(CBS Boston/CBS Local) — WWE is filled with colorful characters, like superstar Mojo Rawley. In fact, the entire sports entertainment industry has been built on the backs of athletic giants who capture the attention of thousands in person and whose charisma pops off the television screen and into millions of homes each week. They are loud. They are brash. And some are downright peculiar.
Rawley fits the mold perfectly. Intense doesn’t begin to describe the 33-year-old northern Virginia native who opted for a career as a wrestler following stints in the NFL with the Green Bay Packers and Arizona Cardinals.
Rawley has the ability to forge a bond with fans whenever he steps through the ropes. It’s a trait he learned while honing his craft at WWE’s developmental brand, NXT. And it’s a connection that has persisted, even during stretches where he is not being featured on television and his character is being underutilized.
Most casual wrestling fans best know Rawley as Zack Ryder’s partner in the Hype Bros. tag team. Others know him as the wrestler who is friends with recently retired New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. Two years ago the longtime pals teamed up to create a widely covered WrestleMania moment when Gronk stepped in the ring to help his friend win the Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal.
That’s not a bad thing to be remembered for at all. But there’s another thing Rawley will be remembered for: his wardrobe.
As for whether that’s a good thing? Well, that depends on who you ask.
Owning Zubaz clothing is a time-honored tradition among professional wrestlers. The threads boom with flashy bright color patterns that resemble a zebra who went wild with a box of Crayola crayons. And if you truly want to feel like a Superstar, couple them with a fanny pack to complete the full pro wrestler ensemble. (see: this guy)
The Zubaz craze wasn’t limited to wrestling, of course. NFL stars also got in on the fun. Just ask Dan Marino. More recently, the aforementioned Gronkowski and his brother served as ambassadors for the brand that first became a fashion phenomena about 30 years ago.
But the undisputed heavyweight champion of Zubaz enthusiasts is Rawley, who boasts of owning 500 items. His football background and wrestling career combine to make a Zubaz fit from heaven. From shirts to head bands and jackets, Rawley says he has it all. He’s even made wearing Zubaz suits to the WWE Hall of Fame an annual tradition.
I once had the opportunity to spend some time with Rawley following an event benefiting the Susan G. Komen Foundation in northern New Jersey. He is among the legion of WWE Superstars to devote countless hours to giving back to the community. On this night, Rawley had just finished helping lead a Zumba class with fellow wrestlers Carmela and Titus O’Neil, as well as Dana Warrior, when we began to chat. He was drenched in sweat and proudly sporting a pair of Zubaz shorts, naturally.
“If I’m going to be doing a Zumba class I’m going to be wearing Zubaz,” he told me while proudly looking down at the bright yellowish-green attire covering his lower half. “It just flows off the tongue. They go together.”
It was the beginning of a fascinating conversation about his quirky fashion sense, retooled on-screen persona, and a little bit about Gronk.
How many pairs of Zubaz do you own?
Probably 500. I have a whole wall at home with pants, shorts, shirts, arm sleeves, head bands, bandannas, eye patches. I have a Zubaz grill. I have jackets. You name it, I got it. I got a skateboard. I got overalls. We got it for days.
Is this a bit you’re doing right now?
Oh, no no no. The Wall of Zubaz gets raided frequently. That’s why I don’t like having guests over too often. They steal my stuff.
I’ve got suits too. I’ve got some new ones, about 10 of them now.
This is a charity event, and everybody out here is dancing and having a good time. I need for you to rate your dance moves objectively on a scale of one to ten.
Objectively? Okay, that’s no problem. I’m a very humble guy. You know, I analyze my faults and my weaknesses very carefully. I’m very hypercritical of myself. So, that being said on a scale of one to 10, I would rate my dance moves probably at about 10,000. Maybe 10,001. It just depends how much I stretch beforehand. Just, objectively and being honest here.
Is that one in 10,001 a bonus point for Zubaz?
I get a definite 1,000-point bonus for the Zubaz. Then I get 9,000 left for my own dance moves.
You’re character recently went through a transition in WWE and you’re reinventing yourself. How difficult is it to push the character forward and not become stale now that you’ve been here for a number of years?
You’re always reinventing yourself and looking for what’s new and what you haven’t done before. We did the over-the-top, hyped-up, amped-up, crazy kind of character and now you kind of focus more on the reflective self. The man-in-the-mirror type of thing. I’m switching it up. It’s the exact opposite of what I’ve been, and it’s refreshing, and it’s been fun.
Do you feel like you’re starting from scratch again and having to work your way back up?
I think you always feel like that in a business like this, where you do get stale and the fans will kind of turn on you and get tired of you. You’re always kind of starting from the bottom. That’s how my career went in football, and that how it’s been here. I wouldn’t have it any other way. It keeps it fun and exciting and challenging.
There was a lot of talk about Rob Gronkowski now that he is [retired]. How seriously have you spoken with him about coming in and training at the WWE Performance Center and seeing what the deal is?
He just wrapped up a decade-long career breaking records. For every record he had he probably had as many injuries or surgeries putting his body on the line for the team and the fans. Right now he’s doing nothing. He’s going to lay low and stay off the television a little bit and heal up. He’ll reflect and make that next move and make that decision carefully.
But in the future, we have talked about it extensively. Wrestling is something that he both loves watching, and that little bit of taste he had in the ring with me at WrestleMania a couple years ago with me got him all fired up. So, he’s ready to do something at some point.
Chuck Carroll is former pro wrestling announcer and referee turned sports media personality. He once appeared on Monday Night RAW when he presented Robert Griffin III with a WWE title belt in the Redskins locker room.
Follow him on Twitter @ChuckCarrollWLC.