For WWE Superstar Mojo Rawley (born Dean Muhtadi), the ascent to the pinnacle of the sports-entertainment world has been an unlikely journey. After working his way up from the lowest levels of college football all the way to the NFL, Rawley began a second career in the world of professional wrestling.
Since his arrival, the now 33-year old Rawley has quickly risen through the ranks of the WWE to become one of the most electric performers in the industry. Prior to his likely appearance at WrestleMania set to livestream from Orlando, Florida, Rawley spoke to Maxim about his extraordinary path to the WWE.
What’s your background? Were you a WWE fan growing up?
I was born and raised in Alexandria, VA, and am a proud T.C. Williams Titan, the school from the movie Remember the Titans. My family was in the United Nations so we are from everywhere, primarily the Middle East. I grew up watching WWE; every Monday Night Raw would be on television and my brother Casey and I would be watching.
You worked your way from lowly D-III college football all the way to the Green Bay Packers. How did you to forge such an unlikely path?
I started off as a non-scholarship athlete at a D-III school. I was the last athlete recruited in my class. I became a team captain, school record holder, and earned an academic scholarship. I then transferred to Maryland where I had to pay $35,000 a year and start over as a walk on. I left Maryland as a starter, record holder, and scholarship athlete with the highest GPA on the team. In the NFL, I was not drafted and was not signed in free agency. I earned my way through a tryout. My entire career I was always the guy that was picked last, but found a way to get the job done and leave my mark on the team.
What was the motivation behind your career switch and how did you get your chance with the WWE?
I was a free agent in the NFL coming off a bad injury and was in talks with a couple of teams when I received a unique opportunity. Gordy Gronkowski, father of the Gronkowski brothers, arranged a meeting between me and his old college roommate and current WWE producer Mike Rotunda. The rest is history.
What similarities are there between the two sports that seem to attract so many former football players to professional wrestling? Does it satisfy your competitive streak in the same way?
The life lessons derived from a career in football are perfectly in line with what it takes to be successful in WWE. Dedication, perseverance, the comprehension of how a team works, and humility are extremely important here. To be completely honest, initially I was concerned that the WWE brand of entertainment would inevitably not satisfy my competitive streak, but this never became an issue. You compete to win the crowd, the trust of your coaches, and the respect of the locker room.
Is there a strong brotherhood/community in the WWE or are the athletes competitive behind the scenes as well?
The WWE locker room is very similar to the NFL. It’s all one big family. For the most part, everyone gets along and we get to travel the globe together performing and entertaining the greatest fans in the world, so the bonds are built very strong. Make no mistake, it is extremely competitive. Whereas everyone works towards putting on the best show possible, everyone also competes to have the best or most entertaining segment on the show, whether it is a match, an in-ring promo or backstage segment. Everyone wants to be the best and works hard to do so.
WWE is unlike any business. I like to think of it as the world’s largest mom-and-pop business. We are around one another far more than our own families and we travel the world together. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but we always entertain the WWE Universe. We are a global brand full of larger than life personas. To me humility is one of the most important characteristics in this business.
What is the schedule like for a WWE Superstar?
The schedule is actually relatively constant. On a normal week, I fly out Friday morning for four days of shows. The daily itinerary is the same; gym, show, drive. Gym, show, drive. On Tuesday, I fly home and go straight from the airport to the WWE Performance Center for weight training and conditioning with former NFL strength coach Sean Hayes. Then I go out to the rings to observe or join one of the various training sessions. From there I go to hot yoga, film study, a deep tissue massage, and finally sushi for dinner every Tuesday night with family or friends. If the flight after Monday’s show is a red-eye, then I do all of this on zero sleep.
What’s the toughest part of maintaining your body and mind during the WWE schedule?
The travel; most of us are very large people and we don’t fit on planes very well.
Do you prefer being a good guy or a bad guy? Does it require different mentalities to be a “hero” or a “heel”?
When I am a good guy on TV, my character tends to be almost identical to how I am as a real person. However, as a bad guy, I get to be the opposite. I get to be a jerk. I get to talk trash, I get to say all the things that I’m thinking but have to restrain myself from saying out of respect or decency. I liken it to being an athlete playing in the away stadium with all the boos and hostility. Being the bad guy tends to be way more fun!
What interests or hobbies do you have away from the ring?
Breakdancing my butt off. It’s the best cardio workout and it’s probably the thing I’m best at! I can’t sit still. I take my training very seriously but I also take fun very seriously too. Even when I’m having fun, I’m constantly thinking of ways to incorporate it into my WWE persona, as that way I’m serving two purposes at once.
What’s allowed you to succeed in such a competitive industry?
I credit all of my life’s successes to my ability to “Stay Hyped.” That is my life’s mantra. Facing adversity with a smile and excessive energy. Being the hardest worker in whatever I do, and never stopping, resting, or complaining. That is what has helped me to succeed at all levels of WWE and in life.