Conor McGregor and Jon Jones: listen up
In 2016, Conor McGregor ruffled feathers when addressing the potential of someday stepping into a professional wrestling ring. “I have thought about [WWE],” McGregor said. “For the most part, I think these guys are pussies, to be honest. They’re messed up pussies if you ask me.” Following a bombardment of messages on social media from the WWE Universe, the Notorious one doubled down on the sentiment. “I didn’t mean no disrespect to the (WWE) fans,” McGregor tweeted. “What I meant to say was that I’d slap the head off your entire roster. And twice on Sunday’s.”
It was this response that caused WWE superstars themselves to speak out; a particular favorite of mine being Ric Flair accusing McGregor of building a career copying the Nature Boy’s persona. Former WCW (and soon WWE Universal Champion) Bill Goldberg also commented on the topic during a Submission Radio episode. “It’s the same crowd,” Goldberg explained. “One grows up and feeds into the other. We have a lot of respect for each other, a lot of us train in martial arts and a lot of them walk around and act like they’re us.” Goldberg would go on to say that Dana White was “Vince McMahon in training,” calling potential cross-promotion between the UFC and WWE as “smart business.”
Regardless of whether one agrees with the White/McMahon comparison, there are undeniable similarities between the two figures. Where Vince attempts to blur the lines between sport and entertainment, Dana clearly has an eye for the type of spectacle a UFC event can be. Allowing McGregor to crossover to the boxing ring to fight Floyd Mayweather is also one of the most Vince McMahon things White could possibly do. After all, it was Vince himself welcomed Mayweather to the wrestling ring back in 2008 for the grandest stages of them all: WrestleMania.
So why is there seemingly this stigma in the MMA world around crossing over and embarking on a career path in professional wrestling? It can’t possibly be about the money. With the exception of the champions competing on the card, most of the reported payouts from UFC 214 were in the ballpark of $50,000. Compare that to Brock Lesnar, most well-known for his success in both the wrestling ring and the octagon, who earned $12 million in 2016 as a part-timer with the WWE. Granted, an aging UFC fighter entering the WWE will not be on the same platform as a championship-caliber star such as Lesnar, but even getting a fraction of that contract while working a sport that is far safer on the body should at least make a reasonable MMA fighter consider the thought.
One rumor that continues to gain steam is that of Ronda Rousey resurrecting her career in a WWE ring. Having sorted out her personal life (Rousey recently married UFC fighter Travis Browne) and seemingly closing the book on her MMA career, there has been plenty of speculation on Rousey’s move to professional wrestling, dating back to her appearance alongside Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson at WrestleMania 31 in 2015. Triple H, former WWE Champion and current Executive Vice President of Talent for WWE, has not been coy about leaving the door open for Rousey either.
And it makes perfect sense, really. Ronda Rousey is a name that will draw, even despite her two-match losing streak in the UFC. With a few months of instruction, she could be ready for a stint in WWE’s development brand, NXT, and subsequently ready to make it to the main roster. After all, Rousey’s training in MMA has already prepped her on how to take a bump, perform various throws, and lock in submission holds.
The same logic would hold true for someone like Jon Jones, who may very well have seen his UFC career come to an end with his latest failed drug test. In fact, in an attempt to hype his feud with Lesnar (a match that will likely never happen in an octagon), Jones even went so far as to say he wanted to make an appearance on Raw, WWE’s Monday night show. Though Jones’ failed drug test may have denied us Lesnar’s UFC return, could you imagine the level of hype if Jones decided to step into a WWE ring for that match? I’m sure Vince McMahon has dollar signs in his eyes at the thought of it.
After all, that’s what drives most of these decisions: money.
It’s certainly what drove McGregor to step into a boxing ring with Mayweather. And if McGregor were to ever put his comments behind him and make the move to the WWE, money would again be a driving factor. McGregor more than anyone in the UFC today would be primed for the WWE spotlight. The man already has the affinity for a live microphone (though he may need to temper the language a bit), has a knack for the flair and spectacle inherent in a WWE event, and his “Notorious” gimmick is pretty cookie-cutter when it comes to the wrestling business (hence Ric Flair’s comments).
Maybe the most obvious argument is one hinted at earlier: the WWE is safer than UFC. Yes, if Jon Jones ever signed with the WWE, he’ll surely have to partake in the inevitable steel cage match. However, modern professional wrestlers are all taught not only how to avoid injuries to themselves, but to their opponents as well. This is perfect for Rousey and Jones, who are both in their 30’s, or McGregor who will soon be in that age group. Leaving a sport like the UFC after years of the physical toll that MMA takes on a body, the WWE could be a fountain of youth for an aging MMA fighter.
Maybe cross-promotion between UFC and WWE is really the only way to break the aforementioned stigma of MMA fighters going into pro wrestling. If more UFC fighters are exposed to the work required to cut it in the WWE, whether it be the travel schedule or the ability to entertain the audience on a microphone, more fighters might appreciate and respect their wrestling brethren. The same goes for the other side of the coin as well. UFC as a company could benefit from the likes of John Cena or the Rock (both outspoken MMA fanatics themselves), making guest appearances at major UFC events.
All it will take is for one high profile UFC fighter to make the jump to WWE, similarly to how Brock Lesnar made the move from WWE to UFC himself. Will it eventually be Ronda Rousey that ushers in the UFC/WWE crossover? Could this be the next big challenge for Conor McGregor after his big boxing match with Mayweather?
Maybe someone should tell Conor that Floyd is 1-0 in a WWE ring. That’ll surely do the trick.