Former Arizona Cardinals lineman Baron Corbin racing to top of pro wrestling world

Posted at 6:23 PM, Feb 13, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-13 20:23:20-05

He's big. He's strong. He's abrasive. And he doesn't care what you think.

Baron Corbin's 6-foot-8, 275-pound frame, his confidence, his off-the-charts work ethic and his love of fighting helped him become a three-time Golden Gloves boxing champion and an Arizona Cardinal -- and it's all serving him well as he quickly moves up the ranks of World Wrestling Entertainment.

"I need that competition. I need that physical experience," Corbin said before Sunday's WWE Elimination Chamber pay-per-view in Phoenix. "When my time was done with football, I was ready to get back into something -- something physical, and I knew WWE would be a cool experience for me."

A Kansas City native, Corbin (real name Tom Pestock) was an offensive lineman at Northwest Missouri State. During his time in college, he had success in the boxing world on both a regional and national level, and he even spent time training in Scottsdale.

He played on the Indianapolis Colts' practice squad for a season before doing the same with the Cardinals under then-head coach Ken Whisenhunt and offensive line coach Russ Grimm from 2010-11.

Corbin, who has family that lives in the Valley, loved hitting up the local casinos with his teammates, and he enjoyed eating at the now-closed Heart Attack Grill restaurant -- just as well, as Corbin's current diet doesn't allow for triple-bypass burgers.

But Corbin didn't exactly endear himself to his Cardinals teammates in August 2010 when he provoked a training-camp fight that included defensive lineman Darnell Dockett and offensive lineman Alan Faneca.

Why? Because he was bored.

"Sometimes practice can be dragging on and you go, 'You know what? I'm gonna start a fight,'" Corbin said.

"I'm a great instigator. I like to instigate as much as I can, so I run my mouth. I used to run it to Dockett, Calais Campbell, Adrian Wilson, Joey Porter. You know, those guys are all tough, hard-nosed guys."

Campbell is just one of two men who still play for the Cardinals since Corbin was with the team. A guy named Larry Fitzgerald is the other.

Corbin said he and Fitz still keep in touch and remain competitive with each other, such as when they met up at Arnold Sports Festival last year.

"I had to wrestle him to the ground a few times in the locker room when we were playing and he was running his mouth," Corbin said. "He probably doesn't want anyone to know that, but I had to let him know who I was."

WWE fans now know who Corbin is, too. 

Soon after retiring from the NFL, Corbin used his connections to get a tryout with Florida Championship Wrestling, which has since been rebranded as NXT, WWE's developmental organization. He rose to the top of NXT in just three years and made his WWE main roster debut at Wrestlemania 32 last year, where he won the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal.

Since then, Corbin has steadily climbed the ladder on WWE's Smackdown Live brand. On Sunday, he was part of the Elimination Chamber main event, as he competed with John Cena and four other stars for a chance to win the WWE championship.

When he made his entrance for the match, Corbin was met with mostly boos from the fans at Talking Stick Resort Arena. It's easy to understand why, as he does nothing to endear himself to the crowd, preferring instead to beat up anyone who stands in his way, with zero inhibition.

"I'm no longer part of a team; I'm in it for myself," Corbin said. "I'm not here to make friends. I'm not here to give the fans respect because the fans' respect doesn't pay my bills. The money I get paid when I beat somebody up pays my bills."

Corbin's attitude has gotten him this far, and he doesn't plan to change who he is for anyone. He came up short in Sunday's match, but as long as he maintains his me-against-the-world mentality, there's a good chance fans will soon get a chance to boo Corbin as he walks to the ring with the WWE world championship around his waist.

"I don't care if they love me, hate me, don't wanna look at me or tell me I'm the worst thing ever. It makes no difference to me because I still do what I do, and I do it very well," he said. "I could care less what people's opinion of me is, whether they're telling me live in an audience or on Twitter, or however else they want to yell from a safe distance.

"We want people to come out here and escape their daily life, and if it makes them feel better to yell at me or cheer for John Cena, come do that. Come let loose and enjoy the show and be a part of it. That energy that the audience brings takes superstars to the next level."