It is difficult being fan of WWE and Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) whilst based in the United Kingdom. The largest MMA promotion in the world (UFC) is locked behind the BT Sport paywall. Fortunately, BBC airs the other big US promotion, Bellator, on their streaming service, BBC iPlayer. This is the main way mixed martial arts fans can receive their regular “fix” of MMA here in the UK.
Over the years however, more and more crossover has appeared in mainstream wrestling promotions. Ronda Rousey, Matt Riddle and Shayna Bazler all made their way to WWE while Jake Hager made the jump to AEW. Ken Shamrock features on IMPACT Wrestling and the “Pure Rules” matches in Ring Of Honor (ROH) carry a lot of MMA traits.
It’s easy to forget that UFC was once the hottest sports promotion on the planet. Rousey and Conor McGregor were megastars who had a broad appeal across all sports. With WWE really lagging behind in terms of their presentation of MMA, what don’t they understand about the sport? But more crucially, how can they start to get it right?
Utilize Strengths, Hide Weaknesses
Paul Heyman has always stated that in order to create a new star, WWE must utilize their strengths and hide their weaknesses. This is incredibly key to the success of former MMA stars in professional wrestling. During her time on the main roster, Ronda Rousey was allowed to make use of her MMA arsenal in her matches. The Armbar, The Judo Throw and even her strikes all felt like she was an MMA fighter existing in that world.
The same can’t be said of Shayna Bazler. The former NXT Women’s Champion was brought up to the main roster but she was never allowed to use any sort of MMA presentation. Instead, she came in and chomped on Becky Lynch’s neck… something that is very uncharacteristic of the former MMA fighter.
Not only that, but Bazler was thrown into a tag team. While fight camps do exist and the fighters do work in teams in these camps, MMA is a one-on-one sport. Nothing screams MMA fighter like being in a tag team.
This idea made no sense both on paper and in practice. Granted, Bazler was part of a unit down in NXT, but that was something that hearkened back to her days in MMA. The Horsewomen Of MMA worked incredibly well as a unit, vastly superior to the Nia Jax pairing.
Look To Other Promotions
For the most part, AEW’s presentation of Jake Hager has been exceptional. His background in MMA is constantly referenced, even going so far as to show footage from Hager’s time in Bellator. Looking further than that, Hager was allowed to compete in a worked/shoot style match with Wardlow. The Cage Fight on Dynamite was a roaring success and was able showcase MMA in a Pro-Wrestling setting.
What’s even more baffling is that WWE has had great MMA performances under its own umbrella. Matt Riddle’s match against Timothy Thatcher in the Fight Pit was a stellar blend of Pro-Wrestling and Mixed Martial Arts. Almost any Pete Dunne match blends MMA with British Strong Style, utilizing Triangle Chokes and Kimura holds. There is a wealth of talent in WWE who use MMA in their offence, yet the actual sport is never showcased?
Move Outside The Bubble
WWE lives in a lovely world in which they are the only entertainment that exists. Other sports only exist because they want something to do with it. This is an underlying issue of the company as a whole. In order to create more mainstream success, they need to start acknowledging the outside world. Acknowledging a performer’s past makes them feel like a more well rounded character. Would a viewer of Monday Night Raw know that Shayna Bazler has a 15-1 win/loss record? This is something that would drastically increase her credibility on the main roster.
At the end of the day, WWE booked their last mainstream MMA star, Cain Velazquez, horribly. His arrival was met with a huge amount of fanfare and he was thrown right into a title match. From there, he disappeared. Sadly, it seems like WWE will never understand how to book a star who has made the transition from MMA to Pro-Wrestling. We can only hope that they realize just how hot the MMA crowd is, maybe then WWE will realize the drawing power of a top MMA star.
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