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A History Of Pro Wrestlers Turned Pro MMA fighters

Ben Migono / November 15, 2016

There should be no doubt that even though Professional Wrestling is scripted and the winners of matches are predetermined, the performers are athletes. Albeit some more so than others. It’s called “Sports Entertainment” for this reason”. Many wrestlers face criticism for not being real fighters and for supposedly not being as tough as their boxing and MMA counterparts. Below we’ve compiled a list of some of the most notable instances where Pro wrestlers decided to try their hand(s) at Mixed Martial Arts.


Brock Lesnar


Source: foxsports


Brock Lesnar, after years of football coupled with college and highschool wrestling, essentially exploded onto the pro wrestling scene in 2000. He signed with WWF (now known as the WWE), but was sent down to a smaller development company. In 2002, Lesnar got the call and moved up to the big times. He wrestled for the WWE from 2002 to 2004 when he left and went overseas to New Japan Pro Wrestling where he stayed and competed from 2005 – 2007.


During this time he was entrenched in a lengthy legal battle with Vince McMahon and the WWE because at the time when Lesnar left the company, he signed a “non-compete” agreement stating that he was not allowed to work with another promotion until after June of 2010. In late 2006, Lesnar announced he wanted to pursue a MMA career and subsequently dove into it full steam ahead once his time at NJP came to an end.



Lesnar went to great lengths to legitimize himself as a fighter. To date, his record is 6 wins and 3 losses. In June of 2007, Lesnar squared off against Min Soo Kim in K-1, winning by submission from an unrelenting barrage of punches at 1:09 of the first round. His next fight in 2008 saw him go up against the seasoned veteran Frank Mir and he didn’t fair so well. Lesnar was himself submitted via a kneebar in the second minute of the first round. Lesnar’s next four fights from August 2008 to July 2010 saw wins by various methods, from decisions to TKOs, against Heath Herring, Randy Couture, Frank Mir and Shane Carwin. By defeating Randy Couture, he became the new heavyweight champion. In October 2010, Lesnar lost his title to Cain Velasquez and December of 2011, he lost to Alistair Overeem, both via TKO.



Lesnar’s last fight was in July of 2016 where he won by unanimous decision against Mark Hunt. This was only the second time Lesnar went the distance battling through all three 5-minute rounds. This match, however, has garnered some serious attention and criticism because Lesnar tested positive for an estrogen blocking substance known as Clomiphene. This caused his opponent to demand half, if not all of the winnings Lesnar took home, which worked out to a record breaking $2.5 million USD!
Throughout his UFC career, Lesnar continued to work one-off storylines, appearances and matches in the WWE. His last match in the WWE was at Summerslam where he faced Randy Orton despite the claims of doping and the WWE’s stance on public use of performance enhancers.


CM Punk


Source: forbes

Phillip “CM Punk” Brooks has wrestled for a number of promotions, most notably the WWE. He’s also written a number of comics for Marvel and now, he’s added Professional MMA fighter to his list of accomplishments.


Punk began his wrestling career in 1999 on the American Independent Wrestling circuit, mainly wrestling with ROH (Ring Of Honor). He signed with WWE in 2005 where he went on to win just about every title they have. WWE Championship (x2), World Heavyweight Title (x3), Tag Team Champion, and after finally picking up the Intercontinental Championship belt, it places him at 19th on the list of “WWE Triple Crown Champions” all of which was accomplished in a record breaking 203 days.



After Punk received a 2 month suspension from the WWE for walking out of an event, he was shocked when he wasn’t contacted about returning. Punk was WWE champion for a remarkable 434 days which makes him 6th in the list of longest (single length) title reigns in the WWE history. Anyone that follows professional wrestling knows that CM Punk’s exit from the industry was a bumpy one to say the least. He looked to follow in the footsteps of fellow WWE title holder Brock Lesnar. Brooks began his serious MMA training in December of 2014 shortly after his exit from World Wrestling Entertainment. He trained under Duke Roufus in Milwaukee at Roufusport MMA Academy.


In October of 2015, a shoulder injury delayed any hopes of a speedy debut so his camp stated that he would start his career in the new year. On February 6th, 2016, it was announced that Punk would battle Mickey Gall for his first fight in the Octagon. However, in order to prepare for his MMA/UFC debut, Brooks had to undergo surgery on his spine to repair a herniated disc. The surgery went well and Punk was given the go-ahead to proceed with the training and fight by the UFC’s doctors.



On September 10th, 2016, Brooks stood under the bright lights of Quicken Loans Arena, the very arena where Punk bid pro wrestling a tearful farewell. All his preparation was to no avail though, he lost to Gall at 2:14 of the first round from a rear naked choke.


For his first fight, Punk took home a modest, yet still impressive $500,000 USD. This amount in and of itself has caused a bit of an issue with veteran fighters claiming it’s more than they received for a win let alone a loss, noting the only reason he was paid this amount was because of the star power and reputation he had. But this makes sense if you really think about it. In any job, the truth of it is, you’re not necessarily paid for your history, but more for and in proportion to how much money you can bring in for your employer during the time period in question. Punk had a fanbase from his time in pro wrestling and he ported them over when he announced that he was going to be fighting in the UFC.

Dave Bautista


Source: bjpenn


The majority of people know him as the one and only Drax the Destroyer from the world wide phenomenon Guardians of the Galaxy. But before he was seeking revenge for a slaughtered homeland, he was cracking skulls in the WWE under the stage name “Bautista”.  Bautista was something of a physical specimen rivaled only by a few. Standing at 6 feet 6 inches tall and at his heaviest billed weight tipping the scales at just over 290 pounds, there should be no question weather or not he would be able to destroy anything that gets in his path.



Dave started his wrestling career with a bit of a stumble after training at the infamous WCW Powerplant. He was told by an instructor he’d be better off hanging up his boots because he had no future in wrestling. Bautista took it on the chin and jumped ship to the competition (WWE) where they sent him off for training and a run on the independent circuit. He spent some years working with Ohio Valley Wrestling (2000 – 2002) when he finally got word from Vince and the company that they had a spot for him in the big leagues.  


Bautista has held the WWE World Championship belt a whopping six times and he’s also a 4 time Heavyweight champion. He’s held one of the World Tag Team Championship titles 3 times and a World Tag Team Championship once with Rey Mysterio.



Bautista’s wrestling wasn’t his only combat styled trainings pre-MMA days, earning himself a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu under the mentorship of the great Cesar Gracie. His debut fight initially fell through due to an opponent going back to jail for a probation violation just 5 days before the scheduled fight on October 1, 2012. At the last minute, veteran fighter Vince Lucero stepped up and accepted the fight against Bautista. Lucero, however, didn’t fare too well against Bautista, losing the fight by TKO/referee stoppage after Batista unleashed a hellish series of undefended and unanswered blows to the back of Lucero’s head.
As far as continuing his Mixed Martial Arts career goes, it doesn’t look like Dave will likely be climbing back into the octagon anytime soon. The now 47-year-old is quoted as saying that fighting in MMA was not about proving himself to others, but instead about proving to himself that he could do it.

Ken shamrock

Ken Shamrock is one of the most decorated and accomplished Mixed Martial Artists to have ever entered the octagon and will no doubt be immortalized as “The Baddest Man on The Planet.” Shamrock has one of the more complex backgrounds on this list when it comes to his time as both a wrestler (amature/pro) and his life inside the octagon. Impressively, Shamrock for the most part has maintained a career in both MMA style fighting and pro wrestling for nearly his entire career so this section is going to jump around a bit so try and keep up.  


In high school, Shamrock made the cut for the state wrestling championships, but sadly he suffered a broken neck during practice in the days prior to the event which forced him to undergo surgery. After the operation, doctors informed him he should consider his sports career dead. However, Shamrock had other plans. He joined the football team at Shasta  College in Redding California and he also received an invite to tryout for the NFL’s San Diego Chargers, but declined so he could venture into pro wrestling.


Shamrock began his pro wrestling career in 1989 for SAPW (South Atlantic Pro Wrestling) and bounced around the independent circuit for a number of years even spending some time as most do by wrestling in Japan.


In 1993, Shamrock created and ran a Hybrid Wrestling / MMA organization called Pancrase with Masakatsu Funaki and Minoru Suzuki. The idea behind this was that it held the same rules as pro wrestling regarding punches to the face and referee stoppage when a fighter touches the ropes. Other than that, everything was real, and nothing was predetermined. However, things eventually went south with the company’s management and he left the organization in 1996.



In a February episode of Monday Night Raw in 1997, Shamrock made his big time wrestling debut for the WWE. He’s feuded with some of the greats such as Vader, members of the Hart Foundation, Shawn Michaels, a young Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, De-Generation X, Goldust and Val Venis. He left the company in 1999 to further pursue his MMA career. From 2002 to 2013 Shamrock jobbed around the independant world once again with brief stays in TNA (Total Non-Stop Action Wrestling) where he was crowned their first World Heavyweight Champion during their first Pay-Per-View event.



Source: yellmagazine


Ken’s UFC career saw one of the sports most loved and heated rivalries with fellow legend Royce Gracie. The two fought a total of 3 times, the first of which was at UFC 1 on November 12, 1993. Gracie won the fight by way of a chokehold. The second fight was held UFC 5 on April 7th, 1995, and after 36 minutes and 6 seconds of intense grappling, the fight ended in a draw. Their third encounter happened on February 16, 2016, at Bellator 149. After 2:22 of the first round, the fight was stopped and Shamrock took home another loss. News came out on March 11th, 2016, that Shamrock had failed his pre-fight drug test from the TCSC. Not surprisingly, his license to fight was revoked.



His longest hiatus from the octagon (MMA) was between 1996 and the year 2000. After this pause from his MMA career, Shamrock seemed to have lost the luck of the Irish. Suffering a string of losses, multiple sources have commented on the fact that Shamrock has been fighting past his prime and that it borders on irresponsible. Shamrock’s MMA record stands at a rather impressive 28 wins (2 KO/23 submissions/3 decisions) and 17 losses (11 KO/ 4 submissions/2 decisions). These numbers are not taking into consideration his win/loss record while fighting with Pancrase which was 17 wins and 3 losses. Ken’s MMA/UFC career started 1993 and his last fight was in February of 2016 – at the mind boggling age of 52-years old!


Tank Abbott


Source: FightGameTV

David “Tank” Abbott was born on April 26th, 1965, in Huntington Beach, California. He wrestled for school and played football and continued it all the way through college. Abbott was known locally as a brawler after engaging in a number of streetfights. When he worked at a liquor store, he ended up getting into an altercation with an unruly customer. Tank ended up hurting the customer rather severely. Unknowingly to Tank, the customer was the son of a detective and they pressed charges. Tank ended up serving 6 months in jail.



In 1999, Tank was brought into the WCW as a challenger to Goldberg, and although the two went at it, the feud never really took off. Tank eventually became a mid card “fighter” pretty much, just jobbing around for the company when they needed a tough guy.


He’s fought for Strikeforce, EliteXC, Cage Rage, PRIDE Fighting Championships and the UFC. Abbott has 25 fights under his belt with 10 wins and 15 losses.



Tank’s first fight was for the UFC 6 in 1995 where he knocked out the 400 pound Hawaiian, John Matua in only 18 seconds. John went into convulsions after the KO and Tank cemented his reputation as a “colorful” character by mocking him in the ring. At the time, the UFC still operated under the tournament format where fighters had to battle multiple times in one night. As such, Tank went on to fight twice more that night. The first one saw another win for Tank against Paul Varelans. His last fight that night was against Oleg Taktarov. The men fought for an impressive 17 minutes before Tank was submitted by the way of rear-naked choke.


In the early 2000’s, Tank attempted to wage a comeback with the UFC, but suffered a devastating string of losses to Frank Mir, Wesley Correira and Kimo Leopoldo. Tank did, however, defeat Correira down the line via knockout, giving him(Correira)  the only KO he has suffered in his career. In 2008, at an EliteXC event, Tank squared up against Kimbo Slice, but wasn’t able to secure a victory after being knocked out in the first round. Tank’s next fight was in 2009 at a PRIDE fight where he won a controversial bout against Mike Bourke where he landed a punch to the back of Bourke’s head.


Tank was criticized for his follow-up fight which was a unlicensed backyard scrap in 2011 where he squared up with fellow former UFC fighter Scott Ferrozzo. In 2013, Tank fought at a King Of The Cage event where he lost to Ruben Villarreal in the second round. Tank’s last scheduled flight was supposed to take place on March 20th, 2016, but was canceled the day before the fight because Tank couldn’t pass his physical and was unable to secure a license.


Giant Silva

Paulo Cesar da Silva was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in 1963. Giant lives up to his name’s sake, standing at a towering 7 feet 2 inches tall and weighing in at a hefty 385 pounds. Silva wore the #13 jersey in the 1980’s for the National Brazilian Basketball Team where he played as a reserve center during the prelims for the 1988 Summer Olympic games. Known as the 6th tallest wrestler in history, Silva wrestled for a number of professional wrestling organizations.
Silva wrestled for a number of independent promotions before moving up to the big leagues in 1997. After a stint for training as an undercard with a sister group, he debuted with the WWF in 1998, as a member of the Oddities alongside Insane Clown Posse members Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope. Sadly, his only notable moment with the company came from a match at Summerslam in 1998 where he and other members of the Oddities took part in a handicap match defeating Kai En Tai. He was let go from the company in 1999 after months of sitting on the bench.  From 2001 to 2008, Silva found himself wrestling with NJP and HUSTLE (A Japanese professional wrestling organization) where he teamed up with Giant Singh (Future WWE superstar The Great Khali) as a tag team known as Club 7.



Silva’s MMA career started in 2003 where he fought for PRIDE Fighting Championship in Japan. He trained briefly with members of the Gracie family learning the basics of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. His first fight was at the company’s “Shockwave” event in 2003 where he fought Heath Herring. Silva suffered his first loss against Herring by way of rear-naked choke.


In 2004, Silva fought in a heavyweight tournament against Henry Miller, a sumo wrestler. Silva won this fight using his height to his advantage. When the two fighters went to the ground, Silva’s stature made it so that the shorter sumo wrestler was unable to land any punches when the two were on the ground. In the second round of the tournament, Silva fought a world judo champ, Naoya Ogawa, but he ended up losing this bout.



Silva’s next fight was against another pro wrestler turned MMA athlete. He fought Takashi Sugiura where he lost the fight by way of referee stoppage after a serious ground and pound session. A fight happened after the match where Silva had to be held back by members of the ring crew. Giant’s last fight was in 2006 at a K-1 event, which was also his last win. Silva squared up against Akebono Taro and after a quick back and forth, Taro was submitted by Silva with a Kimura arm bar.


Alberto Del Rio

Alberto Del Rio is a Mexican MMA fighter and professional wrestler born in 1977. Surprisingly, Rio, who’s birth name is Jose Alberto Rodriguez, has an architecture degree that he received from a prestigious university in Mexico. Rio was born into a family of wrestlers. Dos Caras, his father, his uncle and cousins were all famous luchadores. Rio grew up practicing Greco-Roman style wrestling eventually making the national team. In 1997, Rio took 3rd place at the World Junior Championships. He also picked up wins at the Central American and Caribbean Games and a medal at the Pan Am Games. Rio had a position on the team headed for the 2000 Summer Olympics, but Mexico had funding issues and declined to send a team to compete.


Alberto started his pro wrestling career in the early 2000’s with AAA then bounced back and forth between Japan and Mexico promotions while gaining experience. In Japan, he worked for some of the bigger companies like AJPW, Pro Wrestling Zero1, and HUSTLE. In 2005, he signed with CMLL – a primarily Lucha Libre driven promotion. He held the CMLL World Heavyweight Championship title for 533 days, defending it a total of 4 times. The end of his reign was timed with his signing of a contract for the WWE and he lost the match leaving the company without a belt.



Rio started with the WWE in 2008, but like most new hires, he was sent off to a developmental promotion, Florida Championship Wrestling, where he spent some time wrestling under a number of different names, going both masked and unmasked. He even wrestled a number of matches at untelevised RAW (WWE) dark events. When he finally made the jump to the main card it was June of 2010 and it wasn’t even in person. The company choose to air a series of small pre-recorded vignettes talking about his character. He did not appear on television officially for the company until late August on Smackdown. Rio went on to play the classic rich, arrogant heel. He went on to have a number of rivalries, feuds, and even won the WWE World Championship belt a staggering 4 times, a Money In The Bank match and was even the last man standing in the Royal Rumble. In August of 2014, Del Rio was canned by the WWE for “misconduct” after a fight with another employee when the unnamed employee allegedly made a racist joke.



Source: WWE


Del Rio went on an independant and lower tier wrestling promotion circuit spending time with AAA, WWC, Wrestle-1, House of hardcore, Ring Of Honor, World Wrestling League and Lucha Underground before finally returning to the WWE for a HEll In the Cell match in late 2015. He went on to do what he was known best for, feuding and causing a ruckus before finally receiving a 30 day suspension for violating the company’s “Wellness Policy” for using unnamed substances.



Del Rio has an impressive MMA record of 9 wins and 5 losses between August 2001 and February of 2010. Del Rio fought for a number of promotions like Cage Of Combat, DEEP, and PRIDE under the ring name Dos Caras Jr. One of the things that set him apart from his competitors was the fact that he fought while wearing a traditional luchadore mask. His background in Greco-Roman wrestling can be seen clearly when you look at the method in which he went about winning the majority of his fights. 7 of his 9 wins were by way of submission (the remaining 2 were by KO).


Bobby Lashley


Source: bloodyelbow

Franklin Robert Lashley was born in 1976 and hails from Junction City, Kansas, USA. Lashley won the National College Amature Wrestling Championships a total of three times and is a two-time National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics wrestling champ. Lashley signed up for the United States Army where he continued wrestling there, winning a silver medal at the Military World championships in 2002. In the midst of his Olympic training, Lashley was at a bank when a robbery occurred. A gunman burst in and fired toward Lashley, but by diving out of the way he landed on his knee which ended his dreams of competing in the Olympics.


In early 2004, Lashley was signed to a development deal with the WWE. Lashley wrestled with OVW (Ohio Valley Wrestling). Lashley went on to wrestle a number of dark matches for both Smackdown and Raw at World Wrestling Entertainment events, finally making his television debut on a Smackdown show.



Source: Wrestlezone (George Napolitano/FilmMagic)


In late 2006, Lashley was traded to the WWE’s ECW brand where he went on to win the ECW world title, becoming the first African American in history to win the belt. Lashley moved from the ECW brand to RAW in 2007, but after a brief time with the brand, he suffered an injury and had to be sidelined. As the WWE is known to do, his contract was terminated after a 6 month hiatus in Febuary of 2008. Lashley went on an independant run competing for WLW (World League Wrestling), FPW (Future Pro Wrestling), and even went overseas to Japan to wrestle for Inoki Genome Federation.  


Lashley kicked off his MMA career with a win against Joshua Franklin in 2008 at Mixed Fighting Alliance’s first event, “There Will Be Blood.” Next up, Lashley was scheduled to fight fellow wrestler/mma fighter, Ken Shamrock, but Shamrock was dropped from the ballot because he had been taking steroids. Lashley fought Jason Guida instead and put another mark in the win column.



Lashley went on to sign with Maximum Strike Force where he saw his third straight victory by winning against Mike Cook by way of a guillotine choke in only 24 seconds of Round 1. Lashley went on to win another two fights before suffering his first loss to Chad Griggs. Lashley won his next two fights and then saw another loss against James Thompson in May of 2012. Since his last loss, Lashley has been on a winning streak. At the time of this article, he’s won 7 straight, the last of which was against James Thompson (the last person Lashley lost to). Lashley’s next fight is scheduled for October 21st, 2016, at Bellator 162 where he will square up against Josh Appelt.


In April of 2009, Lashley moved to the WWE’s only competition in the world of televised wrestling, TNA. He competed and feuded with other talent for a bit; bouncing back and forth from face to heel. To the disappointment of many, Lashley never got a legitimate push as a main eventer so he requested to be released from his contract. He went back to the independent route for a while and then came back to TNA just long enough to win the world title.

Featured image via: mmamania (Josh Hedges/ Zuffa LLC)