The Reality of Wrestling: Pro Wrestlers in MMA

The Reality of Wrestling: Pro Wrestlers in MMA
By Phil Clark

A smart career choice?

Since the MMA boom resurfaced in 1997, pro wrestling has taken notice. The main way that pro wrestling has taken notice was the fact that their athletes (pro wrestling) were trying their hand at MMA in a way to show that they truly are the best in the world. However, with the exception of RINGS and UWF/UWFi alumni, pro wrestlers have not been very successful in the world of MMA. The greatest example of this was Yuji Nagata’s 21-second disaster against Mirko Cro Cop in 2001, while Kazushi Sakuraba’s derailing of the Gracie family it’s biggest success. This past weekend, Brock Lesnar made his UFC debut in a losing effort against former heavyweight champion Frank Mir. While most would consider it an upset (it wasn’t) or another pro wrestler unable to make the transition (it wasn’t), most people didn’t see it for what it was: a man in his second career fight losing to a former world champion and Brazilian ju-jitsu expert. However, Lesnar may only be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the new pro wrestling/MMA relationship as others are either thinking about it or planning on stepping into the ring/octagon.

P.C. Says: What wrestlers do in MMA shouldn’t reflect on wrestling and vice versa

Whenever a pro wrestling loses in MMA—it’s happened plenty of times—most people use it as an example to go crazy with “fake nature of pro wrestling” and how they can’t really fight. First off, there are plenty of guys in pro wrestling that are legit badasses and there are others that frankly couldn’t fight unless it was scripted. However, the hypocrisy of that argument is that when a mixed martial-artist tries his hand in the pro wrestling world and is no good—also something that’s happened plenty of times—nobody seems to talk about it. The Bob Sapp fiasco in New Japan a few years back is the perfect example of a mixed martial-artist entering the pro wrestling world, being terrible and nobody talks about it. Or if you want a better Sapp example, check out any Wrestle-1 show with this guy on the card (the Sapp/Hoost wrestling match added to the greatness of their two kickboxing matches because it was so terrible). And don’t think I’m just knocking on Bob as Kevin Randleman, Mark Coleman, Don Frye, are all other examples of MMA fighters that should’ve stuck in the ring where the punches are real, and thankfully Yuji Nagata took the hint quick enough.

On the other end of the spectrum I believe that it should be commended when a mixed martial-artist does well in the wrestling world. Any time a pro wrestling enjoys any success in MMA it is a newsworthy item and is talked about, but a mixed martial-artist doing good in pro wrestling? Who cares? It’s all fake, why should we care? Why? How about because the fact that it’s scripted and you have to rely on skill alone instead of toughness and a hard chin. Kazuyuki Fujita is the only wrestling from a non-shoot style promotion to enjoy success in MMA that was noteworthy. Yeah, he was never anything truly special in the wrestling ring, but the fact that he was a wrestler and did better than expected initially in MMA made his fights worth going to in Japan. In the case of Kazushi Sakuraba, Kiyoshi Tamura, Volk Han, and a host of other shoot-style wrestlers who ended up being just as good in the real fighting world, their pro wrestling background was all but forgotten or at best mentioned in passing.

But what about Ken Shamrock’s wrestling tenure? I know it wasn’t anything breathtaking, but he did a lot better than any American fighter did (remember Tank Abbott in WCW?) and never fully got the credit that he deserved for it. The fact was that Ken Shamrock was basically the first shoot-style pro wrestling in America. The fact that he entered in 1997—a time when anything technical was seen as “old school” and would eventually become obsolete for the rest of the 90’s—made it nearly impossible for Ken to keep that style and by the end of ’98 he was basically a brawler. But as a worker, he was never terrible and at the beginning was quite good. But, does anybody remember? Likely not.

So what does all this have to do with the Lesnar fight? It’s a preemptive measure against anyone who’s going to cite this as another example of pro wrestlers not being able to cut it in MMA. If there were any example opposite that reasoning this (and the Nagata debacle) would be it. This was Lesnar’s second fight—his first against a nearly as inexperienced fighter back in June of last year—and was fought against a much more experienced and more well rounded fighter than Lesnar. When it comes to pro wrestling and Lesnar, he really quit wrestling when he left The E back in ’04.

If you look at his matches from New Japan and the Angle match from last year and compared it to his OVW and E work, you’d know that it wasn’t the same Brock Lesnar in the ring, but a guy who had tired of the business and used his time in Japan as something to do before entering MMA.

The Reality is…shoot-style and mat wrestling are the most realistic forms of pro wrestling. They are such because they are the closest to what a real-life fight would involve. In any real fight you wouldn’t see any high-flying moves or hardcore wrestling unless it were on Spike TV at eleven in the morning. With Daniel Puder sporting a 5-0 MMA record and just having completed a tryout for ROH, the line between MMA and pro wrestling is ever thinning. With Lesnar going into MMA and his pro wrestling days being the only source of advertising in the buildup for the fight—no footage of his K-1 fight was shown—it coincides with Puder’s current status as a pro wrestling/MMA tweener. I’m not calling for more pro wrestlers to enter MMA, in fact my opinion is quite the opposite. MMA is a totally different game than pro wrestling by far, and the same would go for MMA fighters trying to get into pro wrestling. If either would like to try it out, fine, but please do the training and don’t just jump right into it—Lesnar is legit because he has done the work in making the transition. In both cases, it usually ends up embarrassing not only for the one trying to make the ultra-fast transition, but also for both businesses.

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