Standing at an imposing 6 feet, 6 inches tall and weighing 270 pounds, Thaddeus Bullard dominates any arena he is in. Known worldwide as WWE Global Ambassador Titus O’Neil, Bullard has been a star for the University of Florida’s football team and in the wrestling ring. Now, he is a champion keynote speaker, as seen at Connect Tampa 2021.
Practically larger than life physically—and certainly figuratively—Bullard was never earmarked for the positive impact he’s made on so many individually. In fact, it is quite the opposite.
“Technically, I'm not even supposed to be here based on the circumstances in which I was created,” Bullard says.
Bullard’s troubled childhood story begins with his then 12-year-old mother being raped. A child raised by a preteen, Bullard grew up impoverished and acted out accordingly. By the time he was the same age as his mother when he was conceived, he’d been moved to the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranch for at-risk children.
“I was labeled as someone who’d be dead or in jail by the time I was 16,” he remembers.
He shares his remarkable story with Connect.
Bullard credits the ranch and Florida Boys & Girls Clubs for providing the environment to grow. “They were really dead set on helping break generational curses and to empower young men and women to be the best that they possibly can be.”
Hate Turns to Love
As a child, Bullard could not comprehend the entirety of his upbringing. Only when was 17 (alive and not in jail) did he learn his mother’s story. Years of anger and resentment over his troubles turned to empathy. “I strongly disliked my mom for years, just based on the things that I had to endure as a kid. And once I found out how I was conceived, all the anger and the hate that I had toward my mom totally turned into love because I realized at that point that my mom was a kid trying to raise kids.”
Finding a Father Figure.
A preteen with a hot head, Bullard didn’t have a true father figure until sitting down with Patrick Monogue, president of the ranch. Rather than expelling Bullard as the troubles continued at the ranch, Monogue said two things that changed Bullard’s life: “There is no such thing as a bad kid” and “I love you and I believe in you.”
Through faith, Bullard discovered his role that goes well beyond the University of Florida football field and the WWE ring. “I have understood as I've gotten older that my calling is to be a connector of people, and I embrace that and enjoy that.” That’s why he doesn’t shy away from controversial topics like Black Lives Matter. He stands up for those without a champion. “I'm not driven by a dollar. I've turned down a lot of money to speak or appear at certain events and parties and even advertisements because I'm motivated by my principles and I stand strong on them.”
A Global Ambassador
Bullard’s work on behalf of children is renowned at this point. He has helped raise millions of dollars for nonprofit charities, secured scholarships for student-athletes and mentors at-risk youth. He is the author of the Amazon bestselling book “There’s No Such Thing as a Bad Kid” (a phrase borrowed from Monogue.) “I have the mentality that I love everyone. I am universally known as a nice guy but someone you don’t want to [tick] off.”
How wide is Bullard’s love? On his foundation’s board sit alumni from The University of Alabama and Florida State University. The Gator jokes that shows more about his character than anything else. “That’s the telltale sign that when it comes to doing the right thing and getting the right opportunities for people, I'll bring together anybody.”
An Ultimate Warrior
He’s been named one of Ebony magazine’s Power 100 Most Influential African Americans and a Tampa Bay Lightning Community Hero. He was inducted into the University of Florida Hall of Fame and was a two-time finalist for the ESPN Muhammad Ali Sports Humanitarian Award. In 2020, WWE presented him with the Warrior Award, presented to those who “exhibit unwavering strength and perseverance, and who live life with courage and compassion.”
A True Father Figure
A father of two boys, Bullard has shared his upbringing to them but doesn’t want that to define their relationship. Instead, his emphasis is on leading by example. Bullard doesn’t want to be a parent who falls back on “Do as I say, not as I do.” “I’m expecting you to be honest and truthful with yourself and with others,” he describes his talks with his kids. “I'm expecting you to never put a limit on what is possible for you. We don’t use the word ‘can’t.’”
Photo courtesy of Thaddeus Bullard