AEW: Five MMA Fighters Who Should Enter The Squared Circle

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - JULY 10: Conor McGregor of Ireland walks in the octagon before his lightweight bought against :Dustin Poirier during UFC 264: Poirier v McGregor 3 at T-Mobile Arena on July 10, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - JULY 10: Conor McGregor of Ireland walks in the octagon before his lightweight bought against :Dustin Poirier during UFC 264: Poirier v McGregor 3 at T-Mobile Arena on July 10, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) /

The fandoms of pro wrestling and MMA are always at odds with each other. It largely boils down to the perceived brutality of MMA from the perspective of wrestling fans, and the scripted and theatric nature of wrestling seemingly being a turn-off for MMA fans.

I recognise the art form and ability it takes to enter both arenas, and although it may come as a hard pill to swallow for some, MMA and wrestling share a symbiotic relationship responsible for aspects of each industry and their respective growth.

UFC fighters, for example, have now started to take on elements of professional wrestling such as the showmanship and trash-talking during the lead-up to fights; whereas professional wrestling has seen the likes of Ronda Rousey swap the Octagon for the squared circle, both to great commercial success.

We have also been treated to an influx of stars jumping between the industries, with wrestlers such as CM Punk, Batista, Bobby Lashley, and, most notably, Brock Lesnar taking to MMA with varying levels of success. We have also seen MMA fighters such as Cain Velasquez and Matt Riddle take to the ring, like Ronda Rousey, within the WWE.

Jake Hager features prominently on AEW TV, as part of Chris Jericho’s stable, The Inner Circle, and has been seen in a worked MMA rules match with serial rival Wardlow. And if we’re being completely honest, it was a refreshing sight to see. With that being said, could AEW benefit from bulking their roster out with more MMA alumni? And who would fit the bill?

Ben Askren

Askren actually entered the squared circle earlier this year, granted it was under Queensbury rules in a boxing fight with internet personality Jake Paul. Following his cash-grab TKO loss to the YouTuber, Askren could well find success in a company like AEW.

Before competing within the UFC and suffering the fastest knockout loss ever to BMF Champ Jorge Masvidal, Askren was a ONE and Bellator Welterweight Champion and a decorated amateur wrestler, with accolades such as the NCAA Division I National Championship on two occasions.

What this means is that Askren has a penchant for grappling and has a fundamental grasp of what it takes to wrestle. With training, Askren could perform at an acceptable standard within AEW, and could even present a valid one-off option as a mercenary for MJF in his feud with the Inner Circle. At 37 years old, retired from MMA and seemingly not cut out for professional boxing, wrestling could well be a calling for ‘Funky’.

Cris Cyborg

Cyborg has done it all in the world of MMA, winning titles in UFC, Strikeforce, and now Bellator (Where Jake Hager competes). Cyborg is a legitimate badass, also possessing Black Belts in Muay Thai and BJJ (Brazillian Jiu-Jitsu) as well as a 2-1 kickboxing record.

Last year Cyborg signalled her intention to use the freedom that comes with her Bellator contract to pursue opportunities in boxing and wrestling and it’s a reasonable expectation that AEW would love to have her on board for dream clashes with the likes of Britt Baker, Thunder Rosa and Nyla Rose.

If she were to debut, then a perfect match-up would come against Hikaru Shida, who is a former martial-artist in her own right, reaching Third-Dan in Kendo whilst also practising Judo.

Daniel Cormier

Ever since Cormier shared a confrontation with Brock Lesnar following his UFC Heavyweight title win against Stipe Miocic, he has been in constant links to a wrestling swap. Understandably so, too, as he has represented the USA on multiple occasions and racking up gold medals in the freestyle wrestling world.

Last year, Daniel Cormier was said to be in talks with WWE over a dream match with Brock Lesnar and a possible angle with Roman Reigns but it would be awesome if AEW were able to deliver Cormier to their audience for fresh clashes with the likes of Hager, a potentially incoming CM Punk, or, if Tony Khan was to be a complete madman, bring the dream clash with Lesnar to Jacksonville.

Whichever the case, although in the twilight of his career, Cormier could well follow the likes of Angle and Lesnar into the squared circle from the mat and completely transform the landscape of AEW.

Rampage Jackson

Although the UFC Light Heavyweight division has seen dominance from another man who wants to fight Lesnar, Jackson takes my spot as the better fit for AEW simply because he has unfinished business within the realm of wrestling.

The former Light Heavyweight champion was revealed as part of the Main Event Mafia within Impact Wrestling, alongside current AEW competitor Sting, which almost immediately presents itself as an angle. We could see Jackson debut in AEW against Sting and his protege and humanoid javelin, Darby Allin, which would make for an all-around exciting clash.

Besides that, the history Jackson shares with Impact, who are in the midst of a working relationship with AEW, makes for an interesting concept. AEW World Champion and EVP Kenny Omega is enjoying a reign with the Impact and TNA World titles as it stands, and AEW could call back on the history between Jackson and Chris Sabin were Sabin to have a title shot.

Jackson could be called on as hired muscle during a feud between Omega and Sabin and in a similar way to how Lashley earned a WWE title shot against The Miz, bargain his way into a feud with Omega and The Elite.

He could partner up and eventually feud with Moxley and Kingston, take on the likes of Lance Archer and Miro in street fights and even, dare I say it again, face Hager in an MMA rules match.

Conor McGregor

McGregor is THE man who brought the wrestling style of showmanship to the world of MMA. Once upon a time, WWE was the only conceivable landing spot for “The Notorious One”, but with the rise of AEW, history once again beckons.

When McGregor went on an attack on WWE, Chris Jericho was there to retaliate. This year, Chris Jericho claimed McGregor was “done”. Jericho now presides as a dominant member of the AEW roster, being the inaugural world champion for the company. Therefore, should someone like McGregor debut, the simple name value and history of digs would make for box office and must-see TV.

Beyond that, MJF has poked fun at McGregor’s promo work and would again provide another valuable feud for the company.

I have covered the possibility of McGregor living out a WWE/UFC fans fantasy before, but the potential clash between McGregor and CM Punk which never came to fruition in MMA. Maybe it could in AEW. The sheer promo work between the two alone would make for breaking out some good popcorn, as well as establishing AEW as a company for both the casual and hardcore viewer.

The truth is, now is the time for wrestling companies to sniff around McGregor, with his UFC career appearing to be on the way out following yet another loss on top of a devastating leg injury. AEW would provide McGregor with the opportunity to continue being “The Notorious One” as we know it with no filter or censorship as well as being able to do what he does best with less risk attached.

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At the very least, he could throw a chair at champion Kenny Omega’s bus without reprimand, punch an old guy like Tully Blanchard, or ask who that guy is whenever MJF opens his mouth.