The UFC and the world of professional wrestling have always been linked, with athletes from either side of the divide trying their hand at the other sport. We have seen some people become incredibly successful from their jump between MMA and Sports Entertainment and some that really struggled.
But who are the biggest stars to have tried their hand at both MMA and Professional Wrestling? Some of those wrestlers are among the biggest names in the industry like Brock Lesnar and a lot of others, who often were the favourites to win various matches and were granted with some of the best MMA odds, often because of the hype and the high expectations. Not always those great odds came in favour of the bettors as often those superstars lost their matches on their first appearances, whether it’s a major league like the UFC or a smaller one.
Brock Lesnar – Wrestling to MMA
When you think of wrestling and MMA crossover stars, the first name that will immediately come to mind is the Beast Incarnate Brock Lesnar. Lesnar was an Amatuer Wrestling prodigy, winning the 2000 NCAA Division I heavyweight wrestling championship, giving him the legitimacy and skills required to step into the octagon.
But Lesnar would take to the Squared Circle first, heading to Ohio Valley Wrestling to become a professional wrestler, meeting his future manager Paul Heyman. Lesnar would arrive in the WWE in 2002 and change the wrestling landscape, claiming the WWE Championship just five months after his debut, defeating the Rock in the main event of Summerslam 2002.
But by 2004 Lesnar was gone, first pursuing a career in American Football with the Minnesota Vikings, before heading to the world of MMA. Lesnar had one match for the K-1’s MMA league, defeating Min Soo Kim with a first round submission, before joining the UFC in October 2007.
Lesnar would go on to claim the UFC Heavyweight Championship, defeating Randy Couture by second round TKO. He would eventually lose the title to Cain Velasquez in 2010, a feud that would later be revisited in WWE.
Lesnar would go on to have two more matches, finishing with a record of 5-3-1 and being remembered as one of the biggest draws in the company’s history. The Beast Incarnate would return to WWE in 2012, going on to claim five WWE Championships and three Universal Championships, as well as ending the Streak.
Lesnar hasn’t been seen in WWE since losing the WWE Championship to Drew McIntyre in the main event of Wrestlemania 36, having also teased a return to UFC to face Daniel Cormier and with more UFC’s around the corner.
Ronda Rousey – MMA to Wrestling
Ronda Rousey is another athlete that managed to establish herself at the top of both the MMA and professional wrestling worlds.
Rousey was the first female fighter to sign with the UFC and quickly became one of the faces of the promotion and was awarded the inaugural UFC Bantamweight Champion. Rousey was immediately linked to the world of professional wrestling, claiming the nickname “Rowdy” after blessing from Roddy Piper.
Rousey also became the first woman to main event a UFC pay-per-view, retaining the Bantamweight Championship against Sara McMann with a first round TKO.
She would hold the championship for 1074 days before her infamous loss to Holly Holm via second round KO.
Rousey would fight once more, losing to Amanda Nunes before announcing her retirement from MMA with a record of 12-2. Rousey would also feature on the cover of the UFC 2 video game and is renowned for her pioneering work for the UFC Women’s Division.
At Wrestlemania 31, Rousey made her first appearance for the WWE, helping the Rock in an in-ring segment against Triple H and Stephanie McMahon. But it was at the 2018 Royal Rumble that Rousey would claim her place as a WWE Superstar, making a surprise appearance after the inaugural Women’s Royal Rumble and pointing at the Wrestlemania sign.
Rousey would go on to Wrestlemania 34, teaming with Kurt Angle to defeat Triple H and Stephanie McMahon in a mixed tag match, claiming almost universal praise for delivering a highly entertaining match.
It would only take Rousey four months to claim her first championship, defeating Alexa Bliss at Summerslam to claim the Raw Women’s Championship.
Rousey would defend the championship against the likes of Nikki Bella, Mickie James, Nia Jax, Natalya and Sasha Banks on her way to Wrestlemania.
Wrestlemania 35 saw the first ever Women’s main event, with the star powers of both Rousey and Becky Lynch earning the match it’s main event status. Rousey would take her first loss in WWE at Wrestlemania 35, with Becky Lynch claiming the Raw and Smackdown Women’s Championships.
Rousey has not been seen in WWE since but is continually rumoured to be returning.
Ken Shamrock – MMA to Wrestling
Ken Shamrock is renowned as one of the pioneers of MMA, helping to fire the sport into the mainstream and featuring on the first ever UFC card in 1993, a tournament that saw him defeated by Royce Gracie in the semi-finals.
Shamrock would receive his rematch against Gracie two years later at UFC 5, the fight ending in a draw after 36 minutes. At UFC 6 he would face another man who would turn his hand to professional wrestling, defeating Dan ‘the Beast’ Severn in two minutes. Severn would get his revenge on Shamrock at UFC 9, winning by a controversial split decision. Shamrock would go on to defeat Brian Johnston via submission before turning his hand to professional wrestling.
Shamrock turned to professional wrestling after being inspired by Dean Malenko and would debut for the WWF in February 1997 and would be the special guest referee for the legendary Submission match between Bret Hart and Steve Austin.
During his time in the company, Shamrock would claim the Intercontinental Championship. Shamrock is best remembered in the WWF for his excellent feud with the Rock, as well as bringing the “Lion’s Den match” to the promotion, wrestling the likes of Owen Hart and Steve Blackman, most likely inspiring today’s “fight pit” in NXT.
Shamrock would leave the WWF in 1999 as he sorted after a return to the world of MMA. Shamrock would make his return in Pride before heading back to the UFC in 2002, establishing his feud with Tito Ortiz which would see him take three defeats.
But Shamrock wasn’t done with professional wrestling, heading to TNA where he would become their first World Champion, winning the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. Shamrock would also appear for New Japan Pro Wrestling before leaving the business in 2004. Shamrock made yet another return, this time to Impact Wrestling in 2019 and recently being inducted into their Hall of Fame.
Shinsuke Nakamura – Wrestling to MMA and Back!
Shinsuke Nakamura is not one of the names that immediately springs to mind when you think about wrestlers in MMA, but Nakamura’s martial arts background is one of the biggest reasons for his success.
Antonio Inoki was known for his passion towards shoot fights and would push wrestlers who could display their skills in MMA fights.
Nakamura joined New Japan Pro Wrestling in 2002 and was having his first MMA fight in 2002, losing to Daniel Gracie in the second round to an armbar.
But Nakamura would go on to have more success going forward, defeating Jan Nortje and Shane Eitner in his next two fights, both by submission.
After his win over Eitner in 2003, Nakamura would go on to become the youngest ever IWGP Heavyweight Champion, defeating Hiroyoshi Tenzan at Battle Final 2003 at 23-years-old.
Nakamura would continue to compete in MMA whilst holding the IWGP Heavywieght Championship, having a no contest against Alexy Ignashov before defeating him just five months later in his final MMA match via submission.
Nakamura would go on to vacate the belt due to injury but would claim it another two times. Nakamura would cement his legacy in New Japan with his incredible Intercontinental Championship reigns.
The IWGP Intercontinental Championship would be the main event Wrestle Kingdom 8 thanks to the popularity of Nakamura, a spot usually reserved for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, losing to Hiroshi Tanahashi.
Nakamura would also have a legendary match against AJ Styles at Wrestle Kingdom 10, his last high-profile match before making his way over to WWE.
The King of Strong Style would claim two NXT Championships, wrestling matches with the likes of Sami Zayn, Samoa Joe and Andrade.
Nakamura would then head to the main roster, winning the 2018 Royal Rumble and revisiting his feud with AJ Styles, facing the then WWE Champion at Wrestlemania 34 where he would be unable to claim the title.
Since then, Nakamura has somewhat floundered on the main roster, but has claimed two United States Championships, the Intercontinental Championship and the Smackdown Tag Team Championship alongside Cesaro.
He currently resides on the Smackdown brand where he recently turned face after an excellent performance in the Universal Championship Gauntlet Match.
Bobby Lashley – Wrestling to MMA
The current WWE Champion is not only dominant in the world of professional wrestling, but he has also dominated in MMA. Bobby Lashley appeared in WWE in 2005, claiming the United States Championship and the ECW Championship. Lashley would also represent Donald Trump in the Battle of the Billionaire’s, helping to shave the head of Vince McMahon.
Lashley would stay with WWE until he was released in 2008, inspiring him to head into the world of MMA, claiming victory in his first five matches, including a win over former IWGP Heavyweight Champion Bob Sapp.
During his run in MMA, Lashley would be wrestling for TNA at the same time, joining the Main Event Mafia, but he would only stay for a year before leaving to focus on his MMA career.
Lashley would increase his record to 10-2 during his time away from the squared circle, but he couldn’t stay away for long, re-joining TNA in 2014 to answer EC3’s open challenge. Lashley would go on to turn heel and join the beat down clan alongside MVP and Kenny King.
One month later, Lashley would become TNA Heavyweight Champion by defeating Eric Young. In this time Lashley would sing with Bellator where he would have the most success in his career, going 5-0 across his three years with the company.
Lashley would stay with Impact until 2018, claiming four World Heavyweight Championship along the way and sending his stock through the roof.
At the Raw after Wrestlemania 34, Lashley would return to WWE where he would confront Elias and attack him.
Lashley would claim two Intercontinental Championships in his first year with the company, losing to Finn Balor at Wrestlemania 35 as well as acquiring the managerial services of Lio Rush for a short period.
His second year of his return was less successful, being dragged into the Rusev and Lana storyline as well as losing to Aleister Black at Wrestlemania 36, but his alliance with MVP and the Hurt Business has put him to the highlight of his career, defeating the Miz for the WWE Championship and facing Drew McIntyre at Wrestlemania 37.
Honourable Wrestling/MMA Mentions
Dan ‘The Beast’ Severn was one of the pioneers of the UFC alongside Shamrock and claimed the NWA World’s Heavyweight Championship twice.
Former World Heavyweight Champion and current AEW Star Jake Hager turned his hand to MMA in 2019, joining Bellator. He currently holds a record of 3-0-1.
CM Punk is proof that the skills don’t necessarily carry over. Punk is renowned as one of the greatest professional wrestlers of all time as a five-time heavyweight champion, but in the Octagon, he didn’t quite have the same impact there, with a record of 0-2.
Cain Velasquez is one of the few on this list who is more famous for his MMA triumphs, with the two time UFC Heavyweight Champion a certified future Hall of Famer. In 2019, Velasquez turned to professional wrestling, wrestling at Triplemnaia XXVII, teaming with Cody Rhodes and Psycho Clown to face Texano Jr, Taurus and Killer Kross. Velasquez would also head to the WWE, facing Brock Lesnar for the WWE Championship in a losing effort at Crown Jewel.
Alongside Ronda Rousey, the other members of the four horsewomen of MMA pursued a career in professional wrestling. Shayna Baszler, Marina Shafir and Jessamyn Duke have all been prominent in NXT, with Baszler being recognised as one of the best NXT Women’s Champions of all time.