Pro Wrestling

10 Pro Wrestlers With Notable MMA Careers Source:

Ever since mixed martial arts promotions rose to prominence in the mid-90’s, there has been significant crossover between the worlds of legitimate fighting and professional wrestling. In the early days of UFC, there was even some cross-promotion going on between the fledgling company and WWE that saw UFC fighters appear on WWE programming, and occasionally even become wrestlers themselves. It’s a well-known fact that many pro wrestlers, including The Undertaker, Triple H, and Shane McMahon, are huge fans of mixed-martial arts, and several top fighters have expressed their love for sports entertainment. Over the years, pro wrestling has often been a potential destination for MMA fighters, and a few wrestlers have even tried their hand at shoot fighting. Some of them even manage to find notoriety in both arenas, which is definitely the case in all of the following names.

10. CM Punk

Well, of course we’re going to talk about this guy. CM Punk rose from one of the best independent wrestlers in North America to a sport in WWE, where he was fortunate enough to parlay his wrestling skills and unique personality into multiple World title runs. At one point, Punk was arguably the biggest star in the company, but he often felt mistreated by those in power backstage, and reports of his attitude problems and clashes with management were common. Punk abruptly left WWE in 2014 after apparently reaching a breaking point over how he was being treated, and after months of silence, announced that he had signed a contract to compete in UFC. Many saw this as little more than a publicity stunt, as Punk was already in his late-30s and had virtually no real MMA experience, but Punk expressed an honest desire to at least explore the possibilities of becoming a legitimate fighter. UFC even shot a pseudo-reality show where they attempted to find a fighter who would match up well against the inexperienced Punk. Unfortunately, several injuries during training delayed Punk’s UFC debut, and his debut fight was an embarrassingly quick loss that has apparently soured UFC on ever promoting a second fight under their banner. While his MMA career may end up disappointingly short, no one can say that it won’t also be one of the more memorable ones in recent history. Source:

9. Dan Severn

Dan “The Beast” Severn was an amateur wrestling phenom who barely missed out on qualifying for two consecutive Olympics, winning a truly ridiculous number of amateur championships along the way. Severn became a star in UFC from the very start, winning the tournament at UFC 5, and going toe-to-toe with some of the organization’s biggest stars over the next two decades, finishing his lengthy career with an incredible 101-19-7 record (as well as being the proud owner of one of the greatest mustaches ever). Severn would also go on to become an incredibly successful MMA trainer, with his proteges including Rashad Evans and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson. Severn was inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame in 2005 for his contributions to the sport. Severn also had a long and successful pro wrestling career, becoming a multiple time NWA World Champion, which led him to WWE and a feud with fellow UFC Champion Ken Shamrock. Severn’s character never really caught on, however, and he would leave WWE after only a short stay, returning to the independent circuit and his MMA career. Source:

8. Tank Abbott

Abbott was a popular fighter in UFC, due to his unique look and hard-hitting style, but he was never the most successful competitor, especially once UFC moved away from the lawless early version and into a more structured system of weight classes and rules that allowed the more highly-trained fighters to flourish. After retiring from UFC with a middling 8-7 record, Abbott was signed by World Championship Wrestling and pushed as a legitimate street fighter, with thoughts of putting him into a feud with their biggest star, Goldberg. Abbott was a fairly poor wrestler as well, and it was allegedly Vince Russo’s desire to make him WCW World Champion that saw the controversial writer fired from the company. Eventually, Abbott was relegated to a comedy angle where he became a “groupie” for the boy band team 3 Count which, at the very least, he said he had a lot of fun doing. Abbott would return to MMA following WCW’s demise, winning only 2 of his next ten matches. Source:

7. Daniel Puder

Although Puder had trained in MMA before entering WWE’s Tough Enough competition, and WWE advertised him as having a UFC background, he had only one fight on his resume before he won Tough Enough and earned himself a four-year contract with WWE. Unfortunately, after a brief stay on the main roster, Puder was sent to WWE’s developmental organization, and quietly released a year into his contract. Many theorized that WWE had never intended for any Tough Enough winner to serve the entire length of their contract, but that Puder’s alleged attitude backstage, including a controversial moment during the Tough Enough competition where he legitimately attempted to force Kurt Angle to submit to a key lock, had sealed his fate in the company. After attempts to catch on in Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling (where Puder would both fight and team with the iconic Shinsuke Nakamura), Puder returned to MMA, amassing a record of 8-0 (including his first fight pre-WWE) over several years in minor promotions before retiring in 2011. Source:

6. Don Frye

Frye was a big star in the very early days of the UFC, winning matches in dominant fashion and setting a record at the time for fastest knockout in UFC history at an astonishing 8 seconds. Frye would also train future UFC Champion and WWE Superstar Dan Severn (clearly sharing a love of great facial hair with The Beast), winning two UFC tournament championships before retiring amidst controversy, due to one of his opponents claiming that they had thrown a semi-final fight to allow Frye time to recuperate for the finals. Frye would move on to the world of professional wrestling, specifically New Japan Pro Wrestling, after seeking training from WWE Hall of Famer Curt “Mr Perfect” Hennig. Frye rose through the ranks very quickly as a heel, earning the honor to face the legendary Antonio Inoki in his retirement match (which he lost, of course), and receiving three shots at the IWGP Heavyweight Title. After becoming a huge celebrity in Japan, Frye moved back to MMA, signing with the Pride organization, where he competed in some of the company’s biggest fights, including an all-out war with Ken Shamrock. Overall, Frye won 15 of his first 16 MMA matches in his career, and retired in 2011 with an overall record of 20-9-1. Source:

5. Alberto Del Rio

Shortly after his wrestling debut in Mexico, under the name Dos Caras Jr, the man who would go onto WWE fame as Alberto Del Rio also decided to try his luck in the world of MMA. Continuing to fight under his wrestling name, Del Rio had over a dozen official fights in Mexico and Japan, amassing an overall record of 9-5 before focusing his efforts inside the pro wrestling ring. During his time in AAA and CMLL, he rose to become one of Mexican wrestling’s biggest stars, and gained the attention of WWE, which made several attempts to work out a deal to bring him into the company. Del Rio would eventually make his WWE debut in 2010 after spending a while in developmental, and was pushed to the very top of the promotion incredibly quickly. To date, Del Rio has won multiple World titles, defeating some of WWE’s top stars in the process. After being fired by WWE in 2014, Del Rio went back to AAA, where he became their Mega Champion, and also spent some time in the upstart promotion Lucha Underground, before eventually re-signing with WWE a year later. Source:

4. Josh Barnett

Barnett exploded onto the MMA scene in 1997, winning nine straight fights after his debut, earning himself a contract with UFC. Once there, Barnett continued to impress, defeated Randy Couture to become the youngest UFC Heavyweight Champion in history at the age of 24. However, Barnett also ran afoul of UFC’s drug testing program multiple times, leading to him being stripped of the title and leaving the promotion. Barnett would head overseas, competing in Japan with the MMA organization PRIDE and also making a foray into New Japan Pro Wrestling. Barnett was actually a fairly big deal in NJPW, and he would follow that up by moving to Antonio Inoki’s International Genome Federation, where he was a top contender for their World title. Barnett would eventually make a return to UFC, where he has been moderately successful (though far more beatable that he had been in his initial run), and also serves as a color commentator for New Japan’s AXS TV show in North America. Source:

3. Bobby Lashley

Lashley was intended to be a big star in WWE, thanks to his incredible skills and raw wrestling talent. He was set up as a cornerstone of WWE’s resurrected ECW brand, holding the ECW Title for several months, as part of an ongoing feud with Vince McMahon that saw Lashley act as Donald Trump’s “champion” in the infamous Battle of the Billionaires match at WrestleMania 23. Eventually, Lashley was moved into an even higher profile feud against WWE Champion John Cena, but just as Lashley’s star was about to peak, he abruptly left WWE in controversial fashion and declared his intentions to move into MMA. While he would never give up the wrestling business entirely, making regular appearances for smaller North American promotion TNA over the years, he did follow through on his MMA dreams, participating in a handful of fights for upstart MMA promotion Bellator, and securing a fairly decent winning record as a result. Source:

2. Ken Shamrock

The World’s Most Dangerous Man made his name in the early “lawless” days of UFC, before things like clearly defined weight classes and the addition of rules that resulted in actually watchable fights springboarded the company into the multi-billion dollar industry it became (before you argue with us, just try and watch the Gracie-Shamrock “Superfight” from UFC 5 without falling asleep, because it can’t be done). Shamrock was brought into WWE as a guest referee for the Hart-Austin “Submissions Only” match at WrestleMania 13, and showed an immediate interest in leaving the octagon for the squared circle of pro wrestling. He made his WWE debut shortly afterwards, and showed immense amounts of promise, even earning a WWE Title match on Pay Per View in December of 1997. Shamrock would bounce around the indies for a while after his fairly successful WWE career came to an end, but he eventually resurfaced in UFC, in a series of heavily hyped matches against Tito Ortiz, all of which Shamrock lost convincingly. Source:

1. Brock Lesnar

Surprisingly no one, the Beast Incarnate tops the list as the man who, more than anyone, found massive success in both professional wrestling and mixed martial arts. Heck, you can also throw in the fact that he nearly made the Minnesota Vikings without any real football background! After becoming an NCAA wrestling champion in college, Brock spent years in WWE’s developmental system before debuting as the Next Big Thing in 2002. He would proceed to tear through WWE over the next two years, winning multiple World titles along the way, and even defeating legendary stars like Hulk Hogan and The Rock. Along the way, Brock developed into a really good wrestler, and looked to be set to rule WWE for years to come. Then he he abruptly quit WWE, tried to make it in the NFL, went to Japan and won the IWGP Heavyweight Title there, then got involved with UFC, where he won the UFC Heavyweight Title, defeated the legendary Randy Couture, and then retired from the sport due to a battle with diverticulitis. Eventually, Lesnar would make his way back to WWE, where he would resume his position as one of the company’s biggest stars and earn himself another World title reign, as well as becoming the man who ended The Undertaker’s unbeaten Streak at WrestleMania. In 2016, Lesnar made a surprising return to the octagon, defeating Mark Hunt at UFC 200 in what was seen as a one-off comeback match. However, his triumph was quickly undercut by the news that Lesnar had failed two separate drug tests while training for the fight, casting a shadow over the Beast’s legendary career. Source:
Stephen Randle

Stephen Randle

Stephen Randle is an avid wrestling and film fan. He's been writing about WWE, movies, and video games for Goliath since 2015.