Off the Bottom Rope
From Cal Poly Football to Pro Wrestling; ‘Wild Rhino’ Ready for Battle in the Valley
Professionally, wrestler Clark Connors is known as the “Wild Rhino.”
“It’s kind of who I am,” Connors said in a phone interview. “The rhino part of it … it’s a badass animal. Come at you, cut you from any angle … the wild part of that kind of takes a life of its own … inside the ring, outside the ring. Get me at the bar, get me at a house party, get me in the bedroom. Doesn’t matter. It’s going to be wild. That’s how I like to live life.”
Perhaps, the “Wild Mustang” might be more appropriate. The New Japan Pro-Wrestling star is a Cal Poly graduate and former football player.
Connors will compete at New Japan’s “Battle in the Valley,” an international card Saturday night in San Jose. He challenges Zack Sabre Jr. for the NJPW World TV championship.
“I think it’s a good place for me in my career and it’s about where I should be. So I’m excited to be there for the fans again,” Connors said. “Something just as simple as winning this match or winning this championship will move me from that up-and-comer status to a full-fledged superstar and champion in New Japan.”
A big time challenge!@clarkconnors has answered Zack sabre Jr.’s open challenge for the @njpwworld TV Championship at battle in the Valley!
BUY: https://t.co/3kcvvccOsm#njpwSTRONG #njbitv pic.twitter.com/AAFhYH73IK
— NJPW Global (@njpwglobal) February 9, 2023
Training in the Dojo
Connors, 29, grew up in Snoqualmie, Washington, about a half-hour east of Seattle. He earned high school honors in football, and captained the wrestling team, while compiling a 3.98 GPA.
“I was always athletic. But I think when I got a little bit older, I started to realize how much I really like to continue to express myself artistically. And I think that I found the perfect medium with wrestling, and it’s a place where I could be artistic but also athletic,” Connors said.
He debuted as a wrestler in 2017, working in the Pacific Northwest and Canada. He received a second training at the New Japan dojo, a special training center established by Japan’s top wrestling promotion. Connors moved to Los Angeles, subsidized by New Japan.
“You live and breathe all wrestling all the time. So in the New Japan dojo, everything we did was in some way related to wrestling, in some way related to the culture of wrestling,” Connors said. “That makes a difference (compared to showing up at) a training center once a week.”
Connors has wrestled full-time for New Japan since 2018. When COVID struck, travelling to Japan stopped. He continued training at the dojo. He said “it was business as usual.”
“I just kept pushing and working hard every day and hopefully waiting for the call to to get back to work and to get back to Japan. But in the meantime, we kept sane by (being with) good friends and … obviously were safe in quarantine,” Connors said.
Japan is known for its hushed crowds, even more so in the post-COVID era. Connors expects more energy from his “San Jose-niacs.”
“It’s better for a wrestler like me because I feed off that energy. When I’m feeling tired in the match, and I’m getting my ass kicked, it’s nice to have … the crowd pushing. In Japan there is that, but it’s a lot more quiet,” Connors said.
Cal Poly Career
Playing under his given name of Connor Deutsch, he made the roster of the Cal Poly Mustangs football team as a redshirt sophomore in 2014, after a good showing at the spring game. While listed on the roster for the season, he did not play. He was not on the roster the next season.
Even in his 2014 bio, it said he “aspires to open a gym or become a professional wrestler.”
Connors recalls his time in San Luis Obispo — the Thursday farmer’s markets, drinking at Bull’s Tavern, and occasionally running into Ultimate Fighting Hall of Famer Chuck Liddell — legendary not only in the Octagon, but also hanging around the bars of his hometown, SLO.
Deutsch graduated from Cal Poly in 2016 with a kinesiology degree.
Battle in the Valley
New Japan has held several cards in America since 2011. The show will feature the promotion debut of Mercedes Moné, formerly known as Sasha Banks in the WWE. Moné, a former women’s champion, left the WWE under acrimonious circumstances. She challenges Kairi for the IWGP Women’s championship on Saturday.
The main event sees Kazuchika Okada defend the IWGP World Heavyweight championship against Hiroshi Tanahashi.
Other notable names on the card include Fred Rosser (known as Darren Young in the WWE), Jay White — a New Zealand native, international star, and rumored to be headed elsewhere — who takes on AEW star Eddie Kingston, and David Finlay, whose father “Fit” Finlay was one of the toughest wrestlers in the 1990s and 2000s.
WrestleTix reports the event at the San Jose Civic has sold out its 2,100 available tickets.
The televised card starts at 7 p.m. PT, and will be streamed live on FITE.