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The Good, Bad and Ugly of Pro Wrestling-MMA Crossover Stars

Jake Hager has competed in three Bellator Fights in 2019

At Bellator 231, Jake Hager was going for this third consecutive victory since joining Bellator earlier this year. The fight ended abruptly after Hager “accidentally” kneed his opponent in the groin three separate times. From where I sat, I felt like this was not the same Jake Hager we saw in his first two fights. Hager came out wearing his pro wrestling shirt from the group Inner Circle, which is a new faction in the newly established All Elite Wrestling. Hagers running buddies from the Inner Circle were also in the crowd, which made it feel more like a wrestling publicity stunt than it an MMA fight. I don’t want to take away from what Hager has accomplished at the Collegiate level or what he did during his time as Jack Swagger in WWE, but taking this fight was a poorly timed decision from a marketing and strategic standpoint. Chris Jericho recently slammed the “We the People” chant that Hager developed in his time at WWE, but the beginning of his Bellator entrance starts with that same exact chant. If Jericho was going to kill of the chant in a promo, he should have waited until after Hager had the fight.

If you go back and watch Hager’s first two fights, he was aggressive, focused and poised. From what I watched, I felt like he didn’t want be there and that his heart wasn’t into it. It leads me to believe that AEW is probably paying him more then Bellator and he was trying to protect his health. The decision to call the fight a No-Contest rather than a Disqualification is being viewed as controversial, because how do you “accidentally” knee someone in the groin three times? This is not the first time a MMA fight has seen controversy with a crossover star. In 2016, Brock Lesnar made his return to the UFC octagon after retiring four and a half years earlier. He originally won the fight against Mark Hunt but the decision was overturned later due to Lesnar testing positive for a banned substance. There was outrage from both MMA and pro wrestling fans that he was allowed to be involved in either industry. There is loophole in WWE that “part time” performers are not drug tested, which is why Lesnar was able to get away with what he has in WWE. The United States Anti-Doping Agency¬† and Nevada Athletic State Commission were not as understand as WWE was. He was suspended for one year and issued a $250,000 fine.

In the summer of 2018, Lesnar confronted Daniel Cormier after winning the UFC Heavyweight Championship. Many began to speculate that there was going to be a fight between Cormier and Lesnar down the road, but it never happened. Hypothetically, let’s say it did happen. At the time, Brock Lesnar was WWE Universal Champion working his limited schedule. Even though pro wrestling is scripted and predetermined, could you imagine the implications and negative effect it would have had on WWE if Lesnar would have lost a fight with Cormier? I think that’s why the men and women who do both MMA and Pro Wrestling need to create a gap and have a period of time where there separated from one or the other. There is too much risk involved. You risk losing a payday if you get injured and you risk hurting your reputation if try to do compete in both industries too close together. Going back to a hypothetical scenario, what if Brock Lesnar would have lost to Mark Hunt and was absolutely dominated in the fight? Would it have been believable that he go back to WWE five weeks later and beat up a veteran WWE Superstar in Randy Orton? Fortunately for Lesnar and WWE that didn’t, but there will always be those hypothetical questions and what ifs.

Bobby Lashley probably had the smartest strategy of all the crossover stars. At the one point in time, he was competing in Bellator and performing in Impact Wrestling. When it was time for him to start camp and prepare a fight, Impact Wrestling found ways to write him out of the story and he did not appear on TV until weeks after his fight was over. Impact Wrestling(formerly NWA-TNA Wrestling) has seen its share of crossover stars like Tito Ortiz, Rampage Jackson, King Mo and even more recently Ken Shamrock. Even WWE has gotten on board by bringing in Ronda Rousey last year and now Cain Velasquez. The thing I can respect about Rousey and Velasquez is that once they signed on with WWE they put their MMA careers to bed for the time being. As I said before, there is too much risk when someone tries to do both at the same time without any separation.

A prime example of someone risking a lot is currently Boxing Heavyweight Champion Tyson Fury. He will be in a pro wrestling match at WWE’s Crown Jewel against Braun Strowman. With Fury’s next fight being in February 2020, four months is not a lot of time to recover should Fury get injured in the match. Strowman will do his best to “protect” Fury in the ring, but injuries happen all the time in a pro wrestling ring. When Mike Tyson got involved with Wrestlemania 14, he was in a very non-physical role and not scheduled for any fights. The same can be said about Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Wrestlemania 24. He didn’t have any fights scheduled and he was all in with his match against The Big Show. I always enjoy watching athletes show up on WWE and interact with the superstars. However, if they are actively competing in a sport they shouldn’t get physical involved. A prime of that would be Kevin Greene. Even though Greene was never seriously injured in WWE, he is the reason why the NFL and the other major organization started putting clauses in their contracts forbidding them from getting physically involved in pro wrestling.

The one crossover star who was able to successfully compete in both MMA and Pro Wrestling was none other than Dan “The Beast” Severn. In the mid 90’s, he was the NWA World Champion and he was going to the octagon where he successfully won multiple UFC Superfight Championships. Severn like Lesnar and Hager was successful in Collegiate Wrestling, but the times were also different. MMA barely had any rules, and wasn’t regulated like it his now. Pro Wrestling also didn’t have health policies like the WWE does now. Severn was and is a once in a lifetime combat fighter, and he probably inspired a lot of guys along the way. That doesn’t mean everyone should be a crossover star. CM Punk should have never competed in the UFC. He was a gifted performer in pro wrestling, but he had no experience and accolades like others before him. Former WWE star Alberto Del Rio should not be fighting MMA veteran Tito Ortiz. It is a a recipe for disaster and embarrassment much like MMA fighters who fight past their prime. Ortiz-Liddell 3 should have never happened just like Shamrock-Gracie 3 shouldn’t have happened.

I’m starting to see why more MMA stars want to gets involved in pro wrestling. The idea of getting physical still appeals to them, but there is a lot less risk of suffering the embarrassment of getting knocked out or submitted for real. Daniel Cormier, Conor McGregor and Chael Sonnen have all expressed interest in the past about getting involved with WWE. Whether they do remains to be seen, but if they did it would legitimize WWE even more. Regardless of how you feel about Brock Lesnar, when he is on TV the fans pay attention. That’s why I put him right behind Severn as the greatest crossover Pro Wrestling-MMA star in history. We’ve seen great things from stars like Lesnar, Severn and Rousey. We’ve seen bad things like what we saw in Jake Hager’s last fight. We’ve also seen the ugly like CM Punk’s two UFC fights. There is an appeal to being a Pro Wrestling-MMA crossover star, but you have to be a gifted athlete, a smart business person that has the right strategy and you have to how to keep the two industries separate.

While Dan Severn was NWA World Champion, he was also winning UFC Superfight Championships

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