Switch from amateur to pro wrestling pays off for WWE's Otis

Nikola Bogojevic was a star amateur wrestler and is reaching new heights in WWE as Otis. (Photo courtesy of WWE)
Nikola Bogojevic was a star amateur wrestler and is reaching new heights in WWE as Otis. (Photo courtesy of WWE)

For Nikola Bogojevic, life has always been about wrestling. After winning a bronze medal at the Pan American Games in 2014 the then 23-year-old Greco-Roman wrestler was a legitimate prospect to represent the United States at the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

A trip to the Olympics would have been the pinnacle of achievement for Bogojevic, who was a legendary high school wrestler and had flirted with being selected to Team USA for the 2012 London Olympics.

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Despite once again not being nameded to Team USA, Bogojevic’s career in wrestling was not over. Bogojevic’s focus shifted from amateur wrestling to the world of sports entertainment. The move paid off when WWE signed him in 2016. Four years later, Bogojevic, known to fans now simply as Otis, is one of the biggest personalities and stars in the company.

“I had a vision of [getting to this point],” Bogojevic told Yahoo Sports. “I’m not a big fan of the word goals. As the great Arnold Schwarzenegger says, you have to have a vision after you say the word goals. My vision was always the WrestleMania moment and entertaining everyone.”

While on the surface it may seem as if Bogojevich’s career switch was a fallback, the reality is that sports entertainment played a pivotal role in his childhood. An archived Team USA bio of Bogojevic from 2005 has the teen’s favorite athlete, video game, and movie listed as Brock Lesnar, “Smackdown vs. Raw,” and “Ready to Rumble,” respectively.

“I used to have pretend wrestling shows as a kid,” Bogojevic said. “I didn’t have a lot of friends growing up so I had my two wrestler dolls, I’d beat them up, have the stereo blasting in the basement, all these outfits I had. I always had that vision. For it to come true, that’s the thing you have to work for and keep pushing.”

Bogojevic’s childhood sounds like it could be pulled from any professional wrestling fan or anyone who aspires to work in the industry itself. Bogojevic’s ability to entertain and perform in the ring are two factors behind his huge push in WWE, but what also makes him a star in the eyes of the fans — the ultimate deciding factor in the business — is his passion and relatability.

In fact, if you take one look at him, you might be stunned to learn that the 5-foot-10, bearded, husky Bogojevic is in the same business as someone like Drew McIntyre or Lesnar. Understanding that he wouldn’t have the physique or “look” of your traditional professional wrestler, Bogojevic built his character on being “Blue Collar Solid” alongside his tag-team partner Tucker Knight, an All-American NCAA wrestler in his own right.

“You can’t really B.S. the fans, they see you as they see you, so if you’re trying to be somebody else, they know that,” Bogojevic said. “Generally, I don’t have a lot of insecurities. I used to wear a butcher singlet. The more and more I got comfortable with people, with 20,000 people, being in Madison Square Garden, I decided to drop the straps. With me, what you see is what you get. I don’t think about it much. I eat my food to keep up my training and performance, but if I’m feeling pizza or chicken wings, it’s gonna go down. If I’ve got it, I might as well flaunt it. It’s the power belly.”

Being “blue collar” or an “everyman” has always been something that works in professional wrestling. 

The late Dusty Rhodes, one of the most influential and important figures in the industry’s history, billed himself as the “son of a plumber” and often found himself at odds with Ric Flair and his flashy lifestyle. Rhodes’ “Hard Times” promo continues to be influential, 35 years later.

Part of the appeal of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin was his ability to relate to fans by drinking beer and allowing them to live vicariously through him during the iconic scripted feuds with his boss, Vince McMahon.

Bogojevic implemented the tried and true strategy as he entered a romantic storyline with Mandy Rose and began his ascent late in 2019. What started as a joke between the two backstage and on social media quickly turned into one of the main angles on “Smackdown.”

“Every time she’d post on Instagram, I’d post them to my page too, trying to joke around like she was my girlfriend,” Bogojevic said. “Then, about two weeks after that, one of the top Google trends when you typed in my name or Mandy’s, were rumors and questions about if we were really together.

“It was basically the story of the loner in high school who never talked to the pretty girl in class, or getting the popular girl in school. Once we started that, we knew exactly how to have fun with it, keep the story relevant with the times. We have had a great time doing this. Everyone who has been involved is an awesome professional, Mandy, Sonya [Deville], Dolph [Ziggler]. It’s been a blast.”

The storyline’s success has catapulted Bogojevic to new heights, and with the spotlight on him, he’s managed to truly embrace the entertainment aspect of the job. When you hear Bogojevic speak, it’s hard not to immediately think of the late Chris Farley (“just two big ol’ dudes from Wisconsin,” Bogojevic jokes.), but the comedian isn’t the only influence that has shaped his WWE character.

“I also looked up Randy ‘Macho Man’ Savage,” Bogojevic said. “I first saw ‘Macho Man’ in the late ‘90s, so I wasn’t even seeing prime Randy Savage. I went back and looked at his promos and thought ‘Oh my God, this guy is one of the best.’ I love him. A lot of the other mannerisms though, they came from my mother. She would make a lot of these weird faces when she was with us as kids. Her and my dad would impersonate people from their jobs, it was addicting and laughable, what they were doing and it caught on from me. We’re all just weird, making faces and noises.”

Bogojevic’s star doesn’t appear to be dimming anytime soon. After winning a singles match against Ziggler at WrestleMania — and earning an on-screen kiss as a result — Bogojevic won the “Money in the Bank” ladder match earlier this month, earning him a shot at any championship in WWE. 

It’s a position that has helped elevate stars like Edge, C.M. Punk, Daniel Bryan and Seth Rollins to the top of the WWE card. For Bogojevic however, being in the main event or winning a championship isn’t his measuring stick.

“I fell and got back up before, but now the train is moving forward and I have to take these opportunities and make the most of them,” Bogojevic said. 

“For me the bottom line is, if the fans are happy, I’m happy.”

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