Many professional wrestling legends have made their way through The Township Auditorium over the years. On Friday, the superstars of tomorrow take center stage.
NXT, the WWE’s popular and growing developmental division, makes its debut in Columbia as part of a regional tour. Among the featured wrestlers is fast-rising Baron Corbin, who is already part of WWE’s main roster and won the Andre the Giant Memorial battle royal last weekend at WrestleMania 32.
Originally from just outside of Kansas City, Corbin signed with the WWE in 2012 after his pro football career ended. Under his real name, Tom Pestock, he played college football at Northwest Missouri State and spent three years in the NFL with the Indianapolis Colts and Arizona Cardinals.
A 6-foot-6 and nearly 330-pound offensive lineman in the NFL, Corbin is now closer to 265 as an up-and-coming heel, or bad guy. He’s part of the main event Friday in Columbia.
Who is Baron Corbin and what do fans need to know about him?
“He’s a no-nonsense guy who usually gets what he wants. It doesn’t matter who’s in his way. He’s not afraid to get his hands dirty. He gets it done as violent as possible.”
You already had a big Wrestlemania moment - what was that like?
“It was unbelievable. We had over 100,000 people there. I was the last one standing in the ring and I got the trophy. My family was up front. It was pretty surreal. The noise, the energy, the atmosphere was untouchable. The feeling you get from that is just unreal.”
When did you know you wanted to be a wrestler?
“As a kid, wrestling is something my dad and I had in common. We used to go to Memorial Hall in Kansas City. It’s Harley Race territory and we got to see a lot of amazing people come through there like Dusty Rhodes, Ric Flair, Kamala and Ted DiBiase. It was something I had a lot of fun doing with my father. As I grew up I played football, and football paid for college, and then football paid me. When I was finished playing in the NFL, that [wrestling] was my opportunity and I got my shot and I’m making the most of it.”
Describe the transition between football and wrestling?
“The training came easy. My whole life has been about training. It’s all the other things that are more difficult: going out and being on a microphone and having your face exposed. That’s what’s new. My career in football I was wearing a helmet. Being an athlete is natural for me. Now it’s bringing your talking game to the next level and exposing yourself to new things like promos and things like that. It’s something I’m learning to get better at every day.”
How did you transform your body from football to wrestling?
“I lost almost 70 pounds. I was 330 pounds when I was in Arizona. I’m still changing my body. As an offensive guard in Arizona my goal was to be as big and strong and explosive as possible. Now I still want to be strong and explosive and want to look good as well. That’s a difficult transformation to make when you’ve been 300-plus pounds for about 10 years. My body is adjusting to the new world.”
Did your ‘nastiness’ as an offensive lineman translate well to wrestling?
“Absolutely, 100 percent. Any kind of pro scouting report you read, it talked about mean and nasty and violent a player I was. In training camp in Arizona I would get fights with my teammates. That’s the attitude I have. I definitely brought that into wrestling.”
Describe NXT and what it’s meant for the fans and the business.
“NXT has grown immensely in the last year, year and a half to where we’re traveling now, we’re doing overseas tours. The atmosphere we get with NXT and NXT fans, they’re a die-hard group. They care deeply about NXT. It’s a very unique experience when you come to it. It’s like when you find that local band you love playing at a small place and there are 50 people there. You continue to watch them and it grows to arenas. That’s what NXT is doing.”
IF YOU GO
What: WWE’s NXT wrestling
Where: Township Auditorium, Columbia
When: Friday; doors open at 6 p.m.; show starts at 7:30 p.m.
On the card (subject to change): NXT champion Finn Balor and Austin Aries in a tag team match vs. Baron Corbin and Tye Dillinger (main event); NXT Women’s Chapmion Asuka vs. Eva Maria; NXT Tag Team Champions American Alpha vs. The Revival; Alex Riley vs Elias Samson; and more.
Tickets: Prices range from $21 to $76