The MMA world has seen some massive news break over the past week—some good, some very much the opposite.
Some of the biggest news of the last week is that current WWE star and former UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar will be returning to the Octagon for a UFC 200 clash with Mark Hunt. To say this news has thrust the MMA community into a frenzy would be an understatement.
Yet Lesnar’s UFC return will not be a permanent thing. Instead, WWE has essentially loaned Lesnar to the UFC, allowing him to break from his current contract and compete for the organization on a “one-off” basis. From there, whether he wins his bout with Hunt, or loses as the odds suggest, he’ll once again hang up the MMA gloves and return to the world of pro wrestling.
At a glance, this is quite a generous move by the pro wrestling organization. Yet you can bet that the UFC paid a pretty penny for Lesnar’s services, and now it appears as though WWE is hoping the UFC will return the favor by offering up one of their big stars for a “one-off” in the near future. In fact, the pro wrestling promotion has gone so far as to reach out to one UFC star in particular: 22-year-old strawweight contender Paige VanZant.
Rumors of WWE’s interest in VanZant first appeared on PWInsider.com. These rumors were then confirmed by Fox Sports, who were able to verify that VanZant’s management had been contacted about the star’s being involved “in some capacity” at WWE’s annual SummerSlam event—scheduled for August 21 in New York.
The organization’s interest in VanZant makes plenty of sense. Though VanZant lost handily to Rose Namajunas in her last bout, she remains one of the most recognizable faces in the UFC. And having recently made it to the finals of Dancing with the Stars, the young strawweight has also earned a good deal of mainstream fame too. She is known by fight fans, and now, a good chunk of the general population. WWE is clearly hoping to bank on that fame. But would the UFC agree to it?
Well, ignoring the fact that WWE is probably owed one for this ultra-hyped Lesnar-loan, it’s worth noting that the UFC has allowed fighters to venture into pro wrestling in the past. It was less than two years ago that Ronda Rousey—who was the UFC women’s bantamweight champ at the time—jumped into the ring at WrestleMania 31 to help The Rock smash Triple H and Stephanie McMahon. Given Rousey’s recent foray into pro wrestling, it’s certainly not unthinkable that VanZant would be allowed to do the same. Besides, it’s not like MMA fighters transitioning to pro wrestling is a new idea.
Back in the late 90s, Ken Shamrock took a break from MMA for a stint with WWF, during which time he even managed to win the organization’s Intercontinental Championship. Dan Severn also wrestled for WWF in the late 90s. Tito Ortiz, meanwhile, took a short break from MMA in 2005, making a series of appearances under the TNA Wrestling banner. Then, there is the long list of mixed martial artists who have dabbled in Japanese pro wrestling organizations; a list that includes names like Josh Barnett, Don Frye, Bas Rutten and Bob Sapp. Even former UFC welterweight Matt Riddle—never an MMA superstar by any stretch—is now chasing a career in pro wrestling.
And of course, things work the other way around too. Lesnar’s title-winning jump to MMA is the most obvious example of wrestlers becoming fighters, but plenty of other notable pro wrestlers have also made the transition into mixed martial arts. Bobby Lashley, who wrestled for TNA and WWE, now owns a 14-2 MMA record and stands out as one of Bellator’s top heavyweights. Wrestler-turned-movie-star Dave Bautista also made a brief trip into the world of MMA, smashing Vince Lucero back in 2012. Giant Silva, a member of WWF’s Oddities stable in the late 90s, also dabbled in MMA. And then, of course, there is the strange case of CM Punk’s UFC career—if it can even be called a career.
A quick skim through the history books is all it takes to reveal that MMA and pro wrestling are inexorably tied through a long, reciprocal relationship. Rousey’s WrestleMania appearance and Lesnar’s UFC return are the latest examples of this reciprocity. And though its hard to imagine a 115-lb Paige VanZant in the WWE ring, her appearing at SummerSlam could be the next big moment in this age-old relationship. Don’t be surprised if the UFC returns the WWE’s favour and loans the strawweight star to the world of pro wrestling.
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