WWE: Former NRL player Daniel Vidot fulfils dream with WWE contract

Daniel Vidot spent eight season in the NRL.
Daniel Vidot spent eight season in the NRL. Photo credit: Getty

The arrival of Ronda Rousey to the world of professional wrestling could prove to be the catalyst that sees other elite athletes follow in her footsteps.

The former UFC champion made her in-ring debut at WrestleMania 34 in New Orleans in March, receiving glowing reviews from fans and pundits for a stellar performance.

World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) recently launched a recruitment website to attract high-level athletes from around the world, and in the process allow an easier pathway to get into the professional wrestling realm.

Now, former NRL winger Daniel Vidot has hung up his boots to pursue a boyhood dream of being WWE champion.

The eight-year rugby league veteran had stints with the Canberra Raiders, St George Illawarra Dragons, Brisbane Broncos and Gold Coast Titans.

But in 2016 Vidot decided to have a crack at WWE and headed to Orlando Florida for a try-out. He impressed WWE officials with his athleticism, size and personality.

Vidot working out at WWE's Performance Center.
Vidot working out at WWE's Performance Center. Photo credit: Getty

Vidot is now a few weeks away from flying back to the WWE Performance Center after signing a multi-year development contract.

The Samoan international believes his background in rugby league helped his transition - and given WWE's new recruitment drive, he doesn't think he will be the last 'code' star to enter the squared circle.

"Our sport is one of the hardest sports in the world," Vidot told Newshub.

"I don't think it gets the recognition it deserves. With the training regime it's a very similar process to that of professional wrestling. The same kind of training times, physicality and intensity.

"This new recruitment programme is an awesome opportunity for the youth and also the elite athletes.

"It was a very intimidating process being amongst 40-odd high level athletes from different sports. Guys from the NFL, mixed martial artists, a few Olympians - it was very intimidating and it was a very long process.

"It's not as easy as you think, considering only three of us made the cut."

WWE executive Paul Levesque knows the grind of professional wrestling more than most having spent over 20 years in the sports entrainment business.

The chief responsibility of Levesque - better known by his ring name, Triple H - these days is recruitment and talent development. The 48-year-old believes the new website is a game changer for WWE.

"This is the next step in the evolution of WWE," Levesque told Newshub.

"We are opening up pathways for the best athletes and entertainers from around the world to find an easier way to get to WWE.

"I think there are certain sport ventures that lend themselves much greater to what we do but if I was to look at sports like rugby, for us that is a really interesting pool.

"There are elite athletes at every level of that sport. They are the best athletes in the world.

"You look at a guy like Daniel Vidot, who is coming to us very soon - he is coming out of a rugby [league] environment, he has a larger than life personality and is use to that physicality and daily grind - but they love it. It's a perfect fit."

Paul 'Triple H' Levesque
Paul 'Triple H' Levesque Photo credit: WWE
Ronda Rousey is WWE's latest crossover superstar.
Ronda Rousey is WWE's latest crossover superstar. Photo credit: WWE

Levesque believes the stigma of WWE being 'fake' is slowly fading away. While he acknowledges the storytelling aspect to the business, he said the athleticism on display week in and week out by WWE superstars is undeniable.

"Athletes are entertainers," Levesque told Newshub. "People pay good money every day to watch athletes perform in a variety of sports all around to be entertained.

"This is no different. Yes we are storytellers, but the athleticism is real. I don't think it is a stigma anymore. WWE is a very lucrative, popular form of entertainment."

Vidot, who idolised Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson as a youngster, agrees with the sentiment that what they do is athleticism at the highest level.

The 28-year-old was ridiculed by a few trolls on social media when he announced his new venture and is driven to throw it back in their face.

"Short-term goals are to get to know everything I need to know about professional wrestling, learn the basics and take baby steps. Just keep developing," Vidot told Newshub.

"Long term I want to be WWE Champion. [I'm] keen to prove all the naysayers wrong and show that you can do anything if you put your mind to it.

"I want to be the first of many rugby players that can show a younger generation of Samoan athletes that anything is possible."

Sonny Bill Williams could have just found a new box to tick off - only time will tell if WWE's recruitment drive attracts some of New Zealand's rugby elite.