With Jake Hager’s (formerly WWE’s Jack Swagger) success in the Bellator cage, I thought we would take a look at 10 pro wrestlers that could succeed in MMA. This is a list that includes wrestlers with experience or certain “it” factors that make me believe they could succeed in MMA, so we won’t have any John Cena, Randy Orton, or any other wrestlers who would most definitely have a CM Punk outcome. I am also keeping the list as “current” as possible, so we won’t see anybody from before 2000 on this list. Wrestlers with an MMA history also won’t be listed, so no Brock, Ronda, Suzuki, or Nakamura types.
Moose, real name Quinn Ojinnaka, is currently a wrestler for the wrestling company IMPACT! and has also had stints in NJPW and ROH. He is also a former football player playing in the NFL for multiple teams in the 2006-2012 seasons. What makes me so confident he could succeed is his pure athleticism. He is someone who is not only incredibly strong but also incredibly fast for someone that stands 6’5″. Although he has no combatant experience, I believe he could at least get a couple wins in a company like Bellator.
#9: Aleister Black
Black, known to many as the former Tommy End, is currently with the WWE, in their developmental territory NXT, but has been wrestling since 2002-ish. Although he looks tough and throws a lot of kicks and knees in the ring, it isn’t why I chose him. Black has actually competed in numerous martial arts, most notably in kickboxing and Pencak Silat, which is an Indonesian martial art. Black continues to train in certain martial arts, and although he would definitely need some camp, and learning experience before jumping into a cage, being just 33, it’s not too unlikely to see him eventually try his hand in a cage.
#8: Eve Torres
As far as the women of North American wrestling, the most qualified for an MMA bout would be Eve Torres. Torres (34) is unknown to many MMA fans, married into one of the most prestigious families in MMA, that being the Gracie family. Now, do I think she could succeed because she is a Gracie? No. However, not only does Torres currently have a Purple belt in Jiu-Jitsu, but also has kickboxing training in her arsenal. She currently is the head instructor at the Gracie Women Empowered self-defense program and could definitely hold her own in the cage.
#7: Kyle O’Reilly
Kyle O’Reilly, like Black, is also in NXT, as part of the Undisputed Era stable. Although, he had a long run on the indy scene in companies like PWG, before signing with ROH for numerous years. O’Reilly is a terrific athlete, as in his younger years, he participated in almost every sport imaginable. While not only is he athletic, fast and strong, he also has kickboxing training and shows that in his wrestling. O’Reilly, more than anyone else on this list reminds me of CM Punk, as if he were to jump, h would probably have close to the same skill. However, the big difference being that O’Reilly is only 31, while Punk was 38, so if it was a goal, it is something he could very well accomplish. The only thing holding him back is his Type 1 diabetes, but it hasn’t seemed to hold him back in his pro wrestling career, so who knows.
#6: Kota Ibushi
Kota Ibushi is not only a spectacular athlete but also one of the very best wrestlers in the world today. Although he has been wrestling since 2004, his career has been a little weird. Ibushi has been almost everywhere including Japanese promotions DDT, and NJPW, most notably being part of the Golden Lovers with his best friend, and best wrestler in the world Kenny Omega, and even briefly making an appearance in WWE. However, right before Ibushi began his career, he was actually very successful in Karate winning a few big tournaments. In the early 2000’s he actually almost fought in K-1 but didn’t after his opponent was injured. In 2016 he finally fought but in an exhibition. Ibushi is someone that no doubt would do well in Japanese MMA, and one day, maybe soon, we may see him in ONE.
#5: Shelton Benjamin
While many pro wrestling fans know about Shelton Benjamin’s amateur wrestling credentials, the average MMA fan may not. Benjamin was, and still is a freak athlete who seemed to excel in anything he tried, this included wrestling in high school and college. After graduating from college, Benjamin began training with former UFC Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar and even considered trying out for the 2000 Olympics. However, Benjamin decided to pursue a pro wrestling career. Benjamin, now 43 is a little too old to jump in too a cage for the first time now, but if he would have decided to pursue his amateur wrestling career, and followed his good friend Brock Lesnar’s path, Benjamin could have seen UFC success and may have even eventually captured gold.
#4: Tomoyuki Oka
Now, this is a wrestler that even the average wrestling fan doesn’t know. Oka is currently a wrestler in NJPW, in the Young Lion training program, who currently is on an excursion in the UK. However, what even people who know him don’t know is that he was indeed one of Japan’s best amateur wrestlers in his school days, winning All Japan Wrestling Championship in the freestyle division. Oka also has experience in numerous martial arts including judo, karate, sambo, kickboxing, pankration, jiu-jitsu, and even MMA training. Oka, who is only 27 is someone who definitely could’ve bee a very good fighter in Japan, and if he ever chooses, could go the MMA route, and he would surely do terrific.
#3: Wade Barrett
Barrett, whose real name is Stu Bennett, is the quite the opposite of Haku, as Bennett was known in his 20’s as one of the best Bare-Knuckle brawlers in the UK. He has so much experience in combat sports that he without a doubt could succeed in the cage. After winning one of the biggest underground Bare-Knuckle events in the UK, winning a large pot of dough in the process, Bennett soon found himself stabbed in the back alley. The mugger tried to take the money, but even after receiving a very bad stab wound and losing a lot of blood, fought the man off, and retained all of the money. Bennett, who now seems to be relaxing away from wrestling, ever decided to jump into the cage, I have no doubt in my mind that he could pull it off, even though he is close to 40.
#2: Jeff Cobb
When asked in a round-table which wrestler could do the best in MMA, the choice for me was easy, that being the former Olympian, Jeff Cobb. Jeff Cobb, also known as Matanza, has wrestled in Lucha Underground, NJPW, and now is currently signed to ROH, holding their TV title. However, despite having a very good pro wrestling career, it wasn’t his start. Cobb was an elite wrestler who qualified for the Guam men’s wrestling team for the 2004 Olympics. He didn’t go far, as in the preliminary pool he was soon eliminated by the UFC’s own Yoel Romero. Cobb, however, has more strength than any other pro wrestler I have ever seen, and being younger than most of the others on this list, with some kickboxing training, Cobb could go further than almost any other wrestler.
Honorable Mention: Kurt Angle
I know this may upset some, seeing that Kurt Angle is an Olympic gold medalist, and the obvious best pick, that is if he was younger and healthier. Kurt hasn’t been healthy in over 10 years,and unknown to many, actually almost fought for the UFC, only to not be granted a fight due to his poor health. So, could Kurt Angle have excelled in MMA? Absolutely, if he was ever healthy, but being as this a current-ish list, I just can’t put someone on the list who has a 0% chance of ever fighting, or being cleared to fight in a cage.
#1: Dalton Castle
If you have never watched ROH, you may have no idea who this is and may scoff at the idea of him as a real MMA threat, wearing gear like that. On the other hand, if you have watched him, you know how spectacular he is. Castle is someone who isn’t the biggest, yet is insanely strong. He is also incredibly quick, athletic, and can do it all in the ring. But what could he do in a cage? Well, Castle had 10 years of wrestling experience through college, winning a varsity wrestling tournament in 2004 for his high school. When he hit college, he went into the NCAA Wrestling program, where he won a Greco-roman wrestling tournament in New York, while also representing the All-State New York wrestling team three times.
He eventually made it on to Team USA and represented the country in the World Championships. Castle succeeded in amateur wrestling, such as other pro wrestlers turned MMA fighters, Brock Lesnar and Jake Hager. So I believe, that Dalton Castle has the best shot at succeeding in MMA than almost all other wrestlers currently right now. That is if he wanted to hang up the sparkly boots, which we won’t see anytime soon.
Being that this list is current, there was one name that was on my mind but trying to keep it current, I excluded him. However, #1 all-time is without a doubt, Danny Hodge.
I don’t have enough time in the day to speak about the greatness of Danny Hodge, but I can name a few things. Crushed apples with his bare hands, an undefeated collegiate wrestler, never once taken off his feet, the only amateur wrestler to be on the cover of Sports Illustrated as an amateur wrestler, Olympic Silver medalist, and has the amateur wrestling equivalent of the Heisman Trophy named after him, just to name a few accomplishments. As one of the greatest amateur wrestlers of all time, the greatest collegiate wrestler of all time, and one of the most dominant MMA fighters ever is what he could’ve been, except MMA wasn’t around during his time. Danny Hodge, without a doubt, would’ve set the MMA world on fire, if he fought today.
Let us know a pro wrestler who you think could succeed in MMA, past or present, and let me know if you want another list similar to, or like this @CoachCMmma on Twitter.