The finals of WWE’s “King of the Ring” tournament take place later this evening on Monday Night Raw, as Chad Gable looks to complete his Cinderella story against Baron Corbin.
Nearly a foot taller than Gable, the 6'6" Corbin plays the villain role with comfort and ease. Unquestionably the most disliked performer on the roster, Corbin—35-year-old Tom Pestock—feels at home when he is hated.
“It brings me back to when my father would take me to football practices or boxing. My dad would tell me, ‘You’re not out there to make friends, you’re out there to win,’” said Corbin, who lost his father in 2008. “That’s how I was brought up, and it stuck with me to tailor who I am now. I’m out there trying to be the best, not to make people love me. I really don’t care about anyone else’s feelings.”
Corbin is an outlier in the business, eschewing the chance to sell extra t-shirts by embracing his role as a certifiable bad guy. His entire focus is on doing his job, which was a mantra repeated to him during his short but meaningful run in the NFL.
“One percent of college athletes make a team in the NFL and then make it onto the roster, and I did that coming out of Division II, which is even more difficult,” said Corbin, who played at Northwest Missouri State before cups of coffee with the Colts and Cardinals. “That level of football in the NFL, for the most part, is unattainable for guys in Division II. There are rare cases, like Danny Woodhead, but it’s a hard grind.
“People are always knocking you because you’re from Division II. And the NFL is a different game—you’re playing for your job every week. It’s a constant uphill battle, and I’m very proud of it.”
The similarities between Corbin’s background in pro football and pro wrestling are nearly the same.
“My goal was to beat guys out of their job, even if they played at Oklahoma when I played at Northwest Missouri State,” said Corbin. “Those guys thought they were better than me, and that’s the same thing that irritates the fans in WWE. I didn’t wrestle in the independents, I didn’t pay my dues the way people think you should in wrestling. Someone like Seth Rollins, he wrestled in small gymnasiums for no money. I didn’t do that, but I’m still here—and none of those guys can do what I did. That absolutely fuels my ego.”
Corbin’s defining moment in the WWE took place in April at MetLife Stadium—fittingly, an NFL stadium, just like Dallas’s AT&T Stadium, where he made his main-roster debut three years ago—when he ended the career of Kurt Angle at WrestleMania 35. The vast majority of fans were disappointed that Corbin, despite a longstanding feud, was chosen for the match against Angle, with even Angle himself lamenting that even he wished the match was against a more beloved, higher profile opponent.
“No one wanted it to happen, and that was the best part,” said Corbin with a full grin on his face. “Everyone wanted John Cena, but that’s not who they got. It’s the same thing with the King of the Ring—I’m the last person you want to see win. That only adds to my fire. And that match with Kurt Angle is something I’ll hold dear forever.
“It’s such a cool thing to work with guys who paved the way for us. And I got to do it in a football stadium, which is where I made my WrestleMania debut in Dallas, and Kurt is such an amazing talent with real-world accomplishments in a gold medal. The caliber of person and athlete he is, it’s amazing. I was disappointed with my WrestleMania the year prior, and that was a moment I was searching for in my career.”
The in-ring character of Baron Corbin matches the personality of Tom Pestock. The man behind the wrestler is outspoken and willing to speak up when he sees fit, as he did recently on social media when he threw shade at AEW for crowning 48-year-old Chris Jericho as its inaugural champion.
“I’ll always stand up for WWE,” said Corbin. “We have the best superstars in the world, and we have the best people helping. We have Triple H, Michael Hayes, Fit Finlay, and Vince McMahon. We’re the best in the world, and I’m willing to stand up for that. I hold what we do to anyone in the world, no matter if it’s another wrestling company or the MLB or the NFL.
“We have no off-season, we’re on the road and sometimes doing the travel by ourselves. It’s a different grind. When I was in the NFL, it was all luxury team-owned planes and five-star hotels. We don’t have that, but we dominate the wrestling world and the entire sports world with some of the most talented and driven people I’ve ever been around.”
Corbin is now ready to place Chad Gable in the pantheon of King of the Ring runners-up, which is a field that includes Mick Foley, Jake Roberts, and Scott Hall.
“Chad Gable isn’t someone you take lightly,” said Corbin. “He’s really fought the odds to get where he is now. This is a guy who was just on 205 Live after working with Jason Jordan, and this is a chance for him to make a name for himself on his own. I’m going to put the brakes on it, obviously, but I’m a big fan of his. After I am King, I’ll see if I get a jester outfit made for Gable as a reward for all he’s done.”
Corbin noted that, following his victory and crowning ceremony, he has already put together a draft of his first acts as king.
“I’m going to try to do a lot of little things to irritate people, starting with Ricochet,” said Corbin. “He has ‘King’ in his Twitter tag, and I’m going to make him remove that.
“Every little detail is going to matter to me. Montez Ford and Angelo Dawkins won’t be allowed to wear crowns any more, either. I think back of how Booker T made the crown his own, and my goal is to match that and exceed it.”
The opportunity to be WWE’s King of the Ring will allow Corbin a platform and spotlight each week on Raw, as well as a chance to antagonize an audience that refuses to believe in him.
“I’m going to continue to do my job, even if people hate it,” said Corbin. “I’m here for a reason. Everybody else is not.”