Pro Wrestlers With A Background In Basketball

A pro wrestler's athletic background can speak volumes about who they are between the ropes. Sports such as football have long been a breeding ground for aspiring wrestlers given the physical nature of the sport and the size of its athletes. In recent times, wrestlers have come from other athletic backgrounds such as dance, which is contingent on balance, composure, and core strength, all of which are also necessary components to becoming an elite wrestler. Amateur wrestling is also a great base for pro wrestlers for more obvious reasons. However, there is one sport that does not get the recognition it deserves for fielding future stars of the industry: basketball.

In an industry in which characteristics such as size are still important, the height of basketball players can offer immediate credibility to athletes who make the transition to wrestling. However, much like how height is not the only determinant in a wrestler's career trajectory, the same can be said for basketball players. Ideally, a great basketball player will possess attributes such as size and length, in addition to finesse, hand-eye coordination, power, and footwork. All of these qualities are also vital to becoming an all-world pro wrestler, so it should come as no surprise to anyone that there is a contingent of wrestlers who played basketball first, whether at the high school, college, or pro level.

Here are 18 pro wrestlers who come from a basketball background.

Kevin Nash

One of the most commonly associated wrestlers with a past life in basketball is Kevin Nash. Nash has openly talked about his basketball career, which came to a premature end while playing overseas. Nash was a Division I center at the University of Tennessee, averaging 15.3 minutes per game over his intercollegiate career. He also averaged 5.1 points per game and 4.2 rebounds per game and started 26 games as a junior. Standing 6 feet, 10 inches tall, the future "Big Sexy" stood a legitimate chance of playing pro basketball, but a physical encounter with his college coach, Don DeVoe, nearly threatened to put the kibosh on his professional hoops career before it could begin.

Nash left the Volunteers with the intent of transferring to the University of Bowling Green. When a transfer did not materialize, he went on to play for three years overseas, most notably in Germany. However, he suffered a torn ACL, which ended his playing days for good. After a short stint in the United States Army, Nash took up a career in pro wrestling, where he went on to become one of the marquee stars of the 1990s and 2000s.


Given Bayley's admitted past as a wrestling fanatic dating back to her childhood, one might think wrestling has always been her singular focus. However, Bayley, real name Pamela Martinez, starred on her high school basketball team at Independence High School in her hometown of San Jose, Calif., before transitioning to a career in wrestling. Bayley told the "Swerve City Podcast" she made the varsity team as a sophomore and went on to become a team captain by her senior year. "In the newspaper, if you get the local news they have high school games in there where it says your last name and your points," Bayley said. "That's all I wanted. I saved all the newspapers and would highlight it."

Attributes that helped Bayley on the basketball court can be seen in her work between the ropes. She recently made a call back to her high school basketball days during a segment with Bianca Belair on "SmackDown" in which Bayley put Belair through an "Ultimate Athlete Obstacle Course" that ended with her having to successfully score a basket on a hoop set up outside the ring. While her character work has perhaps overshadowed her athleticism, it is safe to say the number of hours put in on the court has helped Bayley become one of the more underrated athletes on the WWE women's roster.

Eli Cottonwood

Eli Cottonwood had a brief career on the big stage, debuting on WWE television on the second season of the original incarnation of "NXT," which looked to fuse a traditional pro wrestling show with reality TV elements. Cottonwood's basketball background should come as no surprise given that he's 6 feet, 11 inches tall, but he was a much better basketball player than his in-ring persona would lead one to believe. Cottonwood, real name Kipp Christianson, played for Division III St. John's University (Minnesota) and averaged 20 points per game during the 1995-96 season, putting him third in scoring  in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. Christianson also led the conference in field-goal percentage, shooting 68 percent. He played at River Falls High School in Wisconsin prior to arriving at St. John's.

Christianson went on to carve out a career for himself playing basketball overseas. He played in countries such as Lithuania and China, as well as in North America. Upon returning stateside, he played in a little-known pro league known as the International Basketball Association, which later merged with the Continental Basketball Association and the International Basketball League. Christianson played for the St. Paul Slam!, Quad City Thunder, and Sioux Falls Skyforce after attending a Milwaukee Bucks tryout camp in 1998. He currently works in real estate.

Jade Cargill

AEW TBS Champion Jade Cargill having an athletic background should come as a shock to no one, as she stands out as one of the most athletic women in pro wrestling today. Cargill played basketball for Jacksonville University. Prior to suiting up for the Dolphins, the 5-foot-10 Cargill played at Vero Beach High School, where she was one of the team's best players. While attending Jacksonville, Cargill was torn between becoming a child psychologist and a lobbyist, noting her love of politics. Little did she know she would find herself on the fast track to women's wrestling stardom almost a decade later.

Cargill's basketball background also lent itself to her debut on "AEW Dynamite" during the COVID-19 pandemic. In her first match, Cargill teamed with former NBA star Shaquille O'Neal to defeat Cody Rhodes and Red Velvet. On an episode of "The Zaslow Show," Cargill said teaming with O'Neal in the ring was a "dream come true."

Cargill, who is married to former Major League Baseball All-Star second baseman Brandon Phillips, runs her own business called "Jade Cargill Fitness" in which clients sign up on a subscription basis to monitor their fitness through workout regimens and meal plans.

Satnam Singh

AEW wrestler Satnam Singh made a strong attempt at making it in professional basketball before making AEW the home of his wrestling career. He stands among the greatest India-born basketball players of all time and became the first to ever be selected in the NBA draft when the Dallas Mavericks took him in the second round in 2015. While he never actually stepped on the court for an NBA team, Singh did play for the India National Team for nine years between 2011 and 2019, debuting as a 16-year-old.

What many fans may not know is that Singh flirted with dipping his toe into the world of wrestling as early as 2017. In an AMA with Bleacher Report, Singh said that WWE reached out to him in 2017 while he was playing in the D-League, the developmental league of the NBA. While he trained briefly at the WWE Performance Center, Singh wasn't quite ready to abandon his basketball dreams, as he continued to play professionally until 2019, finishing his career with the St. John's Edge of the National Basketball League of Canada. "Being a giant, [pro wrestling] just felt like an easier transition," Singh said. "You don't really see 7-3 guys in boxing or MMA. Maybe in the future, I can do an exhibition and challenge someone like Jake Paul in another sport, but I'm more built for basketball or wrestling."

Nia Jax

Given that she's a descendent of Peter Maivia and cousin to Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Nia Jax seemed to be earmarked for a career in wrestling. However, Jax, real name Lina Fanene, played basketball in high school and college and modeled for nearly eight years before signing with WWE. In an interview with Bleacher Report, Fanene said she grew up wanting to play in the WNBA but found herself torn between the physical rigors of basketball and the practicality of modeling. A modeling agent took notice of Fanene during an "air band" competition and turned her on to a career in the industry.

Fanene signed a contract with Wilhelmina International Inc., one of the top modeling agencies in the world. She moved to New York City to begin her modeling career but quickly had buyer's remorse, lamenting that she was not playing basketball. As a result, she moved back to California and enrolled at Palomar College in San Diego, where she played on the women's basketball team for two years. Upon Fanene leaving Palomar for Cal State San Marcos, The San Diego Union-Tribune noted how much the Comets missed Fanene's presence in the post. While attending San Marcos, Fanene continued to model on the side while finishing her business degree.

Mark Jindrak

For a time, Mark Jindrak, the wrestler, and Mark Jindrak, the basketball player, had uncanny similarities. That's because Jindrak became what is believed to be the first wrestler with a basketball gimmick. During the dying days of WCW, Jindrak joined a host of fellow Power Plant graduates such as Sean O'Haire, Horshu, and Chuck Palumbo on WCW television and needed a way to stand out. As a result, he took on the short-lived gimmick of a basketball player who would carry a basketball to the ring and bounce it off his opponents' heads in addition to acting out other basketball tropes in the ring. He primarily competed on "WCW Saturday Night" as the "Basket Case" character. Jindrak quickly ditched the gimmick and went on win the WCW Tag Team Championship twice with O'Haire. As for Jindrak, the basketball player, he played at Throop High School and went on to play at Keuka College in his native New York.

Upon signing with WWE in 2001, Jindrak, who boasts the highest vertical leap in WWE history at 42 inches, was thought to have a bright future in the company. He even filmed vignettes as a member of Evolution. However, Jindrak would be replaced in the group by Batista and was relegated to a tag team with Garrison Cade before moving to "SmackDown" to work alongside Kurt Angle and Luther Reigns. After being released by WWE in 2005, Jindrak became a star working for CMLL in Mexico as Marco Corleone.

Shad Gaspard

Shad Gaspard, best known in WWE circles for being one-half of the tag team Cryme Tyme with partner JTG, had an impressive athletic background prior to entering the squared circle. He started training in boxing at the age of 5 and later took an interest in mixed martial arts. However, he found his footing on the basketball court, playing in the front court at Perimeter College at Georgia State University. Little else is known about Gaspard's basketball career, but at 6-feet-7, 285 pounds, he went on to become a bodyguard for the likes of P. Diddy, Mike Tyson, and Britney Spears. He signed with WWE in 2002 after unsuccessfully trying out for the second season of "Tough Enough."

Gaspard tragically died at 39 on December 8, 2020. He had gone missing while swimming with his son around the Venice Beach pier where he resided in Southern California. As the tide began to rise, Gaspard saved his son's life by instructing the first responding lifeguard to help him. A large wave then hit Gaspard and took him under the current. His body was found after days of searching. Gaspard was posthumously awarded WWE's Warrior Award in 2022, an honor reserved for "an individual who has exhibited unwavering strength and perseverance and who lives life with the courage and compassion that embodies the indomitable spirit of The Ultimate Warrior."


Jazz, a women's wrestling pioneer in ECW and later WWE, originally aspired to be a basketball player at the college and perhaps the professional level. She enrolled in college in the early '90s on a women's basketball scholarship but dropped out, noting in a 2005 interview that school "wasn't for her." However, in a 2020 interview with Devon "Hannibal" Nicholson, Jazz mentioned how a knee injury she suffered in high school became the catalyst for her eventual departure from the women's basketball team at her college. "I tore my ACL my senior year," Jazz said. "When I got to school, they had me rehabbing and with me being young I had no clue what that was. I had never been injured before. They just had me rehabbing, and I was annoyed because I wanted to play ball. So I got pissed and I quit."

With her basketball-playing  days behind her, Jazz was approached a few years later to join a pro wrestling school in her native Louisiana. She was a longtime Memphis Wrestling fan and made frequent trips to the Mid-South Coliseum to see it in person. Inspired by WWE Hall of Famer Jacqueline Moore, Jazz quickly grasped the basics of wrestling, leaning on her athleticism, particularly in the early years. Jazz made her debut for ECW after six months of training and later became a two-time women's champion in WWE.

Donovan Dijak

Former "NXT" North American Champion Donovan Dijak, real name Chris Dijak, is among the most impressive athletes to come out of his hometown of Lunenberg, Massachusetts. Dijak played three sports at Lunenberg High School: basketball, football, and track and field. While he excelled in all three, he earned an athletic scholarship to play football at the University of Massachusetts after starring on the offensive and defensive line in high school. On the high school basketball court, he averaged 18 points and 14 rebounds per game while sharing the Mid-Wach C MVP award.

Dijak struggled to fit in with the Minutemen, gaining 30 pounds and fizzling out on the football team. He transferred to Bridgewater State University, where he breathed new life into his athletic career. The 6-foot-7 Dijak played both football and basketball for four seasons there as he worked towards a degree in criminal justice, which he earned in 2010. According to the Telegram & Gazette, Dijak grew up a wrestling fan, and through a handful of serendipitous encounters, he realized he might be a fit for wrestling and started training at the New England Pro Wrestling Academy in North Andover, Massachusetts. Having flashed plenty of potential in the ring, Dijak was recently repackaged in "NXT" after a forgettable run as T-Bar in the Retribution faction on the main roster.


Standing at 7 feet, 3 inches tall, Omos is a legitimate giant in WWE. His prodigious size did not translate into being a standout college basketball player, though. Omos (real name Tolulope "Jordan" Omogbehin) and his family moved to the United States from Lagos, Nigeria, and the young man immediately took an interest in basketball while attending Atlantic Shores Christian School in Chesapeake, Virginia. Omos, who also played on an AAU team, eventually settled on playing for the University of South Florida. He got the chance to meet former NBA superstar Hakeem Olajuwon on a team trip to Houston while attending USF. Omos and Olajuwon have a connection beyond basketball, as they are members of the same Nigerian tribe (Yoruba).

As a member of the Division I Bulls, Omos contributed in a minor fashion before transferring to Morgan State University ahead of the 2014-15 season. Despite transferring to a smaller school, Omos struggled to find a place in the Bears' rotation, averaging just under three minutes per game as a graduate transfer. Luckily, he always had a career in WWE in mind as a backup plan in case his basketball career did not work out. "I remember one of my coaches, it was Doug Martin, used to say if basketball doesn't work out, we're going to take your big ass to Connecticut and we're going to meet Vince [McMahon]," Omos told Ryan Satin on "Out of Character."

Matt Morgan

"The Blueprint" Matt Morgan came onto WWE's radar and later broke out in TNA in large part due to the athleticism he packed inside his near 7-foot frame. After a standout high school basketball career, the Fairfield, Connecticut native went on to play at Division I Monmouth University and saw action in the 1995-96 NCAA men's basketball tournament. "It was fun to be able to say that you actually played in the NCAA tournament and actually got some minutes," Morgan said in an interview with Matt Fowler of I didn't score, but at least I got in as a freshman, which was cool." The 13th-seeded Hawks fell to fourth-seeded Marquette University in the opening round.

Morgan transferred to Chaminade University in Hawaii after his sophomore year at Monmouth. He told Fowler it was at Chaminade where he began to look into how someone like himself could transition into a career in pro wrestling. "Eventually I came across The Monster Factory in New Jersey and I saw they trained The Big Show and some other big, tall wrestlers," Morgan said. "So I called them and I said ,'Hey, my name's Matt Morgan. I'm 6-foot-11 and I'm 380 pounds' — which I was at the time. And I told them that I was looking to get into pro wrestling, and the guy just laughed at me and hung up. He said, 'Kid, you know how many times people call me and say that they're 7-foot, 400 pounds?' And he hung up on me. So I thought, 'So much for that.'"

Morgan got his introduction into pro wrestling when he became a contestant on the second season of WWE's "Tough Enough." He went on to sign a WWE developmental deal and eventually made it to the main roster. Morgan is currently presiding as the mayor of Longwood, Florida.

Mercedes Martinez

Mercedes Martinez, the reigning Ring of Honor Women's World Champion, parlayed her impressive high school athletic background into a career in wrestling. She quickly became one of the most recognizable women on the independent scene, but she never foresaw a career in wrestling for herself when she was a young woman. "I was bored," Martinez told Slam Wrestling. "I guess you could say I didn't find wrestling, wrestling found me. It kind of fell in my lap."

A native of Waterbury, Connecticut, Martinez played basketball and softball in high school before attending college at Teikyo Post University, now known as Post University. The criminal justice major advanced her basketball aspirations to the collegiate level, but she left the sport after sustaining a knee injury. She told the Boston Herald she attributes her wrestling career to her love of contact sports. She trained under fellow Waterbury resident Jason Knight and went on to work primarily for Shimmer Women's Athletes. She did not appear in a WWE ring until 2017 when she participated in the Mae Young Classic.

Big Show

The Big Show is not only one of the largest wrestlers to grace the squared circle since Andre the Giant, but he is also one of the most athletic. Big Show, real name Paul Wight, played college basketball for NCAA Division I Wichita State University, among other schools. Wight, who was listed at 7-foot-1, averaged just over two minutes per game and two points per game for the Shockers after starring at Northern Oklahoma Junior College. Seeking more playing time, Wight transferred to Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, but continued to struggle, scoring just 39 points in his final season.

Wight opened up about his basketball career in a 2013 interview with Sports Illustrated, citing his immense size advantage in high school as a reason he had trouble adjusting to the faster pace of college basketball. "I wanted to post up," he said. "Just throw me the ball and I'll put it in the hole. And I was like a black hole. If you threw the ball in, obviously the defense would collapse and I couldn't do anything with it." Wight eventually found pro wrestling and debuted with WCW in 1995. Given his strong booking from the outset, it is safe to say Wight made the correct career choice.


Kane, real name Glenn Jacobs, has gone on to transition from the squared circle to a career in politics, as he is the current mayor of Knox County, Tennessee. It was not the first time Jacobs made a career change, as he grew up aspiring to be a professional basketball player. He had a successful high school basketball career and ended up getting a scholarship to Truman State University, then known as Northeast Missouri State University. Jacobs had a solid college career, leading Northeast Missouri State in field goal percentage between 1987 and 1989.

When the 6-foot-9 Jacobs stepped foot on campus, his coaches encouraged him to start lifting weights. As a result, Jacobs ended up gaining 60 pounds of muscle, pushing his weight to 290 while simultaneously attracting the attention of the football coaches on campus. "So the football coach comes to me and says, Glenn, what are you doing? You weigh 290 pounds to run up and down a basketball court," Jacobs said in an interview on "The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy." "You need to come to play football. My eligibility is up in basketball. But if I switched sports, I had a year left. So that's what I decided to do is try football and give it a shot." Jacobs held his own on the gridiron, and later tried out for the Chicago Bears but failed his physical due to a knee injury.

W. Morrissey

W. Morrissey, the AEW star formerly known as Big Cass in WWE, seemed ticketed for big things in basketball before stepping foot in a wrestling ring. Morrissey, who was listed at 6-foot-8 during his senior year of college, excelled in the classroom at Archbishop Malloy High School in his native Queens, New York, but he found success in basketball as a high school senior after failing to make the team his first three years. Despite having never played on a basketball team prior to turning 17, Morrissey played in the Catholic High School Athletic Association (CHSAA) Senior Classic All-Star Game, which helped him land a scholarship to play at New York University (NYU).

As a member of the Violets, Morrissey continued to improve and became a co-captain ahead of his senior season. Given his senior-year statistics, Morrissey's impact was likely felt more from a team culture standpoint, as he frequently came off the bench to give the Violets a spark at the center position. He led his team in rebounds in a game against SUNY New Paltz. Morrissey's NYU bio listed him as an avid professional wrestling fan. He had such a love for wrestling, in fact, that he passed on an opportunity to become a medical student in favor of a chance at pro wrestling stardom. "After some of our wins, he would imitate Ric Flair in the locker room, being excited that we won and do some imitations," former NYU assistant coach John Pelin told USA Today. "I do always remember him having an interest in wrestling."

Giant Gonzalez

Standing at a legitimate 7 feet, 7 inches tall and weighing 461 pounds, Jorge Gonzalez, who wrestled as El Gigante in WCW and Giant Gonzalez in WWE, took size in wrestling to a different level. Gonzalez suffered from gigantism, a hormonal disease that differs slightly from acromegaly, a hormonal disease that fellow wrestlers The Big Show and Andre the Giant had.  Gonzalez sought to make the most of his life and tried his hand at a basketball career before entering the world of pro wrestling. He got his start in basketball with the Hindú Club de Resistencia at the age of 16, standing at 7-2 at the time. He would soon be discovered by Argentinian national team head coach Leon Najnudel, who lobbied for Gonzalez to join the country's second-division roster.

Gonzalez joined the national team of his native Argentina ahead of the 1985 South American Basketball Championship. He helped the Argentinian team win a bronze medal, and then contributed in similar ways at the 1988 Tournament of the Americas, where Argentina took fifth place. It was there that Gonzalez attracted scouts of the Atlanta Hawks, who took him in the third round of the 1988 NBA Draft. However, Gonzalez suffered a serious knee injury shortly thereafter, and the stress the sport put on his lower extremities ultimately forced him into early retirement from basketball. Gonzalez, who later became a WrestleMania opponent for fellow basketball player The Undertaker, is tied with Manute Bol for being the tallest player in the history of professional basketball. Gonzalez died in 2010 at 44 due to complications from diabetes.


Much like Kevin Nash, Mark Calaway aspired to become a professional basketball player long before he ever thought of becoming a pro wrestler, let alone The Undertaker. However, much like his wrestling career, Calaway's basketball career would take an unconventional path for the brief time it lasted. Calaway, a standout big man at Waltrip High School in Houston, stayed local, choosing to play college basketball at the University of St. Thomas. However, after St. Thomas dropped its men's basketball program, Calaway moved on to play at Texas Wesleyan University, a Division II school.

Calaway made a difference on the team and eventually received an opportunity to play professionally in France. According to Bleacher Report, Calaway's entry-level contract would have paid him an $80,000 salary. However, Calaway left basketball for what he deemed to be a golden opportunity in pro wrestling. "Most of the big guys [in wrestling] were plodders," Calaway told The Guardian. "They'd walk around and knock the crap out of you; pick you up and throw you. I could do that while moving around nimbly, too. Once I started training I was like: 'God, this is what I want to do.' It was in my blood." With his mind made up on wrestling, Calaway went on to become one of the most iconic characters in the pro wrestling history.