We’ve come a long way since Thunder Lips took on Rocky Balboa in an epic charity match between wrestler and boxer in a scene from the movie Rocky III. For those who remember, the fight ended in a draw. In fact, with MMA becoming such a huge part of the professional fighting landscape in recent years, these cross-sport matchups have become quite common. For some reason, everyone wants to see which sport can produce the best fighters.
The fights, which used to be more underground, are now becoming mainstream and have sparked even more interest over the last few years. We’re now on the cusp of seeing one of the greatest boxers of all time take on the current UFC lightweight champion as Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor are close to finalizing a deal to fight each other in the near future. This would not be the first time we’ve seen big names from each sport go up against each other, as boxing legend Ray Mercer once knocked out Tim Sylvia, and MMA Hall of Famer Randy Couture submitted boxing champion James Toney in a couple of the most notable matchups in recent years.
But what about wrestlers making the transition? Most people are aware of Brock Lesnar‘s run in the UFC, but you’d be surprised to know how many wrestlers from WWE have also made the transition over the years, and vice versa. A good MMA fighter needs a solid wrestling background, so those who have experience in wrestling usually have an edge over their competitors. However, they still need submission skills and a good standup game in order to compete at the highest levels of MMA. Wrestlers have had mixed results when making the transition to other combat sports. Some have had a lot of success, while others simply didn’t have either enough skills or the time to prepare in order to get the intended results and have a successful career.
So let’s now take a look at 15 of the most prominent names involved with WWE that have attempted to make the switch to another combat sport.
15. Ken Shamrock – Success
“The World’s Most Dangerous Man” (a moniker given to him by ABC News) was an MMA legend who made the transition to wrestling in WWE. Shamrock was an icon and a pioneer in the early days of the UFC, becoming one of the faces of the company and headlining over 15 cards and generating some of the highest pay-per-view numbers in the 1990s.
Shamrock’s UFC success transitioned to WWE and TNA, as did his crazy antics and gift for gab. After a legendary MMA career, he went on to become the NWA World Heavyweight Champion, WWF Intercontinental Champion, WWF Tag Team Champion, and the 1998 WWF King of the Ring.
He is a UFC Hall of Famer and is considered as one of the top 10 to ever wear the four-ounce gloves. He also had a tremendous wrestling background and an ideal personality for both MMA and especially WWE.
14. Scott “Bam Bam” Bigelow – Failed
Wrestling fans should remember Bam Bam Bigelow from his days in the ECW and WWE. In fact, Bam Bam participated in almost every wrestling promotion you can think of. He wrestled from 1985-2006, and in 1996 he decided to test his skills in a real fight game. While working for the ECW, he took a break to go to Japan and have a go at MMA. He went up against Kimo Leopoldo and got completely destroyed and submitted in the first round. After the beat down, Bigelow made claims that the fight was fixed and that he was supposed to lose, but he must have forgotten that this was real fighting. Not to say that fights aren’t fixed in other sports, as well, but we doubt that was the case here. It was one and done for Mr. Bigelow.
13. Sean O’Haire – Success
Sean was another ECW star who decided to make the jump to WWE. He joined in 2001 and stayed with the company for over 3 years. While he wasn’t one of the top guys in WWE, he managed to entertain and was known for going around backstage “trying to convince people to do crazy things.” Being slightly nuts goes a long way in the wrestling entertainment world. He eventually left WWE and launched his MMA career where he finished with a record of 4-2, most notably getting beaten to a pulp by the legend known as Butterbean. Sadly, in 2015, “O’Haire joined the ever-expanding list of wrestlers to suffer an early death when he committed suicide,” reported Complex.com.
12. Kid Kash – Failed
The Kid came to WWE in 2005 but didn’t stay long. He was actually the Cruiserweight Champion for about a month at the end of 2005, but by September of 2006, he was released from the company. He had a more notable career in the ECW prior to his arrival in WWE. While working for independent promotions in 2008, he started dabbling in MMA, and in his first professional fight, he managed to win by decision. However, he had three points deducted for “various illegal moves he had tried during the bout.” That was enough to change the decision and basically end his MMA career as he decided to call it quits with a 0-1 record, just like Bam Bam.
11. Rodney Begnaud – Success
You may remember him as Rodney Mack. He joined the ECW in 2000 before joining WWE in 2002. Rodney used to train with his uncle Junkyard Dog, who used to be a WWE superstar back in the day. “After a couple of two-year stints with the company, he got into MMA in 2008 and fought just one time.” Rodney managed to win the fight convincingly by destroying some guy named Joe Nameth — that was the guy’s name; we kid you not. Mr. Mack knocked him out cold in 21 seconds. No surprise considering that he’s from the same family as the Junkyard Dog himself. We wish we could’ve seen the Dog fight in MMA, as well.
10. Nick Mitchell – Failed
Nick was part of that ridiculous Spirit Squad in 2006. They were a group of male cheerleaders who managed to annoy just about everybody who followed the promotion back then. They didn’t last long, mainly due to Nick Mitchell (or “Mitch”) pissing off two prominent wrestling forces of that era: DX and Ric Flair. You don’t want to get on Ric Flair’s bad side no matter what.
Mitchell and his cheerleader buddies were cut from WWE in May of 2007. Mitchell went on to try his luck in MMA and lost his first fight in 2010. A second attempt was cut short by injury and he never fought in MMA again, forcing him to finish with a familiar 0-1 record.
9. Bobby Lashley – Success
Now we get to the cream of the crop, and what better way to start than with the legend in the making, Bobby Lashley. Bobby has quite an impressive track record and he’s still in the middle of his professional career. Bobby is currently with Bellator MMA, where he’s had tremendous success, and with Impact Wrestling, where he’s the current Heavyweight Champion in his fourth reign.
He’s also a four-time TNA World Heavyweight Champion, a two-time ECW World Champion, a one-time United States Champion, a six-time world champion (2 ECW, 4 TNA), and currently represents Impact Wrestling.
Lashley also won three national college amateur wrestling championships between 1996 and 1998. In 1997 and 1998, he was the National Wrestling Champion. He was also a sergeant in the United States Army, where he continued to wrestle. He also did MMA at Strikeforce before joining Bellator. That’s one heck of a CV.
8. Mike Polchlopek aka Bart Gunn – Failed
No relation to the boxer Tommy Gunn, who featured in Rocky V, Bart and his “brother” Billy consisted of the highly-successful “Smoking Gunns” tag team in the 1990s. They went on to hold the WWE tag team titles on three separate occasions before finally breaking up in 1996.
Polchlopek then decided to go solo “until he got knocked out by Butterbean in a boxing match at WrestleMania XV.” He was then let go by WWE and started his MMA career in 2006 after wrestling in Japan for a few years. He fought twice and then called it quits. Apparently, he went on to become an electrician and left his fake and real fighting careers behind for good.
7. Brock Lesnar – Success
The man needs no introduction. Brock took WWE world by storm and quickly became the youngest WWE champion in the company’s history at the age of 25. He eventually left WWE and took his skills, along with his massive 6’3, 265-pound frame to Japan for a few years before joining the UFC.
His arrival in the UFC was met with unparalleled jubilation from fans and peers alike. He went on to become the UFC Heavyweight Champion before eventually making a return to WWE in 2012. Injuries may have slowed him down, but he left his mark in the MMA world, just like he did in WWE, where he continues to work to this day.
Brock’s wrestling background, especially from his time competing in college, was a huge factor in his success as an MMA competitor. He avenged an initial loss to Frank Mir on his way to becoming the champion and was part of some of the biggest pay-per-view events in the company’s history
6. Nathan Jones – Failed
The highlight of the former strongman’s career came in 2003 “when he debuted with WWE as the Undertaker’s protégé and fought alongside his mentor at Wrestlemania.” Apart from that, the ripped wrestler never managed to have his name be among the biggest stars in the industry. His only other claim to fame was being known as “The Colossus of Boggo Road.”
Nathan Jones switched to MMA but didn’t fare much better as he only fought once when he traveled to Japan to fight in the famous Pride promotion. He ended up getting submitted via an Americana by former sumo wrestler Koji Kitao. Chalk up another 0-1 record.
5. Alberto Del Rio – Success
Alberto is one of the few fighters/wrestlers on this list that actually came from MMA before coming to WWE. He had 14 professional fights to his credit and was known in the MMA world as a submission specialist. This helped him make an easy transition to the entertainment wrestling world when he ended up joining WWE in 2010. Alberto actually became a WWE Champion and had a decorated career in the business before he was fired 2 years ago for “unprofessional conduct” following a dispute with a WWE employee. Details are a bit vague as to what actually happened, but this doesn’t change the fact that he had a highly successful run as a fake wrestler and as an MMA fighter.
4. Paulo Cesar Silva aka Big Silva – Failed
Paulo Cesar Silva was known to everyone as Big Silva when he was involved with WWE. The moniker was attributed to his monstrous 7’2, 385-pound frame. To say he’s a big guy is an understatement. He only had a brief stint in WWE as one of the “Oddities” and never managed to become a real star.
He went on to have a long career in Japan wrestling for several promotions before applying his trade in MMA. It didn’t go over well for the big man as he finished with a record of 2-6. Silva was surprisingly a better basketball player and “was a reserve center on the Brazilian national team in the preliminaries to the 1988 Summer Olympics before turning his attention to wrestling.”
3. Dan Severn – Success
Although Dan “The Beast” lost to Ken Shamrock at UFC 6 for the UFC Superfight Championship (which he would later win), he was still right alongside Ken and Royce Gracie as true UFC pioneers and legends. Dan is also a UFC Hall of Famer and one of the most accomplished fighters in the sport’s history. He was also the first UFC fighter to be awarded a belt.
Before his time in MMA, Dan was an all-American wrestler at Arizona State and an alternate on the 1984 US Olympic Team. Dan is the only athlete in history to hold belts in MMA and professional wrestling simultaneously when he was the NWA champion.
The Beast and The World’s Most Dangerous Man continued their feud in WWE, where they both had brief appearances with the organization. Dan also holds an astonishing professional MMA Record of 101–19–7.
2. Steve ‘Dr. Death’ Williams – Failed
Whether you’ve heard of him or not, you’ve got to love the name, Dr. Death. Steve mostly applied his trade in smaller promotions where he had tons of success. He went on to become a three-time world heavyweight champion and an eight-time tag team champion before moving to WWE in 1999. Unfortunately, Dr. Death failed to live up to his reputation and only managed a brief career in the most famous wrestling promotion on earth.
Steve eventually transitioned to MMA, and in his lone fight, he found himself on the wrong side of a TKO after just 22 seconds. Sadly, Steve passed away in late 2009 after multiple battles with throat cancer — another wrestler gone before his time.
1. CM Punk – Failed
Probably the most successful WWE wrestler on the list — although Brock Lesnar may have something to say about that — Phillip Jack Brooks had a legendary wrestling career in which he was a two-time WWE Champion “including a 434-day reign from November 20, 2011, to January 27, 2013, that is recognized by WWE as the sixth longest of all-time, as well as the longest of the “modern era,” according to Wikipedia.
Punk is now part of the UFC promotion after retiring from WWE in 2014. He’s probably reconsidering that decision as he’s had a difficult time replicating his wrestling success. “His first professional fight took place on September 10, 2016, at UFC 203 against Mickey Gall, where he lost via submission in the first round.” He’s looking forward to fighting again later this year, especially since he barely got to actually fight in his first bout after getting crushed at the opening bell.