Look for him on WWE
When Kipp Christianson played high school basketball his senior year in River Falls in 1992, he was 6-feet, 8-inches tall and, as he says, "...lucky to weigh 200 pounds."
Today, he stands a shade over 7-feet and weighs slightly over 300 pounds as "Eli Cottonwood" -- the persona he has adopted as a wrestler with World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE).
Christianson, or Cottonwood as he is known to WWE fans, is currently appearing on the television show WWE NXT--a cross between reality TV and WWE wrestling that can be seen locally each Tuesday night at 9 p.m. on the cable network Syfy.
The show follows newcomers as they attempt to win the competition and earn a pay-per-view match against their choice of either of the champions of the WWE's two brands--RAW and SmackDown.
The premise of the show follows select wrestlers contracted to WWE in a competition to become WWE's next breakout star with the help of mentors from WWE's RAW and SmackDown brands. In various weeks, fans vote to eliminate one wrestler from the competition.
So far, Christianson is still in the running.
"I haven't been voted off yet," he said. "We have a vote coming up this week and we have five weeks left."
After graduating from River Falls High School as a 17-year-old in 1992, Christianson attended Arizona State University for a year, where he said he grew another three or four inches. He returned to the upper Midwest to attend St. John's University in Collegeville, Minn., where he played basketball from 1994-97, averaging 20 points and eight rebounds. He led the MIAC in field goal percentage as a junior and earned All-MIAC honors as a junior and senior.
After stints with the Dallas Mavericks summer league team and Milwaukee Bucks training camp, Christianson played in the Continental Basketball Association and overseas. He married in 2007 and settled in Tampa, Fla., where he continues to live with his wife and two-year-old daughter.
It was in Tampa where he started taking classes at the WWE training facility and eventually began wrestling on the WWE's developmental Florida Championship Wrestling circuit, where he adopted the character of Eli Cottonwood, who is billed as being reintroduced to society after being released from a sanitarium.
Christianson, already a gifted athlete, said it was a challenge learning the entertainment part of the business.
"The difficult part about the entertainment is figuring out how to be entertaining," he said. "There's a lot of times where what you do in between moves is what gets reactions from people. That's when you become an entertainer."
Christianson said the reaction from his friends back in River Falls to his new career has been enthusiastic.
"My friends back home love it; they're excited about it," he said. "A lot of old classmates have gotten a hold of me because of this and that's been great; people I haven't heard from since high school."
If all goes well, his friends may have an opportunity to see Christianson as Eli Cottonwood when the WWE holds its Bragging Rights pay-per-view event at Target Center in Minneapolis in October.
"I would love to get back there," he said. "That's part of my goal."
Christianson said he spends about five days a week on the road, making the time he spends with his wife and family back in Florida precious.
"My daughter knows I'm not home much. She says, 'Daddy work? Daddy work?'" he said. "When I am home I try and spend as much time as possible with her. I guess it's a good thing she doesn't understand what I'm doing now. I don't want her head-butting her classmates. I don't need that parent-teacher conference."
For now, Christianson said he's enjoying his time on WWE NXT.
"I guess things have turned out all right for me so far," he said about the show. "I'm having a very good time."