AMPS: New Orleans is excited about wrestle mania. When I was growing up, I thought wrestling was a kids thing, but the older I’ve gotten I’ve realized that wrestling is a grown man’s thing. You go to a wrestling event and there are as many adults screaming and hollering as it kids. How does it feel to know that at you are not only a role model for young people but you bring inspiration and motivation for grown men as well?
Titus O’Neal: It’s a humbling honor to be able to connect with people on a level of which I have never dreamed of doing. I grew up playing football, basketball, baseball and running track. I watched WWE as a kid but never something that I could see myself pursuing on a professional level and at the level that I am at right now. God has a funny way of directing us into different arenas and it just so happened that he directed me into an arena of wrestling.
AMPS: Where did you grow up?
Titus O’Neal: I was born in South Florida. I went to high school in Liveoak, FL. I was born to a single parent mother who gave birth to me when she was 12 years old. She was raped and I’ve never met my biological dad a day in my life.
Obviously there were a lot of issues with me growing up being a kid raised by a kid. I grew up in the projects, didn’t have much of anything in regards to clothing and stuff like that. My mother worked hard as she could but she was really young and fatherless. It was a challenge. So I ended up going to a place in Liveoak, FL called Sheriff Boys ranch. I was supposed to go for 18 months and stayed there for 5 years. Not because I was in trouble all the time but I really didn’t have much to go back home to. If I had went back home I would’ve continued to get in trouble, continue to not care about school.
Going to the boys’ ranch really gave me an opportunity to change my life around. I went there around 12 years old and was told I would never succeed in anything. I would never play football, I would never go to college, and I would never graduate from high school because my attitude was too stank, I was too ignorant, too dumb and too stupid.
I was none of those things but it took an atmosphere change, environment change, and an attitude change to in order for me to be where I am today.
The road that I have travelled to get to where I am today has not been easy. Today I stand before the world, a father of two handsome sons 7 & 9 years old, a two time college graduate, (a member of the) University of Florida Hall of Fame, former college football player, former professional football player, former vice president of Student government. And the list goes on and on as far as accolades and achievements are concerned. I just try to use my life and my story nowadays to help people that are in similar situations or trying to avoid the same situations.
I truly believe my success has nothing to do with my race, nothing to do with my socioeconomic background and has everything to do with my purpose and my work ethic. I believe that anybody that is willing to work, opportunity will meet them at some point to be successful. Preparation always precedes manifestation of any blessing. I am definitely preparing for every opportunity that I get.
AMPS: How has God played a factor in where you are right now as a mature brother operating in career of a lifetime? How has your faith gotten you where you are right now?
Titus O’Neal: Definitely I am a believer in God. I am a non-denominational Christian. I grew up in every segment of church. I’ve been to Baptist Church, Southern Baptist Church, Catholic Church, Pentecostal churches and every single church under the sun.
The one thing that I came to the realization of when I was in college was that I am more concerned with relationship than religion. I think religion has separated a lot of people. Doctrine has separated a lot of people. I truly believe that’s not the desires of the Word of God. That’s the reason the church is separated so much from the world things that are happening in the church are happening at a higher rate than they are in the world. Divorce is higher in the church than in the world. People are so quick to judge, outside influences of what people do in the world never really take time to examine and take a look at what they do at home.
Church is just a builder, we are the church, and we should live the lives that we would like the people to live. That’s why my relationship with Derron as the first openly gay WWW Superstar was to be support for him. I knew it before anyone else knew it. I still love him like a brother even though we not together anymore as a tag team. He’s always welcome to my home.
I just see people. I don’t see people by race, by how much money they make, how much money they have or don’t have. There was a time in my life where I didn’t have anything and (the reason) God really put me in a position that I’m in today, in my honest and humble opinion, is to bless others. He continues to bless me because he knows my heart and my desire to not only be a positive influence for change, but also make a positive influence for change.
AMPS: I know, right now, it is very major, with the NFL, another basketball player in the NBA and a college player came out “the closet”. How do you feel about homosexuality in professional sports? Do you feel homosexuality should be embraced by professional sports? Or do you feel it’s not that big of a deal and people are making a big deal out of something that’s really important at all?
Titus O’Neal: I feel each player, each coach, each member of that organization is paid to do a job. As long as those individuals are coming to work every day doing their job to the best of their ability, they are not bring anything that will break the team up in not performing the way they should be performing. Then what color they are, what sexual orientation they have, what round they were drafted in, none of that stuff should matter when it comes to the big picture.
That’s how I’ve always felt about sports. That is one of the reasons why I have been looked upon as a leader. Even as a freshman at Florida, I wasn’t the one who was trying to haze the freshmen coming in. I was the saying they are supposed to come in and help us win a championship… (they’re not) coming here to get beat up or bullied.
When I got there as a freshman, they tried it with me but it didn’t fly too well. I fought back and they knew right out of the gate that certain things just weren’t happening with me. I feel should stand up for what they believe in, instead of being bystanders.
AMPS: Wrestling has been able to do something those other aspects of professional sports haven’t been able to venture off into yet. Wrestlers now have become actors… models like the Roc and Jon Seina… these guys are just not wrestlers… not athletic stars anymore. These guys have figurines in the stores that the kids want for Christmas. Some have books, TV shows and Hulk Hogan had a reality TV show. Wrestling pretty much has opened the door for so much more.
How do you see your career once that window closes as a primary wrestler? What are some of your future plans?
Titus O’Neal: I would definitely like to be in Hollywood to do some movies, television shows and things like that. To be honest with you, I really don’t have any control over being where I am today in the WWE. I just let God direct my paths. I step with leaps of faith. This was a leap of faith in itself. It wasn’t something that I was like, “I have to do this.”
I was legitimately was driving downtown in south Tampa when I saw the facility. That was with one of my really good friends telling me I could do it. I just so happened to pass by the developmental facility and two weeks thereafter I was training to be a WWE superstar.
I like coaching; I have a lot of friends that are Division One coaches. I like coaching football, and basketball. I feel like I’ll have an opportunity to do that as well.
Honestly, I think the sky is the limit to what I can be involved in or what I’ll be able to do once I’m done (getting) physical in the ring. I would like to be around and do things for WWE for years to come because it’s a global company that has great initiative.
They are very active in the community. We work with Susan G Komen which is a charity dear to my heart because my grandmother passed away due to breast cancer. There are so many things that we get involved in. The new WWE Network and those types of opportunities (are about to) to spread their wings as well.
I am very excited about my future. At the same time I am living in my present, to the best that I can, with the hopes that it can only get better; and the knowledge will only get better.
AMPS: WrestleMania is coming up and we are playing for the Mercedes Benz Superdome to be completely packed. We are excited about it. Every day, you hear TV commercials about it, radio commercials, and see billboards. The people in New Orleans are very excited about WrestleMania being here in the city.
You guys wrestle all year long and there are events all year long. It’s like a Super Bowl to wrestling. What makes WrestleMania so exciting? What are you looking forward to when you get to New Orleans?
Titus O’Neal: It’s a Super Bowl of entertainment. One of the reasons I am excited about coming to New Orleans for WrestleMania this year is because this is where one of my greatest memories was born. I was
a freshman at University of Florida and won a National Championship there and we still have one of the largest point margins in Super Bowl history there at the Super Dome.
Just to go back there, hopefully have a match there but even be involved in the event. It’s a week-long of events and appearances, and we have WrestleMania access on the turf. People can come down and get autographs. They have matches, interactive games and all types of things you can bring your family down to. These are people from all over the world. It’s a very exciting time for the company as a whole. It helps set the pace for past fans of the day. They come back and it has grown in massive proportions.
I’m excited about the food in New Orleans; I’m excited about the people and some of my greatest memories I’ve ever had happened in New Orleans. Myself and the WWF Divas are looking forward to enjoying every aspect.
AMPS: Titus, I am a pretty good judge of character. I can just tell by talking to you that you are a good guy. I mean that. I think that the answers you gave me were authentic. I don’t think they were some canned, made-up publicity stunts. You really feel the way that you spoke. You can just hear it in the conversation. I see that you are a pretty decent guy. Your passion for the world is making an impact on the world and humanity. It’s definitely there when you talk.
I really, really appreciate athletic stars like yourself for just being authentic. So many times you run into people who say what they have to say because it’s an interview or because the cameras are in front of them, and it’s not really who they are. But you sound like the person you really are when you speak and I really appreciate your authenticity. I’ll see you when you get here to New Orleans and I’ll make sure that my boys come by to get an autograph. They love WWE.
Titus O’Neal: We have a partnership with Hired Heroes and some of the veterans are getting ready to make that transition from being a soldier to a civilian. They are getting ready to go on their first real job interviews. The things I told them the most was that they’ve had to dodge bullets, they’ve been heroes in a lot of regards to making sacrifices, they’ve made it through struggle and to not have confidence that you can go in here and get any job that you want would be foolish. When you get into these interviews, I didn’t come here with a script, I didn’t come here with bullet points because I want to hit this, this and this.
People really enjoy seeing genuine authentic people. It is very rare that you come across those people. It doesn’t matter about your education level or your experience level when people can see your heart. When they can see your heart and they can see your passion to really be successful and to move and transition to that stage in life, then 9 times out of 10 that is what companies are looking for. They can go in front of someone that has 3 or 4 degrees… they don’t have to pay them more… but that same person may not have the same passion that you have.
So don’t be afraid to be real. That is the one thing that I am trying to hold true to as far as my character is concerned. I want to mix reality with entertainment. I think that is what translates the people the best. It’s taking me some time and continues to take me some time; whether I’m a bad guy or good guy, people gone see some real stuff. That’s what I want them to get from the whole thing.
This business is something that should be respected because of the sacrifices people have made to entertain people and families all over the world on a weekly basis and no off season, and travelling and spending more time trying to entertain other families more so than we get to spend time with our own families.
AMPS: I wish you the best. Make sure you get a beignet from Café Du Monde. Make sure you get some gumbo and shrimp and have a great time listening to our music.