AJ Francis has a lofty set of goals to accomplish in WWE, and the zenith becomes WWE Champion. He has an immeasurable number of steps to climb to rise to such an extraordinary height, but conquering the impossible is not out of the ordinary for Anthony Joseph Francis.
Francis, 6’5 “and 330 pounds, played football at the University of Maryland. As a member of the defensive line, he was tough, if not entirely spectacular. He was hit with what appeared to be a devastating dream death kiss from a professional career when he was not selected in the 2013 NFL draft, yet Francis used that moment of heartbreak to further fuel his soccer aspirations.
“You don’t see a lot of guys who weren’t drafted make it to the NFL and then end their career on a five-year pension in the NFL,” said Francis, whose professional career spanned from 2013-2018 and included playing time with the Miami Dolphins. Seattle Seahawks and the Washington soccer team. “I loved playing soccer, but even when I was in the NFL, my dream was to become a WWE champion.”
Francis now houses WWE’s Most Wanted Treasures every Sunday at A&E, leading the search for some of wrestling’s most unique memories. It was also revealed last week on NXT as part of Isaiah “Swerve” Scott’s new stable, serving as the X factor in Swerve’s win against Leon Ruff. And while the 31-year-old Francis has taken a unique route to wrestling (he signed with WWE just a year after starting training), he prides himself on the sacrifices made to reach his current position.
“I paid my dues, but in a different way,” Francis said. “I know people don’t like it when you’re not in the Indies, but that was when I was in the NFL. My story is different. I played in the NFL, got a master’s degree, have two albums, and have toured for my music, but I never stopped loving wrestling. I went to all the independent shows that I could and went to Wrestlemania five different times before signing. My dream is to be a WWE champion. Until I am WWE Champion, my purpose on earth will not be complete.
That’s why it’s so cool to host this show. It’s the coolest thing that ever happened to me. I hope every wrestling fan who watches sees a little bit of themselves in me. “
A talented athlete with outstanding agility and hand-eye coordination, Francis became a world-class artist with an insatiable work ethic. That athleticism has eased his transition to professional wrestling, and his dedication to the trade has catapulted him to television for NXT.
“He was trying to get back to the NFL at the end of 2018,” Francis said, recalling his transition to wrestling. “I had the best game of my career at DC, then they cut me in the offseason. This is how the NFL works. Then I went to New York and had one of my best preseason, but they cut me off. And again, that’s the way the NFL works. Around that time, my friends threw a party, and that’s what got me started in wrestling. “
Serendipity hung in the air that particular night. Wrestling was a topic of discussion, and the charismatic Francis was asked to work a match on an upcoming independent show. Francis, extremely confident in his abilities, never mentioned that he had no official training.
“Jason Dugan and King Xion, known as the brothers in arms in wrestling, threw the party and that’s where they asked me to come work on an upcoming show,” Francis said. “So I did. After the game, when I got to the back, one of the guys asked me, ‘What’s your promotion from home?’ I said that was my first match. Then they asked me where I had trained and I said no, I just went out and did it. The guys were amazed and told me I should go to wrestling school. “
Francis turned his back on the NFL when he began training with Team 3D Academy. Six months later, he had a tryout with WWE, and six months after that, he was hired.
“I closed the door on soccer,” Francis said. “Teams have called me to play ever since, but I couldn’t spend another day in the NFL knowing my true dream was so accessible.”
The opportunity to play a leading role in WWE’s Most Wanted Treasures It has given Francis the opportunity to show a distinctive side of his commitment to professional wrestling and the people, both within and around the industry, who bring it to life.
“This show is unscripted, it’s entertaining,” Francis said. “I kick it with Undertaker and Kane, I’m like a kid in a candy store. I’m a mega fan, I can relate to the fans, and that’s why I’m here. I am not playing a character. That’s me.
“People still ask me, ‘Do you like wrestling? What’s wrong with you?’ Then I get it. We entered the houses of these collectors. Sometimes your friends don’t understand you, your family doesn’t understand you, but I do. I stare at a framed photo of Kevin Owens and a signed Roman Reigns T-shirt on my wall. I understand passion. So when I walk into someone’s home and see these incredible collections, I appreciate the art form even more. “
Highlighting industry legends is exciting for Francis, but far from his ultimate goal.
“We’re seeing these stars from the inside out, and it’s great for me to be able to spend time with them and learn,” Francis said. “And there is also much more. I didn’t come here to be a TV show host. I came here to be a WWE champion. “
Francis has adapted perfectly to professional wrestling. He’s a top prospect for WWE, adding legitimacy to his authenticity in the ring from his NFL experience.
“In the NFL, if you’re a good player with a loud mouth, eventually it’s going to cost you and you’ll be out of the league,” Francis said. “That’s the first thing that gets you out the door. In WWE, if you are a good talent with a loud mouth, you will rise to the top.
“All the other dreams of my life, I have fulfilled them. This won’t be the only one you don’t have. You have to do something to stand out. I haven’t done anything yet. This is the beginning for me. “
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.