Muhtadi Journeys from Terps to Turnbucklesby Liam Farrell | photo courtesy of Dean Muhtadi
Long before he started jumping from the top rope in purple, pink and yellow trunks, WWE Superstar Mojo Rawley (aka Dean Muhtadi ’08, MBA ’11) had to learn how to get up off the mat.
Despite only four wins in his high school football career, Muhtadi regularly woke up at 3 a.m. to run wind sprints. With no promise of an athletic scholarship at UMD, he walked on to the football team as a defensive lineman and became one of the strongest members of the squad. And despite an injury that threatened to end his athletic career, he gave up a stable job and salary at Merrill Lynch and earned a shot at a childhood dream in the ring with WWE.
“I had to work 10 times harder just to get noticed,” he says. “I never had the luxury to not stay hyped.”
“Hype” is the keystone of Muhtadi’s identity as Mojo Rawley. Along with Zack Ryder, he’s half of the tag team duo “Hype Bros” that last year graduated from the WWE “NXT” brand to WWE’s “SmackDown Live.” In a world where persona is as important as physical fitness, Muhtadi is a boundless ball of multicolored enthusiasm who implores his more than 94,000 Twitter followers to “#stayhyped!”
There’s always been some Mojo in Muhtadi. As a kid, he and his brother watched WWE’s “Monday Night Raw,” but football had a clearer path than sports entertainment. After two years playing at Christopher Newport University in Virginia, Muhtadi came to UMD (where he still holds several strength and speed records) and then suited up briefly for the Green Bay Packers and Arizona Cardinals before getting derailed by a calf injury in 2010.
After a grueling, 18-month rehabilitation, Muhtadi attracted the interest of WWE through the connections of a friend. And ignoring the warnings from inside his MBA brain—“Financially, it would have been the most illogical move of all time,” he says—Muhtadi took the leap.
“It was actually less difficult of a decision than I thought it would be,” he says. “I thought I was perfect for this. This is what I was born to do.”
But even dream jobs require hard work. He was dogged by further injuries during his four years in NXT, and for someone used to being liked by everybody, Muhtadi had to develop a thicker skin for the barbs from a vocal strain of WWE fans who criticize his full-throated intensity as a one-note act.
And true to his business background, Muhtadi says his character is still evolving as he learns how to balance his fun-loving Mojo side, sweating through three shirts and a towel while dancing in a club, with the take-no-prisoners gridiron determination of his Dean side.
“It’s a continued process of self-discovery,” he says. “This is the only career I’ve heard of where I can be both guys. The cool part is, I’m just getting started.”
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