Ernie Ladd was a world class athlete and attended Grambling State University on a basketball scholarship but ended up getting drafted by the San Diego Chargers to play in the young American Football League in 1961. One of biggest men to play the game at 6 foot 9 nine inches tall he dominated the defensive line and led the Chargers to 4 AFL championship games and won the AFL Title game in 1963. He started wrestling professionally during the AFL offseason but after stints in Houston and Kansas City his knee injuries forced him to retire and he went into wrestling full time in 1969.
He quickly became a top draw as a heel fueding against the biggest names in wrestling including Andre The Giant, Mr. Wrestling II, Wahoo McDaniel, Bruno Sammartino and Dick the Bruiser. He also had the distinction of challenging 3 WWF champions in the 1970s, first was Sammartino, then Pedro Morales and finally Bob Backlund in 1978. He became famous for using his taped thumb as a weapon to win controversial matches but wherever he went he would be the #1 contender to face the top babyface (good guy).
In 1986 due to ongoing knee injuries "The Big Cat" retired from the ring for good and in 1995 was inducted into the WWF Hall of Fame. He was also inducted into the San Diego Chargers Hall of Fame in 1981.
He succumb to colon cancer at the way too young age of 68 in 2007.
Bobby "Pretty Boy" Heenan with his WWA Tag Team champions: