Sakuraba to UFC Hall of Fame: Pro Wrestling & MMA

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At last nights’s UFC 212 event, it was announced that NJPW legend Kazushi Sakuraba was being inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame. A crowning achievement for the country of Japan (Sakuraba is only the 2nd Japanese fighter to win a title in UFC) and another nod of respect to the world of professional wrestling. Sakuraba marks the third fighter to enter the UFC Hall of Fame who began their combat career as a pro wrestler prior to MMA (behind Ken Shamrock and Dan Severn).

Many forget that Sakuraba is a professional wrestler, but he began his combat sport career as a professional wrestler in Japan – working for NJPW no less. But Sakuraba, like Brock Lesnar and CM Punk, aren’t the only pro wrestlers to take their shot in the Octagon.

Here’s a look at a few wrestlers who entered the world of MMA – plus a batch of MMA fighters who came the other way. Both sides had their share of success stories and failures.

THE WRESTLERS WHO BECAME MMA FIGHTERS

(Must have at least two MMA fights; only includes those from true MMA, does not include boxers, amateur wrestlers or underground fighters)

KAZUSHI SAKURABA, NJPW

Pro Wrestling Debut: 1993
MMA Promotions: PRIDE, UFC
MMA Record: 46 fights, 26 wins (4 KO, 19 Submission, 3 DEC), 17 losses
First MMA Match: July 14, 1996, Loss to Kimo Leopoldo, Shoot Boxing S-Cup ’96
Last MMA Match: December 29, 2015, Loss to Shinya Aoki, Rizin FF
UFC Japan Heavyweight Champion
First man to beat Royce Gracie in MMA history. Nicknamed “The Gracie Hunter” because in just over a year (from November 1999 to December 2000), he defeated four Gracie Family fighters (Royler in November ’99, Royce in May ’00, Renzo in August ’00 and Ryan in December ’00).

KEN SHAMROCK, ACW, WWF, TNA

Photo: WWE

Pro Wrestling Debut: 1988
MMA Promotions: Pancrase, UFC, PRIDE, Bellator
MMA Record:  47 fights, 28 wins (2 KO, 23 Submission, 3 DEC), 17 losses, 2 draws
First MMA Match: September 21, 1993, Submission win over Masakatsu Funaki, Pancrase
Last MMA Match: February 19, 2016, TKO loss to Royce Gracie, Bellator
UFC Superfight Champion, UFC Hall of Fame (Inaugural Class of ’03), WWE Intercontinental Champion, King of the Ring (’98), NWA (TNA) World Heavyweight Champion
Trained to be a pro wrestler in 1988 by Buzz Sawyer and Gene Anderson, debuting for Atlantic Championship Wrestling, then Paul JonesSouth Atlantic Pro Wrestling; moved to Japan in 1990 to join Pro Wrestling Fujiwara Gumi; founded Pancrase Hybrid Wrestling, one of the first true MMA promotions in the world in 1993 with Minoru Suzuki and Masakatsu Funaki.

DAN SEVERN, UWF, NWA, WWE

Photo: WWE

Pro Wrestling Debut: 1992
MMA Promotions: UFC, PRIDE, Rings, Ultimate Ultimate, KOTC
MMA Record: 127 fights, 101 wins (17 KO, 60 Submission, 24 DEC), 19 losses, 7 draws
First MMA Match: December 16, 1994, Submission win over Anthony Macias, UFC
Last MMA Match: April 28, 2012, Decision win over Alex Rozman, Blue Blood
UFC Superfight Champion, UFC 5 Tournament Winner, Ultimate Ultimate 1995 Tournament Champion, Elite-1 MMA Heavyweight Champion, UFC Hall of Fame (Class of ’05), Sherdog MMA Hall of Fame, 2x NWA World Heavyweight Champion, NWA Hall of Fame (Class of ’10)
Began his pro wrestling in 1992 with UWF in Japan, then AAPW in the States in 1994; moved to the NWA in 1995 and became the NWA World Heavyweight Champion by defeating Chris Candido; his 1,479 day reign as NWA World Champion is the third longest reign in NWA history – only Lou Thesz (2,300) and Dory Funk Jr. (1, 563) had longer reigns in its nearly 70 year lineage.

BROCK LESNAR, WWE

Photo: WWE

Pro Wrestling Debut: 2000
MMA Promotions: K-1, UFC
MMA Record:  9 fights, 5 wins (2 KO, 2 Submission, 1 DEC), 3 losses, 1 no contest
First MMA Match: June 2, 2007, Submission win over Min Soo Kim, K-1,
Last MMA Match: July 9, 2016, no contest vs Mark Hunt, UFC
5x WWE World Champion, IWGP Heavyweight Champion, UFC Heavyweight Champion

MINORU SUZUKI, NJPW, AJPW, NOAH

Photo: NJPW

Pro Wrestling Debut: 1988
MMA Promotions: Pancrase
MMA Record: 49 fights, 29 wins (3 KO, 21 Submission, 4 DEC, 1 DQ), 20 losses
First MMA Match: September 21, 1993, Submission win over Katsuomi Inagaki, Pancrase
Last MMA Match: March 9, 2013, Submission win over Hans Nijman, U-Spirits
Leader of Suzuki-Gun faction in NJPW; 2x AJPW Triple Crown Heavyweight Champion, NEVER Openweight Champion (current), GHC Heavyweight Champion, King of Pancrase Openweight Champion; founded Pancrase with Ken Shamrock and Masakatsu Funaki.

BOBBY LASHLEY, Impact Wrestling, WWE

Photo: Impact Wrestling

Pro Wrestling Debut: 2004
MMA Promotions: MFA, Strikeforce, Titan FC, Bellator
MMA Record: 17 fights, 15 wins (4 KO, 8 Submission, 3 DEC), 2 losses
First MMA Match: December 13, 2008, TKO win (Doctor stoppage) over Joshua Franklin, MFA
Last MMA Match: October 21, 2016, Submission win over Josh Appelt, Bellator

ALBERTO EL PATRON, Impact Wrestling, WWE

Photo: WWE

Pro Wrestling Debut: 2000
MMA Promotions: Deep, Pride Bushido, MMA Xtreme, Cage of Combat
MMA Record: 14 fights, 9 wins (2 KO,  7 Submission), 5 losses
First MMA Match: August 18, 2001, TKO win (broken arm) over Kengo Watanabe, Deep
Last MMA Match: February 27, 2010, TKO loss to Yamamoto Hanshi, Cage of Combat

MASAKATSU FUNAKI, DDT, NJPW, AJPW

Photo: DREAM

Pro Wrestling Debut: 1985
MMA Promotions: Pancrase, DREAM
MMA Record: 53 fights, 39 wins (4 KO, 34 Submission, 1 DEC), 13 losses, 1 draw
First MMA Match: September 21, 1993, Submission loss to Ken Shamrock, Pancrase
Last MMA Match: December 16, 2012, Draw with Volk Han, Volk Han Retirement Match, Rings
AJPW Triple Crown Heavyweight Champion, Pro Wrestling Zero-1 World Heavyweight Champion, 2x King of Pancrase; founded Pancrase with Minoru Suzuki and Ken Shamrock.

BOB SAPP, NJPW

Photo: UFC

Pro Wrestling Debut: 2001
MMA Promotions: PRIDE, K-1, Strikeforce, ONE
MMA Record: 30 fights, 11 wins (8 KO, 3 Submission), 18 losses, 1 draw
First MMA Match: April 28, 2002, Knocked out Yoshihisa Yamamoto, Pride
Last MMA Match: July 2, 2016, TKO loss to Aori Gele, Road FC
IWGP Heavyweight Champion, K-1 World Grand Prix

KATSUYORI SHIBATA, NJPW

Photo: NJPW

Pro Wrestling Debut: 1999
MMA Promotions: Hero’s, DREAM, Deep, K-1
MMA Record: 15 fights, 4 wins (2 KO, 1 Submission, 1 DEC), 11 losses
First MMA Match: May 15, 2004, Submission loss to Webster Dauphiney, Jungle Fight
Last MMA Match: August 26, 2011, TKO loss to Ryuta Sakurai, Deep
3x NEVER Openweight Champion, New Japan Cup, RevPro British Heavyweight Champion

NAOYA OGAWA, NJPW

Photo: NJPW

Pro Wrestling Debut: 1997
MMA Promotions: PRIDE
MMA Record: 9 fights, 7 wins (2 KO, 5 Submission), 2 losses
First MMA Match: September 27, 1997, Submission win over Rens Vrolijk, Red Devil
Last MMA Match: December 31, 2005, Submission loss to Hidehiko Yoshida, PRIDE
NWA World Heavyweight Champion (NJPW)

LUDVIG BORGA, WWF, NJPW

Photo: WWE

Pro Wrestling Debut: 1989
MMA Promotions: RINGS, UFC
MMA Record: 4 fights, 0 wins, 4 losses
First MMA Match: January 25, 1995, KO loss to Dick Vrij, RINGS
Last MMA Match: May 30, 1997, Submission loss to Randy Couture, UFC
Fought under his real name, Tony Halme, in MMA; had a more successful pro boxing career at the same time, going 13-6 (with 10 Knockouts) in 19 bouts; died in 2010 at the age of 47, from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

JACK GALLAGHER, WWE, PROGRESS

Photo: WWE

Pro Wrestling Debut: 2006
MMA Promotions: GPUK, ICE FC
MMA Record: 2 fights, 2 wins (2 Submission)
First MMA Match: December 20, 2015, Submission win over Stefan Cowley, GPUK
Last MMA Match: April 16, 2016, Submission win over Cesar Valencia, ICE FC
2x Futureshock Champion; competed in 2016 WWE Cruiserweight Classic; competed as Jack Caffey (his real last name) in MMA.

THE GIANT SILVA, WWF

Pro Wrestling Debut: 1997
MMA Promotions: PRIDE, K-1
MMA Record: 8 fights, 2 wins (2 Submission), 6 losses
First MMA Match: December 31, 2003, Submission loss to Heath Herring, PRIDE
Last MMA Match: December 31, 2006, Submission loss to Akebono Taro, K-1
Competed under his real name Paulo César da Silva in MMA; member of The Oddities faction in the WWF during the Attitude Era, that also featured Luna Vachon, Kurrgan, George “The Animal” Steele, Golga (a masked Earthquake) and ICP (Insane Clown Posse).

SHINSUKE NAKAMURA, NJPW, WWE

Photo: WWE

Pro Wrestling Debut: 2002
MMA Promotions: Inoki, K-1
MMA Record: 5 fights, 3 wins (3 Submission), 1 loss, 1 no contest
First MMA Match: December 31, 2002, Submission loss to Daniel Gracie, Inoki
Last MMA Match: May 22, 2004, Submission win over Alexey Ignashov, K-1
3x IWGP Heavyweight Champion, 5x IWGP Intercontinental Champion, New Japan Cup, G1 Climax, 2x NXT Champion

Obviously several other wrestlers have attempted to enter the world of MMA – CM Punk, Dave Bautista and Kid Kash have all had one fight in the MMA world – but no one lasted more than an exhibition match other than the ones above. And apart from Giant Silva and (surprisingly) Shibata, most of them have faired pretty well. In fact, 2 of the first 3 men inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame began as professional wrestlers first before entering the world of MMA (Ken Shamrock and Dan Severn). “Filthy” Tom Lawlor actually started in pro wrestling first as well (he had a WWE try out prior to UFC) and tried to go back to it when he was suspended by UFC, but failed to make much impact.

THE MMA FIGHTERS WHO ENTERED PRO WRESTLING

KUSHIDA

Photo: NJPW

MMA Debut: 2003
Pro Wrestling Debut
: 2006
MMA Promotions: ZST
Wrestled For: Hustle, AJPW, NJPW, Ring of Honor, CHIKARA
MMA Record: 8 fights, 6 wins (2 KO, 3 Submission, 1 DQ), 2 draws
First MMA Match: June 1, 2003, DQ over Kenji Mizuno, ZST
Last MMA Match: January 23, 2005, Draw against Shinya Sato, ZST
ZST Genesis Light Weight Tournament, 4x IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion, 2x NJPW Best of Super Juniors Winner (’15, ’17), NJPW Super J-Cup Winner (’16), 2x IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champion (in TimeSplitters with Alex Shelley), ROG World Television Champion (current)
Fought under his full name of Yujiro Kushida in MMA.

IKUHISA MINOWA

MMA Debut: 1996
Pro Wrestling Debut
: 2010
MMA Promotions: Pancrase, PRIDE, Deep, Hero’s, DREAM, Inoki
Wrestled For: Inoke Genome Federation (IGF)
MMA Record: 110 fights, 62 wins (9 KO, 42 Submission, 11 DEC), 40 losses, 8 draws
First MMA Match: March 30, 1996, Decision loss to Yuzo Tateishi, Lumax Cup
Last MMA Match: February 27, 2016, Decision loss to Yuya Shirai, Deep
DREAM Super Hulk Champion, Pancrase Neo Blood Tournament Winner (’99), PRIDE Welterweight Grand Prix Semifinalist (’05)
Wore the mask as Tiger Mask V in IGF (he was trained by the original Tiger Mask, Satoru Sayama)

YUKIO SAKAGUCHI

Photo: DDT

MMA Debut: 2006
Pro Wrestling Debut
: 2012
MMA Promotions: Pancrase
Wrestled For: DDT
MMA Record: 13 fights, 6 wins (3 KO, 2 Submission, 1 DEC), 7 losses
First MMA Match: September 16, 2006, KO win over Akihiro Ono, Pancrase
Last MMA Match: Septemberer 29, 2013, Submission loss to Takafumi Ito, Pancrase
DDT Openweight Champion, King of DDT (’15), 5x KO-D 6-Man Tag Team Champion, DDT Ironman Heavymetalweight Champion

BAS RUTTEN

MMA Debut: 1993
Pro Wrestling Debut
: 2000
MMA Promotions: Pancrase, UFCS
Wrestled For: Battlarts, NJPW
MMA Record: 33 fights, 28 wins (12 KO, 13 Submission, 3 DEC), 4 losses, 1 draw
First MMA Match: September 21, 1993, KO win over Ryushi Yanagisawa, Pancrase
Last MMA Match: July 22, 2006, TKO win over Ruben Villareal, WFA
King of Pancrase Openweight Champion, UFC Heavyweight Champion, UFC Hall of Fame (Class of ’15)

TANK ABBOTT

Photo: UFC

MMA Debut: 1995
Pro Wrestling Debut: 1999
MMA Promotions: UFC, Ultimate Ultimate, PRIDE, Strikeforce, KOTC
Wrestled For: WCW
MMA Record: 25 fights, 10 wins (6 KO, 3 Submission, 1 DEC), 15 losses
First MMA Match: July 14, 1995, KO win over John Matua, UFC
Last MMA Match: April 13, 2013, TKO loss to Ruben Villareal, KOTC
Tank tanked in WCW.

JOSH BARNETT

Photo: UFC

MMA Debut: 1997
Pro Wrestling Debut: 2003
MMA Promotions: UFC, PRIDE, Strikeforce
Wrestled For: NJPW, IGF, Impact Wrestling
MMA Record: 43 fights, 35 wins (8 KO, 21 Submission, 5 DEC, 1 DQ), 8 losses
First MMA Match: January 11, 1997, Submission win over Chris Chamos, UFCF
Last MMA Match: September 3, 2016, Submission win over Andrei Arlovski, UFC
Pancrase Openweight Champion, PRIDE Heavyweight Grand Prix Runner-Up (’06), Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix Runner-Up (’13), UFC Heavyweight Champion, Sherdog MMA Hall of Fame
Youngest UFC Heavyweight Champion in history; captured the title at 24 years old, when he defeated Randy Couture for belt in 2002.

SHAYNA BASZLER

Photo: Invicta

MMA Debut: 2003
Pro Wrestling Debut
: 2015
MMA Promotions: EliteXC, ShoXC, Invicta, UFC
Wrestled For: AIW, SHIMMER, Stardom
MMA Record: 26 fights, 15 wins (1 KO, 13 Submission, 1 DEC), 11 losses
First MMA Match: October 31, 2003, Submission win over Tina Johnson, Reality Cage Fighting
Last MMA Match: February 25, 2017, Decision loss to Reina Miura, Deep
AIW Women’s Champion (current), DDT Ironman Heavymetalweight Champion
Is part of the MMA world’s Four Horsewomen, with fellow MMA fighters Ronda Rousey, Marina Shafir (wife of WWE Superstar Roderick Strong), and Jessamyn Duke.

DON FRYE

MMA Debut: 1996
Pro Wrestling Debut
: 1997
MMA Promotions: UFC, Ultimate Ultimate, PRIDE, K-1, Hero’s, Deep
Wrestled For: NJPW, AJPW
MMA Record: 31 fights, 20 wins (7 KO, 11 Submission, 1 DEC, 1 DQ), 9 losses, 1 draw, 1 no contest
First MMA Match: February 16, 1996, KO win over Thomas Ramirez, UFC
Last MMA Match: December 11, 2011, KO loss to Ruben Villareal, Gladiator
UFC 8 Tournament Winner, UFC 10 Tournament Winner, Ultimate Ultimate 1996 Tournament Winner, UFC Hall of Fame (Class of ’16)
Was trained for pro wrestling by Curt Hennig; had a nearly eight year run in NJPW as one of the company’s top gaijin heels; he was handpicked to be NJPW Legend and WWE Hall of Famer Antonio Inoki‘s final opponent for his retirement match in April of 1998.

DANIEL PUDER

Photo: Sherdog

MMA Debut: 2003
Pro Wrestling Debut
: 2004
MMA Promotions: Strikeforce, X-1, Call to Arms
Wrestled For: WWE, ROH, NJPW
MMA Record: 8 fights, 8 wins (2 KO, 3 Submission, 3 DEC), 0 losses
First MMA Match: September 6, 2003, Decision win over Jay McCown, X-1
Last MMA Match: August 15, 2009, Decision win over Mychal Clark, Call to Arms
Won the 4th edition of WWE Tough Enough in 2004; infamously tried to shoot wrestle Kurt Angle on live television and would have choked him out had ref Jimmy Korderas counted a 3-count on a non-fall to end it quickly; appeared at two WWE PPVs, Armageddon ’04 and Royal Rumble ’05, before being released; following his release, he worked several shows for Ring of Honor and teamed with Shinsuke Nakamura in NJPW.

MARK COLEMAN

Photo: UFC

MMA Debut: 1996
Pro Wrestling Debut
: 2000
MMA Promotions: UFC, PRIDE,
Wrestled For: NJPW, AJPW, Hustle, Pro Wrestling Zero-1, IGF
MMA Record: 26 fights, 16 wins (4 KO, 8 Submission, 4 DEC), 10 losses
First MMA Match: July 12, 1996, Submission win over Moti Horenstein, UFC
Last MMA Match: February 6, 2010, Submission loss to Randy Couture, UFC
UFC Heavyweight Champion, UFC 10 Tournament Winner, UFC 11 Tournament Winner, UFC Hall of Fame (Class of ’08), Pride 2000 Grand Prix Tournament Winner
Competed in 1992 Summer Olympics for USA in Freestyle Wrestling; First UFC Heavyweight Champion; one of only two men to win tournaments in both UFC and PRIDE; holds record for fastest win in PRIDE history, 2 seconds, in a corner stoppage vs Kazuyuki Fujita in May, 2000

DARIA BERENATO

Photo: WWE

MMA Debut: 2014
Pro Wrestling Debut
: 2015
MMA Promotions: CFL HD, University of MMA
Wrestled For: NXT
MMA Record: 3 fights, 2 wins (1 KO, 1 Submission), 1 loss
First MMA Match: October 11, 2014, Submission win over Allenita Perez, CFL HD
Last MMA Match: March 8, 2015, Decision loss to Jasmine Pouncy, University of MMA
Entered WWE Tough Enough in 2015; although she didn’t win, she was signed by WWE and assigned to NXT; recently made her official NXT debut under the name Sonya Deville (she had a few appearances previously under her real name, primarily as enhancement).

MATT RIDDLE

Photo: Sporting News

MMA Debut: 2008
Pro Wrestling Debut
: 2014
MMA Promotions: UFC, Titan
Wrestled For: EVOLVE, PROGRESS, RevPro, WCPW, wXw
MMA Record: 13 fights, 8 wins (1 KO, 1 Submission, 5 DEC, 1 DQ), 3 losses, 2 no contests
First MMA Match: June 21, 2008, Decision win over Dante Rivera, UFC Ultimate Fighter 7 Finale
Last MMA Match: February 28, 2014, Decision win over Michael Kulper, Titan
WWN Champion (current), PROGRESS Atlas Champion (current)
Retired from MMA in 2013 to become a professional wrestler; arguably one of the hottest indie wrestlers in the world right now

As you can see, a fair share of MMA fighters have headed to the world of pro wrestling as well, although they don’t always become the huge stars they were in the MMA world. The transition to pro wrestling isn’t as easy as many MMA fighters think, as most discover. A few UFC legends, like Tito Ortiz and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, tried to branch into pro wrestling with Impact Wrestling, but never really made much headway. NJPW’s Kushida and EVOLVE’s Matt Riddle are probably two of the most successful MMA fighters to ever transition to pro wrestling. Tank Abbott was the blurst.

What former pro wrestlers would have done well in MMA had in existed more easily in the early days? What current MMA fighters will make the jump? Let us know in the comments below!

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