The worlds of pro wrestling and MMA will always be intertwined thanks to the impact made by the likes of Ken Shamrock, Dan Severn, Brock Lesnar, Bobby Lashley and so many others.
“You hear it all the time. ‘That guy could really do well. I mean, he could kick his a** if he wanted to’ and just disrespect without even having to do it. On the flip side of that, you’ve got actual pro wrestlers, who kind of do the same thing-even the fans and even on the MMA side, the same kind of thing where they say ‘wrestling’s fake.’” – Ken Shamrock
While the acronym of the piece is likely confusing and awkward, what isn’t is the subject matter. Over the course of the last hundred years or so, several men and women have combined different disciplines when in the ring. While names like Karl Gotch, Billy Robinson, and George Hackensmidt likely don’t ring a bell for some, what does is how these men nearly a hundred years ago used submission wrestling to prevail. This combined with other various strikes to take down and, in many cases, finish off their opposition. While typically popular in Japan, Mixed Martial Arts used in wrestling really has seen its boom take place roughly over the last quarter-century. It is that popularity that fans today have come to see talented mixed martial artists transition into prominent roles in the professional wrestling ring.
For North American audiences, one of the first men to take MMA and brought it into a professional wrestling ring would be former NWA World Champion Dan’ The Beast’ Severn.
A former champion in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, Severn was able to take what made him successful in one ring and moved it into another one. When the WWF had a storyline in the mid-1990s with Jim Cornette as the on-screen head of the NWA, would lead a brigade of NWA talent to, for lack of a better word, ‘invade’ the WWF at the time. One of those men was Dan Severn. Severn dressed like the consonant professional, not unlike other NWA champions of the past. Severn was a technical wizard grappling men of all shapes and sizes in his purest form and was a threat each time he stepped into the ring.
From the inclusion of Dan Severn from the UFC into the NWA, we then saw the rise of ‘the world’s most dangerous man.’ Ken Shamrock transitioned from MMA into the WWE fairly seamlessly. As both a heel and a face, he was able to tap into two different characteristics. One of if not his most notable feuds in the WWE was against The Rock. The two were embroiled in a rivalry for the Intercontinental Championship. It even included one of the most memorable chair shots in the company’s history at the time by The Rock to the face of Shamrock. In fact, Shamrock retells the time when he convinced The Rock to swing for the fences…on his face!
“I said, ‘You going to hit me in the back?’ And he said, ‘I want it to be a headshot,’” Shamrock says. “I said, ‘Dude, I would rather take it in the front than the back of the head. Just swing at my face.’”
“What?” Rock replied.
“Just swing at my face,” Shamrock said. “I’ll look up at you, and as I start getting up, just hit me right in the face. Make sure it’s the flat part of the chair.’”
“‘What are you talking about?’” Rock sensibly asked. “Hit you in the face?”
“‘Don’t worry about it,” Shamrock said. “I promise I’ll take care of myself. From that angle you can’t actually possibly hit me in the face unless you’re doing a golf swing. But it will look like you did. So swing it like a bat.”
“Are you sure?” Rock asked, giving him a chance to change his mind.
“Just bring it,” Shamrock said. “I’d rather get hit in the forehead than the back of the head. I’ve got a big old skull. You lay it in there. I mean it. I don’t want anyone saying it looked fake.” – Ken Shamrock on the chairshot by The Rock
Although Shamrock’s time in the WWE came to an end, it didn’t mean his time in wrestling would come to an end. He would later capture the NWA-TNA Championship and once again return to IMPACT Wrestling years later. His MMA career is as memorable as his wrestling one.
Throughout the years, the WWE has sported several talented men and women that have stepped into the octagon. In some cases, they transitioned from MMA to the WWE and, in other instances, the WWE to MMA. There is no greater example of this than that of Brock Lesnar. Lesnar’s achievements in the UFC coupled with his achievements in the WWE are unprecedented. To be the Heavyweight Champion in two different sports is remarkable. And while some may argue that simply competing in MMA isn’t enough to gauge one’s success, to be able to step into the ring with athletes whose training regimen is unlike what you are accustomed to doesn’t diminish your attempt to succeed. This is where CM Punk’s inclusion into competing in MMA shouldn’t be considered a footnote, but a legitimate attempt to be on par with others in mixed martial arts.
While the likes of Brock Lesnar and Ken Shamrock in the 1990s and even into the millennium were the most recognized crossed-over MMA and Professional Wrestlers in North America, it was a ‘King’ that would achieve success in MMA in the land of the rising sun. However, if one man has struck fear in those he has faced or even those in attendance in a squared circle as part of New Japan Pro Wrestling, it would be Minoru Suzuki.
As the leader of the Suzuki-gun faction, Suzuki would be a co-founder of the first Pancrease mixed martial arts organizations in the world. Through nearly fifty recorded fights, Suzuki held a record of 30-19, with 22 of those wins being by submission. Unlike professional wrestling, the record of 30-19 over the course of ten years and isn’t one that should be taken too lightly. The toll competing in these fights certainly wore Suzuki down, eventually leading to the now 53-year old to stick to competing in professional wrestling alone.
These examples represented a specific timeframe, it appears, with wrestlers competing in both MMA and Professional Wrestling. When Boby Lashley left the WWE, he would not only compete for TNA/IMPACT Wrestling but would compete in MMA as well. His time in MMA would also give fans memories of Brock Lesnar and what could be a matchup between them possibly look like. Both have similar wrestling backgrounds with championship success and competed in various MMA promotions with success.
However, what has become more common practice is that several men and women have made a transition from MMA to Professional Wrestling within the last decade. In fact, there have been several rumored to make that transition as well, with personality alone has been a point of reference in them appearing in a squared circle. The quick-tonged Conor McGregor comes to mind as someone that seems to be one that could make that transition. But whether it was likes of Quinton Jackson or Tito Ortiz appearing briefly as a special guest in a TNA/IMPACT Wrestling ring or Matt Riddle seemingly making that transition from MMA fighter to a champion in the WWE, MMA is as much a part of professional wrestling today as it ever was.
For the likes of former WWE talent and current AEW talent, Jake Hager MMA has also lent him an opportunity to test himself outside of a wrestling ring. Even the Four Horsewomen of MMA, Shayna Baszler, Ronda Rousey, Marina Shafir & Jessamyn Duke, have all competed in both and were met with various levels of success. With primarily Rousey and Baszler being the two that achieved success in both MMA and the WWE, their value goes beyond the octagon. Additionally, Marina Shafir and Jessamyn Duke are tremendously talented and demonstrated that in the WWE’s NXT brand, even if it was briefly.
While the WWE has pulled from the world of MMA with the inclusion of former UFC Heavyweight Champion Cain Velasquez, AEW has also become home for those crossing over as well. Former champions such as Junior Dos Santos and Andrei Arlovski and American Top played a role in the promotion with a recent storyline involving the Inner Circle.
But it is evident that Mixed Martial Arts and Pro Wrestling are as intertwined today as they ever were. The reasons seem pretty simple. Many of today’s professional wrestlers train in MMA and apply those techniques in the rings with an increasing array of strikes and kicks. This isn’t unlike those competing for the UFC or Bellator. Will this continue, or is this simply a fade? As circular as anything in life tends to be, if it’s a fade, it doesn’t appear to be ending any time soon, and for fans of realism in its truest sense, the inclusion of MMA fighters in professional wrestling is as much an evolution of the sport as anything else taking place today.
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