It wasn't that long ago when World Wrestling Entertainment rising star Titus O'Neil would never have considered professional wrestling as his next career move - but a friend, and perhaps fate, nudged him into the ring.
It was O'Neil's good friend and neighbor, six-time WWE World Heavyweight champion Dave Batista, who saw the potential star power in the former Arena Football League veteran.
"Dave's been a great friend of mine before I had even come to WWE," O'Neil says in telephone interview from Tampa, Fla. "He said, 'You need to do this. I think you'd be great at it.'"
O'Neil wasn't interested.
"I was getting ready to get into coaching," says O'Neil, a former defensive lineman for the Carolina Cobras, Las Vegas Gladiators, Tampa Bay Storm and Utah Blaze. "He said, 'Just give it a try … the (WWE) developmental system is right here in Tampa, so you don't need to move.' I was like, 'Nah.'"
But driving by the NXT Wrestling Arena in Tampa - formerly known as Florida Championship Wrestling - O'Neil suddenly had a change of heart.
He pulled into the arena parking lot.
"I walked in the back door and said, 'Hey, where do I go to talk to someone about trying out?'" O'Neil recalls. "I talked to (then-FCW President) Steve Keirn, had a 15-minute conversation with him, and then (General Manager) John Laurinaitis called me the next day and said, 'Hey, we're going to give you an opportunity to try out."
Laurinaitis liked what he saw. One week later, O'Neil was signing a development deal with WWE to begin training in Florida. That was 2009.
"I see it as a fate move," O'Neil says. "I thought I'd be on the sidelines of college football, coaching."
In the four years since, O'Neil, also nicknamed "The Real Deal," has risen through the ranks as one half of the popular Prime Time Players tag team with WWE star Darren Young. The cocky pair are known as much for their "millions of dollars" bragging and swagger - not to mention dancing - as they are for their fierce tag team moves.
At 8 p.m. Friday, July 5, the Prime Time Players will head to Oceanfront Arena at the Wildwoods Convention Center for a special WWE Live Tour event, where they will take on The Usos, Samoan twins also known for their tag team power moves.
The one-night event will also include heavy-hitters such as WWE superstar Alberto Del Rio taking on Dolph Ziggler in the World Heavyweight Champion-ship Match, plus "The Viper" Randy Orton, Jack Swagger, Fandango, R-Truth, Tons of Funk, Team Rhodes Scholars, AJ Lee, Big E. Langston and Brie Bella.
"(Fans) can expect the most entertaining tag team," O'Neil says of his match. "We put on a great show, and we're going against The Usos - the No. 1 contenders for the tag team championship. Hopefully, we'll be able to do as much damage as possible."
For O'Neil, preparation is intense. When on the road for shows, days usually begin with 5 a.m. workouts, followed by working at the arena most of the day. After a show, he drives to the next town. O'Neil typically spends four to five nights a week on the road.
"It never gets old," O'Neil says. "Each crowd, each night, it's a different response. It's fun, because you know when you go out - I think any entertainer's main objective is to get a response from the crowd, whether they're booing you or cheering you. The fact that I draw any reaction is an honor - so I look forward to that."
For O'Neil, there is a lot of fun to be had playing one of the WWE "bad" guys - and working real-life elements into his character.
"Each thing is a little bit of our past," O'Neil says. "The Prime Time Players dance comes from being in a huddle getting ready for a game. We used to sway side to side. If you look at any sports team, they're swaying in the huddle."
The "millions of dollars" catch phrase, O'Neil says, was born when Young took a "crazy" turn while driving to a WWE live event, and O'Neil half-jokingly reminded him that there was "millions of dollars" in the car.
"All that stuff is just us being creative and WWE allowing us to go out and be ourselves," O'Neil says. "That's the whole key to any job. If you love what you do you never work a day in your life."
"I can assure you, being at my age and getting into this late - I didn't get into this just to make money," says O'Neil, 35. "Being away from my kids every week, four to five nights a week can be tough … and it's the same with other WWE stars that have families. But it's going to pay off for me in the end. That's what I look forward to. I'm honing my craft."