WWE champion Bobby Lashley already had a few years of professional wrestling under his belt when he decided he wanted to give mixed martial arts a shot.
A three-time NAIA National Champion wrestler at Missouri Valley College, Lashley talked about his jump over to MMA on a recent episode of The MMA Hour (transcript via MMA Fighting):
“When I originally came into fighting, I came into it saying I want to do one fight. Then I won one fight, then another fight, and then another fight, and then all these things started getting thrown at me. The hardest thing with me with fighting was I had all these fights, I think I had 18, 19 fights, something like that, there was some that were kind of like smaller fights that didn’t really get put on my Sherdog record, but I didn’t ever have an actual training camp. Never had a training camp.
“That was one thing when I was like, ‘Man, can we run for the title? I want to run for the title.’ I’m a single father, so I had my kids, and I what I was literally doing is I was having to run down to [train with Josh] Barnett. I did some work with Barnett, I was running down to American Top Team and I would be there for a week. And then I had to run home and I was with my kids and then I’d run back and I’d get a little bit of sparring in a couple of days here or there and Josh would come up and meet me and he’d do a little bit with me. So my camps were just so broken and as a fighter, once you start moving up the levels, you really have to have a game plan. You’ve really got to have a team, you’ve really got to have everything together.”
Despite his lack of a true team, and his professional wrestling work on the side, Lashley did well in MMA. His official record was 15-2 inside the cage, with his final fight taking place in 2016 under the Bellator banner. He finished his MMA career with a five-fight run for the Viacom-owned promotion, winning each of those bouts via stoppage with none of the contests reaching the third stanza.
One reason Lashley chose to work with Bellator was because the promotion allowed him to pursue his professional wrestling career at the same time as his MMA career.
Lashley said that while he was working with American Top Team, team founder Dan Lambert kicked the tires about a deal with the UFC. But, the money and exclusivity were barriers to that relationship working for the fighter.
“I’m not a hundred percent sure, but I know that Dan had talked with (UFC president) Dana (White) at one time and Dana he was fair with it, he said, ‘You know we can’t offer him a huge contract, but we will give him something that he can get his foot in the door and kind of prove himself,’” Lashley said. “That’s all I knew and then when I talked with Dan about it — Dan’s a huge pro wrestling fan — Dan was like, ‘They want you to sign everything. There’s no more pro wrestling. Are you ready to shut the doors on pro wrestling?’ I was like, ‘Golly.’ You can’t offer me a contract and say, ‘Yeah we bring him in, but he needs to shut all of that down and get small money.’ Because the wrestling is something that I knew that I could really make some good money on long term. So I couldn’t take a small contract to prove myself where I had pro wrestling where I’d already proven myself and that was always my money bag that I could always go back to. So I really couldn’t do it.”
“Everything was left up in the air for me with (Bellator president Scott) Coker and I wish I could have done that with Dana, but I understand that you can’t do that in the UFC,” Lashley added. “He’s not gonna let anybody have that part-time, do-whatever-you-want kind of contract and that’s what I needed and that’s what he wasn’t willing to give.”