The most famous athletes to appear in the WWE – from Muhammad Ali & Mike Tyson to Floyd Mayweather & Shaquille O'Neil
SOME of the biggest names in sport have been brought into the world of professional wrestling by the WWE to juice up storylines and headline events.
Superstars including Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, Floyd Mayweather Jr and even Shaquille O’Neil have all made appearances in the WWE universe.
Here is our list of the most famous athletes to have jumped into sports entertainment.
Muhammad Ali was already a sporting legend long before he appeared at WrestleMania I in 1985.
Four years removed from his last fight, the WWE, then-WWF, knew how much of an impact the appearance of the former heavyweight champ would have on the fledgling event.
Live from Madison Square Garden in New York City, the roof exploded once Ali made his way down the alley and into the square ring as the referee.
Ali took part in the main event tag-team match between Hulk Hogan & Mr T vs Rowdy Roddy Piper and Mr Wonderful Paul Orndorff.
Ali was more of a ring enforcer than referee, with the former boxing champ climbing into the ring and taking swings at Piper late in the contest.
Smokin' Joe Frazier
The WWE followed up Ali’s appearance at ‘Mania I with the man that handed Ali his first professional loss, Smokin’ Joe Frazier.
The former heavyweight champ was featured in a boxing match between Mr T and Rowdy Roddy Piper in WrestleMania II in 1986.
Smokin’ Joe was in Mr T’s corner, as the WWE decided to turn a real-life hatred between the actor and Piper into a storyline feud.
Piper reportedly disliked Mr T because he was an actor and had no wrestling skills.
Months earlier, Mr T started competing in boxing matches for the wrestling company, fighting Bob Orton during an episode of Saturday Night’s Main Event V.
After the match, Piper distracted Mr T, allowing Orton to attack him from behind, which led into a 2-on-1 assault.
The events would be the beginning of the rivalry between Mr T and Piper that culminated at ‘Mania.
Floyd Mayweather Jr
Floyd Mayweather Jr, the fifteen time champ in five different weight divisions, got his WrestleMania moment in 2008, when he went up against the World’s Largest Athlete, the Big Show.
The undefeated boxer participated in a No Disqualification Match, after Mayweather accepted a challenge from the Big Show to face him at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Florida.
The pair's feud began at the pay-per-view event No Way Out, when Big Show made his return to WWE and threatened to chokeslam Rey Mysterio.
Mayweather, who was in attendance, came to the aid of his close friend Mysterio and confronted Big Show.
As Big Show dropped to his knees, Mayweather attacked him with a combination of punches that left the bigger man bloodied.
Following the events of No Way Out, their match was set for ‘Mania, where Mayweather gained the win after landing multiple chair shots to Big Show before finishing him off with brass knuckles.
Shaquille O’Neil, the four-time NBA champion and NBA Hall of Famer, is a well-documented WWE fan, appearing in multiple events throughout the years.
During a Monday Night Raw event in 2009, Shaq, who was a ring enforcer for a tag-team match, shocked fans when he got into the ring with the Big Show.
The two seven-footers stood toe-to-toe, until Shaq tackled Big Show to the ground, causing the giant to roll out of the ring.
His in-ring presence didn’t stop there. During the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania 32 in 2016, Shaq was a surprise participant.
Once again stepping into the ring with the Big Show.
In the end, the two would work together to chokeslam Kane before the rest of the wrestlers in the match worked together to eliminate the two giants.
Iron Mike Tyson was introduced by Vince McMahon at a Monday Night Raw event ahead of his role as a special ring enforcer for the WrestleMania 12 main event between Stone Cold Steve Austin and Shawn Michaels.
In 1998, during an episode of Monday Night Raw ahead of 'Mania, Tyson and Austin were involved in a scuffle and had to be separated by officials.
In the following episode of Raw, Michaels and D-Generation X interrupted a segment between Tyson and McMahon, which led to Michaels calling out Tyson.
But it was a bluff. Michaels ripped off Tyson's t-shirt to reveal a DX t-shirt underneath, revealing the former boxer as a member of his stable.
At WrestleMania, Austin overcame the odds after he hit Michaels with a Stunner after which Tyson counted the fall.
Siding with Austin, Tyson crowned Austin the new champion.
After the loss, Michaels tries to get an explanation from Tyson putting his hands on the heavyweight.
He was quickly knocked out by a Tyson right hook to the delight of fans.
Unlike the other athletes on this list, three-time Super Bowl champ Rob Gronkowski actually signed a contract with the WWE – and even won a title with the company.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight-end first made an appearance at WrestleMania 33 in 2017, during the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal.
Gronk helped his friend, Mojo Rawley, win the contest after Jinder Mahal slapped a drink out of the footballer's hand as he watched from behind the barricade.
After his football retirement, it was reported the Gronkowski had signed a contract with the WWE.
He hosted WrestleMania 36 in 2020, and during the event won the 24/7 championship from his friend Rawley.
Yet Gronk never actually had an official match, and both parties agreed to a release after it was reported that Gronk had returned to football with the Buccaneers earlier this year.
Gronk would ultimately drop the 24/7 title to R-Truth during an episode of Raw after a sneak attack by Truth.
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