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Titus O’Neil to receive WWE’s Warrior Award

The Tampa Bay resident’s philanthropic work throughout the community is being recognized this week as part of WrestleMania festivities.
WWE wrestler Titus O'Neil will receive the Warrior Award during the WWE Hall of Fame ceremonies as part of this year's WrestleMania event.
WWE wrestler Titus O'Neil will receive the Warrior Award during the WWE Hall of Fame ceremonies as part of this year's WrestleMania event. [ RICH FREEDA | Special to the Times ]
Published Apr. 5
Updated Apr. 5

TAMPA — Titus O’Neil is well-known for his philanthropic work throughout Tampa Bay, and he worked even harder to make the region a better place during the pandemic.

“Everybody knows that I’m someone who just wants to do the work,” the WWE wrestler said last week. “I don’t care who I need to work with, as long as the work is done, as long as people’s lives are changed, that environments have been made better — whether it be a school environment or health environment, whatever it may be. I’m about change, real transformational change, not transactional change.”

This week O’Neil, whose real name is Thaddeus Bullard, will be formally recognized for his efforts.

He will receive WWE’s annual Warrior Award, which is presented during WrestleMania week to “an individual who has exhibited unwavering strength and perseverance and who lives life with the courage and compassion that embodies the indomitable spirit” of the Ultimate Warrior, one of pro wrestling’s most iconic figures of the 1980s and 90s.

O’Neil will receive the award during a pre-recorded broadcast of the WWE Hall of Fame Ceremony that will air Tuesday at 8 p.m. on Peacock. The ceremony was recorded at Tropicana Field, where WWE’s televised shows are currently being produced on a closed set.

“Titus is a dedicated father, humanitarian and WWE Global Ambassador. His unwavering passion to help others in need is simply unmatched,” said Stephanie McMahon, WWE Chief Brand Officer. “Although he does not seek recognition, I am thrilled that his work will be spotlighted to WWE fans around the world.”

O’Neil will be the first WWE wrestler to receive the award, which has previously gone to journalist Joan Lunden, paralyzed football player Eric LeGrand and Sue Aitchison, a longtime WWE employee who oversaw the company’s Make-A-Wish requests. The first Warrior award went to Connor “The Crusher” Michalek, a boy who suffered from cancer of the spine and brain since he was 3 years old. Michalek received the award in 2015, shortly after he passed away at age 8.

Through his Bullard Family Foundation, O’Neil has helped the community in many ways. His work to revitalize Sligh Middle Magnet school is well-documented. He has partnered with Metropolitan Ministries in its Stable Families Project to provide affordable housing to those in need. Working with Feeding Tampa Bay, he extended its FreshForce program, which helps adults create careers in the culinary field, with jobs at Sligh Middle.

O’Neil was the guiding force behind a virtual Back-to-School Bash held at Amalie Arena in August where kids could participate virtually in activities with WWE wrestlers like John Cena and Sheamus. O’Neil said he’s also paid for four funerals this year, including 18-year-old Richard Canales-Calle, a Lennard High School student who received his high school diploma in a special ceremony from his hospice bed, becoming the first in his family to graduate high school, before he died of cancer.

“I’m in a position to kind of connect folks that already are either joining the work or want to do more,” O’Neil said. “Some people don’t want to donate to large organizations because they don’t know where the money is going. With our foundation, they don’t have any question where the money’s going, I don’t have any overhead.

“I have one staff member that’s paid and so they can look at my books any day of the week that they want and they see 98 percent of the funds that we bring in and the resources we’re bringing in go right back out into the community. And that’s a great position to be in.”

O’Neil was visible during a summer of protests following the death of George Floyd. He marched with protesters and took the podium alongside law enforcement to tell the community that violence wasn’t the solution.

O’Neil, a former WWE tag team champion and the first 24/7 champion, said receiving the Warrior Award is special because he will be the first WWE wrestler to do so. O’Neil grew up as a fan of the Ultimate Warrior and was at the Monday Night Raw show when Ultimate Warrior (his real name was James Hellwig) gave his final speech following his Hall of Fame induction in 2014. Hellwig died of a heart attack the following day at age 54.

“This first is so much bigger because it means that I impacted a lot of people’s lives, both inside our locker room, our company, but most importantly outside with our fans and our supporters and our partners,” he said. “This award is right up there with being nominated with the Muhammad Ali Sports Humanitarian Award from ESPN. This has been one of those awards that really is about character. It’s about leaders. It’s about people that see you as a great human being.”

O’Neil will also have a special part of this weekend’s WrestleMania event, serving as the two-day event on Saturday and Sunday at Raymond James Stadium, along with Hulk Hogan.

Contact Eduardo A. Encina at eencina@tampabay.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard.