Ladd went on to become a three-time All-AFL player and he played in four consecutive Pro Bowls. The Chargers made strong runs to the AFL championship games. The Chargers won it all during the 1963 season, defeating the Boston Patriots. They also advanced to three title games, falling to Houston in 1961 and Buffalo in 1964 and 1965.
Ladd spent the 1966 season playing for the Houston Oilers before moving, in 1967, to the Kansas City Chiefs. There, with Buck Buchanan, a former Grambling teammate, he filled out what was probably the biggest defensive tackle tandem in history, and won another AFL title. Both Ladd and Buchanan are members of the Grambling State University Athletic Hall of Fame.
While playing football, Ladd began making appearances at wrestling events at first as a special referee and later as a wrestler. Knee problems, and what at the time ended up being a more lucrative career as a wrestler, ended his football career.
Ladd started wrestling in 1961. As a publicity stunt, some wrestlers in the San Diego area challenged Ladd to a private wrestling workout. Before long, Ladd was a part-time competitor in Los Angeles, during football's off-season. Ladd became a huge draw in short order. Ladd became one of wrestling's most hated heels during the 1970's, as well as one of the first Black wrestlers to portray a heel character. In addition to riling crowds with his arrogant and colorful demeanor during interviews, all without being portrayed with any stereotyping, Ladd also gained infamy through use of his controversial taped thumb, which Ladd claimed was from an old football injury. Often, when Ladd appeared to be in serious trouble during a match, he'd walk out of the arena and accept a countout loss. This practice has since become known as “pulling an Ernie Ladd” in some circles.