Former NFL Punter Pat McAfee Revealing a New Model of Excellence in NXT

McAfee played eight seasons in the NFL, but now, he is bringing his own unique style to pro wrestling.
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Let Pat be Pat.

That is the prevailing mantra in NXT, where Pat McAfee is cutting promos at a level as elite as any of the industry’s top stars.

McAfee’s transition to pro wrestling has been so captivating that he and his Kings of NXT faction are in the main event of Sunday’s TakeOver: WarGames show, wrestling The Undisputed Era in the famed WarGames match.

McAfee certainly brings his own unique style to NXT. His background is not in wrestling, but rather football. He played eight seasons in the National Football League, then brought his brand of humor and personality to Barstool Sports, ESPN and Fox Sports. In lieu of training at a wrestling school, or being molded in a certain shape by a top company, McAfee possesses a distinct charisma, athleticism and willingness to talk trash.

“Pat has an incredible skill for this,” said Paul “Triple H” Levesque, who oversees the NXT brand. “The hardest thing in the world to do when the red light comes on is just be you. When you can just be you, it’s real. That’s what resonates—believability. When you believe it, that’s when they will believe it.”

McAfee’s work in NXT oozes believability. But despite his ongoing success, McAfee’s relationship with WWE almost ended before it ever really got started.

While working as an analyst at the WrestleMania 35 pre-show in 2019, McAfee made the fateful decision to wear tuxedo shorts. WWE lead announcer Michael Cole was apoplectic when he saw McAfee in shorts, and publicly chewed out the former NFL star for what he perceived as an unprofessional look at the company’s biggest show of the year.

McAfee did not appreciate the open display of disrespect and made the decision to walk out and leave the company. Fortunately, he was stopped on his way out of the door. Vince McMahon ultimately gave the green light to McAfee’s wardrobe, a sincere apology from Cole was issued, and the former two-time Pro Bowler made his WrestleMania pre-show appearance without issue.

The whole incident has served as yet another reminder that, in order for McAfee to operate on the highest level possible, people need to let Pat be Pat.

“One of the lines that gets said to me a lot whenever I’m at NXT, whether it’s from the man that yelled at me about my shorts, Michael Cole, or from Triple H, they always say, ‘I’m not going to tell you how to be Pat McAfee,’” said McAfee, who, it should be noted, enjoys a solid working relationship with Cole. “I’m not saying that don’t help me too, but they have an incredible amount of trust in me.

“My entire life, I’ve envisioned myself as a professional wrestler, and I really enjoy when the lights come on. There is a lot of work that goes on when no one notices, and when that light comes on, it adds an entirely different seasoning. I’m getting the chance to do my thing as me, and I am very grateful for that.”

McAfee is new to the inner-workings of wrestling, but the 33-year-old grew up consuming as much of the product as possible. He captures an old-school spirit in his work, an element he relishes, but this sojourn into wrestling has also allowed him to recapture the foundation for all his success and joy as an athlete, which is being part of a team.

McAfee starred as a special teamer in football, but he was never too big for the game and certainly never above any teammate. The new opportunity to lead the Kings of NXT marks a chance for McAfee to put a much-needed spotlight on his new teammates—Pete Dunne, Oney Lorcan and Danny Birch.

“I’ve always been a team guy, and I’ve always wanted to be remembered as a good teammate,” said McAfee. “Getting the chance to work alongside Danny, Oney and Pete, I’ve had a chance to learn a lot from them. Danny’s been wrestling for 17 years, and getting to learn about him as a wrestler and as a man has been awesome. Biff [Oney] is a legend of a man, he is extraordinarily talented in the ring. People are going to be very impressed with Oney and Danny on Sunday at WarGames. Pete Dunne is a world-class wrestler. We’re all buying in, and it’s been an honor to be alongside them. Being their teammate is my top priority.”

Former NFL punter Pat McAfee participates in a WWE match.

The majority of McAfee’s work in NXT has been on the microphone, but he left a lasting impression when he wrestled Adam Cole this past August in his debut match at TakeOver XXX. In a match built around in-ring wrestling, McAfee’s performance was remarkable. That was no accident. In addition to working with Cole, who is one of the world’s top wrestlers, McAfee also benefited from training on his own before his time in WWE.

“I was still playing in the NFL when I found out I could buy a wrestling ring,” said McAfee. “I was on the internet at three in the morning after a couple cocktails, and that’s when I bought it. I set it up in a barn, and Rip Rogers helped train me. So that’s a big reason why I was ready—I prepare. And that’s why I’ll be ready for WarGames.”

While playing with the Indianapolis Colts, McAfee entertained many teammates by inviting them over to the barn and showing off the ring. Inevitably, the vast majority of his competitively-charged teammates stepped foot in the ring.

“I had a lot of friends come over and want to take bumps, then realize it’s a lot harder than it looks,” said McAfee. “We almost had a guy not be able to play in a game. I had a gathering on Thursday, and he thought he was going to take some bumps.

“I don’t need to say any names, but I will say he was a special teamer and that he was 13 or 14 beers deep when he went into the ring. He was bumping like a mad man. There were a lot of us saying, ‘You need to chill out,’ but he kept telling us, ‘I got this.’ The next morning, when we walked into the team facility, the first thing we saw was the trainers working on his neck.”

McAfee’s charm and skill will be on display at WarGames. If his match closes the show, then this will be his first NXT main event. And much anticipation surrounds the WarGames match pitting The Kings of NXT against The Undisputed Era. NXT’s stars have done an outstanding job enhancing the WarGames legacy, which first took place in Jim Crockett Promotions at the 1987 The Great American Bash. There are also high expectations for McAfee, which he plans to exceed.

“I thought my TakeOver match against Adam Cole was going to be my only match,” said McAfee. “Getting the chance to run it back and do it again, it’s an incredible honor. This is about to be epic.”

Even with other options on television this Sunday, including a Kansas City Chiefs-Denver Broncos matchup on Sunday Night Football, McAfee promised that there is no better option than NXT.

Sunday Night Football is going to be a trash game, and it’s going to be over by halftime,” said McAfee. “Nothing is going to compete with the barbaric savagery of WarGames. It’s two rings, one big ass cage, and two teams stepping in to go at it.

“This only happens once a year. The amount of brutality that is about to happen, the death-defying stunts, the brawls, and the story we’re going to tell—if you miss it, you’re literally the dumbest human on earth. Nothing can carry a single ounce of weight against what’s going to happen this Sunday at WarGames.”

Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.