WWE and the UFC have been intertwined for a long time now. This intersection began in 1997 when Ken Shamrock, a star of the then fledging MMA promotion, joined the WWE (then WWF). Since then, the paths of the two mega-promotions have crossed multiple times — and often with plenty of color, if not controversy. In this article we will look at stars from the UFC who have crossed over, stars that could do so in the future, and wrestlers who made the move from sports entertainment to MMA.
Shamrock Blazes a Trail
Shamrock’s move to the WWF was relatively uncontroversial given his much-publicized falling out with long-time UFC president Dana White. Shamrock debuted as a face on the February 24, 1997 episode of Monday Night Raw, and was called “The World’s Most Dangerous Man.”
He subsequently carved out a solid career in the Vince McMahon-run WWF, winning the promotion’s Intercontinental Championship (as a heel) and its Tag Team Championship with The Big Boss Man (as part of The Corporation). Shamrock’s success validated his decision, and his move helped pave the way for other UFC fighters to move to the WWE.
Ronda Breaks Through
It took over a decade before a UFC fighter of consequence crossed over to the WWE, and that fighter happened to be the UFC’s biggest star at that time: Ronda Rousey. In 2014, Rousey began making sporadic appearances in WWE shows, including WrestleMania 31. The former Olympian would go on to win the WWE Raw Women’s Championship in 2018, and become one of the promotion’s marquee names (before taking an indefinite leave this year, reportedly due to her disdain for “ungrateful fans”).
The Floodgates Have Opened (Partially)
Other UFC stars are now eyeing the WWE. There’s former two-division champion Daniel Cormier, who expressed a desire to do color commentary for the WWE. Paige VanZant has also expressed a desire to give the WWE a shot. There is also welterweight contender Colby Covington, who has repeatedly said that he’ll make a big splash in the WWE starting in 2021.
And who could forget Conor McGregor repeatedly teasing a high-profile WWE crossover, much like his boxing exhibition against Floyd Mayweather in 2017. Despite prolonged bouts with inactivity, McGregor remains the UFC’s biggest star, and is still one of its best, having stopped Donald Cerrone inside one round last January. Next January, The Notorious One is reportedly taking on fellow UFC lightweight contender Dustin Poirier in a rematch of their 2014 fight, which McGregor also ended in round 1.
But while his return engagement is likely to last longer, Bwin predicts that McGregor will win again. This is a fight he specifically asked for, and the expectation is that he will be at his best come fight night. Beating Poirier will set McGregor up nicely for a big 2021. He can regain his lightweight title and then do anything he wants, including coming over to the WWE, whose roster he infamously trash talked in 2016, tweeting, “…I’d slap the head off your entire roster. And twice on Sunday.”
Turning the Tables
UFC fighters aren’t the only ones crossing over, with some of the WWE’s bigger names jumping ship from the squared circle to the Octagon. Most notable is Brock Lesnar, whom the UFC signed in 2007. The Beast Incarnate won the heavyweight title two years later, in the process becoming one of MMA’s top draws. Lesnar returned to the WWE in 2012, but nonetheless fought at UFC 200 — much to the disappointment of McMahon, who in 2015 bristled at Lesnar’s desire to sign again with the UFC.
Now, Lesnar is a free agent once more, with his merchandise removed from the online WWE Store. The notoriously private Lesnar has been tight-lipped about his plans, though it could hypothetically involve a mega-fight against the UFC’s Jon Jones — something White seems intent on making happen. The worse case (but likely) scenario for McMahon is Lesnar using a move back to the UFC as leverage to secure a more lucrative contract from the WWE.
Notable, too, was CM Punk’s move to the UFC despite having no MMA background. He did have a well-documented spat with the WWE, fueling speculation that he left because he didn’t see eye to eye with the WWE hierarchy. Punk’s power play didn’t pan out, as he was stopped in both his matches in the Octagon.
The lucrative nature of both sports makes moving an appealing challenge to wrestlers and MMA fighters alike. Expect more colorful and controversial intersections in the future.