From In-between the Posts to In-between the Ropes: The Stuart Tomlinson Story

Stuart Tomlinson was a run of the mill lower league keeper. In 2013, he had to retire early with a cruciate ligament injury, and everyone would have expected him to struggle to find new employment. Instead, Tomlinson landed on his feet, and his back, in the WWE ring. Swapping Stoke for Florida, how did he find himself becoming the next big thing in wrestling, after such a mediocre football career?

Stuart Tomlinson began his goalkeeping at the famed Crewe Alexandra Academy. He was known for his flexibility and agility for such a big man. A shot-stopper, Tomlinson was able to kick balls with both feet, and if he didn’t know it yet, he was destined for wrestling. He began the journey on a ten-year career which saw him play for Crewe, Port Vale and Burton Albion. He played the FA Trophy final at Wembley, too.

[Image via Men's Health Magazine]
That should put him in good stead for the crowds of Wrestlemania.

As any self-respecting football fan will know, making fun of a fat goalkeeper is one of the joys of going to games -- and Tomlinson was no different. Chants about him perhaps being fat, though, were well wide of the mark. Tomlinson was hiding a physique born out of hours in the gym. This even leads him to pose on the front of Men’s Health magazine and carve out some success modelling. His real middle finger to those fans has been his transformation however into a wrestler. He leaves the fans who mocked him, in Crewe’s case who bookmakers are tipping as a favourite to go down, witnessing a relegation battle, while he jets off for sunny Florida and adoring American fans.

Hailing from Cheshire, England

Tomlinson’s first contact with WWE came a year before his career ending injury. Knowing about his modelling and physique, they contacted him and invited him to a trial at the O2 Arena in London. After showing what he was made of, they offered him a developmental contract, and with his football career going nowhere, Tomlinson bit their hand off and started his journey to becoming Hugo Knox.

Hugo Knox will be a bubbly fun character, according to the former goalkeeper. Dressed in polka dot trunks and dancing to the stage, he is hoping his British charm will win over fans. When he was training to be a keeper, he would train for maybe two hours per day, but at the WWE Development Centre in Orlando, Tomlinson does a lot more.

The extensive practices followed by weight training and the promo lessons take all day. It is not an easier career than his days in Burton or Stoke.Being able to talk in front of a restless crowd of thousands is always the a tough task. Prospective wrestlers enter the ring with a huge body as standard, so to stand out from the crowd, talking is imperative.

Tomlinson believes his time in front of the media as a goalkeeper will help him in this event. "Getting interviewed after a match stood me in good stead, especially when you're getting asked dodgy questions about losing 5-0 and it's all your have to engage with the audience. If you are confident in your delivery, people will believe it," Tomlinson told BBC Sport last month.

Hugo Knox made his debut in November 2014 and excited fans in a successful appearance at an NXT tour event. Tomlinson has certainly travelled a different route than most to the WWE, but when you understand the man he is, and the skills he possesses, you can’t help feeling that he has found his calling.

Follow Joshua Mason on Twitter: @AccuracastGB

JF Mason