Famous Wrestlers Who Have Tried Their Hands At Martial Arts

Brock Lesnar holding up WWE Championship

Pro-wrestlers aren’t exactly known for being soft and cuddly, but you might not realize just how ruthless and highly-trained some of the best wrestlers really are. You might be surprised to learn that many of your favorite WWE characters have undertaken extensive martial arts training, often in multiple disciplines including freestyle wrestling, mixed martial arts, jiu-jitsu, and capoeira. This kind of martial arts training can lead to devastating power in the ring, which is often potent enough to win major tournaments and earn hard-working grapplers a position in the upper echelons of WWE royalty. Take a look at this list of famous wrestlers who have tried their hands at martial arts to see if you can guess which discipline(s) they are trained in:

Kurt Angle (Freestyle / Greco-Roman / Shoot Wrestling)

Kurt Angle really is a ‘wrestler’s wrestler’, having trained and competed extensively in both freestyle wrestling and classic Greco-Roman wrestling competitions. He is also one of the few pro-wrestlers to have won a gold medal in freestyle wrestling, which he achieved in the Summer Olympics of 1996 – the craziest part is, he is probably the only wrestler ever to have achieved this feat with a broken neck!

First entering the ring professionally in 1996, Angle went on to sign for WWE in 1999, and has since become one of the best-loved figures in professional wrestling – his dramatic showdown with Shawn Michaels has become one of the most cherished WWE matchups of all time. While Angle may have the diverse martial arts skills displayed by some of the other wrestlers in this list, he is arguably undisputed when it comes to the art of wrestling.

Santino Marella (Shoot Wrestling / MMA)

Best known as one of WWE’s most flamboyant personalities, you may remember Santino Marella for his ‘cobra strike’ signature and the green sock puppet that became his humorous trademark. What you may not have realized is that before he graduated to the position of WWE jester, Marella enjoyed a career in martial arts. Initially training in the art of shoot wrestling at the renowned Japanese BATTLEARTS school (which was a breeding ground for fighters from 1995 to 2011), Marella went on to fight in MMA. Although Marella has claimed that his MMA record stands at 6 – 1, his only officially documented appearance ended in him losing to Takashi Ishino by knockout. While his pre-WWE martial arts stint may not have been the most successful, Marella still harbors a love for pro-wrestling and MMA and was most recently in charge of the reputable Battle Arts Academy, which takes its cue from the famous Japanese school where this popular wrestler first undertook his martial arts training.

wwe wrestlemania 19 brock lesnar kurt angle

Brock Lesnar (Freestyle / MMA / Shoot Wrestling)

Widely regarded as one of the most successful pro-wrestlers of all time (and budding movie star to boot), Brock Lesnar needs little introduction. While his record in the ring is currently unmatched (Lesner has previously won tournaments including the WWE primary heavyweight championship, the Ultimate Fighting Championship, New Japan Pro-Wrestling, and the National Collegiate Athletic Association), you may not realize that Brock Lesner is a man of many talents: the famous athlete is also a professional football player and former mixed martial artist.

There is evidence of Lesnar’s MMA training and freestyle wrestling experience in the ring, specifically in his effective use of single and double-leg takedowns, submissions, and his trademark ankle lock. One of Lesnar’s most famous bouts occurred in 2009 when he took on Tito Ortiz at Vegas Casino. Those who have a love for slots and table games would have enjoyed seeing this event. While we’re on this subject, if you’d like to play at the best USA no deposit casinos, there is a list here of sites providing new players with free bonuses. The list has been recently updated.

Daniel Bryan (Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu)

While the martial art jiu-jitsu is best-known in its original Japanese form, you might be surprised to learn that it is the Brazilian variation (BJJ) that is in fact most prominent in MMA and other close-combat sports today. Perhaps the most famous proponent of BJJ is Daniel Bryan, the superstar whose grudge match with the mighty Triple H is now considered an all-time classic match in the WWE. Bryan applies his BJJ training to brutal effect in the wrestling ring, especially when it comes to carrying out effective incapacitating or ‘finishing’ moves such as locks, pins, and chokeholds.

Kofi Kingston (Capoeira)

Renowned for his acrobatic style (which includes plenty of fancy flying footwork), Kofi Kingston is a much-loved WWE character who is trained in the ancient Brazilian martial art known as capoeira. First popularised and brought into the international mainstream by the now-legendary practitioner Mestre Bimba, capoeira is a graceful and measured martial art that compliments Kingston’s show-stopping, high-kicking style perfectly. In the ring, Kingston’s capoeira training can be used to devastating effect, especially when it comes to aerial attacks, strikes, and mat rolls.

Aleister Black (Muay Thai / Kickboxing)

Aleister Black is another larger-than-life wrestling personality who quickly became one of the most talked-about new stars in the WWE in 2017 before leaving for AEW in 2021. This Dutch wrestling star is well-known for his tight and measured fighting style, which is inspired by training in kickboxing and muay Thai. His controlled and precise style benefits from a lack of ‘overextension’ which plagues many wrestlers, especially those who are untrained in the art of strike-heavy combat. Black’s menacing muay Thai chops ensure that he is often able to do more damage in the ring without telegraphing his next move and losing the all-important element of surprise. While he may be gone from the WWE, this martial arts-loving wrestler will certainly not be forgotten anytime soon.

Taka Michinoku (MMA)

As a pro-wrestler, Taka Michinoku started out in the ECW before making waves as part of the WWE collective Kai En Tai. Before breaking into the wrestling scene, this popular WWE character tried his hand at MMA, where he was beaten by submission by Keiichiro Michinoku in his only officially recorded bout. While Michinoku’s MMA career may not be the most illustrious in terms of his record sheet, it is clear from his wrestling style that he has learned from his mistakes, continuing to utilise certain MMA-inspired strategies when battling it out in the ring. These days, Michinoku can be found training the next generation of fighters at the prestigious Kaientai Dojo in his home country of Japan, and he remains a legend of the WWE scene.

See You in the Ring!

Hopefully, this list has opened your eyes to the hard work and extensive training that pro-wrestlers have to undertake in order to dominate their opponents in the ring and stay at the top of their game. Keep up to date with WWE Raw to find the best new fighters (many of whom have diverse martial arts training) and watch the hottest new bouts as they air. See you in the ring!