Produced by the Office of Marketing and Communications
Former Terp Pro Uses Thriving Talent Agency to Help Fellow Grapplers
Photo courtesy of WWE
The muscly, Maryland flag-costumed Mojo Rawley shouted his signature “Stay Hyped” mantra to keep energy cranked up as he battled opponents. Now, the former Terps football player and World Wrestling Entertainment pro is using that ethos to uplift fellow wrestlers rather than body slam them.
Rawley, who goes by Dean Muhtadi ’08, MBA ’11 outside the squared circle, launched Paragon Talent Group with business partner Steve Kaye after his 2021 departure from WWE, dedicated to securing sponsorships and other deals so current and former pro wrestlers can make a comfortable living—with or without the sport. The company already seems to be living up to the “hype,” generating $10 million for its 50 full-time clients in 2022.
“I was seeing all my other buddies who had either left WWE on their accord—or not on their own accord—and were struggling for next jobs. They had no idea how to negotiate a contract,” Muhtadi said. “It was pretty sad to see so many talents I shared a locker room with and competed against … struggle when we had the means to help them out. So the company kind of started itself.”
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Growing up in Alexandria, Va., Muhtadi was a weekly WWE viewer who launched himself into living room bouts with his brother. But since his high school didn’t have a team, he went the football route instead. His team’s four wins over four years didn’t exactly help with recruiting, though, so he played two seasons as a defensive lineman at Division III Christopher Newport University before walking on at UMD, the team he cheered for as a kid.
While becoming a regular contributor on the field, he studied marketing in the classroom—a “happy accident,” he said. (He started interning for his aunt at Morgan Stanley at age 11 and had his heart set on a finance major, but the timing of some classes he needed then clashed with football practice.) Even after graduating and signing with the Green Bay Packers, he further beefed up his business acumen by earning his MBA.
A major calf injury after joining the Arizona Cardinals forced another pivot. Muhtadi called WWE a “shot-in-the-dark, complete on-a-whim opportunity.”
“I didn’t have to be 330 pounds anymore, which I was becoming increasingly worried about as I was getting older,” he said. “It was an opportunity to do something different, reinvent myself, have some fun, use brain and my personality.”
Over nearly a decade, he won plenty of matches both solo and as a member of “The Hype Bros” duo, including taking the 2017 Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal with his friend and former New England Patriot, Rob Gronkowski. But then COVID hit not just the nation and the professional wrestling business, but Muhtadi himself, who said the virus “crushed” his lungs and led to his release from the WWE. That’s when he connected with Kaye, his friend and former talent manager.
“We’ve always said there’s the ‘sizzle and steak factor’ to this company,” Kaye said. “Dean is definitely flash, but he’s the best marketer I’ve ever met in my entire life. … I’ve been very good at keeping the basic framework of the organization going. I think both parts are really needed.”
That combination has helped secure sponsorship deals with Pepsi, Disney, SuperJeweler, DraftKings and others for clients including wrestlers Lina Fanene, C.J. Perry and Samuray Del Sol. The personal connections have been key as the business has grown, and Muhtadi and Kaye hope to continue surging this year by cementing at least 10 Fortune 500 companies as long-term partners, growing the clientele to 100 full-timers and adding to the employee team.
The “Stay Hyped” strategy is still in full force, Muhtadi said, as he uses the mentality he developed during his walk-on days to take every call and follow every lead.
“(The success has been) very exciting and very humbling,” he said. “It’s just a testament to everything that we’ve started, how hard we’ve worked, and just how much of a need there was in the marketplace.”
Department of Intercollegiate Athletics Robert H. Smith School of Business
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