Athletes changing their sport is something that used to happen a lot until the 20th century. Before then, sports were less commercialised, and athletes were often semi-professional at best, earning stipends that would need to be supplemented by another income. There are many examples of motor racing in the mid 20th century where drivers would race in multiple championships for different teams at the same time. One of the most prominent examples of this is John Surtees, who remains the only person to win World Championship titles on both four and two wheels, a record that has stood since 1964.
One area where athletes still regularly cross into different disciplines is fighting. This is perhaps due to the desire of boxers, martial artists and wrestlers to prove their dominance across the
board. Another way to prove their abilities, aside from the typical scheduled fights, is to compete in team based events like the Olympics and the World Series of Boxing. The World Series is a tournament that sees amateur boxers compete professionally as part of a team, without head guards or vests. Dabbling in other sports still remains popular though, here are some examples where fighters have stepped into a different ring.
A 6’9”, 250 pound, undefeated heavyweight champion, Tyson Fury is made of the stuff you need to make it in boxing. His height also means he is taller than all but one of the active WWE wrestlers. In late October 2019, Fury will make his wrestling debut in a match against Braun Strowman at WWE’s Crown Jewel event, which will also feature a 20-man battle royal.
While Fury has proven he’s got what it takes in the ring, he also has a touch of showmanship that other boxers don’t. He has appeared in all kinds of outfits, including a Batman costume, an Uncle Sam hat, and loud suits. Combined with his mysterious side, he is certainly one of the biggest characters in boxing. That showmanship is perfect for WWE, where the actual action in the ring is only part of the overall experience.
Fury has had several run-ins with Strowman in recent weeks, including a heated exchange which required the pair to be separated by security, and Fury expressing anger at Strowman pushing Dolph Ziggler crashing towards him at a SmackDown event.
Known by many as “The Beast”, Dan Severn is a fighter who has tried his hand at just about every format during his career. He became All-American Wrestler three times whilst at college in Arizona. He then moved into the Ultimate Fighting Championship, where he won UFC 5 and the UFC Ultimate Ultimate tournament in 1995. He continued fighting in the UFC until 2002, and has continued fighting in events all over the world since. He also appeared in the WWE during the late 1990s, lasting around a year and a half.
Starting out at a similar time to Dan Severn, Ken Shamrock began competing in the UFC after performing as a wrestler in both Japan and the US in the early 1990s. He then spent several years balancing fighting in the UFC and in Pancrase. He then made the transition to the WWE in 1997, where he remained until the end of 1999. After gaining the title of “The World’s Most Dangerous Man” he returned to MMA in 2000. Shamrock returned to the ring in 2019 with the IMPACT Wrestling promotion.
Josh Barnett began fighting in MMA in 1997, winning his first 9 fights, including one over Dan Severn. He began in the UFC in 2000, and became the youngest UFC heavyweight champion at the age of just 24. Shortly after this he moved to Japan, where he continued MMA fighting and also began wrestling professionally. After winning a number of wrestling titles in Japan he returned to fight in the UFC in 2013.
While in decades gone by, athletes would switch between sports, this has become a lot less common in recent years. However, one area where it is still common is fighting. Many MMA fighters and boxers make the move into wrestling, either into the WWE like Tyson Fury, or into professional wrestling in Japan like Josh Barnett. Many of the skills are interchangeable, so it makes sense for fighters to compete in each discipline. It therefore will likely continue to happen.