Among those who were well known for their wrestling techniques were several U.S. Presidents. George Washington was known to have had a wrestling championship in Virginia in the collar-and-elbow style that was county-wide and possibly colony-wide. At the age of 47, before he became President, Washington was still able to defeat seven challengers from the Massachusetts Volunteers.
Andrew Jackson and Zachary Taylor, who favored wrestling as an army sport during his days in the Illinois Volunteers, were also well-known for their wrestling.
Abraham Lincoln, as a 21 year old in 1830, was the wrestling champion of his county in Illinois. At this time, where working at a store in New Salem, Illinois, Lincoln had a famous bout with Jack Armstrong, also a county wrestling champion. Lincoln won decisively when, after losing his temper when Armstrong began fouling him, he slammed Armstrong to the ground and knocked him out. Two years later, while serving as a captain in the Illinois Volunteers during the Black Hawk War, Lincoln lost his only recorded match to a soldier in another unit by fall.
Wrestling was also practiced by Andrew Johnson, Ulysses S. Grant, Chester A. Arthur, and Theodore Roosevelt, who always had an inclination to anything that involved physical exercise and did regular wrestling workouts throughout his service as Governor of New York. William Howard Taft who was the heaviest of the Presidents at his "best weight" of 225 lb wrestled collar-and-elbow and was also the intramural heavyweight wrestling champion at Yale University.
Calvin Coolidge was described as a "tolerable good" wrestler by his father until around age 14 when he took to "duding around and daydreaming about being a big-city lawyer." Dwight Eisenhower, John Tyler Brock Lesnar wrestled at Webster High School in Webster, South Dakota where he managed to have a 33-0 record in his senior year. Lesnar later attended the University of Minnesota on a full wrestling scholarship for his junior and senior years of college; his roommate was fellow professional wrestler Shelton Benjamin who also served as Lesnar's assistant coach. Lesnar won the 2000 NCAA wrestling championship as a heavyweight after placing second in 1999(lost to stephen neal, new england patriots). Prior to joining the Minnesota Golden Gophers, Lesnar also wrestled at Bismarck State College in Bismarck, North Dakota. Lesnar finished his amateur career as a two-time NJCAA All-American, two-time NCAA All-American, two-time Big Ten Champion, and the 2000 NCAA heavyweight champion with a record of 106-5 overall in four years of college.
Tito Ortiz began his martial arts career as a wrestler in his sophomore year of high school (Huntington Beach CA). Under coach Paul Herrera, Ortiz finished fourth in the state high school championships as a senior. Following high school, Ortiz continued his wrestling career winning a California state junior college title for Golden West College. Following his stint at Golden West, Ortiz wrestled at Cal State Bakersfield. Ortiz trained with future NCAA and world champion Stephen Neal.
Chuck Liddell began studying Koei-Kan karate at the age of 12; the tattoo seen on his scalp reads "Koei-Kan". He was a four year starter on the football team at San Marcos High School, and became a Division I wrestler at California Polytechnic State University and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Business/Accounting in 1995. When Liddell started his MMA career, he began to train in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu under John Lewis in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Randy Couture served in the U.S. Army from 1982–1988. Upon discharge, he was a three-time Olympic team alternate (1988, 1992 and 1996); a semifinalist at the 2000 Olympic Trials; a three-time National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division-I All-American and a two-time NCAA Division-I runner-up at Oklahoma State University.  In 1992 he was the Division-1 runner up at 190 pounds coming in second after Mark Kerr.
Quinton "Rampage" Jackson Hailing from Memphis, Tennessee, USA, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson had his first taste of combat sport as a wrestler for Raleigh Egypt High School where his successful career was punctuated by All-State honors. Originally, Jackson had intended on pursuing a career in professional wrestling upon finishing high school, but ultimately ended up extending his amateur career in junior college before discovering mixed martial arts.
Joe Rogan, Commentator for Ultimate Fighting Championship. Has a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. Was a popular stand-up comedian before he got into acting and television. Was the Massachusetts Full Contact Tae Kwon Do champion four consecutive times. At the age of 19, he won the US Open Tae Kwon Do Championship and, as the lightweight champ, went on beat both the middle and heavy weight title holders to take home the Grand Championship. Gerard and Mikey are Joe's mother's cousin's sons. Has a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and trains with Eddie Bravo.
Ashton kutcher Wrestled in High School. In his Senior year he injured himself and had to quit. "During wrestling season, the only job I could find was skinning deer for the butcher. … When you live in the country, you can always find something to do. So you kind of pop from job to job, whether it's cutting the nuts off cattle one day or baling hay the next."
— Paper Magazine
Balancing his love for the stage with his talent for wrestling before gravitating toward the former in such high school productions as Annie, Kutcher worked numerous odd jobs during his tenure at the University of Iowa before winning the Fresh Faces of Iowa contest in 1997 and heading for New York.
"I would have all of my Offensive Lineman wrestle if I could."- John Madden, Hall of ...
WHY WRESTLING MAKES BETTER FOOTBALL PLAYERS.... CAN WRESTLING HELP YOU WITH FOOTBALL?
Some Interesting Information.
"I would have all of my Offensive Lineman wrestle if I could." John Madden, Hall of Fame Football Coach
"Well-respected by coaches and teammates for his tough, aggressive nature. (comes from his prep wrestling background)"
-NFL Draft Scout on Alex Stepanovich
"One of the messages Denney hopes to relay to the Valley High School coaches and athletes is that wrestling is the perfect complement to football. While football is in its offseason, wrestling provides the perfect opportunity for the athletes to remain active, while working on their agility and conditioning, Denney said."
Shawhan can attest to Denney's theory, also having an extensive gridiron background. Along with playing semi-pro football, Shawhan also has years of being an assistant football coach throughout the Rio Grande Valley (Mission High, Harlingen High, PSJA High, McAllen Memorial, and McHi).
"In Texas, everyone knows that high school football is king,"Denney said. "I'm telling you, though, Texas is catching up in wrestling. And a lot of the football coaches are realizing how much wrestling can help their football team. And believe me, that's the truth. I know it firsthand. You have to remember when I started out I was a football coach in high school, and I would go to the wrestling team and get everyone that could sign up for my football team."
-By Wade Walker, The McAllen Monitor, McAllen, Texas.
"My football coach told me, 'You better get in wrestling or I'll beat you up, '"
-Tim Lee, Texas High School All-American
Lee said that wrestling helps him on the football field because he knows he has to stay low.
"In wrestling, you've got to have self-discipline and self-motivation. As a lineman, it's the same thing...me vs. you. He brings that mentality to the football field."
-Lee's high school football coach, Tim Howard
"Some of Matt Roth's intesity can also be attributed to his successful run as a state champion wrestler in high school. Many coaches, scouts, and wrestlers-turned-football players will laud wrestling for the leverage and quick hands it provides for football. Roth credits wrestling for the never-say-die attitude it gave him. "It's the attitude. Wrestling helps you with your hips, your hands, and your balance, but more than anything, it helps you with your attitude," he said. "A lot of these kids that are basketball players, we eat those kids up. It's just our mentality-you're going to get the job done and you're going to punish them." Roth said his dream partner on the wrestling mat would be Raven's LB Ray Lewis, himself an accomplished high school wrestler.
-By Chris Neubauer, Pro Football Weekly
NFL Players that Wrestled
Shane Olivea - Texas State Champion
Alex Stepanovich - Texas State Champion
Nick Leckey - Texas State Champion
Gregory Walker - State Finalist
Luis Castillo, DT, San Diego Chargers (First Round Pick)
Lincoln "Drew" Hodgdon, C, Houston Texans - CA State Champ
Phil Bryant, Philadelphia Eagles – 2x National Prep Champ
Ralph Cindrich, Houston Oilers – PA State Runner-Up
Chris Cooley attended Logan High School in Logan, Utah, and lettered in football, wrestling, and baseball. As a senior football tight end, he caught 45 passes for 625 yards (13.34 yards per rec. avg.) and on defense, added eight sacks and numerous tackles. In wrestling, he posted a 54-0 record his senior season and won the state championship and All-America honors.
Tom Cousineau*, LB, Cleveland Browns – 3rd State
Tom Covert*, OT, Chicago Bears
Roger Craig*, RB, San Francisco 49’ers
Damien Covington, LB, Buffalo Bills
Curley Culp*, DL, Kansas City Chiefs – NCAA Champ
Larry Czonka**, RB, Miami Dolphins
Rob Davis, ST, Green Bay Packers
Dan Dierdorff**, OT, St. Louis Cardinals
Donnie Edwards, OLB, San Diego Chargers
Carl Edwards, San Diego Chargers – 3x MD State Champ
Rob Essink, Seattle Seahawks – NCAA DII Champ
Jim Everett, QB, New Orleans Saints
DeMarco Farr, St. Louis Rams
Patrick Flannery, OL, Houston Oilers
Ed Flanagan, C, Detroit Lions
Terrell Fletcher, RB, San Diego Chargers
Bill Fralic*, G, Atlanta Falcons
Doug France*, LT, Los Angeles Rams – OH State Runner-Up
Former wrestling champ Stephen Neal had plenty to re-learn about football as a starting guard for New England Patriots
By Mike Finn, W.I.N. Editor
After not playing football for seven years, Stephen Neal knew there were plenty things he had to re-learn about the gridiron sport. Including a sense of direction.
“When I was wrestling, I was usually attacking and going forward,” said Neal, the two-time NCAA champion and 1999 Hodge Trophy winner from Cal-State Bakersfield. “In football you go forward in run blocking but in pass blocking you’re backing up and you have to stay on your feet.”
Considering Neal’s success on the mat, where he also won a world championship in freestyle for the United States in 1999, it’s hard to imagine the former heavyweight wrestler ever being knocked off his feet. But in falling short in his bid to represent the U.S. at the 2000 Olympics — Neal lost to two-time Olympian Kerry McCoy at the Olympic trials that year — also opened a door to live out another dream: Playing football on the professional level for New England Patriots, who first signed Neal as a free agent in 2001.
“The success I had in wrestling gave me the opportunity,” said Neal, who has since grown into a 6-foot-5, 305-pound starting guard for the defending Super Bowl champions. “I got to meet with an agent through (former two-time Olympic Greco Roman heavyweight) Matt Ghaffari. (The Patriots) gave me a workout and saw that I was a little bit athletic. Wrestling got me in the door.“The other things about wrestling — great work ethic — helped me learn the game a little quicker than other people.”
And Neal had plenty to learn considering the native of San Diego, Calif., had not suited up for an organized football game since his senior year at San Diego High School in 1994, the same year he finished fourth in the California state high school tournament.“I looked at my options for football,” Neal said. “I had a Div. II opportunity with California-Davis and Northern Colorado. I wanted to be at Div. I whatever sport that I played.”
That sent him to Bakersfield, where he won 156 of 166 matches and earned four All-American honors between 1996 and 1999 (Neal finished second to McCoy in 1997 and fourth in 1996). Neal said there are many wrestling skills that he took with him to the NFL.
“The things that carry over are the balance and the hand-fighting,” Neal said. “You always want your hands inside your opponent.” Neal had plenty of challenges to overcome before earning a starting spot for the Patriots. In fact, even though he was first signed by New England, July 23, 2001, he actually cut by the Patriots one month later and spent that fall on the
Philadelphia Eagles practice squad. But by season’s end, he was re-signed by the Patriots. “(New England coach Bill) Belichick told me that he wanted to pick me up the next year and work with me in the off-season,” he said. “I was pretty excited about that, but then the Eagles picked me up on a practice squad so I was there for 12 weeks.
After that the Patriots called me up and put me on their active roster. They were just locking me in for the next year. Once they put you on an active roster, no one else can touch you.”
Neal actually earned his first start in 2002 against the Green Bay Packers. Unfortunately, that success was short-lived as he suffered a shoulder injury and was sidelined for the rest of that season and 2003.
“I was really disappointed,” Neal said. “I was a little banged up before the game and tried my best. It just didn’t work out.”
Neal took the same no-quit attitude that first brought him to wrestling –— “I started wrestling in high school because some kid in high school told me it was harder than football,” Neal said. “I didn’t believe him and I didn’t want to quit and give him the satisfaction and I stuck with it.” –– during his rehab period. “I’m not the type who’s willing to give up,” he said.
“I’ve gotten this close. “The good thing was that the year and a half that I was injured I wasn’t just sitting around doing my rehab. I was also studying the game,” Neal said. ‘That helped me get a better knowledge of the game. It was like I had a redshirt year in the NFL.” During that break, Neal also grew.
“Toward the end of 2001 I was probably about 290 and the (FILA) weight limit was 286 so I wasn’t cutting much weight,” he said. “Since I had shoulder surgery, where you’re not allowed to run for a few months, I don’t carry as much muscle as I used to. I kind of got a little chubby.’But the extra weight didn’t mean that Neal has become less athletic. During one of the Patriot’s game with Buffalo this past fall, Neal caught everyone’s attention when he ran down and caught a defensive opponent who was attempting to score with a fumble. Instead, Neal knocked the ball out of the player’s hands prior to entering the end zone.
‘It showed that I try real hard on every play,’ Neal said. ‘I just had a good angle and the timing has just worked out for me.’ Neal not only is seeing a dream come true, but it is happening for a dream team that has won two of the last three Super Bowls and earned an NFL-record 21 consecutive victories. “Being around here, you could tell why we’ve been so successful,” Neal said. “People are treated professionally while there is a good amount of pressure. You see how hard people are working around you and you want to fit in.”
Neal also credited the patience of the Patriots, something he also hopes former fellow wrestlers receive, including former Minnesota national champion Brock Lesnar (who also lost to Neal in the 1999 NCAA finals), who tried out with the Minnesota Vikings this past fall before being cut. “I thought if they give him the same opportunity that I was able to get, he would have success,” Neal said. “I learned the most in the off-season program.”
Neal also points out that there are other wrestlers currently competing in the NFL, including former Boston College wrestler Antonio Garay, listed on the Physically Unable To Play list for the Cleveland Browns, and Kelly Gregg, a former Junior Nationals champion and current defensive tackle for the Baltimore Ravens. Neal has not forgotten about wrestling. Last summer, he worked out with Harvard heavyweight Bode Ogunwole and would like coach wrestling following his NFL career. “I would love to bring a (college) wrestling program to San Diego,” Neal said.
Life in the NFL trenches is reportedly one of the toughest places to compete in sports. But what is tougher … competing in the NFL or on the international wrestling circuit. “Wrestling,” he said. “There are different aspects of football so mentally, it’s more of a challenge. Defenses are always throwing something new at you and you have to know where everyone is.
“But to go six minutes (on a mat), there is so much more to overcome. Wrestling is more physically challenging while football is more of a mental challenge.”