With MMA being one of the fastest growing sports, it has recruited many of the world’s best fighters and athletes. While MMA and professional wrestling, or more specifically UFC and WWE, have said they’re not in direct competition, with one being a sport and one being entertainment, it still does divide viewers. Many UFC fans are also former, or current WWE fans. Your pay-per-view budget may just be enough for one of either per month, or you might have to decide whether you’re getting UFC Fight Pass, or the WWE Network. So there is some form of competition there as well.
Many WWE Superstars or UFC fighters are fans of the other entity. So it may be tempting for them to pursue the other world once their run is over. We’ve seen Brock Lesnar make a successful transition from pro wrestling to MMA, but what if we saw a transition from the other side? What if some MMA fighters decided to pursue professional wrestling?
We know, at least from an outside perspective, what type tends to make it in pro wrestling. You need to be a great athlete, have a good look, you need charisma and whether you’re loved or hated, you need to be able to evoke emotions from the crowd. You need to be marketable and get fans to pay to see you. Whether they want to pay to see you win or get beaten up doesn’t matter. As long as you rake in the dough.
If any fighters were to have pursued it, here are the ones that would be the best candidates for a career in professional wrestling. This list will also include retired fighters who would’ve had a good chance of making it big in the sports entertainment world.
10) Tito Ortiz
Tito Ortiz was one of the UFC’s first big stars. He was a Light Heavyweight Champion, battling the likes of Randy Couture and Chuck Lidell. He held the title for over three years, from April 2000 to September 2003.
Ortiz has actually done some work with TNA, as he is a pro wrestling fan himself. But he’s only dipped his toes in the shallow end. He’s never competed in a match, only going as far as serving as a special referee on a few occasions.
Ortiz is a tremendous athlete, had the look and charisma and clearly a great box office draw. He was the biggest pay-per-view draw of 2006, battling Lidell, Forrest Griffin and Ken Shamrock. Ortiz had all the tools to succeed in professional wrestling.
9) Bas Rutten
One of the most likeable guys in the sport’s history to this day, Bas Rutten never really got the chance to have a strong run in the UFC, with neck injuries shortening his career.
Bas actually did some professional wrestling in addition to his MMA career. Following his retirement from MMA, he had a short run in New Japan Pro Wrestling, recruited by wrestling legend Antonio Inoki. Bas competed in NJPW a few times from 2000 to 2002.
Rutten has actually told an amusing story from his first pro wrestling match. After being hit a few times, what he felt was too hard in the face, his natural fighting reflexes kicked in and he knocked his opponent out cold.
If Rutten had begun professional wrestling earlier, before his injuries and with some more extensive training, it’s very likely his looks, charisma, ability and his willingness to get silly and serious would’ve served him well.
8) Frank Shamrock
It’s hard to say someone who was as successful as Frank Shamrock was in MMA to go back in time and try professional wrestling instead. He was named “Fighter of the Decade” for the 1990s by the Wrestling Observer and was one of the UFC’s pioneers.
His brother Ken tried his hand in pro wrestling, wrestling for the WWE for about two years from 1997 to 1999. Ken was successful, adopting a gimmick of a dangerous man who would get into his ‘zone’ and lose his sanity in decimating his opponents. He won the King of the Ring and had a memorable feud with The Rock for the Intercontinental Championship.
Frank could’ve very well had similar, if not more success, as he had the pedigree (no, not the Triple H kind), is very smooth with the microphone and is a very intelligent man.
Had he and Ken not been estranged at the time, they’d have made a great tag team in wrestling, with Ken being the loose cannon and Frank being the subdued, yet equally dangerous one.
Right now, Frank is doing some TV work, guest starring on shows, shooting commercials and even has his own show on Spike TV with Randy Couture, Gym Rescue.
7) Anthony Pettis
Although Anthony Pettis isn’t as charismatic as some of the other fighters on this list, his freakish athletic ability is simply too good to overlook. Had his athleticism been channeled to suit the needs of sports entertainment, there are some crazy things he could’ve done. Imagine throwing him into a Money in the Bank Ladder match? Imagine the crazy spots he could do in a Royal Rumble match. Imagine him in a steel cage match, finishing his opponent with his patented running cage kick.
Showtime is the current UFC Lightweight Champion, meaning he may not have the ideal build that WWE tends to look for. He is just 5’9″ and 155 pounds so he would’ve been perfect when WWE had a Cruiserweight division.
6) Josh Barnett
Josh Barnett has never hidden the fact that he’s a professional wrestling fan. He tried his hand in NJPW back in 2003 and 2004. He wrestled over 50 matches for the promotion and has even competed in Antonio Inoki’s Inoki Genome Federation.
The 36-year-old has some experience under his belt in pro wrestling but has yet to try his hand in the United States, where it’d be more familiar to him. Barnett was also a wrestler in high school and took up catch wrestling under Billy Robinson.
Barnett would definitely be believable as a wrecking force with a background like that and standing at 6’3″, 255 pounds.
5) Nick Diaz
Being hated is good in professional wrestling. Who wouldn’t pay to see Nick Diaz get what’s coming to him?
No matter what Diaz does, he seems to get attention planted squarely on him wherever he goes. While that may sometimes be frowned upon in the sports world, it’s heavily encouraged and applauded in sports entertainment.
Just look at all the eyeballs he brought to his fight with Georges St-Pierre. Everyone wanted to see the ultimate good guy shut Diaz up.
Diaz would make for a fantastic heel if he were in professional wrestling.
4) Quinton “Rampage” Jackson
Quinton Jackson has finally done what many professional wrestling fans had wanted to see for years. He signed with TNA Wrestling last year, joining the New Main Event Mafia with Kurt Angle, Samoa Joe, Sting and Magnus. His commitments to Bellator caused him to pull out of TNA and he stated this year that he has no plans of going back to TNA.
He told The Fight Nerd at a Bellator press conference that he didn’t like the way the company was run.
“You won’t see me in TNA ever again,” Jackson said. “As soon as I went over there and saw the operations and how they run things, there were never plans for me to go back,” he added. “They didn’t utilize me in any way. They wanted me to wrestle professional fighters in pro wrestling. I was like, ‘No, I’m not doing that.’ They just had no idea what they were doing, in my opinion.”
For wrestling fans’ sake, it’s too bad Jackson was 35 before he decided to try it. His persona would’ve translated well into the wrestling world with the right training at a younger age.
3) Michael Bisping
The WWE loves to use foreign heels to this day, hence the use of Rusev and Lana.
Michael Bisping was born on a British military base in Cyprus, but grew up in England.
Bisping has always been brash about his skills, viewed as arrogant because of the unapologetic way he carries himself. His antics have also come under great scrutiny; they include kneeing an opponent in the head when he’s down and spitting on his adversary.
Bisping has grown since those days, but he was at one point a lightning rod for controversy. Hmmm, where does controversy fit in?
Can’t you just picture Jim Ross shouting in his headset “By God, what a dastardly act by Bisping! That no good S.O.B!”
2) Chael Sonnen
Come on, have you ever listened to Chael Sonnen speak? Unfortunately his star began to fade near the end of his career, due to unsuccessful bouts in the octagon. He’s now retired, but many would likely still love to see Sonnen go to the WWE.
The WWE has certain things to sell called pay-per-views and if anybody knows how to sell them it’s Sonnen. Sonnen’s not afraid of being the villain in order to sell a fight, so imagine if he was the actual heel in WWE. Heck, he could even play a brash babyface. If you’re that entertaining in pro wrestling, odds are that fans will eventually turn to your side.
Sonnen also has the knack for making those around him look better. Anderson Silva was a great fighter but not a great draw until he began feuding with Sonnen. Sonnen’s words made people interested in Silva. Whoever has that gift can definitely succeed in pro wrestling.
1) Ronda Rousey
She’s the UFC’s biggest star today, due to her dominance, greatness, charisma and brash confidence and no woman in any sport has been able to package all of these qualities together the way ‘Rowdy’ Ronda Rousey has.
Rousey even got her name from Roddy Piper, asking the legend if she could use ‘Rowdy’. She is an avid pro wrestling fan, having visited the WWE backstage at SummerSlam.
At 27 years old, there is still plenty of time for her to try her hand at another passion of hers. Rumours are floating around that after having established a good rapport with WWE officials, Stephanie McMahon has talked her up and will inevitably offer her a deal in some capacity.
Rousey’s fiery, intense demeanour, coupled with her amazing talent and good looks have all the makings of the ideal WWE Diva.
Rousey’s even gotten work in the mainstream world, having been on the cover of ESPN’s Body Issue Magazine. She has also been listed on Maxim’s Hot 100 and has gotten film work to boot, something the WWE loves.
She has a role in The Expendables 3 and will also appear in Fast and Furious 7 and will also be one of the female leads in the upcoming film Entourage.
She has the total package to make it big in professional wrestling. Can you imagine if Paul Heyman were to bring her in as the first “Paul Heyman girl”?
If she wanted to, Rousey could very well become the biggest female superstar in the history of the WWE, and that’s not hyperbole. Her star power would overshadow many of the men. If no one took the Diva’s division seriously right now, Rousey would instantly bring credibility and everybody’s attention to it. If the WWE is indeed interested in Rousey, the push should be aggressive. She’s the perfect MMA fighter to make the jump to pro wrestling.