Former WWE superstar Bobby Lashley made news when he recently announced his departure from the fictional fight world of the WWE to pursue a career in the extremely non fictional fight world of mixed martial arts. Far from just an entertainer, the 260 pound powerhouse is an athlete in every sense of the word. A former NAIA wrestling champion and a silver medalist at the world championships, Lashley is no stranger when it comes to the art of combat.
Lashley will have his opportunity to showcase all of the skills he has picked up while training with the American Top Team when he makes his mixed martial arts debut Saturday night. He will be facing off with another debuting heavyweight, Joshua Franklin, at the Mixed Fighting Alliance “There Will Be Blood” card at American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida.
Making the transition into the world of mixed martial arts isn’t something that Lashley had just recently began to contemplate. As he told FiveOuncesOfPain.com in an exclusive interview, the move from the entertainment world to the fight world has been a long time coming.
“I talked with the management of the WWE about my interest in fighting about a year before leaving,” said Lashley. “I had an injury and had to take some time off. So while I was rehabbing the injury I talked to them a little more and just came to the conclusion that if any time was a good time it was now. That’s when I decided to take the leave and started training.”
The decision to set sail in the competitive world of mixed martial arts was not a difficult move to make for the Colorado native. Competition at the highest level has become a way of life for Lashley.
“I have eighteen years of wrestling experience,” said Lashley. “I wrestled in college an I wrestled at the Olympic training center for three years. I have obtained numerous awards in wrestling. I have three national championships in college and a silver medal at the world championships.”
“I was doing a lot of different things in wrestling and towards the end of my wrestling career I started training with a lot with some of the MMA fighters. I had a chance to meet some of the guys that were actually fighting and that’s the direction I thought I was heading in.”
With Lashley’s wrestling credentials and imposing physical dimensions it was no surprise that he caught the attention of some very important people right out of college. He was at a crossroads in his life and had a very important decision to make.
“At that same time is when the WWE was offering me a contract,” explained Lashley. “It just came to a point where it was like “Alright, do you want to get into MMA now or do you want to do the professional wrestling deal?”. Just speaking to some of the people from the WWE like Kurt Angle and some others, I felt like I would want to make that jump into the WWE and see more of the entertainment side of the sport.”
Even while performing under the bright lights of the WWE, Lashley found himself with a hunger for something more. Something more competetive. Something more real.
“I definitely had aspirations to get into mixed martial arts before the WWE but the WWE was pulling a little harder,” said Lashley. “Even while going through the WWE there were always moments where I wanted to train and wanted to fight so when the time was right I decided to start fighting.”
The wheels really started turning in Lashley’s head after he had the opprtunity to train with several different fighters while wrestling in Colorado. The first hand experience with some of the techniques that they were training opened his eyes to many of the different competetive dimensions of the sport.
“It was about 2002 or 2003 when I started training with some of the guys and actually looking into it a little more,” said Lashley. “I had seen some fights before and nobody really knew that much about it so it was just kind of cool to watch the fights. When I was up there at the training center in Colorado some of the guys that were fighting with the management company I was with before would come down. They would send them up there to get the altitude training and since I was wrestling there I was wrestling some of the guys.
“So now I was starting to understand a little bit more because those guys were into jiu-jitsu which I didn’t know too much about at the time. All I had was my wrestling and I would wrestle these guys.
“After wrestling with them for weeks I would get the opportunity to go to some of their fights. That’s when I really started to understand the whole game and I started to watch it more as someone that wanted to get into it as opposed to being just a fan.”
Coming from the entertainment side of pro wrestling, Lashley enters the sport knowing that there will be plenty of people who would love to cast a shadow of doubt over his legitmacy as a true mixed martial artist. It’s something that he is perfectly fine with.
“It gets to the point now that I don’t even care,” said Lashley. “People are going to say whatever they’re going to say on the Internet. They’re going to call me a professional wrestler and I really don’t mind it because if I could turn back the hands of time and do it all over again I wouldn’t have done anything different.”
“Wrestling was great for me. It put a lot of money in my pocket to take care of my family and do a lot of things that I never thought I could have one before.”
The most important thing for everyone to know is that Lashley is a fighter first and foremost. After having made the decision to pursue a career in the MMA, he has completely dedicated himself to the sport and to growing as a fighter.
“I really don’t care if people see me as a former collegiate wrestler or a former WWE wrestler,” he said. “Right now I’m training at the American Top Team which I think is one of the best mixed martial arts training facilities in the world. I’ve been sacrificing and committing everything I have to this fight business so instead of thinking of me as anything else I would rather people thought of me as an MMA fighter because once I start fighting they’re really going to see that.”
After deciding to make fighting his full time gig, Lashley was left with the task of finding the right gym that would help propel his game to that next level. A task that did not come easily at first.
“I was thinking about getting into it for so long now and going to different training camps but the commitment wasn’t really there,” said the Missouri Valley College alumni. “I learned a little jiu-jitsu here and some striking there but nothing was really solid.”
In due time Lashley was able to find the pefect fit for what he had been looking for in a mixed martial arts gym.
“When I got down to the American Top Team, that’s when everything really started coming together. These guys are serious down here. You go in the gym any day of the week and you’re not just pitter pattering with a few decent fighters, you’re training with the best.”
Considered to be one of the premier MMA gyms in the world, the American Top Team is overflowing with an abundance of talent that will be sure to lend a helping hand in Lashley’s progression as a fighter.
“I have Thiago Silva down there,” said Lashley. “Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva, Wilson Gouveia and at any given time there’s probably about sixty different guys in the room at any particular weight. I usually have about fifteen to twenty guys from light heavyweight to heavyweight to super heavyweight that I can go hard with at any time. I also work with my boxing coach Howard Davis who is an Olympic champion boxing coach.
“There’s just so many people at ATT and they’re taking the game of mixed martial arts to a whole new level. This is where I need to be. I live in Denver but I travel down to Florida and I stay in a hotel. It’s pure dedication. I’m going to two or three practices a day to learn and condition myself. Just getting the proper sparing and putting it all together.”
The American Top Team knew what they were going to focus on with Lashley before he ever step foot in the gym.
“The good thing about when I came down do ATT is that they really understood,” said Lashley. “They were like, “We’re not going to try to make you a black belt in jiu-jitsu before your first fight. That’s just not going to happen. What we’re going to do is teach you how to stay out of submissions and we’re going to teach you a few submissions that work well for you with your wrestling background.”
Coming from the world of collegiate wrestling there are few questions about Lashley’s ablity to transition his wrestling to work for him in mixed martial arts. One of the main questions that always come up when talking about a pure wrestler making the crossover to MMA is the submission game.
“I think my jiu-jitsu is going really well as far as not being submitted,” explained Lashley. “I’m rolling with some really high caliber people and I’m working my submissions against them but it’s hard to get a black belt with a leg lock or a key lock or something like that because that’s what they’ve been doing for most of their life.”
The other question, of course, is the stand up game. At 6’4″ tall and expecting to fight at around 250 pounds, if Lashley comes into the game with decent striking he will be a serious force to be reckoned with in the heavyweight division. Like the submissions, the stand up game for Lashley is a big question mark that will hopefully be answered on Saturday night.
“I feel like my stand up is really good,” said Lashley. “I feel really comfortable standing up. I’ve been training boxing and kickboxing for months now. Right now I’m actually getting with some of the best trainers and really fine tuning my game a lot more. I feel like my striking is really good right now.
“I’d like to just knock some people out right off the bat just to show that my hands are solid.”
Al the years of preparing for wrestling tournaments have helped to provide Lashley with the right mind set when it comes to getting himself ready for battle. The road to the competition is not unfamiliar territory for the former championship level wrestler.
“I’m feeling really anxious and competent right now,” said Lashley. “It’s all coming together. It goes back to the days when I was training for the National Championships. I knew my head was right, all the positive thinking was coming in and I just knew that I was ready. I’m feeling that way right now.”
Knowing full well that there will be many very important eyes in the sport of mixed martial arts watching when he makes his debut against Joshua Franklin, Lashley hope to impress.
“This fight’s going to be a big fight for me,” said Lashley. “Even though it’s not the UFC or anything like that, it’s a big fight for me because it’s my first time jumping in there. It’s my first opportunity to go out there and display my skills.
“I can’t wait. I wish I could fight right now.”
Being that his opponent is making his MMA debut as well, it won’t be the kind of fight where any kind of real specific game plan has been laid out.
“I don’t know too much about him at all,” said Lashley. “I know he has a little bit of striking and he comes from a good jiu-jitsu camp.
“I’m just going to go in there and beat him up.”
With the spotlight shining so bright on Lashley during his MMA debut, he knows that it is pivotal for him to come out and look impressive to make a statement that he is to be taken very seriously in the sport.
“I know if I don’t get a finish there will be a bunch of critics that say this and that but there’s a part of me that wants to just wear this guy down for fifteen straight minutes,” explained Lashley. “Just attack him and attack him and attack him. Just to show the crowd that this is what I’m about. I’m about just bruising people and just pressuring them non stop.
“On the other hand I would kind of like to come out and just drop this guy with a one-two so I make sure that nothing happens.”
Shortly after making the announcement that he would be pursuing a full time fighting career Lashley made news by signing a contract with an upstart fighting organization that goes by the name of the American Fight League. The American Fight League has yet to put on a show.
“I signed a year deal with the AFL and I really hope that they get it together,” said Lashley. “I really hope we can do an AFL show and build it. The league that they wanted to start, it sounded really good and it’s something that’s needed.
“A lot of people criticize the AFL and say ‘Oh , they can’t do it’ but the only ones it’s hurting are the fighters. The more leagues that drop out, the less places we have to go to find a fight. I don’t care if there’s a hundred different organizations out there doing business. That would give us an opportunity for every fighter to find a fight every month if we want to. So for me, and I think the all of the fighters shoud really hope that the American Fight League does come together because if they do, all of us can fight.”
The heavyweight prospect had the opportunity to meet with Dana White at a recent UFC event and the response he received from the UFC’s president was a positive one.
“I met Dana very briefly at UFC 90 in Chicago,” said Lashley. “It was just a quick encounter. My management had talked to him about me so at the weigh-ins he came by and I introduced myself to him face to face. He expressed some interest in seeing what I had. He said he was really looking forward to my fight.
“I think that’s what a lot of people are saying right now. They really can’t put their money behind me until they see what I can do.”
After he gets his feet wet in competition, Lashley would love to have the opportunity to test himself against fellow former WWE superstar that has made the transition to MMA and current UFC heavyweight chapion, Brock Lesnar. A match up between the two has been a subject of discussion since Lashley’s announcement to join Lesnar in the fight game.
“Brock has the title and if he has the title then I want to get at him,” said Lashley. “Of course he has a big bullseye on his back. If there’s a heavyweight out there that doesn’t want to fight him then there’s a heavyweight out there that doesn’t want to fight, period.”
The American Top Team Fighter feels that he could possibly pose quite a few very specific problems for Lesnar. Problems that could very well lead to an extremely entertaining bout for us, the fans of the sport.
“I think me and Brock would be a great fight,” said Lashley. “Neither of us have really been training with submissions for that long so I don’t think any of us would be worried about any kind of submission.
“I think it would be a brawl because we both have the wrestling background and size isn’t going to come into play very much. I’m a little bit lighter than Brock but not enough to make a huge difference. Like when he fought Randy I think the difference was like 220 to 280. I would probably come into a fight with Brock at like 255-260 so size isn’t going to come into play.”
There are many that will argue that Lesnar would have an advantage going into a bout with Lashley based on his wrestling accomplishments but Lashley would like for everyone to take a closer look and see that it’s not as far a gap in skills as some would believe.
“I think skill wise, everybody says that he’s an NCAA champion,” said Lashley. “I took a silver medal at the world championships. So if they’re not going to count my college credibility then they can count that and compare that. As far as the wrestling goes, it would be a battle. I think it would be a really good match up that would turn into a brawl.”
He would welcome a fight with the current UFC heavyweight champion but it’s not a fight that he is any kind of rush to jump in to. Lashley knows that it’s best to take things one step at a time and he’ll worry about Lesnar when the time comes.
“I would like to get a few fights underneath my belt before I did something like that so I can get a little ring rust out,” explained Lashley. “There’s a couple of checks I want to get out of the way first. The heart check, the chin check and the ability check. I want to get those out of the way first but if the opportunity presented itself I would jump for it”
As far as the near future goes, Lashley has a pretty clear game plan of wht he would like to accomplish. He wants to stay as active as possible and make an immediate impact in the sport.
“I want to get this fight over with and then possibly line something up for the next month or month and a half later,” said Lashley. “By summer time I would like to get at least a good five fights by maybe August. That’s like fighting almost every month and not taking much time off, just staying really active.
“Then the first part of next year or the latter part of this year I will be looking to sign with a bigger organization whether it’s the UFC, Affliction or DREAM and start getting some of the big fights. Within a year and a half or two years I’ll be looking for a title shot if possible.”
At the conclusion of the interview, Lashley expressed thanks to American Top Team, First Round Management and lashleynutrition.com