Celebrities and athletes performing in the squared circle has long been a tradition in professional wrestling. The first and second WrestleManias were headlined by Mr. T, and non-wrestlers have continued to find their way inside a wrestling ring ever since.
Lawrence Taylor, Dennis Rodman, Karl Malone, Mike Tyson, Floyd Mayweather, and more recently Stephen Amell have continued this trend, with mixed results. The partnership is mutually beneficial-- the celebrity/athlete has the chance to be a professional wrestler for a day while promoting themselves, and the company gets to profit off the mainstream coverage.
However, never before has an athlete or celebrity done so well in that brief appearance that people begin to question whether they should quit what made them famous in the first place. That changed on July 2, when DeAngelo Williams ditched his football cleats for wrestling boots at Impact Wrestling's Slammiversary.
Williams' tagged with former NFL player Quinn Ojinnaka, who now goes by the name of Moose, to go against Eli Drake and Chris Adonis (formerly WWE's Chris Masters). Williams wasn't in the match for long, but the short time was enough to give wrestling fans arguably the greatest in-ring performance by an athlete or celebrity ever.
The moves might not look out-of-this-world to non-wrestling fans, but consider the 11-year NFL vet trained for only three days. The way he glided across the ring, his showmanship and the precision of each of his moves (outside of his overshooting the frog splash at the end of the match) would make you think he had been training for years. Famed pro wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer was among those impressed by William's' debut, saying on his radio show, "It was freaky how good he was. This guy probably has the potential to be one of the greatest wrestlers I've ever seen."
But according to Williams, who joined Adam Schefter's "Know Them From Adam" podcast, Slammiversary will be the first and the last time we see him perform in a wrestling ring.
"It was my debut and my retirement all at the same time," Williams said. "I'm telling people now, and you'll be the first, my debut was up until my retirement jumping through the table. That was my retirement right there ... I am done. That is breaking news. I did that for my uncle. So anybody that wants to talk to me about wrestling, I'll listen, but it's purely talk. They were trying to get me to wrestle another match, and I was like, 'nah, I'm OK.'"
Williams explained that he agreed to the match to honor his late uncle who passed away five years ago.
"It was a one-shot deal. A lot of the things that I do -- if not all the things that I do -- have a meaning to them. I don't do it just because the opportunity came," Williams said. "Me and Josh Matthews are friends. We've been friends, he was with the WWE for a long time and he was a commentator there as well, but that's when our friendship began. I'm gonna take you back a lot farther than that. My uncle, he got me into wrestling. For his birthday I took him to his first WrestleMania, it was in Houston. We went three or four years after that and during the course of those three or four years we went, he would ask me, he was like, 'Hey nephew, would you ever get in the ring and wrestle?' I was like, 'No, I'd never do that. I respect the sport too much for that and it's great entertainment for me, but I just couldn't do it. It looked easy, but I just couldn't do it.' He's like, 'Well nephew, it'd be great to see you wrestle. That's one of my dreams.' I'm like, 'If I get that opportunity, I'll wrestle for you.'"
That opportunity came when Matthews, who now commentates for Impact Wrestling, reached out to Williams about making an appearance at Slammiversary.
"Josh was like, 'Hey man, you want to get in the ring? You wanna wrestle?' I was like, 'Nah, I'm OK,' but in my mind I'm thinking, 'This will be that one match for my uncle,'" Williams said. "I called him back and I was like, 'Yeah man, I'll do it.' He said, 'So what do you wanna do?' I said, 'I want to wrestle.' He said, 'Well, you know celebrity matches, they don't really wrestle.' I said, 'I want to wrestle. This is bigger than me.' I respect the sport too much to go in there and not perform like a wrestler."
Williams performed like someone who had been training for years instead of days. His debut was so good people began to wonder if at 34 years old he'd permanently hang up his cleats to pursue a full-time wrestling career. Impact has already asked for him to come back, and the WWE would surely have interest, but Williams isn't done playing football.
"I'm definitely playing football," Williams said. "I guess you could say that. I mean, not guess, you can say that. I'm waiting on the phone call with a GM, or head coach, or whoever decides they need my services. I'll be ready. You can rest assured of that. I work out every day. I keep in shape because I know once that phone call comes -- when it comes, not if, but when it comes -- then I'll be ready to step up and deliver, because that's what they are asking of me when they place that phone call.
"The thing was, I was wrestling July 2nd and having an NFL contract would've barred me from doing that, so real discussions didn't happen. Now that they know I'm retired from wrestling, they can now be like, 'He's back. We can talk to him. We can sign him now.'"