No, Conor McGregor and/or Rob Gronkowski didn’t announce their retirement to coincide with Wrestlemania 35. For some reason, there’s been considerable speculation that one or both men will be involved in the WWE’s marquee event and beyond that might have retired in order to pursue a pro wrestling career. This is as far fetched as conspiracy theories that former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is in actuality a lizard. This isn’t to say that one or both couldn’t excel as professional wrestlers should they make a commitment to do so. There’s just no reason to think that the timing of their retirement announcements two weeks prior to Wrestlemania is anything more than a coincidence.
THE REALITY OF PRO WRESTLING AND THE WWE
Although it’s easy to dismiss pro wrestling as ‘fake’ here’s the reality–pro wrestling is really difficult and even more difficult to do well. The best wrestlers in the world have spent untold hours learning how to ‘work’, conditioning their body and studying the psychological aspects of getting ‘over’ in their chosen vocation. Furthermore, pro wrestling is as physically grueling–if not more so–than any other professional sport in the world. It underscores the interesting dynamic that creating the illusion of ‘violence’ is far more challenging than the actual act of violence.
One of the most recent athletes to cross over to pro wrestling from another sport is former UFC champion Ronda Rousey. She may have had one of the most perfect ‘resumes’ for success in pro wrestling as any ‘outsider’ athlete in history. She had a proven ability to ‘draw money’ in a promotion oriented sport. She had an extremely legitimate judo background and one of her trainers in her early days in MMA was ‘Judo’ Gene LeBell. In addition to being among the baddest men on the planet, LeBell is a former pro wrestler who along with his brother Mike ran the National Wrestling Alliance territory in Los Angeles for over twenty years.
Even with this made to order background, Rousey trained for months in advance of her pro wrestling debut. She had made a few ‘appearances’ at WWE events including involvement in an angle at Wrestlemania 31 and at the Mae Young Classic to support her friend and former MMA fighter Shayna Baszler’s in ring debut but her ‘official’ debut in the ring was at the 2018 Royal Rumble. A month later at the Elimination Chamber PPV, she was involved in an ‘altercation’ angle to advance the storyline of her first match. That took place at Wrestlemania 34 in a tag team event featuring Rousey and Kurt Angle against Triple H and Stephanie McMahon. That booking was not an accident–three extremely experienced wrestlers two of which essentially run the WWE. By all accounts her debut was a success–Dave Meltzer of The Wrestling Observer called it “one of the better pro wrestling debuts I’ve ever seen”–but it was months in the making and the product of extremely precise booking.
There was a time in the long, colorful history of pro wrestling where they would occasionally throw a complete novice from another sport in the ring and ‘hope for the best’. That is no longer the case–and particularly not for an image conscious, publicly held corporation like the WWE. At this stage of their existence, even in-ring appearances by celebrities are not taken likely. Rousey had been training for several months before the WWE even had her in the ring to do an ‘angle’ and that would likely be the case with any big name celebrity transitioning to the sport–including Gronkowski or McGregor.
Rob Gronkowski is just 29 years old, but even at that young age his retirement from football was not a surprise. In fact, there was considerable speculation following the 2017 season that he might retire but he came back for one more year. There was little more left for him to accomplish as a NFL player–3 Super Bowl championships, 5 Pro Bowl appearances, 4 First team All-Pro selections and the 2014 choice for ‘Comeback Player of the Year’. Along the way he passed Tony Gonzalez in the pantheon of all time best tight ends and there is a compelling case to be made for him being a first ballot NFL Hall of Famer. Notoriously thrifty, Gronkowski reportedly invested all of the $50 million he made playing football and has lived entirely off endorsements.
Gronk definitely did it all during his NFL career but having ‘nothing more to accomplish’ wasn’t the reason he retired. Simply put, his body is a wreck. One Boston area TV station cited a ‘faulty back’ as the reason for his retirement. A career rundown of his injuries and surgeries is horrific and looks more like the medical report of legendary daredevil Evel Knievel than of a modern professional athlete. The last thing that Gronkowski would want to do given his physical state is to start taking ‘bumps’ in a pro wrestling ring. Were that even an option he’d likely still be playing football.
Much has been made of Gronkowski’s friendship with pro wrestler Mojo Rawley but there’s little to suggest that this is indicative of a forthcoming career in the business. Immediately after the Super Bowl, ESPN writer Mina Kimes speculated on the possiblity of Gronkowski’s retirement and gave this account of his family’s brief allusion to a future in the WWE:
As one of the family’s close friends, a bearded professional wrestler named Mojo Rawley, held court, Gordie mentioned that “it would be great” if Rob joined the WWE (a couple years ago, the oft-injured tight end made a surprise appearance alongside Mojo at Wrestlemania; one can only imagine the hideous sound that Bill Belichick’s teeth made when someone showed him the video). Gordie added that his brother was likely to start some sort of fitness venture, not unlike their father, who has run a workout equipment business in the Buffalo area for decades.
In the next paragraph, the family discusses the possibility of Gronkowski becoming a Hollywood action movie star. This is a much more viable scenario.
McGregor’s interest in pro wrestling is far more inferential than Gronkowski’s. Much of it is based on his personality and how excellent he is at self promotion. He’d be a great ‘heel’–at one point pro wrestling legend Ric Flair suggested that McGregor had ‘stolen his gimmick’. He’s embroiled himself in a Twitter feud with pro wrestlers and fans. His ability to ‘draw money’ is without question and he was a principal along with Floyd Mayweather in the biggest PPV event in history. Beyond that, there’s little evidence that McGregor is even interested in a pro wrestling career.
The biggest question with McGregor always has to be ‘is he really retired’? This is at least the second time he’s ‘retired’ with a Twitter post–the first time was in 2016. This was seen as a negotiating ploy more than anything else. Although UFC majordomo Dana White is playing off McGregor’s latest retirement as legit he’s also let it be known that there have been several ‘sticking points’ in booking the Irish superstar. White has indicated that McGregor wanted an ownership stake in the UFC which he said ‘ain’t going to happen’. Another recent bone of contention was the UFC’s desire to have his next fight be a ‘co-main event’ rather than the ‘main event’.
McGregor’s made a ridiculous amount of money in MMA so he definitely doesn’t need to look for another payday in the near term. He’s also got endorsement deals worth millions and most recently diversified into the distilled spirits business. His whisky brand called ‘Proper No. Twelve Irish Whisky’ is in the process of blowing up and particularly in Europe. At one point, Tesco stores in Ireland were limiting customers to two bottles per visit.
Even if McGregor wanted to make an appearance at Wrestlemania 35 its unlikely that the WWE would want him giving breaking allegations that he’s being investigated for sexual assault in his native Ireland. This is a particularly thorny issue for the WWE–at a low point for Vince McMahon’s company they had their own sexual abuse allegations involving former employees Pat Patterson and Terry Garvin. The biggest Wrestlemania 35 storyline in the mainstream media is a women’s match having main event status for the first time. The horrific ‘optics’ of having a celebrity accused of sexual assault involved in Wrestlemania 35 are made even worse by the focus on the all-female main event.
Here are the official SPORTS INSIDER odds on Gronk/Conor moving to pro wrestling and making an appearance at Wrestlemania 35. The odds on Conor McGregor becoming a full time pro wrestler are shorter only because he doesn’t have the same injury issues as Gronkowski:
ROB GRONKOWSKI/CONOR MCGREGOR PRO WRESTLING BETTING ODDS
WILL ROB GRONKOWSKI ANNOUNCE THAT HE IS BECOMING A FULL TIME PRO WRESTLER BY APRIL 1, 2020?
WILL CONOR MCGREGOR ANNOUNCE THAT HE IS BECOMING A FULL TIME PRO WRESTLER BY APRIL 1, 2020?
WILL ROB GRONKOWSKI MAKE AN IN-RING APPEARANCE AT WRESTLEMANIA 35?
WILL CONOR MCGREGOR MAKE AN IN-RING APPEARANCE AT WRESTLEMANIA 35?