Former WWE United States and ECW champion Bobby Lashley is walking a tricky road, professing to be both a mixed martial arts fighter and a professional wrestler at the same time. With a newly-won MMA title, Lashley looks to be mentioned in the same breath as Ken Shamrock, Kazushi Sakurba and Brock Lesnar, rather than the unsuccessful Dos Caras Jr. (Alberto Del Rio), Sean O’Haire and Yuji Nagata.
The parallels between professional wrestling and mixed martial arts are fairly obvious, but each require its own skill set as well.
Having won his first heavyweight championship in MMA for the Shark Fights organization, beating Karl Knothe by submission in the first round on November 11th, Lashley believes that while this victory is a great feat, he still has a long way to go in this sport and is looking to use this win as a stepping stone for even greater success in MMA.
“Defeating a guy like Knothe, who was on a 14-fight win streak is a big deal,” Lashley explained to SLAM! Wrestling. “The fight went great, we came into it with a gameplan, to go out and get a win by submission, which I did.
“Of course you can win a fight by striking but it says more that you’re evolving as a fighter if you can get a submission.
“Anybody can knock somebody out. But you can’t really prove if you’ve evolved, improved or gained anything in your fighting ability by knocking someone out.”
Lashley added: “It was good to add some legitimacy by winning the title. For me, I train all the time, I fight a lot so to be able to fight and win a title just gives you that little bit of reassurance that you are a legitimate and good fighter.
“Every fight I win helps me to strengthen my career in fighting, whether it’s a title fight or not I don’t think matters just as long as I win.”
Lashley, 35, takes pride in the fact that he has been a champion in both respective sports and while he is still actively seeking wrestling bookings as well as continuing to improve his fighting record, he wants to make it clear that there are two personas he would like people to see.
“I want to have two personas, Bobby Lashley the MMA fighter and Bobby Lashley the pro wrestler. I don’t want to be known as Bobby Lashley the wrestler that went into being an MMA fighter, I want to be known for both.
“Wrestling has such an astronomical fan base, if you’re a World champion in WWE, the people know you, you’re instantly recognizable. You have an incredible amount of stardom because of the title. But MMA is great also because when you’re a champion, people who aren’t necessarily fans of the sport look at you and think, ‘Damn, this guy knows how to fight,’ and there’s that respect there.
“So you get notoriety from two different sides, they’re a bit different but I like them both. It has to be said that the highest point in my life was winning the ECW World Championship; it helped out my career a lot. Forever people will look at the history books and see my name as a champion, so I have to be proud of that.”
His release from WWE in 2008 was something of a shock to many, coming at a time when he was out injured. While he declined to talk about the reasons for the departure, the 6-foot-4 Lashley still looks back on his WWE career with fond memories.
“I would say the first WrestleMania really helped propel me in WWE, this was my first one and I was in the Money in the Bank match. Performing in front of that crowd was awesome. They say it’s always easier the second or third time around, the first is always the hardest and I agree. It was such an eye opener for me, the first time you perform at WrestleMania, you really don’t know what to expect and it’s a whole different level.
“It’s a culmination of what you have done for an entire year. Being in the Money in the Bank match was kind of like WWE saying we present the best up-and-coming guys in the business. So that was huge for me.”
In terms of a situation he will never forget, Lashley cites his feud with Mr. McMahon which culminated in the Hair vs. Hair match, with Donald Trump in his corner, against Umaga at WrestleMania 23 as quite possibly his defining moment in WWE.
“That whole section of my career was just a dream come true, honestly. Everybody wants to have that opportunity to go head to head, toe to toe, with a heel the caliber of Vince.
“There are a lot of guys in the wrestling business, like Triple H, Taker, Shawn Michaels and Kurt Angle, that everyone would say it would make my career to go up against them, but in the mix of all those guys I’m sure Vince’s name is up there, everything he does he goes all out for so you know its going to be a notable feud.
“To feud with him in only my second year on TV in WWE was incredible and something I’m proud of.”
Juggling a schedule to try and arrange MMA fights as well as wrestling bookings, means Lashley doesn’t get much time to watch WWE’s current product. But what he has seen has made him realize, like most of us have, that the company is in a transitional period.
While he believes WWE is starting to make right decisions, one thing that does amaze him however, is the company’s failure to lure John Morrison into a new contract.
“If I was in charge of WWE I wouldn’t have let him, John Morrison, go. He was a guy I liked and who I thought could have been a star, he was someone that no matter what you gave him he was going to make the best and deal with it.
“Dolph Ziggler is going to be really big in 2012, he came into WWE around the same time I did and he has improved a lot. He loves professional wrestling and that always helps and is evident to see.
“Apart from that I think that WWE are doing OK, it’s obvious they’re trying to re-build. They’re trying to build guys up and get some new fresh faces out there. They realize that while they’re doing this they’re going to take a bit of a hit and that’s what’s going on right now.
“Looking at the ratings for some of the shows and PPV buyrates would suggest this, but it’s going to take a while for fans to get used to it and become attached to the guys that Vince is placing on top. It’s going to take a little time for those new guys on top to prove their stardom or get where they need to be.
“But WWE will be fine. The question is whether the new guys that Vince is placing on top will get over, some will, some won’t. But they need time, it looks like some of the guys at the moment may take more time than others to get over but they will eventually. WWE always has a way of finding what works, one way or another.”
When asked whether he thinks that WWE could use a guy like himself in their main event picture, Lashley believes that he has unfinished business in Vince McMahon’s global corporation and wouldn’t rule out a return.
“There’s of course unfinished business in WWE, there’s always some unfinished business somewhere, but I believe there’s still something’s to accomplish in WWE, definitely.
“I’m completely open to going back, I would love to come back and do something big if there was an opportunity presented, I would definitely consider it.
“While I would do it, if the chance never came my way then I would be completely content in continuing with what I’m doing at the moment and that’s continuing wrestling and trying to become the best possible fighter I can be.”