Less than a month after his demolition of Japanese pop culture icon Bob Sapp, former WWE superstar turned MMA fighter Bobby Lashley has opted to return to the scripted world of professional wrestling. Lashley made his debut for #2 US wrestling promotion TNA on their Victory Road PPV in late July. Lashley had already made several on-camera appearances for the promotion, but the signing will mark his return to in-ring action. Lashleys last in-ring pro wrestling appearance came in Mexico on a show for Lucha Libre promotion AAA.
Hes not planning to give up his MMA career. Lashley trains in Florida with the prestigious American Top Team, and ran his record to 4-0 with his victory over Sapp in late June. A press release issued by TNA this morning further validated his suggestions that he planned to do both sports. Lashey himself is quoted as saying:
I want to do both because I can. TNA is giving me the opportunity to compete in both sports which I have a passion for. I will bring MMA fans to wrestling and wrestling fans to MMA
TNA President Dixie Carter also praised Lashley in announcing the signing:
This is a great opportunity for Bobby to do something that has never been done before. He is the perfect ambassador for both sports. We are excited to have him join TNA, he is a true star that brings so much to the table as a member of our roster.
Despite TNAs claims that Lashley is the first active MMA fighter to compete full time in pro wrestling, that's not the case. Its very common in Japan, where fighters frequently compete in shoot fights like MMA while simultaneously appearing in worked (eg: pre-determined) pro wrestling contests. In fact, Josh Barnett, originally slated to face Fedor Emelianenko at the ill fated Affliction: Trilogy event still makes several appearances a year for Antonio Inokis Inoki Genome Federation (IGF) promotion. Following his positive drug test in California, he may spend ore time in pro wrestling. Lashley isn't even the first to pull the feat in the US, though hes definitely the highest profile fighter/wrester to turn the trick since MMAs overwhelming boom in popularity. Dan The Beast Severn at one point simultaneously held the UFC heavyweight title and the NWA heavyweight title in pro wrestling.
Lashley left the WWE in early 2008 under some degree of mystery and a hint of controversy. He indicated at the time that his departure was not of his own volition but due to circumstances beyond his control. Making this assertion more curious was the fact that Lashley had been used in high profile storylines by the WWE and was very popular among fans. The plot thickened when it was reported that unlike most wrestlers leaving the promotion Lashley wasnt subject to a standard non-compete agreement. Speculation at this point suggested that he may have left in response to a racial incident, a theory given more validity when WWE writer (and former member of the Fabulous Freebirds tag team) Michael Hayes was suspended for a racial slur. Neither Lashley nor the WWE has ever confirmed the reason for his departure.
At the time he was released from the WWE, Lashley began training for MMA building on an extensive background of amateur wrestling from both college and the military. The UFC took a pass on Lashley due to the perception that they couldnt market him successfully so soon after Brock Lesnars debut. Lashley certainly has the physical gifts to compete at the highest level in MMA at 63 and 250 lbs. Some even suggest that he may have more potential than Lesnar due to a possible edge in speed and agility. Lesnars recent unification of the UFC heavyweight title and amazing surge in mainstream popularity may give the promotion reason to take a second look at Lashley"they need credible opponents for their new heavyweight champion, but have to be careful not to put him in a position where his inexperience in certain components of MMA wont be exploited lest they kill the proverbial golden goose.