Courtesy of WWE

WWE previously issued an invitation for AAF players to try out after the league folded.

By Dan Gartland
April 26, 2019

Five men are hoping to follow in the footsteps this week of so many other former football players who found success in WWE.

A group of 40 athletes is at the WWE Performance Center in Orlando this week to try to catch on with the biggest company in pro wrestling, and the list of hopefuls includes five names that should be familiar to football fans. 

Former NFL players James Wilder Jr., Taiwan Markis Jones, AJ Francis, Chris Martin and Kristjan Sokoli all attended the tryout, which runs through Saturday. Jones and Martin were members of the Alliance of American Football before the league abruptly folded earlier this month. WWE recruiter Paul Fair announced after the league suspended operations that he would open up two spots in the company’s April tryout to former AAF players

Wilder, the son of former NFL running back James Wilder, spent three seasons with the Bengals and Bills but did not play in any games. He joined the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts in 2017 and has averaged 52.1 rushing yards per game over two seasons. He remains under contract with the Argos through the end of the 2019 season. 

Jones, a linebacker—not to be confused with the former Raiders and Bills running back of the same name—joined the Jets as an undrafted free agent out of Michigan State in 2015. He made his debut in 2016, playing in three games. He signed with the AAF’s Memphis Express less than 24 hours before the league closed up shop

Francis played as a defensive tackle for the Dolphins, Patriots, Seahawks, Buccaneers, Redskins and Giants between 2013 and 2018, appearing in a total of nine games, with 18 of his 20 career tackles coming in six games with Washington in 2017. He trains at Orlando-area wrestling school Team 3D Academy, working under the name Suga Bear. 

Martin went undrafted as an offensive lineman out of UCF in 2014 and spent three seasons bouncing between five NFL teams. He also spent time in the CFL before joining the AAF’s Orlando Apollos. 

Sokoli, who was born in Albania, was a sixth-round pick by the Seahawks in 2015 after a college career as a defensive lineman at Buffalo. His lone appearance with Seattle (limited special teams action in the second-to-last game of the 2015 season) made him the first Albanian-born player to play in an NFL game. He also spent time with the Colts, Saints and Giants but did not see game action. 

Other notable names participating in the tryout include Lance Anoa’i (a member of the famed Anoa’i wrestling family) and Ivelisse Velez, who had a brief stint in WWE’s developmental system as Sofia Cortez and is best known for her work on Lucha Underground as Ivelisse. 

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