With CM Punk set to make his MMA debut, we look at other figthers who have made the switch from professional wrestling to MMA.
Despite the multitude of differences between the scripted spectacle of professional wrestling and the real combat of mixed martial arts, there has always been crossover between the combat sports and sports entertainment.
This crossover appeal has facilitated many professional wrestlers trying their hand at the sport of MMA, experiencing mixed results in the process.
As CM Punk prepares for his UFC and mixed martial arts debut against Mickey Gall, this list takes a look at the most well-known pro wrestlers whose footsteps Punk is following in.
To clarify, this list focuses particularly on those who made their mixed martial arts debut after first competing in professional wrestling. Therefore the likes of Ken Shamrock and Dan Severn, who both had successful stints in the WWE, will not be considered.
Brock Lesnar (5-3)
By far the most successful example in this list, Brock Lesnar had the quickest rise to the top of his division in UFC history, when he defeated Randy Couture for the UFC Heavyweight Championship in just his fourth MMA bout.
His success was mainly thanks to his amateur wrestling background rather than his pro wrestling achievements. A former NCAA Division I Wrestling Champion, Lesnar used a combination of unstoppable takedowns and brutal ground and pound to impose his will on his opponents.
The appeal he had to both fans of pro wrestling and mixed martial arts led to UFC 100, the night where he unified the UFC Heavyweight Championship against Frank Mir, being the highest selling pay-per-view in the company’s history, a record that still remains today.
The former WWE Champion was forced out of MMA temporarily after suffering with diverticulitis before re-signing with the WWE, retiring with an MMA record of 5-3
While Lesnar may be now be more famous for dominating opponents in the world of pro wrestling, MMA fans will still fondly remember where Brock Lesnar was the baddest in man in the world as UFC Heavyweight Champion.
Dave Bautista (1-0)
After spending over eight years in the WWE, Dave Bautista (better known my his ring name Batista) shocked fans by announcing a move to the sport of MMA.
Unlike Lesnar, Bautista had no amateur wrestling background, but instead spent two years training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, earning a purple belt from Cesar Gracie in the process.
However, while Bautista would pick up his a first round TKO win against Vince Lucero in his first and only MMA bout in 2012, many were disappointed at the pro wrestler’s striking and cardio as he looked visibly tired before eventually dispatching the forty fight journeyman.
Following a brief return to the WWE, and a co-starring role in the box-office hit Guardian of The Galaxy, it seems certain that the remainder of Bautista’s career will be in Hollywood and not the cage.
Alberto Del Rio (9-5)
Alberto Del Rio (real name Alberto Luis Rodriquez) may be an unfamiliar name to older fans of professional wrestling, but the Mexican has won four world titles in the WWE, and has also experienced a minor degree of success in MMA.
Del Rio spent two years as a professional wrestler in Mexico, before trying his hand at mixed martial arts. A former amateur wrestler on the Mexican national team, Del Rio would go 3-2 in his first five bouts before his most famous moment in the sport; being knocked out by a vicious head kick against heavyweight legend Mirko Cro Cop at PRIDE Bushido 1.
Del Rio would continue to compete in mixed martial arts occasionally at various events in Latin America and Spain, before retiring from the sport after signing with the WWE. Today, he holds a professional MMA record of 9-5, with 7 wins by submission.
Bam Bam Bigelow (0-1)
Scott ‘Bam Bam’ Bigelow was one of the most prominent figures in professional wrestling during the 1990s, wrestling all around the world and even headlining Wrestlemania XI against professional football player Lawrence Taylor.
However, Bigelow had no background in amateur wrestling or martial arts, which lead to him being dominated in his first and only mixed martial arts bout, losing by a first round rear naked choke to UFC veteran Kimo Leopoldo.
Bigelow couldn’t use any of his 390lb to his advantage in the fight. He would make $75,000 for the fight, but would never compete in the sport again
Bobby Lashley (14-2)
The career path of Bobby Lashley has closely represented that of Brock Lesnar; transitioning from a successful amateur wrestling career to the WWE, before eventually leaving to pursue a MMA career.
Lashley spent a successful two and a half years in the WWE and was touted as being a future WWE champion before eventually being released after suffering a shoulder injury.
He would make a successful transition to the sport of MMA, going 5-0 in his first five fights. Lashley would continue his MMA career while also wrestling with the American pro wrestling promotion Total Nonstop Action.
Lashley continues to balance the two sports, competing with both TNA and Bellator MMA in their heavyweight divisions. He currently holds a record of 14-2, winning his last seven fights in a row and being regarded as one of the best heavyweight prospects not currently in the UFC.