by John Morgan on Jun 23, 2008 at 5:48 pm ET
LEXINGTON, Ky. - MMA promoters have long targeted professional wrestling fans as potential ticket-buyers for their own events. Now, those same promoters are targeting professional wrestling's athletes as potential stars.
Pro wrestling's latest export, recently signed American Fight League fighter Bobby Lashley, recently told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com
) that he doesn't want to be viewed as just another wrestler.
"I'm putting it all together," Lashley said. "I'm going into this thing not with just overpowering my own style with [wrestling]. I'm actually learning everything else. I'm learning the jiu-jitsu; I'm taking it from the basics. I'm learning my kickboxing, my boxing. I'm getting the whole game tied together. So when I debut, it's not going to be a wrestler trying to do MMA. It's going to be a fighter."
Lashley has yet to compete in his first MMA bout. That chance will come later this year, at an as-of-yet-undisclosed AFL event. But Lashley said he has been preparing for that moment for more than a year.
"I worked out with AKA (American Kickboxing Academy) for a little while," he said. "They've got a couple of really tough guys out there. More than a couple, they've got a handful of really tough guys. ... Also Nate Marquardt has a gym up in Denver. I got in there a couple times and worked out with them. There's a Fight Factory in Colorado Springs. I'm heading over to Greg Jackson's in Albuquerque. H.I.T. Squad -- Matt Hughes is a good friend of mine. I'm going to be heading out there and training with those guys. Big Ron Sparks out here in Louisville. I'm going to be hitting everything, you know? The past year, I've been training pretty hard."
The 31-year-old Lashley understands the difficulty of breaking into MMA's upper ranks. And while a higher-profile WWE export, Brock Lesnar, lost in his highly publicized UFC debut against a former heavyweight champion, Lashley says he plans to build steadily toward the top.
"Not that anybody did anything wrong, but how I look at it -- and I don't want to use the WWE, but WWE does it real well -- you don't just get in the WWE and you go against Cena or Triple H for the championship," Lashley explained. "Same thing in the UFC. Like Cain Velasquez, he's not going out there fighting (Antonio Rodrigo) Nogueira right away. ... You work your way up."
Lashley is unsure who his first foe will be, but he expects to face a mid-level opponent in his AFL debut. And the former collegiate national champion wrestler hopes for a chance to show off his newly honed striking skills as he begins his climb up the heavyweight ranks.
"I don't know who I'm going to be facing," Lashley said. "I guess [AFL officials] have a handful of people they're kind of looking at. Really doesn't matter to me. Like I said before, I want to build. I want to get a pretty decent guy, knock him out, and then start working my way up there. But it's going to be somebody pretty decent."
Lashley hopes to build steadily, but he is certainly not putting a limit on where he can go in the sport.
"I'm not going to fight anybody that's a complete slouch," Lashley said. "I'm going to have formidable opponents, and I'm going to be beating those guys up until we get to the people like the Cain Velasquezs, the Brock (Lesnars), the (Antonio Rodrigo) Nogueiras, the Fedor (Emelianenkos). I'm going to work my way up to that level, but eventually, I'm going to be fighting every one of those guys."
While many fans may scoff at those lofty goals when expressed by a newcomer such as Lashley, the former professional wrestler hopes the MMA community will reserve their judgment for now.
"Everybody just says 'Oh, WWE wrestler,'" Lashley said. "Don't take that fact as everything I did in the past. I have 17 years of wrestling experience -- national championships, world titles and everything like that. I'm coming into MMA as a student of the game, and I'm working my way up. Don't look at it as, 'OK, this is a WWE guy.' Scratch all that. Say this is a guy that wants to work his way up in the business.
"I'm going to prove myself to everybody, so give me an opportunity. That's all I hope for, an opportunity."