Tuesday, January 29, 2008

UFC vs. WWE: Top 20 Pro Wrestlers Turned MMA Fighters

This article originally published in 2008. Brock Lesnar is hardly the first pro wrestler to break into MMA. But you wouldn’t know that from watching the UFC vs. WWE buildup in the UFC 81 commercials. Brock isn’t even the first WWE Superstar to try MMA. UFC Hall of Famer Ken Shamrock leads that pack which includes Sylvester Terkay, Giant Silva, Ludvig Borga, Sean 'O Haire, and Bart Gunn. 

So who are the top pro wrestlers turned MMA fighters? And where does Brock Lesnar fit in the all-time list? Here's my take:

Top 20 Pro Wrestlers Turned MMA Fighters* (Source: LarryWeaver.com)
  1. Kazushi "The Gracie Hunter" Sakuraba (UWFI) 23 - 10 - 1
  2. Dan "The Beast" Severn (NWA) 81 - 15 - 7
  3. Ken "The World's Most Dangerous Man" Shamrock (WWE) 26 - 12 - 2
  4. Don "The Predator" Frye (New Japan) 17 - 6 - 1
  5. Kazuyuki Fujita (New Japan) 14 - 6 - 0
  6. Kiyoshi Tamura (UWFI) 27 - 12 - 0
  7. Volk Han (Rings) 19 - 6 - 0
  8. Brock Lesnar "The Next Big Thing" (WWE) 1 - 1 - 0
  9. Bob "The Beast" Sapp (WCW) 9 - 2 - 1
  10. Justin McCully (UPW/New Japan) 8 - 3 - 2
  11. Sylvester "The Predator" Terkay (WWE) 3 - 1 - 0
  12. Ron "H2O" Waterman (OVW) 15 - 5 - 2
  13. Dos Caras Jr. (AAA) 6 - 4 - 0
  14. Tokimitsu "Kendo Kashin" Ishizawa (New Japan) 1 - 4 - 1
  15. Paulo Cesar "Giant" Silva (WWE) 2 - 6 - 0
  16. Tony Halme aka "Ludvig Borga" (WWE) 1 - 2 - 0
  17. Sean 'O Haire (WCW) 1 - 2 - 0
  18. Mike "Bart Gunn" Plotcheck aka "Mike Barton" (WWE) 1 - 1 - 0
  19. Craig "The Pitbull" Pittman (WCW) 1 - 1 - 0
  20. El Canek (CMLL) 1 - 0 - 0
Honorable Mention: Yoshihiro Takayama (All Japan) 0 - 4 - 0; Tom "KGB" Howard (AAA) 0 - 6 - 0; Anthony "Pitt Bull #2" Durante (ECW) 0 - 2 - 0; Bam Bam Bigelow (WWE) 0 - 1 - 0; Taka Michinoku (WWE) 0 - 1 - 0 ; Jushin "Thunder" Liger (New Japan/WCW) 0 - 1 - 0; Michiyoshi Ohara (New Japan) 0 - 2 - 0; "Lightning Foot" Jerry Flynn (WCW) 0 - 1 - 0

Note: (Parentheses) denotes wrestling organization when they gained most fame.

*Eligibility Rules:
  • The athlete must have had their first professional wrestling match prior to their first professional mixed martial arts match.
  • Professional wrestling is defined as having “worked” (predetermined) finishes.
  • Professional MMA is defined as a paid MMA match (not amateur or exhibition). For clarity, the fighter must have their record listed on Sherdog.com (listed above as win - loss - draw).
  • Top 20 takes into account an entire MMA career as well as potential for future MMA success.
Not eligible for this list are Josh Barnett, Tank Abbott, and Daniel Puder. They all had success in both pro wrestling and MMA, but all had their professional MMA debut before their pro wrestling debut.

To be very clear, I don’t expect to get this list right the first time. I encourage your intelligent, articulate input below in the comments section.

Update: Here are some additional candidates for the list:
  • Akira Maeda 10 - 5 - 0
  • Nobuhiko Takada 2 - 6 - 2
  • Masakatsu Funaki 38 - 12 - 1
  • Naoya Ogawa 7 - 2 - 0
  • Wataru Sakata 6 - 11 - 0
  • Serjbudee "Blue Wolf" Dolgorsuren 1 - 0 - 0
  • Jadamba Narantungalag 1 - 2 - 0
  • Kensuke Sasaki 2 - 0 - 0
  • Genki "Neo-Samurai" Sudo 15 - 5 - 1
  • Yoji "Mr. 200%" Anjo 0 - 5 - 1
  • Geza Kalman 4 - 7 - 0
  • Glenn Kulka 1 - 0 - 0
I guess the point is that there are nearly 50 professional wrestlers who competed in MMA. Many of those competed in both the WWE and the UFC. All of this makes a quote from the Feb. 2 edition of the Washington Post some troublesome: Lesnar "is the first professional wrestler to make the leap to the UFC." That's an unforgivable error in the age of Google. If you don't already, question everything you read.


Anonymous said...

Ken had many MMA fights prior to WWF. He was a 'shooto' champ in japan before he was even in UFC 1 (which i think was in 1992 or 93)

and i believe the greatist pro wrestler turned actual fighter... Kazushi Sakuraba
he dominated in PrideFC but started off as a japan pro wrestler.

Larry Weaver said...

Thank you. I knew I was leaving someone major out, and it was Kazushi Sakuraba. I will update the list to reflect his inclusion.

Ken Shamrock actually started as a pro wrestler in the Charlotte, NC based South Atlantic Pro Wrestling. I believe he was trained by Nelson Royal in 1988, and wrestled professionally as both Wayne Shamrock and Vince Torelli before debuting in MMA. He continued to wrestle stateside until 1992 when I worked as head script writer for SAPW. Reference: http://www.larryweaver.com/blog/2007/11/how-to-break-into-pro-wrestling.asp

Ted Hobgood said...

Didn't Bart "Brawl For It All" Gunn do some MMA after his ouster from the WWF?

I know Kendo Ka-Shin, he of the ubercool mask, tried his hand in MMA as well. If I recall correctly, he was supposed to be pro wrestling's saviour in the world of MMA, but was quite the disappointment. And if memory serves, he tried to fight in his mask. Smoooooth...

Larry Weaver said...

Ted, excellent call on Bart Gunn and Kendo Kashin... I also omitted current UFC Heavyweight Justin "Sane" McCully from Team Punishment. I first met Justin through Rob Van Dam, when Justin was trying to break into ECW. At the time, he was wrestling as part of Team Hardcore in UPW. RVD and Justin have remained friends, and you can see Justin on current episodes of RVDTV - available at RobVanDam.com. I have updated the list to reflect their inclusion.

Larry Weaver said...

I just received a personal email from Dave Meltzer that reads "Severn and Frye both did pro wrestling before MMA". According to his Yahoo! Sports bio, Dave has covered MMA since 1993 through the pro wrestling trade industry publication the Wrestling Observer Newsletter. Dave actually covered MMA before UFC 1 and is certainly responsible for my interest in the sport. Although I can't find sources on the Internet to back up Dave's email, who am I to question him? Besides, who are you going to believe – Dave Meltzer or Wikipedia? I will adjust my rankings to reflect this change.

Larry Weaver said...

Here's another Dave Meltzer comment from yesterday's Wrestling Observer online update: "No Kiyoshi Tamura or Volk Han ahead of Giant Silva? Actually, [this makes] for an interesting list. Brazo de Plata even did MMA." Let's face it: Dave is probably the only person on the planet qualified to write this list. I'll encourage him to explore the topic further. In the meantime, I will add Volk Han and Tamura to the Top 20 - but not Super Porky! If their record isn't on Sherdog, they don't get on the list. Those are the rules I made up...

Anonymous said...

Look up Katsuyori Shibata. I think he wrestled first as well through New Japan (and eventually became a freelancer). I believe he's 2-3-0.

Anonymous said...

Tsuyoshi Kohsaka, the only guy to put a blemish on Fedor's record, was a pro wrestler before doing MMA.

Unknown said...

And what the hell is he doing now?

Anonymous said...

just to let u know den severn was definitly an mma fighter before he became a wrestler...just fyi

Matthew said...

To the guy that said Severn had mma fights b/4 pro wrestling. Dude ur totally wrong. Severn fought his first UFC as an NWA World Champion. Severn also did shoot style pro wrestling in Japan b/4 UFC existed! Read Erik Paulson's Rough and Tumble book and you will learn that mma IS A PRODUCT OF PRO WRESTLING! This can't be disputed! Shooto, the first mma organization in Japan, was started by pro wrestlers Tiger Mask and Yori Nakamura nearly a decade BEFORE UFC 1! MMA is a form of pro wrestling, it is old school pro wrestling and it will never exist apart from pro wrestling.

Unknown said...

Well, as this source shows that MMA is most important fighting event between them. The exclusive info really knowledgeable to me. I know that Brock is also one of them, but now he has returned.
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Unknown said...

There's also Jerry Flynn who wrestled in Japanese organizations, WWE, and WCW... but also fought in World Combat Championships in the mid-90s.... and lost (to Fred Floyd)... I think he only had that one MMA fight....

Also Koji Kitao, ex-sumo grand champion, did prowrestling in New Japan and UWFI and various other Japanese groups, but then tried MMA in the Universal Vale Tudo Champtionship in Japan, mid-or-late 90s UFC, and then Pride. He didn't do too well in MMA.