CM Punk may have fallen flat on his face during his UFC debut but that doesn’t mean that all professional wrestlers are inadequate fighters. On the contrary, both Brock Lesnar and Bobby Lashley have had very successful careers in MMA.
They are just two examples of pro wrestlers equipped to make the transition to MMA but we believe there are others skilled enough to try their hand in the cage and a few that’d fare as bad as Mr. Brooks.
Here’s our list of 8 fighters that’d make a smooth transition into MMA and 7 that would struggle mightily jumping into the cage.
17 SUCCEED: Big E
Big E is one of the best pound-for-pound athletes in the WWE. His size and athleticism has had many fans clamoring for a major title push for years but he’s settled in nicely as 1/3 of the tag team champions, The New Day. Big E doesn’t have as much combat experience as others on our list but his varying list of accomplishments point toward the ability to succeed in MMA.
Big E, like many other WWE superstars, was a high school wrestling state champion but his passion led him to the gridiron. He attended Iowa University on a football scholarship but only played one season due to injury. After leaving Iowa University, Big E focused on power lifting where he became the 2011 USAPL Raw National champion in the superheavyweight division (275+ lbs).
The heavyweight limit in most MMA promotions is 265lbs, which would be a tough cut for Big E, but others such as Lesnar and Lashley have managed it and Big E is of similar size. Expect him to be able to hold his own in the heavyweight division if he was to try his hand in MMA.
16 FAIL: Seth Rollins
Seth Rollins is one of the best athletes in professional wrestling, which would be an admirable quality for a MMA fighter but unfortunately there’s no evidence of Rollins ever getting into an actual fight.
Like CM Punk, Rollins knew that he wanted to be a pro wrestler from a very young age and never tried his hand at high school or collegiate athletics. The lack of true competition proved to be a tough hurdle for Punk and it’d likely prove too much for ‘The Architect.’
15 SUCCEED: Shinsuke Nakamura
The ‘King of Strong Style,’ Shinsuke Nakamura, has taken NXT by storm since joining the promotion during WrestleMania 32 weekend. His hard hitting/kicking techniques and charisma were a breathe of fresh air for American viewers but Nakamura has been doing at the top of professional wrestling in Japan for over a decade.
When he first broke into professional wrestling in 2002, Nak had an MMA gimmick. In fact, Nakamura competed in both MMA & in NJPW simultaneously until 2004. His MMA record stands at 3-1-1 and all three of his victories came by submission. He still showcases many of his MMA moves in the ring but his charisma is now the moneymaker.
Even at age 36, it’s safe to say that Nakamura would stand a better chance in the octagon than CM Punk. A MMA victory by KINSHASA would be a sight to see.
14 FAIL: Ryback
Ryback has been floating around the independent circuit since his much maligned released from the WWE. He’s made more headlines for attempting to change his legal name to Ryback, so that he can continue to make money off of the moniker, than for his wrestling bookings. That may explain why Ryback reached out to Bellator MMA to inquire about a possible future in MMA.
"Really it's a very short conversation because their management did reach out. We had a very brief conversation. I'm not sure where it's at, but I don't think it went very far. If they don't have some type of background in either jiu-jitsu or collegiate wrestling or thai boxing or a combat sports background it's tough for them," said Bellator President Scott Coker.
Ryback often botched moves in the squared-circle and his lack of mobility doesn’t scream MMA quality. With that being said, he’d draw a few eyes and probably end up as an internet meme.
12 SUCCEED: Jason Jordan
Jason Jordan is one half of the ‘American Alpha’ tag team in the WWE and he’s already drawing comparisons to Kurt Angle and Ken Shamrock. His in-ring work rate, move set and energy level matches the aforementioned superstars.
Jason Jordan’s amateur resume holds up to many in MMA. At Indiana University J.J. was ranked in the top 15 wrestlers in the nation three years straight and was ranked as high as 2nd in the nation. He was undefeated during the regular season of his senior year but fell short in the national tournament.
Those wrestling skills are on par with top-level UFC fighters such as Cain Velasquez, Daniel Cormier and Johny Hendricks. Jordan decided to follow his passion into pro wrestling but he could’ve easily been a contender in the light heavyweight division of the UFC.
11 FAIL: Goldberg
Bill Goldberg has only flirted with the idea of competing in MMA for quite sometime. Goldberg owns a Mauy Thai Gym in Oceanside, California and nearly fought for Glory MMA in 2015.
"Whether you see Goldberg hosting the top-10 knockouts, whether you see him a as part of the front office, whether you see him donning the gloves, I'm prepared to do what it takes to get this thing to the forefront, because I think it's the next thing coming," Goldberg said of his status with Glory.
Goldberg looks the part of an MMA fighter but his history as one of the worst in-ring workers in professional wrestling gives little faith towards him succeeding in MMA.
Bill’s stiffness and gas tank remain a major concern, neither of which get better with age, so his foray into MMA is most likely just talk.
10 SUCCEED: Samoa Joe
Samoa Joe has been one of the gems of pro wrestling for a decade and a half. He first burst on to the national scene as a member of ROH in the early 2000’s and spent many of his best years in TNA. He’s currently in career resurgence with NXT and is expected to soon join the WWE main roster.
Those pro wrestling accomplishments aren’t what make Joe a great candidate for MMA. Joe has strong ties to the MMA community and Joe even boast a California Junior Judo championship to his credit.
Joe has trained at LA Boxing for most of his career and is longtime friends with UFC legend Tito Ortiz. Joe’s muay thai, judo & jiu-jitsu background make him one of the most diverse wrestlers in the business and makes many fans curious of what he’d be capable of in the MMA world.
9 FAIL: AJ Lee
Mrs. CM Punk left the WWE shortly after CM Punk decided to join the UFC and follow his ‘passion’ of MMA fighting. Since then Lee has watched Punk sacrifice to become a UFC fighter, a dream that was all but dashed at UFC 203 in Cleveland, but who’s to say that Lee won’t get the itch to try her hand in MMA?
So far, there’s been no indication of Lee wanting to lace up a pair of gloves but it’s safe to assume she’d follow along the line of Punk and fail if she did decide to compete. On the other hand, a guest appearance as a UFC octagon girl wouldn’t be a horrible idea for Lee...
8 SUCCEED: Baron Corbin
Baron Corbin may not live up to his potential in the WWE but the ‘Big Bad Wolf’ is surprisingly athletic for his size. In 2007, Corbin won a Kansas-Missouri regional Golden Gloves boxing championship and in 2008 competed in the National Tournament of Champions. Did we fail to mention that Corbin also has 2 years of NFL experience to go with his boxing background?
With success on almost every level, Corbin won the Andre the Memorial Battle Royal Trophy in his first WWE main roster match at WrestleMania, it’s not difficult to project Corbin as a mildly-successful MMA fighter.
7 FAIL: Bray Wyatt
Bray Wyatt is a tough wrestler to figure out. Wyatt won a high school state wrestling title in 2005, was a Division-1 football player at Troy University and has a fair-share of athleticism for his size but he doesn’t appear to be in the greatest of shape.
If Wyatt was able to drop down to the MMA heavyweight limit, 265 lbs, he may stand a chance in the cage but he’s far from that size and shows no signs of slimming anytime soon.
5 SUCCEED: The Undertaker
The ‘Dead Man’ is known as the phenom of the WWE but many don’t realize that the Undertaker is a top-level mixed martial artist. Amongst his list of MMA accolades is a black belt in jiu-jitsu under Rolles Gracie, a tough feat for even the most dedicated practitioners.
The Undertaker’s love for MMA has leaked into his WWE persona. Taker has worn MMA gloves since the early-2000’s and his ‘Hell’s Gate’ submission is a modified gogoplata. Also, his relationships with top-tier pro fighters such as Frank Mir, Pat Miletich and Matt Hughes are learning tools that most athletes looking to transition to MMA don’t have at their disposal.
Undertaker’s age is the major deterrent to a successful MMA career or appearance but we live in an age where 46 year-old Dan Henderson competes in UFC title fights, so anything is possible.
4 FAIL: Daniel Bryan
Daniel Bryan’s position on our ‘Fail’ list is predominantly due to his history with concussions. Bryan was forced to retire from the WWE in early-2016 due to his history of concussions and shoulder issues. There have been reports of him being medically cleared by independent doctors but as we’ve seen with CM Punk, the body can only take so much.
Bryan trained MMA while out of action in 2015 due to a concussion and was promising according to former UFC fighter and current Bellator athlete, Benson Henderson.
"He was out with some injuries in WWE. He came to our gym and moved up to blue belt in jiu-jitsu under my coach John Crouch. Every time I go in there, he's working his butt off. I heard he was pretty strong and actually surprised me with how technical he is. A lot of guys have a hard time learning all those techniques. I heard he was really great at being able to use his technique and not relying on his strength. He's smooth and does jiu-jitsu really well," Henderson said.
Injuries derailed Bryan’ s career in the WWE and have landed him on our list.
3 SUCCEED: Chad Gable
Chad Gable is the second member of the ‘American Alpha’ tag team to make our list and is an even more accomplished wrestler than his counterpart, Jason Jordan.
Gable was a high school wrestling state champion in Minnesota and went on to have a stellar career at Northern Michigan University. His success on the mats earned him a shot at the U.S. Olympic Trials in 2012. His victory at the trials, defeating Jordan Holm in the finals, earned him a spot on the U.S. Olympic Wrestling team at the 2012 Olympics in London. Gable lost in the second round of those Olympics but his skills translated perfectly to the WWE. He’s quickly become one of the company’s best technical wrestlers and has incorporated his fluid grappling into his unique move-set.
His smaller stature may keep him from becoming a top-tier WWE superstar but in MMA his size/strength combo at 185 lbs would help him compete in a division of strong wrestlers. We’ve seen the likes of Yoel Romero & Chris Weidman have great careers on the back of their wrestling abilities and Gable would have to follow a similar route of transitioning to MMA.
2 FAIL: Big Show
One of the mot massive men in pro wrestling history carved out a niche form himself by being an amazing athlete for a man of his stature. The Big Show is listed at 7’0,” 300lbs; a weight that makes it nearly impossible for him to compete in any sanctioned MMA event.
The Big Show found his size a plus on the basketball court as a member of the Wichita State basketball team in the early 90s and it allowed him to shoot up the professional ladder as a pro wrestler. Unfortunately, that size is what lands him on our ‘Fail’ list.
1 SUCCEED: Asuka
Asuka is one of the best female wrestlers in the world and the current NXT women’s champion. She’s known for her colorful attire and her strong striking skills, the latter is why she makes our list of wrestler’s that’d succeed in MMA.
Asuka not only has some of the best submissions, male or female, in all of pro wrestling but she also shows the ability to transition into those moves from a variety of positions. It’s easy to see how her skillset transitions to MMA and how she’d be able to compete in multiple divisions.