By: Matt Carlins

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – The end of Baron Corbin’s days in the NFL were just the beginning.

More than four years after his professional football career came to an end, Corbin is a rising star in professional wrestling. He is one of the top names for WWE’s NXT brand, which features up-and-coming talent from the company’s developmental system based in Orlando, Florida.

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Corbin was an undrafted offensive guard out of Division II Northwest Missouri State and survived three seasons with the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts and Arizona Cardinals from 2009-11. While with Arizona, he worked with former Steelers assistant coach Russ Grimm, and practiced alongside former Pitt wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and former Steelers linebacker Joey Porter.

Speaking with KDKA-TV at the Arnold Sports Festival at Columbus, Ohio, Corbin reflected on his brief pro football career.

“I was a physical player, a dominant player. I was known for getting into fights in training camp,” he said.

Corbin never played in a regular season game. He spent his entire NFL career on the Colts’ and Cardinals’ practice squads. He was released in September 2011.

“I hung on as long as I could,” he said.

Corbin quickly put pro football in the past, and shifted his focus to a new goal he says he’d dreamed about since he was young.

“For me, that was all my ticket to get here to the WWE. That’s what I wanted to do since I was little and going to shows with my dad. So, that was my window. That was my opportunity. That’s what helped me get here,” he said.

A phone call from his agent put the future Baron Corbin in contact with WWE. With no pro wrestling experience on his resume, he was signed to a developmental contract and began the process of transforming his body from a massive 300-plus pound offensive guard into a leaner, quicker and more agile athlete. He also set about learning a craft that many spend years working to master. It took nearly a year before he was ready to make his on-camera debut, but Corbin says he embraces the grind.

“You gotta put in the work, in the ring, out of the ring, at home, on the weekends. Wherever you are, you’re always working to an ultimate goal, and that’s to be WWE World Heavyweight Champion,” he said.

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After a handful of appearances on NXT’s weekly show on the WWE Network, Corbin briefly disappeared. He returned to NXT as a dominating force in September 2014.

Early on, it was rare for Corbin’s matches to last longer than 30 seconds, as he dispatched opponents in rapid, seemingly effortless fashion. The quick victories made him a fan favorite, but the popularity was fleeting.

Some fans resented Corbin’s relative lack of experience, and grew to resent his winning streak. It wasn’t long before Corbin was receiving some of the loudest boos from fans.

At one NXT live event in Pittsburgh last year, a particularly enthusiastic fan in the front row got in Corbin’s face following his match. Some wrestlers might have shied away from it, but Corbin embraced the hate.

(Photo Courtesy: Jen Carlins)

(Photo Courtesy: Jen Carlins)

“It’s just my attitude. I’m gonna do what I want when I want to do it, and if people don’t like it they can either change their mind or deal with it,” he said.

Corbin is currently preparing for one of the biggest matches of his career. Friday night, he will face Austin Aries during NXT TakeOver: Dallas – a live special airing on the WWE Network two nights before WrestleMania.
Aries is a veteran pro wrestler who spent more than 15 years working for other promotions before he finally reached WWE.

Facing opponents with more experience is nothing new for Corbin, who frequently shares an NXT ring with industry veterans such as Sami Zayn, Samoa Joe and NXT Champion Finn Balor.

“I’m getting opportunities to get in there and tangle it up with these guys, and of course I learn every single time. I learn what to do, what not to do.”

The knowledge Corbin has accumulated is paying dividends. The second half of 2015 and beyond included eye-opening matches against Samoa Joe at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn and during the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic.

He’s also getting a chance to work non-televised events with WWE’s main roster.

“I’m seeing some main roster loops…and working with those guys. It’s just making me better and tailoring me into the superstar that I aim to be,” he said.

With several NXT superstars expected to join WWE’s main roster after WrestleMania, Corbin’s time to prove himself at the very top of NXT could be coming soon.

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