Some of the biggest names in combat sports have taken a shine to professional wrestling. They know that the athleticism, brute strength, and overall skillset of the hulking, massive men and strong, beautiful women of the WWE, and other organizations, are rare indeed. Below we recall the biggest MMA stars to depart the Octagon for the bright lights of the squared circle.
Ronda Rousey – There was no more dominant female fighting force than Ronda Rousey when she signed on with the UFC. Her victories were effortless and her opponents were overwhelmed with her world-class judo skills that manifested in a bronze medal at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China. Rousey was not only a sublime takedown artist but she began crafting a solid striking game as well.
Ultimately, that’s what did her in as she believed that her newfound weapons would be comparable to one of the most decorated female boxers to ever lace up the gloves, Holly Holm. The UFC odds on Rousey were a prohibitive -2000 over Holm but her decision to go toe-to-toe with the boxing queen in a stand-up affair cost her not only her UFC championship but it also permeated her aura of invincibility. Think Tiger Woods after he ran afoul of his then-wife, Elin Nordegren, as he also ran over a fire hydrant and into a tree. Tiger has never been the same and neither has Rousey.
Rousey has often stated she was a long-time wrestling fan even before she became a WWE star. And when Rousey ultimately decided to join Vince McMahon, she quickly took her rightful place at the head of the WWE table by becoming the Raw Women’s Champion. It was a reign that lasted 231 days until she was dethroned by Becky Lynch.
Ken Shamrock – The shootfighting powerhouse from Reno made his bones in mixed martial arts before becoming a bona fide star in the WWE. He is a pioneer of the UFC and put it on the map with a super fight between him and Royce Gracie. Few have done more in mixed martial arts than Shamrock and he is recognized as one of the true icons of the UFC organization and the sport itself.
It wasn’t until 1997 that he joined the WWF (now WWE) and became the Intercontinental Champion as well as one-half of the World Tag Team Champions with the Big Boss Man. Shamrock also won the King of the Ring tournament in 1998.
And when you hear others disparage professional wrestling compared to “real” combat sports, you can show them this quote from Shamrock.
“So it was something that I didn’t like when — not that I didn’t like it, but I wasn’t all into it. You know, it was more entertainment to me; watching my dad, more of that kind of thing, but not something that I could feel like I could do because I didn’t think I could act like I was trouble or let somebody beat me. That’s just not how I’m built.
“But after I got into it, I really started to respect it. I started to understand the technical [aspects of] it. The [mental strength] that you have to have to be able to create characters, to be able to create angles, to be able to put a match together. There’s just so much to it that I don’t think people truly understand how very hard it is to be successful in a pro wrestling ring. I learned huge respect for it. I got hurt more in pro wrestling than I ever did in fighting because, in fighting, I don’t have to let nobody hurt me. I don’t have to let nobody do that, I could just take them out.”
Brock Lesnar – The mammoth Minnesotan is one of the scariest men on the planet with a body chiseled from granite and a combat sports pedigree that includes an NCAA Division I heavyweight wrestling championship, as well a stint as the UFC heavyweight champion of the world. And while Lesnar is technically a professional wrestler first and an MMA practitioner second, the legend that is Lesnar has everything to do with his enormous popularity in both sports.
Perhaps what makes Lesnar such a compelling professional wrestler and champion is his take-no-prisoners approach to ring brawling. He has no compunction about dealing legitimate damage and taking it in return when scrapping for the WWE. One of his former rivals, Samoa Joe, spoke about it a while ago.
“I think it really comes down to the simple fact that, when Brock shows up for fight night, he wants to be in a scrap. He wants to go out there and he wants someone who is going to smash someone in the face, and he wants to smash somebody back! Brock knew he had that with me – he understood, and I understood I had to have that with Brock,” said Samoa Joe.
“It’s an attitude. He wants people to go in there and go after him,” Joe added. “It is all of those things. I think that was the simplistic but major reason that we click the way we do; we step in the ring and we’re stepping in there for chaos and destruction to happen, and nothing less than that. I guess it’s some weird, unspoken gentlemen’s agreement we have!”