Top 10 Pro Wrestlers Who Tried Their Skills in Mixed Martial Arts

Tags: #MMA ,   #Batista ,   #MMAFighter ,   #BrockLesnar ,   #ProWrestling ,   #WWE

Dan N. Scarborough

Dan N. Scarborough

Last updated:  2022-08-17 18:00:07

Before mixed martial arts became a globally widespread phenomenon, many guys from pro wrestling jumped into it. The earliest example was the infamous fight between Muhammad Ali and Antonio Inoki in Japan in 1976. Although MMA has its origin in the ancient sport called pankration, the first organized MMA event happened in the 1980s in Pennsylvania, in "Battle of Tough Guys." However, MMA reached global popularity thanks to UFC, which started in 1993. One of the ways to make the new sport more popular is bringing superstars from pro wrestling. So, these are the top ten of the most prominent pro wrestling stars that tried their hands in the MMA ring. 

10. Antonio Inoki

Legendary wrestler was also an MMA pioneer

Antonio Inoki is one of the most recognizable Japanese athletes. He began wrestling under the Japanese Wrestling Association and quickly built his reputation as a larger-than-life character. Except for Wrestling, Inoki became famous as a promoter, as he founded New Japan Pro-Wrestling in 1972. He retired from competing in 1998 but continued doing promotions. He even became a member of the House of Councilors in Japan.  

Although Inoki didn't fight in a sanctioned MMA match, his brawl with Muhammad Ali served as a predecessor of things to come. Two of the best Inoki's students, Masakatsu Funaki and Minoru Suzuki, founded Pancrase, a hybrid MMA-wrestling promotion. This promotion was a starting point for many Japanese wrestlers and MMA fighters. 

9. Phillip Jack Brooks

WWE Champ's not such fortunate transfer into MMA

Brooks, also known as CM Punk, had one of the most unfortunate transitions from professional Wrestling into MMA. The Chicago-born left WWE as one of the most decorated wrestlers, winning two WWE Championships and three World Heavyweight Championships. Furthermore, he knows martial arts too, as he was a college wrestler and Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner.  

Unfortunately, his MMA career was, to say the least, underwhelming. Unexpectedly, Brooks convincingly lost both of his matches. Consequently, the UFC's ambition of having another ex-wrestler champ was gone for good. The main problem was the welterweight division was very competitive, which, combined with Brooks' age, made him look bad. Still, Brooks is not released by UFC yet and works as the commentator for Cage Fury Fighting Championships. 

8. Dave Bautista

One and done, but at least victorious

Dave Bautista is among the most successful wrestlers in WWE who frequently switched careers and returned to his native organization. He has a remarkable record of four World Heavyweight Championships and two WWE Championships. He's also the longest reigning WWE World Heavyweight champion. In 2012, he left professional Wrestling and pursued an MMA career.   

Immediately, Bautista signed a contract with Classic Entertainment & Sports to fight Vince Lucero. His debut was a success, as he won by the 1st round stoppage. However, he left MMA right after and returned to the WWE, simultaneously building his acting career. Now he is the most prolific actor of all ex-wrestlers and an undefeated MMA fighter. And that's a resume not everyone could brag about!

7. Dan Severn

"The Beast" held MMA and wrestling belts at the same time

Dan Severn is the first world-class wrestler transferred to MMA. He is celebrated as an MMA pioneer for his tremendous power and wrestling skills. He developed both of his Wrestling and MMA careers simultaneously and received the highest accolades in both disciplines

Severn started with professional Wrestling in 1992 and entered UFC in 1994. Remarkably, he was highly successful in both. Actually, he became the first man who held UFC and wrestling belts simultaneously. Furthermore, he was also the only UFC Triple Crown Champion. Thus, he was inducted into the hall of fame for both MMA and Wrestling. Severn is still eager to fight, and we wouldn't be surprised to see him in the ring again.    

6. Ken Shamrock

You can thank him for the popularity of leg locks

Ken Shamrock, along with his brother Frank, is another wrestler who did a lot to promote MMA in the beginning. He debuted in wrestling in 1988, and his MMA career started in the Japanese pro wrestling organization Fujiwara Gumi in 1992. He became famous for popularizing ankle lock holds. 

In 1997 he joined the WWF and became a really successful wrestler, winning numerous titles. However, Ken Shamrock is widely regarded as one of the founding figures of modern MMA. He was equally successful as a fighter as he was a wrestler. He headlined over 15 main events and was inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame. As of 2019, Shamrock retired from fighting, but he's still wrestling in Australia.    

5. Kazuyuki Fujita

The legendary "Iron Head" took a lot of hits

Kazuyuki Fujita is one of the most famous Japanese athletes. As a fighter, he's known for his inhuman endurance, thus the nickname "Iron Head." He started his professional wrestling career in New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) in the early 1990s. In 2000, he took a break in Wrestling to train in MMA. Later he joined Pride FC and became one of its biggest stars. 

Fujita went back and forth between pro wrestling and MMA while successful in both. However, his luck ran out as he went down for the first time. That didn't undermine his status as a superstar, and he was performing successfully as a wrestler. Fujita has occasionally returned to MMA, but he hasn't reached his former glory yet.

4. Bobby Lashley

A serious MMA career of the former champion

Bobby Lashley is one of the physically most imposing wrestlers, with skills to match. He joined WWE in 2005 and honed his skills in Extreme Championship Wrestling. Despite becoming two times world champion, WWE released Lashley in 2008. The same year he made his MMA debut and won soundly. 

Lashley continued his MMA career, fighting for various promotions. He even reached Bellator, the second-biggest MMA promotion after UFC. He amassed a remarkable score of 15-2, but he hasn't fought since 2016. Instead, he returned to WWE in 2018 and became a two-time Intercontinental Champion. Nevertheless, he's still under contract in Bellator, so maybe we'll see him fighting one day again.

3. Masakatsu Funaki

A founding father of Japanese MMA

Funaki was, so to say, born into pro wrestling. Instead of starting high school, he enlisted in New Japan Pro Wrestling, debuting in 1985 at only 15 years old. He also performed under various other wrestling organizations until leaving in 1993. The reason for his retirement was the founding of Pancrase, a hybrid wrestling-MMA promotion. 

Funaki established Pancrase with another Antonio Inoki student, Minoru Suzuki, soon becoming the most influential Japanese MMA star. He submitted many world-class fighters, including Ken Shamrock, Guy Mezger, and others. Funaki retired from MMA in the early 2000s, but he came back twice before hanging the gloves. He's still wrestling, though, as a part of NJPW and as a free agent.  

2. Brock Lesnar

Lesnar singlehandedly saved the UFC Heavyweight division

Brock Lesnar is hailed as one of the most accomplished professional wrestlers of all time. He won his first Championship belt just five months after signing with WWE, becoming the youngest champion in history, at only 25. As a multi-sport athlete, Lesnar tried to expand his career beyond WWE. Still, his first attempt at joining the NFL wasn't successful. 

After a short return to WWE, he pursued a career in MMA. Soon after signing with UFC, Lesnar became the Heavyweight Champion. Still, he had to cut his MMA career short because of diverticulitis. Lesnar returned to WWE and fought in UFC just once more before being suspended for violating the UFC's anti-doping policy. Lesnar is still in WWE, where he retains his legendary status.      

1. Kazushi Sakuraba

The Gracie Hunter is a living legend of Japanese MMA

Kazushi Sakuraba is, without any doubt, the best Japanese mixed martial artist ever. His origins are pro wrestling, though, since he began his career in the Union of Wrestling Forces International. He learned to catch Wrestling and jiu-jitsu, which helped him smoothly transfer to MMA. Sakuraba didn't stick with one fighting organization, and he competed in UFC, Pride Fighting Championships, Hero's and Dream. 

His most significant accomplishment was the Gracie Hunt. While he was fighting in Pride FC, he defeated four members of the Gracie family. His most famous match was against Royce Gracie, which he won after 90 minutes, or 18 rounds. Sakuraba defeated seven UFC champions, two Pancrase champions, and many more great fighters. Furthermore, he is one of only two Japanese UFC champs. Sakuraba is still active in Rizin, and he founded Quintet, a submission-based promotion.    

Considering how Wrestling and MMA are similar on sight, one would consider it's easy to jump from one to the other. However, it's often not the case, as they are worlds apart. Regardless, some wrestlers competed successfully in MMA and even became champions. 

Who's your favorite wrestler turned fighter in our top ten list? Which wrestler would you enjoy seeing in the octagon?


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Dan Mathews Says:

Dan Severn - such a legend!

August 17 at 09:10:27 AM

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