The Mighty Quinn seeks to transition from the gridiron to the wrestling ring
JUN 26, 2014 10:11a ET
Most future football players worship NFL stars while growing up.
Not Quinn Ojinnaka.
He idolized Razor Ramon -- a toothpick-chewing, trash-talking World Wrestling Entertainment villain who arrogantly referred to himself as "The Bad Guy."
"I would go to school with the vest and ask my mom to take me to Walmart so I could buy 10 or 12 fake chains as jewelry," Ojinnaka told FOXSports.com of his Razor-inspired outfit during the 1990s. "I would do the whole (Razor Ramon) walk and everything going to class.
"I got made fun of a lot doing that. But at that moment, I wanted to be like him. I wanted to be a wrestler."
After seven NFL seasons as a journeyman offensive lineman, Ojinnaka is living his childhood dream.
Ojinnaka made his national debut Sunday night on a Pay-Per-View show held by Ring of Honor, a fledgling company that operates in WWE's massive shadow. Using the moniker "Moose," Ojinnaka was introduced in a segment that saw him blow off a recruiting pitch by manager Veda Scott.
"I've trained so long physically in the ring, but my big moment on Pay-Per-View was just talking," Ojinnaka said. "Honestly, it was the hardest thing ever."
Ojinnaka will soon have the chance in Ring of Honor to display the eye-popping athleticism and agility that belies his 6-foot-6, 280-pound frame. But it will be his ability to connect with the audience both in the ring and through his interview skills that will determine whether Ojinnaka can develop the persona needed to thrive in a high-pressure business with heavy fan demands.
"He's a project," said Ring of Honor announcer Kevin Kelly, who also doubles as administrator for the company's developmental camp where Ojinnaka earned a contract. "But he's definitely one we want to take the time to invest in."
Ojinnaka, 30, said he began falling in love with pro wrestling at the age of seven when watching "Nature Boy" Ric Flair win the WWE's 1992 Royal Rumble match. But before he could start his own "styling and profiling" like Flair, Ojinnaka decided to follow his second passion -- football.
A 2006 fifth-round pick from Syracuse University by the Atlanta Falcons, Ojinnaka appeared in 39 games with 12 starts over the next four seasons. He then played as a reserve for New England (2010), Indianapolis (2011) and St. Louis (2012).
All the while, Ojinnaka made it no secret that he wanted to pursue pro wrestling when his football days ended. He took the plunge after being cut by the Rams during the 2012 campaign and then turning down a late-season contract offer to join the Buffalo Bills.
“I had no passion to play. It wasn't fun anymore. The last two years I was just collecting a check.”
"I had no passion to play," Ojinnaka admitted. "It wasn't fun anymore. The last two years I was just collecting a check."
Ojinnaka began researching wrestling schools online and found one near his Atlanta home. The WWA4 was run by Curtis Hughes, who had brief runs as a wrestler with major U.S. companies during the 1990s.
Early matches were understandably sloppy but showcased what Kelly described as Ojinnaka's "amazingly quick feet" that developed from years of offensive line drills. Ojinnaka also has ridiculous leaping ability, highlighted by the height on a dropkick that scant performers of his size can reach.
Plus, Ojinnaka's passion for wrestling started to become evident in his actions as well as his words. Ojinnaka has frequently paid his own travel expenses out-of-pocket to gain experience on independent shows. He once embarked on an 18-hour drive to Canada to work for a small federation in Ottawa.
"There are a lot of similarities between football and wrestling," Ojinnaka said. "You need to have a lot of discipline. You have to be able to go even when you're hurt. And you have to work hard at it.
"I see lot of guys who say they're wrestlers but they're not. They don't go the gym to work on their strength, physique or cardio to get in shape. Those are things you have to do to be a true wrestler."
So is this: Knowing how to tell a story inside the ring by stringing maneuvers together in a manner that makes sense. That's where another trainer (Scott D'Amore) helped give Ojinnaka some valuable tips he is now expanding upon in Ring of Honor.
"In baseball, a guy can throw 100 miles an hour but he only becomes great when he learns to throw pitches. It's the same thing in wrestling," said Kelly, a former WWE announcer who has 25 years of experience in the wrestling industry. "When a guy figures that out is when he can get to the next level and become that superstar. Some guys never figure it out and never make it.
“In baseball, a guy can throw 100 miles an hour but he only becomes great when he learns to throw pitches. It's the same thing in wrestling.”
"We can't teach Quinn him to throw an amazing dropkick, which he does. But what we can do is teach him when the right time is to throw that dropkick. We're now starting to put those pieces together."
Attending his first Ring of Honor training seminar in November 2013, Ojinnaka impressed enough to receive an invitation to continue working with the group. Ojinnaka ultimately signed a contract that will give him the chance to follow in the footsteps of Ring of Honor alumnus turned WWE standouts like Daniel Bryan, CM Punk and Seth Rollins.
To better prepare for what's ahead, Ojinnaka watches DVRs of other performers seeking tips to improve his own efforts much like when he broke down video of opposing NFL defenses. One star he pays close attention to is WWE's Brock Lesnar because of the impressive moves he can execute at a size similar to Ojinnaka's.
Ojinnaka, though, made it clear that "Moose" isn't trying to become a carbon copy of someone else.
"I'm my own guy," he said. "I'm not modeling myself after one person."
Kelly said Ojinnaka will work for Ring of Honor on "some specially selected cards and matchups over the next two months. We will then determine whether to accelerate him."
"By the first of the year if all goes well he should be a regular on television," said Kelly, referring to Ring of Honor's weekly syndicated one-hour show on Sinclair Networks. "In six months, we'll have a true picture of where he is."
"It's not a layup that's he going to make it. It's going to take a lot of work and breaks, but he's got everything on his side. He's the perfect age and in perfect physical condition. And you can't teach heart."
On that account, Ojinnaka has plenty as he tries to follow in the footsteps of the wrestling legends who inspired him to leave the NFL and a lucrative salary behind.
"I'm willing to start from the bottom to head to the top," he said. "Whoever they put in the ring is just next for Moose. I'm happy to be there and happy to compete."