With WrestleMania XXX happening this weekend, we thought this would be the perfect opportunity to publish this FanTake. FanTake’s are a place for you the fan to voice your opinions. If you are interested in writing your own FanTake, just send us an email.
True confession time: I am a pro wrestling junkie. I became a professional wrestling fan right around the same time as I became a Duke fan. To be perfectly honest, wrestling will always be my first love, even if I don’t pay attention to the current product that promotions like WWE or Ring of Honor produce. In this column, I want to compare the Duke Basketball roster of this now past season to professional wrestlers of the past and present because these are my two favorite hobbies and I can’t think of a better crossover to bring me back into writing.
Before I get to the actual comparisons, I want to talk about the similarities between Duke Basketball and pro wrestling. The fan bases that each has established are incredibly passionate about their chosen alliances. The pure disdain Duke fans have for Maryland (Not our rival) and that school in Chapel Hill (I hate them enough to not even mention their name) is the exact same fiber that pro wrestling fans have for the bad guys like a late 80’s Ric Flair or a mid 1990’s Hulk Hogan.
The love and respect the Cameron Crazies have for Coach K along with our past and present players is the same that wrestling fans shared for The Rock & Stone Cold Steve Austin in the late 1990’s. In fact, an entire movement of wrestling fans has pushed young Daniel Bryan (formerly The American Dragon Bryan Danielson in Ring of Honor) into the upper echelon of the WWE modern hierarchy just like Duke fans have pushed Jabari Parker this year into the role of larger than life on court super hero. I’ll take it a step further. I got to know Daniel Bryan pretty well during his time with Ring of Honor. He is as down to Earth and cultured as anyone I have ever encountered. I’ve heard the same things mentioned about Jabari Parker. So without further ado, here are the comparisons I’ve found between the 2013-2014 Duke Blue Devils and Professional Wrestlers from the past and present.
#1 Jabari Parker: Wrestling Comparison: Daniel Bryan: The smooth game with ruthless aggression that Jabari Parker shows on the court is identical to that of what the leader of the “Yes Movement” Daniel Bryan shows in the ring. I first saw Bryan wrestle in 2001. I was blown away by how good someone with so little experience was. He was a natural. Jabari Parker is a natural. There isn’t a facet to his game that appears forced, or seems neglected. Off the court he is relaxed, just a normal kid from the inner city of Chicago. He’s got outside interests, but he wants to be the very best at what he does. Daniel Bryan wants to be the best and when he was Ring of Honor World Champion he proudly proclaimed himself to be “The Best Wrestler in the World.” Both men are young in their professions and can only get better in the race to be the very best.
#2 Quinn Cook: Wrestling Comparison: Arn Anderson: Have you ever met someone and knew that deep down the only thing they wanted was to outwork you just to say they were the winner? Quinn Cook is that guy. He wants to beat everyone. Yes, his temper flares up but Arn Anderson’s did too. For years he was Ric Flair’s back up in a fight with the likes of Dusty Rhodes or Sting. Quinn Cook is the Arn Anderson to this Duke team. If an on court skirmish occurs, Quinn Cook will be at the center of it just like the Enforcer Arn Anderson was. Double A didn’t care about how bad he got beat up as long as his opponent got the worse end of it. That’s what I see in Quinn Cook.
#3 Tyler Thornton: Wrestling Comparison: Samoa Joe: He’s not the biggest dog in the fight but he just might be the toughest. Samoa Joe, for those unfamiliar, is a wrestler who was Ring of Honor World Champion for 20 months and has a legitimate background in many forms of MMA. Tyler Thornton is a scrapper, he fights for everything he has and carries a lot of anger on his shoulders just like Samoa Joe has done since entering the wrestling world. Thornton was never accused of being a nice guy on the court, just like Joe was never considered to be a family friendly guy in the ring. Both are tough as nails, they lead from the front. Many wrestlers and wrestling journalists have considered Samoa Joe one of the best locker room leaders in the business today. The exact same can be said about 2013-2014 Team Captain Tyler Thornton.
#5 Rodney Hood: Wrestling Comparison: The Hitman Bret Hart: Two guys who have sound fundamentals in their respective sports and come to the dance floor prepared with an arsenal of skills to employ. Bret Hart was dubbed the Hitman but at the same time nicknamed himself “The Excellence of Execution,” Rodney Hood just executes. If you need a corner 3, call Rodney. How about a drive and slam dunk? Call Rodney Hood, he’ll help you out. Each man has so many different ways to get the job done. Bret Hart had his Sharpshooter while Rodney has the patented 3 from the top of the key. If you just want to find a guy for the wrestling ring or the basketball court who can do everything well, just look for the pink and black of Bret Hart or the blue and white of Rodney Hood.
#13 Matt Jones: Wrestling Comparison: Ring of Honor World Television Champion Tommaso Ciampa: The unknown is an unquantifiable concept. I really don’t know what Jones will be long term, just like I don’t know just how good Ciampa will be. They each currently do a lot successfully in their respective sports but also have a ton of room to grow. Ciampa is a former WWE Developmental talent so clearly there is something mainstream there and Jones is a Coach K favorite so each has qualities that don’t apply to everyone else.
#14 Rasheed Sulaimon: Wrestling Comparison: Dolph Ziggler: So much talent, literally talent bursting out of every single solitary area of their existence. I personally think Sulaimon is the 3rd best player on this Duke team in terms of basketball skills. He can play anywhere from the 1-3 just like Ziggler can work with cruiserweights, junior heavyweights, and heavyweights in the ring. Flashes of brilliance, is a phrase that comes to mind when I think of both men. Here’s hoping we see that brilliance headed into Wrestlemania Season and March Madness.
#15 Josh Hairston: Wrestling Comparison: Dave Batista: He’s not particularly any good at any one thing but the fans love him. Batista was a WWE Champion several times and Hairston has been a soldier in the Duke army for 4 years. He’s a senior captain and super utility man who asks for nothing. I love Josh for his selflessness, something Batista could learn a lot from.
#20 Semi Ojeleye: Wrestling Comparison: Scott Steiner: He’s strong, he jumps really high for a guy his size, and he’s athletic. Who did I just describe? Trick question, I described both of them. Steiner in his younger days was unbelievable in the ring. I think Semi could turn into something really special defensively and maybe even become an offensive go to guy late in his career. Steiner became a headliner in his later years after being a multiple time tag team champion with his brother Rick.
#21 Amile Jefferson: Wrestling Comparison: Antonio Cesaro: He’s long, lean, getting stronger every day and improving every week. Cesaro speaks seven languages fluently and has been improving as a wrestler since moving on to the WWE from Ring of Honor in 2012. Jefferson has been such a force down low for Duke this year that he’s impacted the entire team just by his energy. When Cesaro is unleashed by WWE, the crowd will turn him into one of the most beloved superstars in recent memory. For both men, opportunity will continue to be the key. When Jefferson gets more minutes and Cesaro gets more time in the ring with bigger names, both will be very popular amongst the fan bases.
#34 Andre Dawkins: Wrestling Comparison: Stone Cold Steve Austin: Two cold blooded assassins, one in the squared circle and the other on the court. While Andre Dawkins will never be the best player on any team like Stone Cold Steve Austin was in the late 90’s for the World Wrestling Federation, he is a cold blooded killer when it comes to knocking down 3’s. I’ll take a Stone Cold Steve Austin and an Andre Dawkins on my team every single day of the week. Austin wreaked havoc on Vince McMahon and the WWF in the late 90’s every single Monday, just like Dawkins has on the 3 point arc this season to Duke opponents. It’s really incredible how Dawkins took a year off to refocus his life and has simply crushed fools all year from long distance. Personality wise these two could not be any more opposite. But the skills and energy they provide are equals.
#40 Marshall Plumlee: Wrestling Comparison: The Big Show: I struggled with this. I am not a fan of the Big Show. In fact, I often change the channel when he appears. But Marshall is a legit 7 footer just like Big Show and there’s a certain energy that they each provide in small doses. There is something to Marshall’s game where he is a difference maker. The Big Show is also a difference maker, in that he makes matches different. When Show is in a match, there’s a slower, more controlled pace. The same goes for Plumlee when he’s on the floor. He’s a stopper in the middle. Let’s hope for the Blue Devils sake Plumlee is as successful in his career as Big Show has been in his.
#45: Nick Pagliuca: Wrestling Comparison: Sean X-Pac Waltman: A wise man once said it is not the size of the fighter that matters, but the size of the fight he will bring. I have no idea what Pagliuca will do at Duke other than be a guard version of Todd Zafirovski. Waltman was so small; in the land of giants back in the early 90’s when everyone was on the gas. He parlayed that into a very successful career in WCW and the WWF. Maybe Nick Pagliuca will find a little magic for the Blue Devils?
#52 Todd Zafirovski: Wrestling Comparison: Colt Cabana: Everyone loves Todd, and I dare you to find a wrestling fan who doesn’t love Colt Cabana. Cabana is the soul of the wrestling business just like Todd has been the soul of the Duke Basketball team for the last few years. There is nothing I smile wider about than when Todd Zafirovski enters the game to “We Want Todd” chants. It’s no different than seeing Colt Cabana wrestle a match or do a promo. Cabana’s charisma is unmatched and despite a failed WWE run as Scotty Goldman, I’d venture to say Colt Cabana is the most successful person I’ve ever encountered because much like Todd Zafirovski, he’s living the dream.
As silly a column as this was, I hope some of you enjoyed where I was coming from. This crossover was just a way to amuse myself and amuse other wrestling fans who also happen to be Cameron Crazies. As we prepare for Wrestlemania 30 this Sunday in New Orleans and the NCAA establishes a champion, this column was intended to be fun and send everyone into Spring on a positive note. Go Duke!
You can follow Jeff Schwartz on twitter at @thejeffschwartz.