Titus O’Neill. Picture: Supplied

The words he used to describe himself and his career were, “You may not like me, but I deserve respect.”

Titus O’Neill is a giant, a gentle giant, who rightfully has the right to describe himself this way because he worked hard to be where he is today.

O’Neill visited South Africa as part of a press tour for the upcoming World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) tour to the country in April.

The event will feature several matches between popular wrestling superstars from the Raw franchise, a franchise which O’Neill is part of.

Born Thaddeus Bullard, O’Neill experienced quite a challenging childhood, including living in a one-room flat with his mother, and being told by his high school teachers that he would not to amount to anything successful and would just become another statistic in America’s prison system.

Opportunity arrived for O’Neill in the form of one Patrick Minoe, a man who gave him the chance at a different future, one that led to university, football and into wrestling.

Titus O’Neill visits South Africa ahead of WWE live shows in April. Picture: Supplied

O’Neill became a successful footballer player for the University of Florida. Before graduating, he was inducted into the University of Florida’s Hall of Fame.

His success at university also led to him playing the Arena Football League from 2003 to 2007.

The stage name Titus O’Neill was created after his entrance into the world of wrestling in 2011. He made his debut on the WWE franchise NXT, which is where his reputation began to gain momentum.

As the years progressed, O’Neill became known for being part of the duo, Prime Time Players, a partnership created with fellow NXT wrestler Darren Young.

The partnership dissolved in 2014 and O’Neill continued as a solo wrestler, appearing on both Smackdown and Raw franchises, and participating in main and pay-per-view events. O’Neill created another partnership with wrestler Heath Slater in 2014, but this was not a success.

As of 2015, the duo of Prime Time Players returned to wrestling, and by late 2017, the partnership grew into Titus Worldwide, a quartet that featured wrestlers Apollo and female wrestler Dana Brooke.

Away from the brutal stage of wrestling entertainment, the members of Titus Worldwide are a family, which one can understand because O’Neill is a ‘gentle giant’.

The professional wrestler explained that his persona as a professional wrestler and his real-life persona are two very different lives. Off stage he is a father of two boys and a loving husband.

Speaking about his trip to South Africa, O’Neill expressed gratitude at being given the opportunity to travel not just to South Africa, but to other parts of the world with WWE, an opportunity he strongly believes he would not have had if he had continued with his football career.

“My journey into professional wrestling was by pure chance. I was introduced to it when my friend and former pro wrestler, Dave Bautista, suggested the idea of me becoming a pro wrestler back in 2009,” O’Neill explained. And that was when Titus O’Neill was created.

While in South Africa, O’Neill could not hide his excitement as he described some of the activities he got to experience when he visited Cape Town and Johannesburg.

“In my biased opinion, South Africa is one of the greatest countries I’ve seen so far and I would definitely bring my family back here for a vacation,” he said.

“I really enjoyed swimming with the sharks, going on Table Mountain, and taking a group of kids to watch Black Panther. That was a very beautiful moment for me because I loved Black Panther and it felt good to be in a country where it felt like you were in Wakanda. There is so much love here,” he added.

O’Neill also expressed the joy he felt when he met Premier Soccer League team Orlando Pirates. Back home, he supports an American football team, the Buccaneers.

Other activities included in O’Neill’s schedule were a toy drive, a meet and greet, and participating in the South African 50th Special Olympics event with the International Special Olympics movement.

When O’Neill headed back to the US, it was not long before he graced television screens as the ‘Don of Titus of Worldwide’ - Titus O’Neill, on WWE Raw.

However, it’s a sure indication that upon his return to South Africa with the rest of the Raw franchise in April, O’Neill will most definitely be a favourite among other popular wrestlers, like Roman Reigns, Sheamus, Seth Rollins, Braun Strowman, Asuka and Sasha Banks.

The WWE Live in South Africa tour will begin in Cape Town at the Grand Arena on April 18 and 19, followed by a debut at the Sun Arena in Pretoria on Friday, April 20. The tour will conclude in Johannesburg at the Ticketpro Dome, on April 21.

Tickets for the WWE Live Tour in South Africa are available on www.bigconcerts.co.za and www.computicket.com.

IOL