The chest-beating, body-slamming, over-the-top antics of professional wrestling don’t usually bring academics to mind. There are a fair few unwarranted stereotypes associated with the wrestling world and its fans, but many pro wrestlers have proved that their brains are just as well honed as their biceps. Don’t let the spandex and baby oil fool you – they managed to find the time to hit the books as well as the ring, earning degrees in fields as diverse as industrial engineering, political science, and criminology. Read on to discover 10 professional wrestlers you’d never guess had college degrees.
10. Matthew Korklan aka Evan Bourne
Matthew Korklan, better known by his stage name Evan Bourne (on the right in the image above), was passionate about wrestling when he was growing up in Missouri. Still, he wasn’t sure if he could make enough money as a wrestler and enrolled at Missouri University in 2001. Korklan took classes on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, and spent the rest of the week traveling to compete in wrestling matches. He graduated in 2005 with a bachelor’s degree in Marketing.
Eventually, he became the vice president of marketing and sales at a St. Louis mailbox company – but he still loved wrestling. Korklan continued to compete in his free time and even toured around Japan. In 2008, he caught the eye of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), then became a regular feature on Monday Night Raw. However, in March 2012 Korklan was injured in a car crash, and only returned to action a year later, on March 28, 2013. When his wrestling career is over, Korklan plans to go back to school.
9. John Cena
In 1998, current WWE Champion John Cena graduated from Springfield College in Massachusetts with a degree in Exercise Physiology. Although his degree could have helped his bid for stardom in the WWE, Cena, who was a college All-American football player, says his education helped him in other ways as well. “As a student athlete, you not only have the burden of trying to perform,” Cena said on a visit to Springfield. “But at the end of the day you have to hit the books and get a good education as well. That’s two full-time jobs, at once. And now, of course, with what I do, it’s a full-time job, but I’m able to handle that because I was able to prioritize my life here at Springfield College, between being a full-time student and a full-time athlete.” Cena, who has also starred in several movies, has won the WWE Championship a record-breaking 11 times.
8. Eve Torres
Eve Torres, pictured on the right, is a model, dancer, actress, women’s self-defense instructor and ex-WWE Divas champion. However, Torres is more than just a pretty face, and won a full tuition scholarship to the University of Southern California. As if that’s not impressive enough, she graduated with honors in 2006, earning a degree in Industrial and Systems Engineering. “My goal was to always get my degree,” says Torres. “Once I did that, I thought I could pursue any other passion because I had something to fall back on if I needed it.” She left WWE in 2013 to concentrate on her self-defense career. She adds, “It’s constantly about pushing yourself into things that might sound impossible in your mind. That’s what my career is about.”
7. Jacob Hager aka Jack Swagger
Jack Swagger (real name Jacob Hager) studied at the University of Oklahoma. He graduated in 2006 with a bachelor’s degree in Finance, by which time WWE’s Head of Talent Relations, Jim Ross, had already noticed him. Ross encouraged Hager to finish his schooling and then give him a call. “I had a job lined up with a finance firm in Dallas,” recalls Hager. “The day I was supposed to sign up and go to work for them full-time was the same day I got the WWE contract in the mail. I had to call [the finance firm] and tell them that I was going to wear spandex and baby oil for a living.” In the end, Hager followed his heart, but he still has his degree to fall back on when he completes his wrestling career.
6. Christopher Irvine aka Chris Jericho
Growing up in Winnipeg, Canada, New York-born Christopher Irvine, known by his stage name Chris Jericho, dreamed of being a wrestler. Irvine was 17 when he finished high school, but was unable to go to wrestling school until he turned 18, so he decided to go to college to “kill some time.”
Irvine majored in journalism, and the decision turned out to be the best one he could have made during the transitional period of his life. Although he’d initially just gone to college as something to do before embarking on his wrestling life, his schooling really helped him. “I learned a lot of invaluable skills that really helped me along for when I started my wrestling career,” he says. Journalism, radio and television production all helped Irvine learn how to capture people’s attention, proving that a good education can make a difference in any career. In 1990, Irvine graduated with a degree in Creative Communications from Red River College in Winnipeg and soon made a name for himself in the wrestling world.
5. David Otunga
David Otunga is a 250-pound professional wrestler originally from Illinois. He has won the WWE Tag Team Championship twice during his career, but he’s not all brawn – this is one muscled figure who is as smart as he is strong. Otunga graduated from the University of Illinois with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology. After a stint spent working as a lab manager for a cognitive neuroscience center at Columbia University, he was accepted to Harvard Law School. He graduated from Harvard, passed his bar exam and began working at law firm Sidley Austin. Still, Otunga didn’t fancy a future stuck behind a desk, so he made the leap to reality TV before ending up in WWE.
4. Kurt Angle
Pennsylvania-born Kurt Angle is currently signed to Total Nonstop Action (TNA) wrestling, and has the distinction of being the only professional wrestler to win an Olympic gold medal. He clinched the gold during the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, competing in the heavyweight freestyle wrestling category.
In 1998, Angle began wrestling with the WWE (known as the WWF at the time) and enjoyed significant success both there and with TNA, which he joined in 2006. He is the only wrestler in history to win the WWE and TNA Triple Crown – meaning he emerged victorious in all the regularly competed titles at both companies. His achievements are not limited to the world of sports, however. In 1993, Angle graduated from Clarion University of Pennsylvania with a degree in Education. Besides serving as the president of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, he was on the school’s Student Senate for two years as well.
3. Nicholas Nemeth aka Dolph Ziggler
Current WWE World Heavyweight Champion Dolph Ziggler, whose real name is Nicholas Nemeth, has been in love with wrestling since he was a five-year-old boy. Still, Nemeth managed to hold out long enough to go to college. In 2003, he graduated from Kent State University with a major in Political Science and a minor in pre-Law. “Right before my tryout I was living in Phoenix, applying to Arizona State Law School; I was going to become a lawyer – and that still may happen someday,” Nemeth told the Rio Rancho Observer. “I always thought I’d be a good attorney if I wasn’t doing this,” he said. “I did my work in school and I want to take myself seriously.” Despite his career with the WWE, Nemeth says he stays up-to-date with current events and maintains an avid interest in politics.
2. Glenn Jacobs aka Kane
Glenn Jacobs, better known as hulking WWE superstar Kane, graduated from Truman State University (previously Northeast Missouri State University) in 1990 with a degree in English Literature. The ex-college football and basketball player says his degree is still useful, even in his career as a professional wrestler, because the creativity inherent in that line of study, as well as a background in literature, comes in handy. “It happens to all of us,” Jacobs muses. “We plan something and end up doing something entirely different. At this point, when I turn back and think, I don’t know if I would have come this far if I had taken up something else [other than wrestling].” Jacobs has been Intercontinental Champion twice, and has won the WWE Tag Team Championship a staggering 12 times.
1. Dwayne Johnson aka The Rock
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is a WWE wrestling legend and Hollywood action star. Johnson is one of the most successful wrestling actors of all time, recently starring in movies like Fast & Furious 6, G.I. Joe: Retaliation and Snitch. In 1995, he graduated from Miami University with a Bachelor of General Studies in Criminology and Physiology. When he was passed over in the NFL draft due to an injury, though, Johnson chose to make a go at wrestling instead. The switch isn’t as surprising when you consider that his grandfather and his father are both WWE Hall of Fame members, wrestling under the stage names “High Chief” Peter Maivia and Rocky Johnson respectively. Since Johnson spent some time wrestling as a heel (a villain), perhaps studying criminology helped him create a believable persona.