Ronda Rousey

From MMA to Pro Wrestling: A brief look at some who made the crossover

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You hear it all the time: “Wrestling is fake, anyone can do it”, “It’s just acting”, “Any athlete can be a wrestler” or “MMA is an actual dangerous profession”…

When it comes to the latter, I’ll fully concede that Professional Wrestling and Mixed Martial Arts are both dangerous, sometimes life-threatening professions that take a true toll on the mental and physical health of those that choose to pursue them. Along with being dangerous, both career paths require distinctly different skill sets to achieve true success.

Mixed Martial Artists quite literally place their consciousness, body, and health on the line every fight regardless of the opponent, and while professional wrestlers do the same, this comes with a great deal of scripting and choreography that makes their efforts seem like a more elaborate stage show than a fight most of the time. Despite similarities between both industries in how they’re promoted, presented, and laid out, being a Mixed Martial Artist crossing over into Professional Wrestling, and vice versa, isn’t as easy as one would imagine.

The physicality and genuine athletic prowess needed to truly excel as say, a UFC fighter, isn’t possessed by a good portion of professional wrestlers. But to become a truly great professional wrestler, one needs more than physicality or athleticism. A professional wrestler is about being an athlete, storyteller, ring general, someone who can foster a connection with an audience WHICH few are capable of and be something larger than just someone with a finishing move and snappy entrance theme. It’s a feat only a small number of former MMA fighters have been able to achieve, yet alone grasp at all.

There are, however, a small handful who’ve truly displayed how to successfully transition into the world of professional wrestling, and some who were essentially dead on arrival.

Tito Ortiz

One of MMA’s genuine legends and most larger-than-life personalities, Tito Ortiz in theory, had all the makings of being a crossover star that could make a splash in professional wrestling. He had the name recognition that drew in older audiences, and genuine charisma (in his earlier years) which like many greats, utilized to build up each of his fights during his tenure as a fighter.

Ortiz’s emergence in professional wrestling, however, felt like it was a little too late. Making his debut as the big reveal of TNA’s massive “August 1 Warning” teaser, Ortiz showed up in the polar opposite position he likely would have been in should he have debuted a few years prior. His appearance came to near pin-drop silence, negative feedback from critics or fans alike, and most famously, no real effort from any of his fellow professional wrestlers to sell his debut as the groundbreaking announcement it was sold as.

To make matters worse, Ortiz’s TNA appearance was clearly a marketing ploy to promote his 2013 fight with Rampage Jackson in Bellator MMA, a fight that eventually failed to materialize once all was said and done. On top of never really fitting into TNA’s Main Event Mafia vs. Aces & Eights storyline at the time, he did virtually nothing memorable during his short tenure.

This marked the last time we ever saw Tito Ortiz in a wrestling ring, and summed up virtually everything that went wrong with TNA wrestling after 2009.

Cain Velasquez

Similar to our good friend Tito Ortiz, “Cardio” Cain Velasquez is a bonafide MMA legend, more renowned for his sheer violence and physicality in the cage as opposed to showmanship. Constantly ranked amongst the best Heavyweight fighters in MMA history, Cain’s WWE arrival at the very least held a little bit more momentum behind it due to his relevance in the public eye being slightly more engaging to casual fans.

Where Cain’s failures presented themselves, was both in the booking of his character and the timing of his debut. Appearing moments after Brock Lesnar squashed Kofi Kingston in just 8 seconds to claim his 5th WWE Championship, Cain appeared alongside Rey Mysterio to immediately insert himself into the main event picture over Kingston, who was enjoying a career peak as the former champion. Debuting in such fashion felt completely out of left field, and felt unjustified considering Cain’s lack of experience, as well as this quite visibly being a randomly thrown-together big-name match on one of WWE’s annual shows over in Saudi Arabia.

WWE did have a compelling story on their hands with Brock Lesnar vs. Cain Velasquez, considering the two’s history in MMA. But they managed to squander it due to a rushed setup to a match that never felt fully justified being in the spot that it was placed. This, combined with Cain’s lack of ability on the microphone which saw him carried by Rey Mysterio of all people, little ring presence, and being clearly green as a talent, was a setup for failure. It didn’t help the situation when the company decided the match would run just over two minutes, seeing Lesnar avenge his defeat years prior with relative ease, ending his run before it began.

A true waste of what could have turned out to be a genuine talent.

Ronda Rousey

Since 2008, Ronda Rousey has been a juggernaut across both sports and entertainment. In the decade that followed, Rousey would earn a Bronze Medal at the Olympic Games, win World Championships in both the Strikeforce & UFC respectively, and transition to WWE where she won the Royal Rumble and the SmackDown, RAW & Women’s Tag Team Championships. She also had a successful stint in Hollywood… Rises like this only come along once in a lifetime, not just being a world-renowned athlete, actor, and professional wrestler, but excelling in all areas she embarked on.

Her time with WWE has had its fair share of ups and downs. Debuting at the 2018 Royal Rumble, teaming with Kurt Angle to face both Triple H & Stephanie McMahon, her initial run with the RAW Women’s Title, and her rivalry with Charlotte Flair are all likely key highlights of her tenure with the company. However, her 2022 return, and most other matches or feuds that followed, left a lot to be desired in comparison to her 2018-2019 stretch.

One thing that is for certain is that Rousey, through her ups and downs, displayed her capabilities of having more than what it takes to be a professional wrestler. While her mic skills weren’t necessarily impressive, she found the ability to tell truly compelling stories under the right circumstances and set the standard for how to make a splash when given as large a stage as she was given at WrestleMania 34.

Love her or hate her, Ronda Rousey is a success story.

Brock Lesnar

What is there to say about Brock Lesnar that hasn’t been said already?

In short, he may very well be the most gifted performer in professional wrestling history. He’s a natural superstar appeal, has infinite athleticism and oozes charisma in every role he’s given. Beyond all of that though, he’s a remarkable storyteller in the ring.

Brock has essentially accomplished everything a professional wrestler could in the business, from the developmental scene all the way up to the pinnacle of the main roster. To list a few; he’s a multi-time WWE & Universal Champion, one of the youngest champions in wrestling history, multi-time Royal Rumble winner, headlined 5 WrestleMania events, and he has ran through dozens upon dozens of legends on his way to cementing his terrifying legacy. But perhaps most importantly, Brock became the man to end The Undertaker’s WrestleMania streak.

He accomplished all of that following his UFC run, which saw him capture their Heavyweight Championship, toppling legends such as Randy Couture, Frank Mir, and Mark Hunt in the process of becoming the #1 draw in the sport. In a career that did possess its fair share of controversies, Lesnar still proved the kind of unique specimen he is by completely dominating two industries in under a decade.

Ken Shamrock

When we speak about pioneers and founders of MMA, you have a few names that generally come off the top of one’s head; Royce Gracie, Kevin Randleman, Dan Severn, Randy Couture, Matt Hughes, Pat Miletich, and arguably, Ken Shamrock.

Appearing at UFC 1, the company’s inaugural event, Shamrock went toe-to-toe with both Patrick Smith and the aforementioned Royce Gracie, and despite not winning the overall tournament, instantly stamped his name into the annals of MMA history. This wouldn’t be the end of the road for Shamrock either, as his career continued with many notable highlights, namely a legendary trilogy with Tito Ortiz, a rematch with Royce Gracie, and a match with Kimbo Slice at Bellator 138.

Shamrock crossed over and signed with WWE 4 years after his initial UFC tenure, playing Guest Referee during the iconic Steve Austin vs. Bret Hart match at WrestleMania 13 in 1997. His career would see him capture the Intercontinental Championship, and Tag Team Championships, win the 1998 King of the Ring Tournament, and even memorable matches with the likes of The Rock, Bret Hart, and Triple H.

To the surprise of many, Shamrock would return two decades later in Impact Wrestling, colliding with the likes of Eddie Edwards, Sami Callihan, Moose, and Joey Ryan. Shamrock may not have the most impressive win-loss record, but he certainly proved capable of breaking down barriers and establishing a legacy for himself in an entirely different profession.

Matt Riddle

Matt Riddle’s MMA career is unlike any other. He was never widely known as an “elite” Martial Artist, nor one good enough to be widely recognized for his few contributions to the sport. Riddle in many ways is a reject of MMA, being most widely known for his stint on UFC’s reality TV show, The Ultimate Fighter, losing in his very first outing. From there, he would make a few appearances for the promotion but was later let go and famously publicly attacked by UFC President Dana White due to his persistent marijuana usage which resulted in a number of failed drug tests.

As a result, Riddle would be essentially barred from the sport and make the jump into the squared circle, where he has since become one of the more popular names in the business. Quickly ascending through a variety of independent promotions, he signed with WWE in early 2018 to much fanfare, debuting for the NXT brand where he carved out quite the legacy. Since his NXT days, Riddle made his way to the main roster, teaming with Randy Orton to form one of the most popular tag teams of the modern era, capturing the United States Championship, and RAW Tag Team Championships, respectively.

In a way, Matt Riddle proved many doubters, namely Dana White, wrong through his continued success. He proved to be more than the clown his former bosses clearly viewed him as, took the risk of turning his entire career around, and is now a superstar in his own right.

Shayna Baszler

A career spanning across Strikeforce, Invicta, and the UFC is surprisingly not as memorable as you’d expect considering the length and dedication Shayna Baszler gave to the art of MMA. Baszler wasn’t alone either, siding with Ronda Rousey, Marina Shafir, and Jessamyn Duke, they formed the “Four Horsewomen” of MMA. Their reign didn’t have the longstanding momentum of the original “Four Horsemen” of Professional Wrestling, as the downward trajectory of their careers through wins and losses phased them out as a new generation entered the scene.

The tide began to turn in 2017 when Baszler entered the Mae Young Classic, plowing her way through the tournament before a loss to Kairi Sane in the finals. A few months later, however, Baszler would end up capturing the NXT Women’s Championship by dominating Ember Moon, holding it for over 400 days.

Baszler would then move up to the main roster at the start of 2020, instantly being thrusted into the Women’s Title scene opposite Becky Lynch at WrestleMania. Then, she went on to team with Nia Jax to capture the Women’s Tag Titles and has since done the same with her former friend Ronda Rousey. Despite a career that did get off to a rocky start on the main roster, we’re only seeing her stock grow, and the company seems aligned in giving her the push she truly deserves.

Who are part of your favorite crossovers? Let us know in the comments…

About Post Author

Mishal Shuhaiber

A marketeer, aspiring athlete with current aspirations in BJJ & professional wrestling journalist. I was born and raised in the Middle East before moving to the UK to pursue my goals.
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