Pro wrestling has always had a bizarre love/hate relationship with the MMA community as a whole. MMA has always been strangely compared to pro wrestling, said comparisons are only getting stronger with the advent of talented talkers like Conor McGregor and Dominick Cruz in the UFC and with the crossover that people like Ronda Rousey, Shayna Baszler, and Matt Riddle have made within the WWE. It’s gone as far as people like Daniel Cormier being rumored to coming to the Smackdown Live commentary team when the blue brand jumps to Fox later this year. As much as either side wouldn’t like to admit it the two are closer than would seem to casual fans. Now this article will dive deeper than the easy connections of people like Rousey, Riddle, Lesnar and the like; this will examine just how intertwined these two really are.
Japanese wrestling has a very deep-rooted history with regards to MMA, going back as far as the days of Antonio Inoki and Rikidozan. However this would lead to some of the darkest in both Japanese MMA and Japanese wrestling’s history; more commonly referred to as “Inokism”. Put simply Inokism was the idea that Antonio Inoki (who was the lead shot-caller with New Japan at the time) would pit his wrestlers against some of the best that the MMA world would have to offer, this would often lead to some of NJPW’s top talent being decimated in very little time. Putting people like Yuji Nagata against people like Mirko Cro Cop and Fedor Emilanenko only for him to lose in under a minute. This even led to New Japan to put the IWGP Heavyweight Championship on Bob “The Beast” Sapp, someone who has a title defense over former two time NXT champ Shinsuke Nakamura. This would lead to Japanese game company
forcing buying out Inoki’s stock in New Japan.
One of the more interesting ties between MMA and pro wrestling has to do with one man, that man being Minoru Suzuki. Being one of the best wrestlers on the planet while at the same time being one of the godfathers of modern day MMA all at the same time, this story starts in 1988 with the pro wrestling debut of Suzuki (for reference Macho Man Randy Savage was the WWF champion, just to give you an idea of how long Minoru has been in the industy). A few short years later Suzuki would go on to start one of the foremost Japanese MMA companies Pancrase, who would play host to people like Ken Shamrock, Josh Barnett, Carlos Condit and others. Suzuki didn’t exclusively focus his time on running/competing for Pancrase either, he would also freelance for wrestling companies on the side, working for companies like NJPW and AJPW; not just at an average level either capturing the IWGP tag team titles with Yoshihiro Takayama in 2004. Leaving the MMA scene only serve to better his in ring career as he would go on to capture the IWGP Intercontinental Title off of Hiroshi Tanahashi, even though Ken Shamrock had a fair measure of accolades in the WWF in the late 90’s he did that focusing purely on pro wrestling; Minoru Suzuki did that while keeping a winning record in MMA against some high level talent.
Even when you break it down mechanically MMA and pro wrestling have a lot of similarities, not just within the ring/cage; promotion wise there is a rather stark likeness between these two. When you break down MMA as a concept you see that at the end of the day the best fighters are the ones that properly balance all of the combat styles, from grappling to striking and the ground game. Some of the best wrestlers bend multiple in ring styles together (think AJ Styles, Aleister Black, Seth Rollins and such), with some coming from various martial art backgrounds or even learning martial arts techniques to develop and expand their movesets. When you think of some of the best pay per views ever the one thing that links them all together is being built off the back of incredible feuds such as Austin vs Rock, Undertaker vs Shawn Michaels; and MMA has their own versions of that with Nate Diaz vs Conor McGregor, Jon Jones vs Daniel Cormier, and so on.
At the end of the day even though fans on both sides wouldn’t like to admit is, the truth is that pro wrestling and MMA have a lot of shared DNA. From the top all the way to the bottom there is a lot that MMA takes rather liberally from wrestling (using storylines, promos, and talent). There is also a lot that wrestling owes to MMA (use of a “shoot” style, broadcasting style and talent as well). There is a market for this type of interaction on both sides too, look at all of the wrestlers that live tweet UFC events, or fighters that attend or even compete in wrestling matches. This is honestly something that could be fostered into a positive for both sides involved.