Titus O’Neil: “Being a father is the greatest title I will ever have, not WWE champion”

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 22: (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) WWE wrestler Titus O'Neil visits the SiriusXM studios on January 22, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 22: (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) WWE wrestler Titus O'Neil visits the SiriusXM studios on January 22, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images) /

When you talk about WWE’s most valuable performers, both inside and outside of the ring, it’s impossible to leave Titus O’Neil out of the conversation.

In his 11-plus years on the main roster, O’Neil has competed all over the card at one point or another and even enjoyed a brief reign as WWE Tag Team Champion in the summer of 2015.

Although his on-air appearances have been few and far between in recent years, his greatest successes have actually come while serving as a global ambassador for WWE. In the role, he’s done an endless amount of charity work, helped people buy their first cars in their 60s, and taken underprivileged kids to their first NFL game, among other outstanding deeds.

Already in 2021, he’s received two incredible honors: being named the recipient of the Warrior Award for the WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2021 and most recently being nominated as a finalist for the Muhammad Ali Sports Humanitarian Award at the ESPYS on Saturday, July 10.

Before then, O’Neil spoke with Daily DDT about being nominated for the second straight year, how his upbringing prepared him for the life he lives today, his fatherhood outweighing anything he’ll ever accomplish inside the squared circle, and more.

Titus O’Neil shares his reaction to being nominated for the ESPYS Sports Humanitarian Award again

Not only will O’Neil be up for the Muhammad Ali Sports Humanitarian Award at the 2021 ESPYS, but it also marks the second straight year he’s been nominated. Other finalists include Anthony Rizzo of the Chicago Cubs, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif of the Kansas City Chiefs, and Layshia Clarendon of the Minnesota Lynx.

“Obviously my first thought is that someone sees that what I’m doing is consistent,” O’Neil said. “To be nominated two years in a row and to be seen and be recognized for the work… I’m not being recognized because I’m WWE Global Ambassador Titus O’Neil. I’m being recognized for the work, much like everyone else that’s a finalist this year. I’ve always said that WWE or football or whatever is what I doing for a living, but I am who I am for a living and I’ve been doing this for a very long time. I just appreciate that occasional nod of, ‘Job well done, sir.'”

The former WWE Tag Team Champion added that this is “probably one of the highest and greatest head nods a person can ever receive” because of who the award is named after: the iconic and incredibly influential Muhammad Ali, who O’Neil notes is one of his favorite athletes and people of all-time because of how he lived his life.

He commended Ali for living with convictions that he believed in and for being as great of a humanitarian as he was a boxer, if not greater.

O’Neil was shocked to learn he was being nominated for the prestigious award for a second time, especially because he doesn’t do what he does for the accolades. Rather, he sees it as his way of giving back to all the people who invested in him growing when they had nothing to gain in return.

He wants to wake up every day with a grateful heart and being an exceptional human being helps him fulfill that.

“I broke the generational curse of numerous generational curses in my family,” he said. “I’ve been responsible for breaking other people’s generational curses, whether it’s been being the first high school graduate in my family… My mom graduated from high school after I graduated from high school. She worked for years as a waitress and cleaning houses to make ends meet. When I was growing up, I didn’t have two nickels to rub together. Now, I’m helping raise millions to help change people’s lives and give people their first brand-new car.”

Although he admits that being as giving and as gracious as he can be both a blessing and a curse, he’ll always appreciate the platform he has and the opportunities he’s afforded to make the world a better place in any way possible. His difficult upbringing made him into who he is today and put everything into perspective for him.

“Some people say you can only strike gold one time. I get a chance to strike it pretty much any day I wake up in the morning,” he said. “I’m literally not supposed to be here. I’m a product of sexual assault. My mother was raped at 11-years-old and had me at 12. I was labeled a kid that would be dead and in jail by the time I was 16. The success that has come is, yes, because of a lot of hard work, but it’s also come because of a lot of great people being along my path and helping shape me into the man I am today.”

Titus O’Neil discusses being a father and having WWE’s support

The former Prime Time Player has had the chance to compete in several high-profile matches throughout his tenure in WWE against a variety of high-profile opponents. Despite all that, he takes the most pride in being a father.

His sons are his world, and by living the way he does and performing good deeds, he hopes they will follow in his footsteps.

“Being a father is the greatest title I will ever have,” O’Neil remarked. “It’s not CEO, it’s not WWE Champion. It’s Dad, a father. As long as I’m able to be that, my life is definitely bright each and every day.”

There was never a turning point for when his sons started to see him as a superhero for everything he’s done outside of the ring, simply because they’ve always been a part of the work themselves.

Regardless of what career path he chose, whether it was wrestling, football, or another endeavor, O’Neil knew that he’d be successful in whatever he set his mind to because he was determined to make a difference in the world no matter what.

“I can tell you this,” he said. “People ask, ‘Do you think you would’ve been successful?’ My answer to that is I would 100 percent be successful in whatever I was doing. Prior to WWE, I was going to be coaching college football. Fortunately, I got this opportunity, and again, I’m not doing anything I would not be doing had I not been a WWE Superstar.”

O’Neil had nothing but praise for his employer, reiterating that they’ve always had his back. He’s received more start-and-stop pushes over the years than one can count, in addition to being suspended for 60 days in 2016 for jokingly getting physical with Vince McMahon on stage, but he’s forever grateful to the McMahon family for the support they’ve given him.

“I know how to use my voice, and I know when to use it,” he said. “Fortunately, I work for a company that has not tried to silence me in any least bit way, shape, or form. They’ve actually helped me vocalize and be me. I have a very special relationship with Vince McMahon and Stephanie McMahon. I have a very special love for them that far exceeds anything that I will ever do in the ring.

“As much as people want to talk about their TV persona and things they may dislike about the company and things like that, when I tell you I love those people, I love the McMahon family,” he continued. “I love Triple H. I love who they are as individuals. At the end of the day, I realize that certain decisions that are made in this company are really about business, but when it comes to me, they have been family.”

O’Neil added that he hopes to win the Muhammad Ali Sports Humanitarian award on behalf of everyone else in WWE who has contributed to his countless community efforts. Those people include (but aren’t limited to) Natalya, Tyson Kidd, Sheamus, Bobby Lashley, Apollo Crews, Sasha Banks, Drew McIntyre, Seth Rollins, Becky Lynch, Charlotte Flair, Randy Orton, and The New Day.

“I can call pretty much everybody on my roster and say, ‘I need you guys,’ and without hesitation, they’ll say, ‘What you need?’ I can go on and on,” he said. “To me, this award is for all of us. This nomination is for every single person on our roster because there’s a lot of work being done that a lot of people don’t understand aside from putting our bodies at risk and our lives at risk. People complain about waiting 30 minutes for a travel delay. Well, try waiting for nine hours like we did in Saudi Arabia. These are some difficult times that we’ve endured, and through it all, we’ve become this big family.”

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Titus O’Neil has consistently been a shining example of what defines a Superstar beyond what one can do in the ring or on the mic. He’s among WWE’s greatest gems for everything he’s helped do for them and the rest of the world and this ESPYS nomination further proves that.

“Life is funny at times, and God definitely has a great sense of humor,” he said, “but be a great human being and things always seem to work out for you when you do that.”

The 2021 ESPYS air Saturday, July 10th at 8/7c on ABC.