We know that WWE superstars represent some of the most physically gifted athletes on the planet. And although they ply their trade in the world of sports entertainment, it is not a reach to believe that without the shackles of a scripted ending and cooperation from their opponents to pull off their mind-boggling feats of athleticism, they would be able to compete in the most elite combat sports organization on the planet – the UFC.
Let’s review a handful of the notable WWE stars who made the transition to the world of mixed martial arts at the highest level. And while the likes of Rhonda Rousey and Ken Shamrock made their bones in the UFC before jumping into the waters of the WWE, we will focus solely on those who began as professional wrestlers before deciding to enter the Octagon.
There is no better example of a WWE superstar transitioning into an outstanding, albeit somewhat brief, UFC fighter who eventually became champion. Brock Lesnar, all 6’3” and nearly 300 pounds of muscle and mayhem was the total package. He began as a D-1 collegiate wrestler who made the jump to the WWE in 2002 and a scant five months later became the heavyweight champion.
Lesnar would take a crack at the NFL but fell short after being cut by the Minnesota Vikings. He would then pursue a wrestling career in Japan before taking his first professional MMA fight in 2006 within a Japanese organization. That debut would be successful and shortly thereafter, the UFC came calling.
Lesnar would become the UFC Heavyweight champion in a little more than a year after signing with the organization when he defeated Randy Couture in 2008. Despite Lesnar as the new arrival fighting a future Hall-of-Famer in Couture, the UFC odds had him listed as a -145 favorite and he did not disappoint.
By 2012 Brock was ready to return to the welcoming arms of Vince McMahon and WWE fans were ecstatic. Lesnar’s tenure in the world’s greatest wrestling promotion has been nothing short of stellar as evidenced by his multiple WWE (World Heavyweight) Championship and WWE Universal Championship titles.
ESPN.com called him, “the most accomplished athlete in professional wrestling history” while WWE sensation, John Cena, stated Lesnar was, “the best in-ring performer of all time.”
Phillip Jack Brooks began to make a name for himself as a member of the Chick Magnets, a backyard wrestling promotion, that started him on his road to glory with the ECW and ultimately landing him as the WWE World Heavyweight champion. Although not as physically jacked as many of his competitors, Punk was a fan favorite, a skilled orator, and played the roles of heel and face with equal aplomb.
Although Punk’s tenure with the WWE ended in a messy divorce, there has been talk he may return in some capacity if previously burned bridges can be rebuilt. However, after he walked away from the WWE in 2014, he would sign with the UFC a few years later and compete in the welterweight division. Unfortunately, Punk’s stint in the UFC was fleeting after he lost his first two fights and was cut by the organization. Yet, WWE fans will never forget his meteoric rise in the organization, and many pine for the day when he decides to return.
The man that WWE fans know as, Batista, has won four World Heavyweight Championships, two WWE Championships, and is a three-time World Tag Team champion, twice with Ric Flair and once with John Cena.
Signing with the WWE in 2000, Batista became an overnight sensation and a cause célèbre for the promotion. He would battle until 2010 when he left after a disagreement with Raw general manager, Brett Hart. He has stated he was not getting the same acting opportunities as the other main event player, John Cena.
In 2012, Batista was rumored to be negotiating with Strikeforce as an addition to their heavyweight division but Zuffa (UFC) bought them and negotiations ended. However, he did ultimately sign with Classic Entertainment & Sports and scored a first-round TKO over a “professional opponent” caliber fighter named Vince Lucero.
That proved to be Batista’s only foray into MMA but he did return to the squared circle after re-signing with the WWE in 2014 as a face rather than a heel. But in his return debut at the Royal Rumble, he was not feted by the crowd but mercilessly booed.
He talked about the odd reception he received from the fans, “it was weird. It wasn’t like a normal response. It was almost like a personal attack. It had to do with factors that were not in my control, factors, and things that were going on in the company with other people, stuff that really had nothing to do with me. To me, it was a little frustrating, a little confusing, and, you know, I don’t want to say I completely took it personal, but I did somewhat.”