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 on the football field and in the wrestling ring, and is now shining bright as an inspirational keynote speaker, including at Connect Tampa and the upcoming Connect Faith.
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.
How did Bullard turn around? Through love and faith. He shares more with Connect here.
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 he 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.”
Having discovered a father who believed in him, Bullard knew it was his turn to believe in something greater. He explored many faiths before finding a home at a nondenominational church in 2005. Bullard says he was drawn to the church’s acceptance of various beliefs. “My faith has always really been about my relationship with God. That may be different than someone else's relationship with their God, but at the end of the day, the relationship that we both have should be respected.”
Through faith, Bullard discovered his role that goes well beyond the University of Florida football field and the WWE ring. “I truly believe that obedience is better than sacrifice. And so as a celebrity or noncelebrity, I'm going to be obedient. I want to be obedient to my calling. 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.”
Many athletes and other celebrities withdraw from public debates for fear they will damage their marketability. Not Bullard, an outspoken activist on issues such as Black Lives Matter and more. “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.”
An Ultimate Warrior
Bullard has 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 with them but doesn’t want that to define their relationship. Instead, his emphasis is on leading by example. He 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.