SANTA CLARA – George Kittle’s love for wrestling became well-known last Sunday after the 49ers tight end ran out of a postgame news conference to attend a live WWE show.
He’s not just a huge fan, though. His ideas for how to improve ratings could land Kittle in the industry when he eventually decides to hang up his football cleats.
“I think the script is a little messed up right now,” Kittle said this week of the WWE. “They said they were going to fix it, and I believe them. I'm looking forward to see what they do. You have Dean Ambrose back, and his feud with Seth Rollins is great.”
“One of my favorite things is when I see guys flying out of the ring 24-7. Ladders matches, stuff like that. I love when there's not a single second of down time. Everyone getting pushed, fight, fight, fight, fall out of the ring, and the next guy comes in. He falls out, next guy comes in. It’s like a rotation of six guys.”
Kittle’s current favorite performer is Rollins, with whom he shares a common history in Iowa. In fact, Kittle’s Twitter profile picture is from a visit to Rollins' wrestling school, Black and Brave, in Davenport, Iowa.
Don’t worry, 49ers fans: Per his NFL contract, Kittle isn’t allowed to take any hits or falls off the football field. He still did learn enough to deliver a “stunner,” which is what his profile picture shows.
“Yeah,” Kittle explained, “I’m not allowed to really do anything. I obviously can’t get hurt.”
Kittle unfortunately didn’t make it into the SAP Center crowd in time last week to see Rollins face off with Ambrose, but he watched it backstage on the television monitors. The event was scheduled to start at the same time the 49ers’ game against the Seattle Seahawks hit the fourth quarter, but when that stretched into overtime, it messed up Kittle’s timeline.
Kittle and 49ers teammate Earl Mitchell, a fellow wrestling fan, did make it into the crowd for the “Tables, Ladders and Chairs” main event of Becky Lynch, Charlotte Flair and Asuka, which Kittle enthusiastically described as “absolutely insane.”
Other favorite Kittle moments of the evening: Meeting Stephanie McMahon and Triple H backstage. Daniel Bryan being thrown into a wall, close enough to give Kittle a fist bump. And seeing Lynch jump off a ladder onto Flair -- and going through a table in the process.
“It was pretty epic. It was super cool,” Kittle said. “That was one of the most fun times I’ve had watching a women’s match because they killed it. They did a lot better than a lot of other things I’ve seen. Definitely the best main event I’ve seen in a long time.”
Flair is a close second favorite of Kittle’s, behind Rollins.
“She does things that no one else does,” he said. “She does a moonsault from the top rope to the ground. That's awesome.”
Kittle was a late-developing wrestling fan. An Iowa teammate, George Manders, knew Kittle wasn’t a big fan and “made” him start watching older matches during the summer before his junior year. They would stream anywhere from two to four hours of matches every day.
That’s when Kittle got hooked.
It started with Ric Flair promos, then matches with Macho Man Randy Savage, The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin. They watched the origination and development of the characters and storylines. They consumed so many wrestling videos that Kittle had data overage fees for three months straight.
But Kittle’s love for wrestling goes beyond the WWE. He’s also a fan of Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro-Wrestling, which has combined for a super show called War of the Worlds. More non-stop wrestling action in the ring, like what you see in those shows, is what Kittle believes could give the WWE a needed ratings boost.
WWE's flagship show, Raw, had its lowest viewership ratings in 25 years in October. It has yet to regain its audience. In contrast, Kittle described what makes Ring of Honor shows so exciting.
“The fast-paced stuff is what really interests me,” Kittle said. “… In Ring of Honor, they have guys that do 25-minute matches, but they feel like 5 minutes because there is so much stuff going on. You're just like, 'Oh my goodness. This is incredible.’ ”
While stories need to be developed and new characters introduced in wrestling, Kittle believes more championship matches also would get wrestling fans interested in the WWE again.
“I hate it when there is a champion that doesn’t wrestle every week,” Kittle said. “Brock Lesnar wrestles maybe three times a year. I think that’s kind of hard for fans to watch because you’re not really a champion if you don’t wrestle.
“A championship match. That’s what really excites me.”
Kittle and the 49ers hope they’ll make it to their own championship match in the coming years. That would excite wrestling and NFL fans alike.