For Montez Ford, every Monday night is special. The 29-year-old WWE star is a member of the “Raw” roster, which means he performs live each week in front of thousands of fans in arenas, and millions more watching around the world.
This Monday is even more significant because in addition to being a WWE Superstar, Ford is also a Marine Corps veteran.
“I’m glad that I’ve been blessed to be in this position,” Ford exclusively told Yahoo Sports. “I’m glad that I’m able to be an example of what can happen if you stay consistent, believe in yourself, believe in God, trust in your abilities and structure, that you’ll be able to succeed. I can say a million more things, but I’m just glad to be an example of someone who came from a military background and succeeded.”
Before he was Montez Ford, Kenneth Crawford stood at a crossroads that many men and women across the country face. As an 18-year-old high school track and field standout, Crawford was offered a handful of college scholarships. Rather than becoming a collegiate athlete, Crawford opted for a different path, one that alleviated some of the stress that was facing his family at the time.
“I graduated high school after doing four years of the ROTC program, during which time I actually made it to battalion XO (executive officer),” Ford said. “I chose the Marines because at that point in time, my mother and my family were going through a few complications and I didn’t want the burden of having to worry about me on them. I took on the pleasure of going and serving my country for four years and I think it was the best decision I’ve made to date.”
Ford served four years in the Marine Corps, exiting in 2012. Family would once again factor into his next major life decision. Instead of re-enlisting, Ford left the Marines to spend more time with his loved ones and children.
While he didn’t plan on joining WWE immediately after his service, Ford eventually found his way to the Performance Center in Florida and was given a tryout.
“I always watched it my entire life,” Ford recalled. “I was always a fan, going back to when I was young and breaking the springs in my mom’s couch having wrestling matches with my sister. I didn’t necessarily get straight into wrestling until a year and a half after [leaving the Marines]. I was still adjusting and trying to figure things out in my life.”
Despite his charisma and athleticism, the 23-year-old Ford was initially turned away. The door wasn’t completely slammed shut on Ford’s wrestling career, though. Before long, Ford managed to transform his body to get more of the look WWE was searching for at the time.
“[WWE] told me that I spoke very well, but I needed to put on more weight,” Ford said. “Over the next 18 months, I put on 40-plus pounds and had my second tryout in late 2014. That was where I got signed and then I started in April 2015.”
In the four years since signing with WWE, Ford has become one half of one of the company’s most popular tag teams, the Street Profits. Along with Angelo Dawkins, Ford has risen through the ranks of NXT, capturing the NXT tag team championship last June, shortly before being moved to “Monday Night Raw,” WWE’s flagship show.
The hectic life of a WWE star isn’t for everyone, but four years in, Ford admits he has adapted well thanks to his experience in the military.
“In the military we have deployments, but in WWE you’re going every week,” Ford said. “In that sense, being away from home, it’s very, very similar. When it comes to WWE, you still have to be disciplined. When you’re away from home, you need to make sure you take care of things, make sure your administrative things are taken care of, your family is taken care of. You still have to be in the fight. There are things that are going to happen at home and you need to make sure you’re ready to go out and perform, just like the military, you always have to be ready to go.”
Ford isn’t the only current WWE star with a military background. In addition to Ford, Jaxson Ryker, Steve Cutler, Lacey Evans, and Brian “Road Dogg” James are all veterans of the Marine Corps.
Having a support system like that is helpful for Ford and the others. Their experiences in WWE mirror some of the everyday needs that veterans have and the struggles they sometimes face outside of WWE.
“We share that common bond of knowing the transition of coming from military life and going to civilian life,” Ford said. “It is a difficult transition. If you’ve been in the service a while — I was in for four years — the transition to civilian life is like starting all over. You have to learn your job, social skills, everything outside of the military. A lot of people have difficulty with that because it’s a different pace.”
Ford’s experience also helps him make strides in helping veterans across the country. While much of the charitable work we see in WWE deals with children — rightfully so as the stars serve as role models — the company and its talent regularly help the military community. Ford and WWE have worked together with MANA House, Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals and other career services organizations to help the men and women who served our country transition back into everyday life.
“I’ve been blessed and fortunate to be able to be part of this company and all of the ventures it provides for service members,” Ford said. “We go to the VA hospital a lot and spend time with the veterans there, the ones who were in battle, the ones who are still transitioning, the ones who are still obtaining help. At the VA hospital in Orlando we see a lot of the veterans there learning job skills or piano skills, we check on them and provide them feedback on our experiences as well. It helps to know how difficult the transition is and what we did to get to where we are. We want to help them succeed as well.”
Despite his charitable efforts and military background, it would be nearly impossible for the casual viewer to know Ford served four years in the Marines by looking at his character and his performances. Ford never wanted to use his military background to unfairly advance himself in whatever career he wound up choosing after he was discharged.
“I know it’s one of those things where I humble myself by remembering that I did serve this great country, but wherever I was going next, I could not use that as an advancement to pass anybody,” Ford said. “WWE is a completely different field where I had to learn that trade, their values, their structure. The thing that the military did for me was provide the structure, the initiative, tact, to carry on to whatever I did next in life. I took all of those abilities, lessons, experiences with me to WWE and that’s what helped me. I didn’t want to use it as leverage, but I did take the things I learned to help me in the future.”
Ford won’t be home on Monday — a normal occurrence considering his profession — but the fact that it is his first Veterans Day working on the “Raw” roster isn’t a moment that is lost on him. As he prepared for WWE’s upcoming UK tour, Ford had a moment to reflect on his wild journey — particularly over the past year.
“I was at the house the other day with my wife, Bianca, and I was getting ready to go on this UK tour,” Ford said. “I remember [WWE’s executive vice president of talent, live events and creative, Paul Levesque] telling us a few months back, ‘Hey guys, a lot of big things are going to happen for everyone this year. Take time to sit back and actually appreciate everything that’s happening.’ A year ago, me and Dawkins had just won the Evolve tag team titles. It’s crazy what happens in 12 months.”
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