara now ironically is back with the Giants as the team’s manager. Moreover, Naito views his career, which has had its share of highs and lows, through a baseball lens. The game of baseball was, after all, used as a storytelling device in Naito’s feud with Jay White leading up to Wrestle Kingdom 14. Naito framed himself as the home team needing to score "two runs" in order to win the game, a metaphor for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship and IWGP Heavyweight Championship. Naito won the game on January 4, 2020, but it will be telling to see how many more "runs" he can scratch across before he calls it a career.
Josh Prohibition is well known around the Ohio independent scene for being one the most prominent wrestlers to use backyard wrestling as a launching pad for his wrestling career. However, had it not been for career-threatening injuries, it is fair to question whether Prohibition, real name Josh Piscura, would have ever found wrestling as a possible career outlet. According to a profile he conducted with PWMania, Piscura was a highly-touted high school baseball player who saw his college prospects dwindle following an arm injury. With his arm shot, Piscura turned to wrestling. "I have loved wrestling since I was four years old," Piscura told PWMania. "Wrestling is my drug. Even when my body fails me I will always stay involved, it’s part of who I am and always will be."
Piscura’s involvement with baseball did not end in high school, however. The son of an accomplished high school baseball coach, Piscura went on to dabble in coaching himself, serving as an assistant for state semifinalist Independence High School as recently as 2010. Nevertheless, Piscura went on to have a credible in-ring career for himself, and was even featured as a playable character with voiceover in the 2003 video game, "Backyard Wrestling: Don’t Try This at Home."
The most recent baseball player to take his talents to pro wrestling is Granden Goetzman, a 2011 draft pick of the Tampa Bay Rays. Goetzman debuted on the December 21, 2022 episode of "AEW Dynamite" as an affiliate of Swerve Strickland and rapper Rick Ross. He is set to be a part of the duo’s new faction along with Parker Boudreaux. Covered from head to toe in tattoos, Goetzman is virtually unrecognizable from his playing days. The Palmetto High School graduate joined the Rays organization as a highly touted outfielder, having been taken with the 74th overall pick in a draft that typically spans 20 rounds.
As a member of the Rays organization, Goetzman played all three outfield positions at a handful of different levels between 2011 and 2017, reaching as high as Triple-A. He continued his playing career through the 2021 season as a member of the Mexican League’s Tigres de Quintana Roo. Over his entire professional career, Goetzman hit .245 to go with 51 home runs. However, having exhausted his best opportunities at making it to the major leagues, Goetzman turned his full attention to pro wrestling.
He has been learning the craft under AEW star Jay Lethal and Fightful Select reported he has also trained under Matt Sydal in the past. With a unique look and size (6-foot-4) to go with it, the 30-year-old Goetzman could make a name for himself one day. As of this writing, there is no word on what name Goetzman will be using in AEW.
The most famous wrestler to come from a background in baseball is none other than Randy Savage. The son of fellow wrestler Angelo Poffo, Savage had major league aspirations for a career in professional baseball before following in his father’s footsteps and becoming one of the most influential stars of all time. A 2011 Sports Illustrated piece on Savage’s baseball career notes that Savage carried his mit and bat everywhere he went as a child, and his persistence for "America’s Game" would soon begin to pay dividends, and despite father Angelo’s status as a pro wrestler, he supported his sons’ baseball dreams, even driving him to a tryout camp with the St. Louis Cardinals. Impressed by what they saw, the Cardinals signed the young Randy Poffo to a minor league contract and assigned him to play for the team’s rookie affiliate, the Gulf Coast Cardinals.
The future Randy Savage hit .286 with the Cardinals over his first 35 games, but struggled to be promoted, at least initially, as the organization failed to see room for growth in the rookie catcher. However, he raised his batting average to .344 the following year and received a promotion to Class A Orangeburg, where his career would ultimately come to an end. The Cardinals released Savage after he suffered a separated shoulder, seemingly bringing his baseball career to an end. He did receive one more opportunity with the Cincinnati Reds organization, but once again, the team’s scouts could not see the potential for future growth. However, the Randy Savage fans know and love might not have been as such without his spell in baseball. A 1974 on-field altercation made the Tampa Tribune and ultimately led to Poffo taking on the "macho man" moniker. "Next day in the paper, some writer gets on me, says I was acting like some macho man," Savage once said according to Pro Wrestling Stories. "I liked that, and it became part of my name."