The man behind the monster: Getting to know Braun Strowman

Editor's note: This story was originally published ahead of SummerSlam 2017.

Survival in the wacky world of professional wrestling is not easy. There isn't one simple path to a Hall of Fame WWE career. You have the good-looking babyface archetype, who becomes the crowd favorite by being an amazing talent on the microphone or in the ring (and on rare occasions, both). There's the evil heel who torments audiences with mean-spirited barbs and unfair tactics.

There are, of course, varying degrees of gray between the babyface and the heel, but then there is a type of wrestler who stands out from all the rest -- the monster.

The monster has always been an integral part of professional wrestling. In the golden era of wrestling, these monsters would go from territory to territory scaring children and terrorizing the babyface star. The role was critical because the monster was an attraction who put butts in seats while also making the top babyface in each territory look larger than life. Nothing is more heroic than conquering the unbearable monster.

Invariably, the monster gets beaten, and sometime later another will come along. Hulk Hogan, for example, in his time in WWE, took down King Kong Bundy, Andre the Giant, Kamala, Zeus and Earthquake, just to name a few. Only the most special monsters have a legacy beyond their initial gimmick that gets fed to a top star.

Braun Strowman appears to have the makings of that kind of monster with a legacy. Yes, he is a giant. Yes, he has an interesting and terrifying look, with superhuman strength to boot. His performances over the last year have been magical, but when you look at the real life of Adam Scherr, the man behind the "Monster Among Men," you can see a lot of things that could lead you to believe that this man is the real deal.

It might be tough to believe when you first look at him, but Scherr wasn't always towering over everyone in his life.

"You know, I wasn't too much out of the spectrum of normal until I really started high school," said Strowman, during a recent appearance on Cheap Heat. "Literally, my freshman year, I was a 5-[foot]-8 or 5-9, 180-pound little butterball. When I graduated high school, I was 6-5 and 305. I think I swallowed a magic bean pill."

Scherr was a three-sport athlete in his small high school in Sherrills Ford, North Carolina, where he was on the football, wrestling and track teams. "Shot put and discus," he said. "Me throwing things -- go figure."

But after high school, Strowman didn't know exactly what he wanted to do. He sat around trying to figure things out for a while before ultimately deciding that he was throwing away something that was potentially special by sitting on his hands.

"I didn't want to go to college, I didn't want to play football anymore, and I kind of just goofed off for about a year and a half," Strowman said. "And then I was like, 'Well, I'm kind of pissing away some talents that I've been given; let me get back into this.'"

Strowman enrolled in community college and played semipro football over the next four years. He made it to a combine in 2007 and even got looks from some pro teams, but the circumstances never really suited Strowman. Shortly thereafter, he decided to pursue his natural gifts in a different way by entering the world of amateur strongman competitions.

It should come as little surprise, if you have ever seen Scherr as Braun Strowman on "Monday Night Raw," that the amateur strongmen were no match for him.

"I think that was one of my last amateur competitions before I won North America's Strongest Man in 2011," Strowman said of one such performance in the West Cary Barbell Festival of Power strongman contest. "It was kind of just a warm-up to dust the cobwebs out. It wasn't too fair to the guys I went out there and competed against. Most of my contests were that way until I reached the pro level."

Strowman was already in the process of becoming a pro, and traveled to the Arnold Classic for the first time in 2010. Several important things happened at that event, which ultimately led Strowman down the path he's on today. Most notably, he met another strongman named Mark Henry. "He's been a man that I've looked up to for a long time. He's the biggest reason I'm a WWE superstar today."

Henry, the one-time strongest man in the world, took to Strowman not because of his size or strength, but because he saw him telling stories to all the other strongmen and making them laugh.

"He took a liking to me and saw that not only did I enjoy going out there and lifting the weights, but I was a ham," Strowman said. "I enjoyed getting the crowd involved, because the louder they screamed for me, I felt like the stronger I became. I fed off that energy."

"I knew he wouldn't crack in front of an audience," Henry recalled.

"WWE noticed that too, and the rest is history," said Strowman, who signed with the WWE in 2013. "Now I'm main-eventing SummerSlam."

The Sunday night event in Brooklyn is undoubtedly a big deal for Braun Strowman, as he shares the second-biggest stage in sports entertainment with three of the pre-eminent stars in this world: Brock Lesnar, Roman Reigns and Samoa Joe. But what comes after Sunday? How does Scherr keep Strowman from going down the path of monsters who have come before him? For every Undertaker, there are 20 Kamalas.

"I'm not one of those guys that sits here and goes, 'Well, if I can just do this or that.' I'm gonna keep doing what I've been doing, and that's going out with my peak performance, giving 100 percent, breaking new things out, and continuing to make you go, 'Oh my God, what else can he possibly do?' If you love me, you love me, and if you hate me, you hate me, but you're going to get me," said Strowman. "I'm going to give you everything I've got, I'm going to put my body on the line, and I'm going to entertain you. Plain and simple."