The Blurred Lines Between WWE and UFC – by Mike Sanchez

Firstly, my sincere and heartfelt apologies for the inflammatory nature of my column last week. It should’ve come with a trigger warning and a preface that it would’ve been likely to offend and enrage many readers. I promise to never again ask if it’s time to get behind Roman Reigns.

Interestingly enough, it was the afore-mentioned R***n R****s who has a part to play in this article. His recent interactions with Bobby Lashley, specifically his references to Lashley’s MMA career, got me thinking, is a 15-2 MMA record something to sneer about, or something to build upon? Granted Lashley didn’t compete at the highest level in MMA, but just because he didn’t become UFC Heavyweight champion doesn’t mean he wasn’t successful in that sport. Come to think about it, what defines ‘success’ when it comes to those who have ventured outside of the WWE? Does a stellar indie wrestling career mean you’ve been successful? However WWE pretend to portray it, Kevin Owens isn’t a product of NXT, nor is Sami Zayn or Asuka. They were successful stars in their own right before being signed up to the biggest pro wrestling promotion in the world. Should what they’ve done outside of WWE matter or should it be brought to the fore as part of who they are?

We repeatedly hear about some stars’ high-level achievements pre-WWE; Bill Goldberg played in the NFL, Baron Corbin was a Golden Gloves boxer, Dolph Ziggler held records in his home state for wrestling and, I don’t know if you knew this, but Kurt Angle won an Olympic gold medal – with a broken freakin’ neck. But what does this have to do with the UFC or MMA, I hear you ask? Well, this past week saw the appearance of the current, reigning, defending, undisputed WWE Universal Heavyweight Champion, Brrrrock Lesnarrrr on Monday Nig…. Wait, he wasn’t on Raw? Oh, that’s right; he appeared on a UFC PPV, minus the belt. I’ll give Brock some credit here; he cut probably the best promo I’ve seen from him in the last few years. Shame it wasn’t on WWE programming, but then again, perhaps Brock can only cut good promos when he’s calling his opponents a “motherf**ker” on live television.

His return to the octagon has sparked debate among sports fans across the world. Though of little surprise to many WWE fans – who’ve known that Brock intended to return to the UFC for a while now – others began to debate the merits of WWE and UFC, citing the ‘success’ of Brock and the ‘failure’ of CM Punk in their UFC careers. (Ironic, isn’t it, that when I think about both men in WWE, Brock’s current run is a failure in my eyes, whereas Punk’s run in WWE was one of the most successful in recent memory). The WWE being seen as the ‘safe’ option for these athletes who ‘can’t cut it’ anymore in the behemoth that is the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Ronda Rousey was derided by some of her former ‘fans’ for her move to professional wrestling after calling time on a glittering UFC career in which she was recently inducted into the Hall of Fame. For those calling her out on this, I can’t agree in any way, shape or form. Though I’m not the biggest UFC fan, one cannot ignore the impact Rousey had on the product and that she was a major draw. Though her final matches weren’t successful, her impact shouldn’t be understated. Just because she’s joined WWE isn’t any reason to ridicule or criticise her. She is a major coup for pro wrestling and is delivering in spades.

So back to Brock and his promo. I saw many sports news outlets refer to his performance as akin to something you’d be more likely to see in a WWE ring – although they mustn’t have watched his recent run in WWE if they’re saying that. Regardless, it was all hype and bluster, ideal to build up to a new match on a lucrative PPV down the line. My question is this; who did that promo look to benefit? WWE? UFC? Brock himself? For me, it meant little or nothing to WWE and I’m not surprised they haven’t been pushing it in their news. Brock wasn’t highlighted as the current WWE Universal Champion, more as a former UFC champion. At what point are WWE going to just cut their losses with Brock? Yes, we know his lack of appearances aren’t his fault and we shouldn’t blame him, but if fans see fit to sh*t on Rom… other WWE stars even though they’re under instruction from WWE, why should Brock get a free pass? All this does is slowly erode and damage the status and prestige of the supposed top title he carries. It’s become a joke to some, including me. Why fight for something that clearly doesn’t mean anything to the champion? Hell, the Raw Tag Team Titles carry more prestige. Look at how AJ Styles carries himself and the pride he shows at being top of the tree and a fighting champion. Now look at Brock who cares only about Brock and returning to a sport he was so successful in – even though it means there’s a strong possibility a large man will pummel your face until your skull breaks.

Is it ok for UFC to blur the lines and borrow from WWE in their world, but God forbid WWE should even think about adopting any UFC styles in their product. How dare they try to push a real fighter in Ronda Rousey in a ‘fake’ sport and try to put her on a pedestal as high as she once was in her former career. How dare they try to gain some credibility by claiming Bobby Lashley is a legit tough guy by mentioning his great MMA record (lesser-quality opponents or not). How dare they try to convince proper fight fans that the WWE golden child CM Punk should be given a shot in the big time. We’re just wrestling fans, how dare we enjoy another sport when we have our own that we love so much.

I’m not talking about all UFC or WWE fans here – far from it. We can enjoy both shows and marvel in the skill and athleticism of the stars in each. Perhaps the lines between both companies blur a little too close to home for some. I will forever have great respect for every competitor who steps in a ring or octagon, but maybe we’re taking each other’s sport a little too serious. Who cares if Brock wants to challenge himself by stepping into UFC one more time? Who cares if Ronda Rousey wanted a change in her life and saw WWE as a fresh challenge? Who cares if CM Punk followed his dreams and threw himself into the lion’s den and put everything on the line for a shot at glory? These people lived, and are living, their dreams – something many could never say they did or tried for fear of failure.

As the old Tibetan proverb states: ‘It is better to live one day as a tiger, than to live for a thousand years as a sheep.’