How George Kittle shows love for pro wrestling with every first down

Pentagon Jr. gifts George Kittle lucha libre mask (0:29)

Mexican wrestler Pentagon Jr. has a moment with George Kittle before the 49ers' game against the Cardinals. (0:29)

Editor's note: This story was originally published in 2020.

If you've watched a San Francisco 49ers game recently, it's likely you've seen George Kittle make a big play. The All-Pro tight end has generated 137 receiving first downs (as well as a pair of rushing first downs) thus far in his career, and there's a good chance he'll add at least a few more on Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV.

Throughout the past two seasons, Kittle has celebrated many first downs with a distinctive hand signal. First he puts up three fingers in the air -- his middle finger, ring finger and pinky -- while forming a "0" with a closed circle with his thumb and pointer. Then he swings his three fingers down to the bottom of the formation, in an "M" shape. His teammates Dante Pettis and Marquise Goodwin have joined in on the celebration on multiple occasions as well.

It's a tribute to Pentagon Jr., the Mexican professional wrestler whom Kittle befriended during a long week of shows surrounding WrestleMania 34 in New Orleans. The gesture represents "Cero Miedo" (zero fear), Pentagon's signature catchphrase and mantra, and a fitting expression of Kittle's style of play on the field.

"Two years ago in New Orleans, I went to WrestleMania and watched him wrestle six different times at a bunch of different shows," Kittle told ESPN in regard to Pentagon. "His swagger in the ring and his confidence -- just kind of stuck with me. I mean, wrestling, it's something that I love and enjoy, too. So, just seeing that in the ring and just how he holds himself and how he enters the ring, how he leaves the ring, everything he does has a purpose, and I just kind of love that."

"It was brief," Pentagon recalled of the meeting. "We fought six or seven times a day and this happened after the fourth fight. He told me that he admired me; in truth, I did not know him very well. We later exchanged gifts -- I gave him a fight mask and he gave me his jersey."

Since they met in mid-2018, both Kittle and Pentagon have enjoyed an upward trajectory in their respective pursuits. Kittle recorded a pair of 1,000-yard, five-touchdown campaigns that each led to Pro Bowl nods and finds himself in the Super Bowl. Pentagon, already a star in Mexico for the AAA promotion, broke out in the United States as part of the cult wrestling hit show "Lucha Underground" and has since expanded his profile as part of IMPACT wrestling and, most recently, as a part of the All Elite Wrestling roster.

Their friendship -- largely maintained through messages exchanged back and forth on Instagram -- doesn't end with Kittle's on-field celebrations. On Halloween last year, Kittle wore customized cleats with Pentagon's face and "Cero Miedo" emblazoned upon them. He even produced shirts with a customized 49ers-themed Pentagon mask. Pentagon then upped the ante by producing his own version of the lucha mask with 49ers colors and Kittle's number.

Kittle is set to play in the biggest football game of his life on Sunday, and he seemingly has a long career ahead of him in the NFL. But when his time on the gridiron is done, don't be surprised if Kittle enters Pentagon's world -- following in the footsteps of NFL stars like Rob Gronkowski, Lawrence Taylor, William "Refrigerator" Perry, Steve "Mongo" McMichael, Reggie White and many other NFL veterans.

In fact, Kittle has already had a taste of what it's like to step through the ropes and perform for a crowd. After growing up with an appreciation for "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and The Rock, Kittle was dragged into wrestling superfandom by his University of Iowa teammate Steve Manders. Ahead of WrestleMania 31, coincidentally held at Kittle's current home stadium of Levi's Stadium, Manders got Kittle hooked into Iowa native Seth Rollins, and the rest was history.

After they graduated from Iowa, Manders committed full-bore and enrolled in Rollins' wrestling school, the Black and Brave Wrestling Academy, pursuing the business professionally. Kittle was taken in the fifth round of the 2017 NFL draft by the 49ers that April, but after Kittle fulfilled his first few obligations with the team in California, Manders convinced him to get directly involved in a show.

"It was right after rookie minicamp, and I came back and I did it," recalled Kittle. "The Niners weren't too happy with me for getting in the ring, but I told them, 'I'm not gonna get touched. It's OK.' [The wrestlers] wanted me to do a spear, and I was like, 'Let's do something with less contact.' And so I [did] the stunner."

"It was like 150-200 people in there in middle-of-nowhere Iowa," Kittle said. "I showed up like six hours before the show starts [to] help set up the ring. We're running through practice stuff in the ring ... I had one practice run before I did a live stunner ... The pop from the crowd was like, I get why people do this. It felt like scoring a touchdown at Kinnick Stadium [in Iowa] because I had hadn't played at Levi's ... it's the best entertainment sport out there.

"After I did the stunner in the ring, I realized like yeah, I could see myself doing this. I mean, it's too much fun."

For now, Kittle has more pressing matters to attend to. And the first time he makes a big play, flashing the "0" and then the "M" in celebration, Pentagon will be watching. And so will tens of millions of people around the world -- the largest audience that has ever witnessed Pentagon's signature trademark.

"George is my friend, and for me it would be an honor for him to do 'Cero Miedo' [at the Super Bowl]," said Pentagon, "because we are warriors in what we do."

Gabriel Garduno and Nick Wagoner also contributed to this story.