The Biggest WWE, AEW Fans in the NFL, NBA and Rest of the Sports World

Erik Beaston@@ErikBeastonFeatured ColumnistAugust 28, 2020

The Biggest WWE, AEW Fans in the NFL, NBA and Rest of the Sports World

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    Alex Gallardo/Associated Press

    Professional athletes are no strangers to passionate fanbases.

    As it turns out, some of the biggest, brightest and toughest in their fields are major fans in their own right. Their passion? Professional wrestling, as seen in the industry's top two promotions, WWE and All Elite Wrestling.

    From All-Pro tight ends to grizzled defensemen, these are the stars who shine brightest in big spots...and find enjoyment in cheering for iconic names such as "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, The Rock, The Undertaker and Roman Reigns.

Damian Lillard

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    One of the most prolific scorers in the NBA, and unanimous 2020 Bubble MVP, Damian Lillard famously arrived to the Moda Center dressed as "Stone Cold" Steve Austin in 2018.

    If that wasn't enough, the Portland Trailblazers guard produced a Dame 3:16 sneaker and T-shirt with Adidas to celebrate his fandom of The Texas Rattlesnake.

    Like Austin, Lillard can strike from anywhere on the court, driving the lane for a layup or delivering a Stone Cold Stunner of a half-court shot to take the lead.

    One of the faces of the NBA and cover star of the NBA 2K21 video game, Lillard figures to open up a can of whoop-ass for the foreseeable future—just as his wrestling hero did on the likes of Mr. McMahon, The Rock, Undertaker, Kane and Mankind at the height of the Attitude Era.

Shaquille O'Neal

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    Shaquille O'Neal wants to get back into the squared circle.

    Upon re-signing with WarnerMedia and TNT's Inside the NBA, Shaq told Ryan Deitsch of The Athletic: "I'd love to fight Cody," before adding, "Write it. Print it. Text it to him. Call AEW up and tell them."

    The article suggests the deal with WarnerMedia includes some sort of relationship with All Elite Wrestling but it is in its "embryonic stages."

    Shaq appeared at WrestleMania 32 as a competitor in the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, coming face-to-face with one of Cody's former foes, The Big Show.

    According to the four-time NBA champion, three-time NBA Finals MVP and 2000 regular-season MVP, he was slated to compete against The World's Largest Athlete in some way at WrestleMania 33 but it never materialized.

    O'Neal would be a natural attraction in an industry he obviously has a passion for. A larger-than-life athlete with charisma for days, he would fit right into an industry that demands both.

    Hopefully, AEW can succeed where WWE failed, giving Shaq that long-awaited opportunity to compete in a high-profile match of some sort. A match with Cody over the soul of Ted Turner's flagship network could be a whole lot of fun.

George Kittle

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    One athlete unabashed in his fandom of pro wrestling is San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle.

    The highest-paid player at his position in NFL history, the 26-year-old routinely celebrates a big catch or first down with a tribute to The Lucha Bros' Pentagon Jr. by flashing his "cero miedo" hand sign in the face of a defeated defender.

    He has discussed lucha masks during post-game press conferences, gone back-and-forth with The Rock on Twitter and even made a fan of Pengaton himself.

    Arguably the most prominent supporter of pro wrestling in the sports world, Kittle does not shy away from his love of sports-entertainment, and in December 2019—amid the 49ers' run to the postseason—he took in an episode of SmackDown Live when WWE rolled through San Francisco.

    A fine physical specimen who can power through the defense's front lines and sprint down the field for 30-yard reception, Kittle would appear right at home in the squared circle.

    While he is at the apex of his NFL career, one can only hope he gets the opportunity to live out a lifelong dream and stand alongside his favorite wrestlers in a sanctioned match at some point.

Mike Tyson

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    "Tyson and Austin! Tyson and Austin!"

    It's an iconic call by Jim Ross, one that came during physical confrontation between heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin that sparked renewed interest in WWE from a mainstream perspective and provided Vince McMahon's empire the momentum in the Monday Night Wars.

    Tyson, a lifelong fan of the industry dating back to the days of Bruno Sammartino and Stan "The Man" Stasiak, was instrumental in sparking WWE's comeback, and in turn, the company helped Iron Mike find positive headlines at a time of great notoriety for the famed boxer.

    And Tyson's fandom has taken him back to the squared circle on more than one occasion.

    He returned to WWE in 2009 as guest host of Raw, then made his All Elite Wrestling debut at Double or Nothing in May this year. He followed that up with a much-publicized showdown with "Demo God" Chris Jericho on the following Wednesday's Dynamite.

    Tyson has long championed pro wrestling and will continue to do so as the opportunities to set foot back inside the squared circle present themselves.

Keith Yandle

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    Florida Panthers defenseman Keith Yandle grew up watching the Royal Rumble with buddies and has followed the industry from his childhood through to his own stardom in the NHL, he told Jim Varsallone in an interview for his JimmyV3 show.

    A fan of Sting, the 33-year-old is also a member of the Cenation. He even attended WrestleMania 26 in Phoenix, where Cena defeated Batista to win the World Heavyweight Championship in one of the night's marquee matches.

    Yandle discussed his love of the industry during an appearance on the Panthers' Territory Talk podcast.

    A grizzled veteran of professional hockey, who made his pro debut in 2006, he displays the toughness and grit of another favorite, The Undertaker.

    Like The Deadman, he is a an iron man of his sport, working through pain and a grueling schedule en route to an incredible 866 consecutive games-played streak.

    Former Panthers goaltender Robert Luongo is another high-profile fan of professional wrestling.

Daniel Cormier

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    Former UFC heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier may have made a name for himself grounding his opponents and smashing them into oblivion in the Octagon, but he is a self-confessed wrestling fan with a Bobby Roode ringtone.

    An amateur wrestler long before he entered the bright lights and big stage of the UFC, the 41-year-old has long professed his fandom of sports-entertainment.

    Whether he was celebrating Seth Rollins' monumental WrestleMania 31 Money in the Bank cash-in (above) or equating his own boos from the UFC fans to those of Roman Reigns, he has not shied away from his status as one of WWE's biggest fans.

    Cormier's own retirement from MMA has understandably generated buzz about a potential role with Vince McMahon's sport-entertainment empire. And Triple H telling TMZ Sports that he would love to work with the MMA star did not temper the rumors.

    The veteran fighter has excelled in a commentary position with UFC, and a spot alongside Corey Graves and Michael Cole on SmackDown would be a great introduction for a noted fan—and potential participant.