Usually when fighters make their professional debut, only friends and family know about it.
When you are Bobby Lashley and you've already spent two years as a pro wrestling star, quietly starting in a new sport is not an option.
He’s a little too well known and far too big to go unnoticed. And the spotlight isn’t likely to go away, because people are already talking about a match down the line with Brock Lesnar.
Lashley, the latest wrestling star to move into mixed martial arts, didn't take long to win his first match. In the semi-main event and most talked about match on Saturday night’s Mixed Fighting Alliance show in Miami, Lashley took only 41 seconds to open a deep cut near the hairline of Joshua Franklin, who was also making his pro debut, before the match was stopped.
Lashley wasn’t sure which blow opened the cut, which reportedly needed 32 stitches to close. There were a few quick punches on the ground, and one solid shot just as Franklin was trying to get up before the match was called.
"It was a good start to get rid of some of the pressure," said Lashley, 32. "There were some worries because it would determine my future and in MMA, anything can happen."
Lashley, at 6-foot-1 and weighing 252 pounds for his debut fight, isn’t quite as large as Lesnar, but he is, if you can believe it, significantly more muscular. Lashley's training, working on his boxing and jiu-jitsu defense, as well as stamina, have only slightly changed his physique from his World Wrestling Entertainment days.
But despite the modest size differences, the similarities between Lashley and Lesnar are striking.
Both grew up in families with money problems. Both gravitated toward amateur wrestling, with Lashley winning three NAIA championships from 1997-99 at Missouri Valley College, in the 177-pound weight class. Unlike Lesnar, who left amateur wrestling in 2000 to join WWE after winning the Division I title, Lashley continued on, becoming an Army champion.
Like Lesnar, Lashley had the choice of either going into pro wrestling or MMA. Lashley came heavily recommended to WWE by Kurt Angle, the 1996 Olympic gold medalist, who at the time was one of the company’s biggest stars. He was looking at doing either pro wrestling or MMA at the time.
Lashley and Lesnar ran through opponents in the first round in their MMA debuts to heavy fanfare, with Lashley’s win very similar to Lesnar’s debut win over Kim Min-soo.
In 2004, before UFC got on cable television, like with Lesnar, pro wrestling seemed the smarter career option than MMA. Lashley, like Lesnar several years earlier, chose the WWE. He may be one of the last of the generation of amateur wrestling stars who went into wrestling's entertainment version, as from 2005 on, most college wrestling stars who would have gone to pro wrestling in the past have instead taken the MMA route because it enables them to remain active in legitimate athletic competition.
Like Lesnar, Lashley was on the fast track to entertainment stardom. Lashley signed at about the same time Lesnar quit. Lashley was even given Lesnar’s trademark ring entrance, where he would jump from the floor to the ring apron, because both men had ridiculous vertical leaps for large men. The two have never met, and Lesnar, who broke almost all ties with pro wrestling when leaving, didn’t even know who Lashley was until Lesnar started being asked about him a year ago when Lashley left the company and started hinting at doing MMA.
Lashley’s stardom was expected to skyrocket in 2007, when WWE owner Vince McMahon told the writing staff that they were going all the way with him, in an attempt to build him for a long-term run as one of the company’s signature stars.
He was put in a storyline where he was picked by Donald Trump to represent the billionaire at that year’s WrestleMania, in a match where either Trump or colorful McMahon, who doubles as a performer on his own shows, would get their head shaved upon conclusion of a wrestling match where each would pick their emissary. Lashley was scripted to win the match, and in the follow-up, Trump shaved McMahon’s head.
WrestleMania 23 before 74,687 fans at Ford Field in Detroit was the most successful event in company history, doing 1.25 million pay-per-view buys. But after taking time off for shoulder surgery, Lashley was ready to return, but he had a conflict with a member of the WWE's writing staff and quit.
But Lashley has nothing bad to say about the company or his time there.
"I really love pro wrestling," he said. "Some MMA fans may not want to hear that. I love to still watch. I love to perform. If an opening came, I’d consider my options. Right now I’m focusing full-time on fighting. I won’t say I’ll never go back."
"There’s a lot of people who want to see me lose because I was a pro wrestler. There were a lot of haters."
Lashley lives in Denver, but flew to South Florida every week for the past several months and trained Monday-Friday with the American Top Team. He regularly worked out with Elite XC heavyweight champion Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva and UFC stars Thiago Alves and Wilson Gouveia, as well as Olympic judoka Hector Lombard and former UFC fighter Carmelo Marrero.
"He’s helped me out a lot," said Lashley of Silva, who is his main training partner. "If I do something wrong, he’ll stop and point it out. He knows the better I get, the better he gets. But when the whistle blows, it’s all out."
Unlike some who are taught everything at once, at ATT, Lashley is being taught in stages, with most of the emphasis being on boxing and submission avoidance. In the little that could be ascertained in his first fight is he still has his wrestling skill, as he slammed Franklin early, and he’s got strong punching power.
Lashley, who was already back training two days after the fight, is looking at fighting again in February, and is entering stage two of training, where he starts focusing on kicking. He’s under contract to the American Fighting League, which isn’t currently running events, but has to get their approval in taking a date. He’s got offers for his second bout from the Palace Fighting Championships based out of Lemoore, Calif., as well as an organization in Oklahoma.
Cejudo to Japan?
Henry Cejudo, the only American to capture a gold medal in wrestling at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China, recently negotiated with Japanese promoters for a match on that country’s biggest event of the year, the annual New Year’s Eve event on network television that has become almost a cultural institution.
Promoters wanted to throw Cejudo, 21, into the deep end, as they wanted him to face Norifumi "Kid" Yamamoto, Japan’s most popular MMA fighter. The match would have a storyline where Yamamoto would be fighting for national pride, since Cejudo defeated a fellow Japanese wrestler, Tomohiro Matsunaga, in the gold medal match in the 121-pound weight class.
However, Yamamoto, coming off knee surgery, at this point doesn’t look like he’ll be ready.
Rick Bassman, who represents Cejudo, said talks are still ongoing but with Yamamoto out, it makes it less likely Cejudo would be brought in to debut on such a high profile show.
- Brock Lesnar
- pro wrestling
- Bobby Lashley
- amateur wrestling