7 Pro Fighters Who Went on to Pack a Punch in WWE
Lesnar went from a successful collegiate amateur wrestling career to superstardom in WWE. The “Beast Incarnate” became an immediate force by winning the King of the Ring and defeating The Rock at SummerSlam within months.
That dominance has continued during both his stints in WWE. After the first one, Lesnar sought opportunity in the NFL and then MMA. The latter was more fruitful for him, with UFC developing Lesnar into its heavyweight cash cow. His fights broke records, even if they didn’t last very long.
The UFC champion returned to his WWE roots and is the current Universal Champion, with advocate Paul Heyman by his side.
Recently, speculation was strong that Lesnar may go for another UFC run after his WWE deal ends. No matter where the 40-year-old ends up, you can bet people will be watching.
Butterbean (Eric Esch)
Butterbean was known for his punching power within the boxing world. WWE first enlisted the well-known fighter in 1997 to face Marc Mero, who was a Golden Gloves champion, at its In Your House event. Butterbean won by disqualification.
The company called again for Butterbean to face their Brawl for All winner Bart Gunn in a boxing match at WrestleMania 15 in 1999. The short fight lasted only 34 seconds when Butterbean sent Gunn crashing to the floor. Gunn’s career never recovered from losing in such spectacular fashion, and he was gone from WWE soon after.
"Money" Mayweather entered the WWE fray a little over 10 years ago in a confrontation with Big Show at No Way Out. It resulted in a legit broken nose for Big Show. This set the stage for a marquee rematch at WrestleMania 24 in Orlando. There, Mayweather used brass knuckles to knock out the giant adversary. The boxing megastar would go on to appear on WWE again in 2009 by costing Big Show and Chris Jericho their match on Raw.
Much like with Mike Tyson, Mayweather's involvement created added interest for WWE and was another major pay day for the boxer. It should be only a matter of time before Mayweather is inducted into the celebrity wing of the WWE Hall of Fame.
Shamrock was one of the true breakouts during the early days of UFC. Dubbed the “World’s Most Dangerous Man,” he lived up to the moniker and created an aura around him that drew interest from WWE. The fact that he had previously dabbled in pro wrestling made the signing that much better, easing his transition. He was the special enforcer for the classic Bret Hart and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin showdown at WrestleMania 13. From there, Shamrock went on to win numerous championships, even winning the King of the Ring and facing off against top talent like The Rock.
Matt Hardy and MVP were embroiled in a series of competitions against one another. This included not only matches—they also had eating competitions and basketball shootouts. A planned boxing match was planned for a Saturday Night’s Main Event on NBC. But when MVP couldn’t fight, it was boxing champ Evander Holyfield who stepped in his place.
This proved to be a fun visual and received some decent mainstream exposure. It ended in a no-contest when MVP decided to get in the face of Holyfield. This resulted in a knockout to “Mr. 305” and a SportsCenter highlight.
Mike Tyson is known as one of the greatest boxers to ever lace up a pair of gloves. He is also a lifelong pro wrestling fan. So, it was natural to see Tyson at WWE events and mingling with the talent.
In 1998, Tyson was infused in storylines with an initial appearance at the Royal Rumble. His heated confrontation with “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and pull-apart on the following Raw was front-page news around the world.
Tyson was enforcer and referee for Austin’s championship match against title holder Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania 14. He ended up making the three-count for the challenger.
The boxer's contributions helped turn the tide for WWE in its competition with the now-defunct WCW. Tyson was inducted in the WWE Hall of Fame in 2012.
Akebono set sumo wrestling on fire and made history as the first non-Japanese-athlete ever to reach the high rank of yokozuna. His name came up within WWE, which saw an opportunity to create a WrestleMania moment with him. Given his comparable size to the Big Show, they set up a makeshift sumo arena for a battle between the two inside the Staples Center at WrestleMania 21. Akebono was victorious in the spectacle, but he didn’t stick around in WWE. The near 7-footer and 500-pounder has also ventured into MMA and kickboxing for a bit, as well as working for numerous Japanese wrestling promotions.
When Ronda Rousey signed on the dotted line, she became one of the biggest acquisitions in WWE history. Since the announcement, the pro-wrestling rookie has dedicated much of her time to training and appearing on Monday Night Raw.
Although Rousey was announced as part of the WWE team during an appearance at January's Royal Rumble, she will make her in-ring debut at WrestleMania 34 on April 8 alongside Olympic gold medalist and Hall of Famer Kurt Angle in a mixed-tag match against Stephanie McMahon and Triple H. Rousey has already proven a headline draw for the company; the question is whether she can bring the type of business she did as a box-office draw for MMA.
WWE kicked off the road to WrestleMania with the 2018 Royal Rumble, capped off by an appearance by newly signed Ronda Rousey.
Of course, the former UFC Bantamweight champion and mainstream superstar isn’t the first combat sports athlete to transition to the unique world of sports entertainment. In 1976, Muhammad Ali participated in a boxer-vs.-wrestler exhibition. From there, Ali made numerous pro-wrestling appearances, including at the first WrestleMania in 1985.
Since then, other fighters have also gone all-in with WWE. Whether it was for one shot or becoming a regular performer, there have been some big names who have stepped through the ropes surrounding the "squared circle."
Ahead of Rousey’s WrestleMania debut, click through the gallery above to check out seven other pro fighters who went on to have knockout stints with WWE.
These sports entertainers are making history inside and outside the ring.
WrestleMania 34, Sunday, April 8, pre-show starts 4:30/3:30c, Pay-Per-View and WWE Network