On this week’s edition of the GFW conference call, we were joined by four-time GFW World Champion Bobby Lashley as well as his MMA manager, the head of American Top Team, Dan Lambert. The pair discussed many topics, from wrestling to MMA and beyond, and delved deeper into the controversy surrounding Lashley sharing his time between two sports.
Wrestling in GFW
What led to your departure from Impact Wrestling the first time around and what influenced your decision to come back to GFW?
Bobby Lashley: I never really wanted to leave in the first place. In my first stint with GFW, we tried what we’re doing now. Before, no-one really knew the commitment needed to be able to do pro wrestling and MMA - no-one knew - and then when we found out it started becoming a little complicated. At one point I had to leave because I was pursuing MMA. Now, it’s different. There’s more communication and that’s the only way that I would be able to fight and do professional wrestling at the same time, if there’s communication and cooperation with each side. It’s been really easy lately because everybody understands and everybody sees the big picture. The fighting has been beneficial to my wrestling and the wrestling has been beneficial to my fighting so everybody is on board to make it come easily. I’m gonna continue to do it as long as I can. I know we’re dealing with something right now with whether or not I can devote enough time to be as successful as I possibly can in fighting… but we’ll figure that out. I’m just excited to have the opportunity to do it.
What are your thoughts on the position GFW took with Alberto El Patron - suspending him and then stripping him of the title?
BL: I don’t think it says anything about the company. We’re all individuals. If we go out there and do something we have to hold ourselves accountable for the things that we do. The company has to do what they have to do. It’s an unfortunate situation; I don’t know all of the details because I try to stay out of that. My business and my contract says for me to be a performer and do that part - not to do any of the backstage or office stuff. The one things I do know is, who needs the title? That’s me. Give me my title back. I could care less what’s going on with him. I’m just here to compete and now there’s an open title. That’s what I’m focussed on.
Do you feel that GFW is the best place to go and succeed as a wrestler at the moment?
BL: I wouldn’t say that it’s the best place but it’s a good place. We’ve had our ups and downs with things over the last couple of years but now we’re becoming stable and a lot of good guys are coming over; I think a lot of good guys are going to continue coming over because we have a good product. Everything’s running pretty smoothly right now and everybody is looking for a place - there are so many wrestlers out there - so GFW is another place for people to get on TV, be seen and have an opportunity to wrestle. I think a lot of people will be coming over and we’ll continue to do a lot better in the near, near future.
We’re ten years removed from your last WWE appearance. With so much time passed, do you have any reflection on your time in WWE and how it all ended?
BL: Wow, ten years. Damn, it seems like a long time. It’s been a blur, man. My time since leaving WWE has been packed. I don’t really want to speak on leaving or anything like that; it was just one of those situations where I stepped away and I had another opportunity with fighting; I’ve put in 17 pro fights which I think is a really big accomplishment for myself. Those opportunities went really well and getting back into wrestling with Impact has gone really well. It’s one of those things where great things have been happening to me and I think I’m really blessed for the things that have happened to me in my life. As I look back, I wouldn’t change anything. WWE was an amazing experience for me and I accomplished some really huge things so I always look back at that time and smile. I have great friends from there and some of them I’m still working with now. Wrestling has been really, really good to me, so I’m happy with it.
Have you spoken to President Trump since WrestleMania 23?
BL: No. It was a long time ago, over 10 years ago, and the time that I spent with Trump was really cool. The pay-per-view was phenomenal and just working with him was great. I have nothing bad to say about him.
Upon hearing about Ric Flair’s current illness, what does Ric mean to you and the business in general?
BL: I’ve been travelling so I don’t really know what’s going on with Ric but as far as what he’s done in this sport - he’s a pioneer of this sport. You can’t say professional wrestling and not have name like Ric Flair and Hulk Hogan and Rock, some of those names. It’s sad to hear that he’s going through this right now but it’s the Nature Boy… the guy survived a plane crash! He’s one of the toughest guys both inside and outside of the ring and he’s a person everybody looks up to. We’re all pulling for him and I hope everything goes well.
How did you find the live crowd in India?
BL: India was great. India is always a great crowd. There are so many people in India and when we went over there you couldn’t get anywhere. They’ve been waiting for pro wrestling for a long time and they have their stars from India that are now wrestling in the United States so I think the fanbase has even grown. Our shows were incredible; it was an incredible experience across the board.
What did it mean to you to wrestle Kurt Angle’s last match in Impact Wrestling?
BL: I’ve done a lot of things in wrestling - big pay-per-views all across the world, from WrestleMania to everything else - but I put that match all the way at the top. Not at the top of everything but I think it’s my top two or three. Reason being, I’ve always looked up to Kurt. I was watching him when I was in high school wrestling and Kurt was winning nationals in college. When I went to college and was winning national championships, Kurt was winning the world and Olympic championships. I just kinda followed him all the way up. Afterwards when I was at the training centre, Kurt came to the Olympic training centre to do a vignette and Kurt is the one that found me. He said, ‘You ever think about professional wrestling?’ We talked for a little bit and I passed my number on. The rest is history. He’s the one that got me into professional wrestling. For 12 years I was in pro wrestling, Kurt and I never crossed paths… when I went to WWE, he went to TNA, when I went to TNA, he stepped out and was fighting, he came back and I was out and then I finally came back. This whole time he mentored me along the way, we would always talk to me on the phone and we’d talk about different matches and what to do and he’d just help me out with the politics of wrestling. Actually having an opportunity to wrestle him, towards the end, that was the one thing that I was pulling for so hard. I was telling them ‘if Kurt is getting ready to retire, you gotta get me in the ring with him.’ It was incredible. We had two big matches in each time it was like you were in the ring with your teacher. I like Kurt’s style, I mimic Kurt’s style to a certain extent so to me it was amazing.
What has been your favourite match in Impact Wrestling to date?
BL: Oh man, I can’t do it. There have been so many guys who I’ve had amazing matches with but my series with Bobby Roode - incredible. I think Bobby Roode is arguably one of the best wrestlers in the business today. He’s the total package. I wanna say really great things about him because I enjoyed wrestling with him. It was a very intense deal. Another one… Drew Galloway; when I had matches with Drew he gave me what I needed from professional wrestling. When I go out there and get into a match with somebody, I look in their eyes and I try to punk ‘em. I try to steal their soul and Drew had that look back where it was like ‘this guy might actually be crazy enough to throw down with me’ and that’s what it looked like in our matches. Our matches were trainwrecks. We were out there killing each other. He’s a big guy, he has a great look, I think he’s a superstar but then I’m not gonna take anything away from all the other guys that I’ve been in the ring with. EY [Eric Young] - I think EY is amazing. Moose - amazing. Eli Drake… there’s just so many people that I can’t just pick one. Austin Aries, Jeff Hardy - that was the first time I had the opportunity to wrestle Jeff, never did before and that was just crazy because it’s a whole different style of match. You talk about a guy that’s trying to kill himself to beat you… There are a lot of great guys and a lot of great wrestlers in Impact. I didn’t realise that before getting there. Another name - Eddie Edwards, being a smaller guy, bridged that gap on the size and made that match believable. People really believed that he was gonna beat me. I gave him a title once but then I took it back from him but people actually believed it. There’s just so many guys, I can’t just pick one.
How has training in MMA influenced your wrestling style?
BL: It just kinda gives me a different level. Everybody is out there learning the same thing, doing the same thing and with having an MMA background I throw some of that into my matches. I’m going for a lot more submissions, I’m doing more striking, as opposed to just professional wrestling stuff. That gives the crowd something different to see and it gives me the edge. I enjoy fighting but if I don’t use my fighting in my wrestling then I’m doing myself a disservice. Wrestling has changed over the years. Before it was the big guy / bodybuilder look, now it’s completely changed. A lot of the wrestlers across the board are more athletic. That style is very similar to my MMA style so I don’t necessarily train for professional wrestling anymore. With MMA, you have your strength & conditioning and with wrestling you’re gonna use your various strikes and grappling, everything like that. My wrestling and MMA training is basically the same but, of course, when I have a fight coming up I’m gonna ramp it up a little bit and work a little bit more in depth on striking or something that will suit my fight but I don’t try to switch back and forth any more.
Big Fight Bobby
What does training look like for you today?
BL: This morning, we just did some boxing work… boxing and agility work. We might have jiu-jitsu this evening. We’re supposed to be having a few guys get together and we’ll just do a couple rolls this evening and work on some positioning.
Is it true that your MMA manager is nervous about the amount of ring time you have been putting in wrestling?
BL: I don’t think anybody feels nervous but I think everybody just wants me to make some kind of decision. There’s a huge opportunity in Bellator right now, especially in the heavyweight division, and I’d feel really confident going against any of those guys but in order to do that I probably have to pay a little more attention into my MMA training. Maybe I’ll need to get down there and stay into camp a little bit more, focus a little bit more on that if I want to be the champion, which I have the opportunity to do. I think they’re just trying to say ‘Hey, you have a lot of opportunity here’ and, like we talked about before, there are big money fights out there for me also. You’ve got Fedor [Emelianenko] out there, and talking about cross promotion, I’d love to fight Brock [Lesnar] if I got the opportunity and anything else out there.
Dan Lambert: I’m trying to think of a diplomatic way of putting it because I’m a wrestling fan myself, I’m friends with Jeff Jarrett and I’ve got a lot of respect for the company so I don’t want to be the guy disrespecting pro wrestling and telling Bobby what’s better for him. I’ll wait for him to make his own decisions but I’ve been biting Bobby’s ear a little bit because I think his window of opportunity, as it relates to MMA, is not gonna stay open quite as long as his window of opportunity in wrestling. I think he needs to focus on which one he can make the most money on and which one he can make the bigger splash in right now. In my opinion, that’s MMA.
Do you think there will be more crossover matches between stars of different combat sports like we’re seeing with Mayweather/McGregor and, potentially, Brock Lesnar/Jon Jones?
DL: I think people are going to go where the money is. Obviously Mayweather and MacGregor is huge and it’ll be one of the biggest pay-per-views of all time. I know there’s lots of guys at our gym, including Junior Dos Santos, have already started calling out professional heavyweight boxers. People wanna go where the buzz is and wanna see the matchups that are gonna pay the most amount of money. I would not be surprised at all, based on the success of the show coming up, if we don’t at least see more guys calling each other out. Whether those fights come to fruition, I guess that’s up to the promoters and how hard the fans want to see it.
BL: There isn’t a matchup that I can think of off-hand but that’s what everybody has been saying. Everybody wants a big money fight so that’s what we’re all doing.
How has it been to work in the Mayweather gym? Have you had a chance to talk with Mayweather and his camp? Any predictions for the fight?
BL: In all the time that I went down there and trained, I didn’t speak to Mayweather personally but his coaches and all of the guys down there feel really confident. I mean, it’s boxing. He’s going into boxing so he’s going to have a hard time regardless. It’s a hype match. I’m not saying Conor is going to do bad but he’s stepping into an area that he doesn’t really know too much about and I think Mayweather may expose him in a lot of areas. Even though people say that Mayweather doesn’t have finishing power, I still think this may be a finish for him. I think Mayweather may finish Conor in the fourth or fifth round.
You are among a short list of wrestlers who have been successful in both pro wrestling and MMA. Do you think it is more difficult to go from wrestling into MMA or vice versa?
BL: I think it’s from professional wrestling over to the fight world. If you’re gonna go from pro wrestling into the fight world you have to have some kind of background. There’s some people that do, don’t get me wrong. Of course you have Brock with the [amateur] wrestling background, Shelton Benjamin, some of the other guys that are training right now have a little bit of the wrestling background. You can’t just be a professional wrestler and have nothing before that to be successful in fighting. It just takes too many years of training, learning and everything else like that to catch up. I think there’s the opportunity for some of the fighters to switch over because some of them have name value and they have a fanbase. Some of them have that wrestling background and when they come over they can learn the fireman’s carries and some of the throws that we do in professional wrestling the same way we do in amateur wrestling. If they find the right places where they can get the training, then I think there are some fighters that can switch over.
You previously expressed an interest in fighting Brock Lesnar. How do you think you would fare in a MMA fight against him?
BL: There are two reasons that I expressed interest… one is that it would be a big money fight like everybody is talking about but two is because I thought I could win. I think I can win. I don’t know any other way to answer that question. I think it would be a good fight and I think a lot of people want to see it. I could post any picture today, even with my kids, and I’d have 10, 15, 20 people come on there and say ‘hey, we want you to come back to WWE’ or ‘hey, we want you to come back here but we all want you to fight Brock’. I think it’s a fight that needs to be made, eventually. Somehow, someway.
What are your thoughts on current MMA fighters calling out wrestlers?
BL: It’s brilliant. I mean, it’s combat sports across the board. We’re both sports entertainment and there are only two major companies that are in the fight promotion, that’s Bellator and UFC - there are some other ones round there but those are the two major ones - so when people are leaving there or looking for another place to go, professional wrestling is a natural course. But like I said before, it takes a great deal of training. You can’t just be ‘I’ve fought before so I wanna be a professional wrestler’ and some of the people that have moved over have realised how tough it is to become a professional wrestler. That’s where the money is, though and everybody is going for those big money fights. That’s why Jon Jones is calling Brock out because he has a huge fanbase, and Ronda Rousey wants to keep her name value up so she’s gonna come over to professional wrestling. They’ll welcome them with open arms, everybody loves Ronda still and everybody wants to see the Jon Jones/Brock fight. It’s very intelligent for them to do that.
When can we expect to see you over in the UK for an MMA fight?
BL: That’s on the table right now but it’s been really busy for me and I haven’t had the time to sit down and plan things out. After this call, that’s when I’m gonna sit down with Dan and that’s when we’re gonna talk about when the next fight date is. I’m ramping up my training right now because there’s a lot of things going on with Bellator and I know that they’re doing a couple more fights in the UK, I think they’re gonna have one in December. Who knows? If all the stars aligned I might be able to get on that card. I don’t know. We’re gonna look to get a fight pretty soon.
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to start out in either MMA or pro wrestling?
DL: Pick one. It’s really difficult to succeed in either one of those endeavours and if you want to try to be good at both, you’re splitting your time in half. These are not the old days, at least not of MMA. This sport has evolved. Everybody is training, everybody is well-rounded and if you’re not putting 100% of your time into it and you’re locking yourself in a cage with someone that wants to take your head off, you’re not giving yourself a very good chance of winning if you're not focusing on what you need to do to be successful.
BL: I’m gonna agree with Dan but on the same token I’m gonna say that if someone has the desire to do both then it may be good to start with and look at both just to keep your options open. You may put all the training into MMA and still not become successful and then you might need somewhere else to go. You may try both of them and like professional wrestling over MMA so to not start either one of them, I wouldn’t say that. If you can start both of them and decide which one you want later, then do it.
What was it like working with the female MMA fighters at American Top Team?
DL: I gotta tell you, I was not the biggest fan of female mixed martial arts dating back ten years ago when I was promoting shows and putting a couple of those fights on there. I likened the women’s MMA to the men’s back in the early 90s when it was a relatively new sport and people didn’t really know what they were doing. It was more of a brawl than it was a technical match but, in the years since UFC brought the women in, there’s been a huge increase in the quality of the fights. We made the decision a few years ago to build up our women’s division because it’s something that is growing in popularity and it’s what fans want to see, promoters had a strong demand for women fighters. We now have about 15-20 women training full time in our gym. It’s going through the roof and it’s great for us. Two of the eleven champions in the UFC are female fighters at our gym and those two are great examples for our guys and girls alike. They go in there and they set a standard. They train hard, they prepare hard, they’re disciplined and their focussed. It’s great to see it.
Walking Armageddon’s Armageddon?
How do you feel the growing understanding of concussions and CTE has an impact on combat sports like pro wrestling and MMA? Have you been affected by concussion?
BL: I’ve had no documented concussions. I try to take care of myself as much as possible. One thing you gotta take into consideration is that it’s professional wrestling and you know it going in. There’s dangers to every profession and our particular profession concussions is one thing. I can go and fight, take one punch and have a concussion and start having issues with it or I can wrestle my entire career and never have a concussion. It’s just a hazard of the business. I don’t think it’s gonna slow down because it’s too big right now. If anything I think they may think of way to safeguard it a little more but professional wrestling has been around forever and it’s just what we do. If you start taking that way then you’re gonna start going across the board. My ex-girlfriend was a cheerleader and they say cheerleading is the most dangerous sport out there. If you do your research, it’ll say there’s more cheerleading accidents than any other sport. Are we gonna stop cheerleading because there’s concussions in there? Then you gotta look at rugby, and even soccer. Soccer guys are running into each other, you take one good fall on the ground and he’s concussed so would you have soccer players wear helmets? These are some of the things that we can find out that there are these problems in different areas and we can do whatever we can to prevent those problems but some problems are just inevitable. It’s combat sports, it’s gonna happen. There’s always gonna be fighting, there’s always gonna be wrestling, always gonna be football, always gonna rugby, cheerleading… there’s always gonna be all these different things. The best things we can do is look at prevention and find some ways to detect it a little bit sooner. That’s the only thing we can do to lessen the big problems.
Now you are 41 years old and could be considered in the twilight of your career, do you see an end in sight?
Lashley: Easy. We can ease on this 41 thing. 41 doesn’t mean anything to me right now, man. I can understand if you’re talking about my neighbour ‘cos all he does is cut his drive out back. I’m completely different. I’m a completely different animal. 41 to me is like 26 to another person so it’s not twilight for me, I have a lot of time left. I don’t think I’m gonna cut back anything, not now, not any time soon.
Bobby Lashley wrestles Matt Sydal this Thursday at GFW Destination X. We caught up with Lashley and got his thoughts on Sydal yesterday, you can read it here. Who do you think will come out of the event victorious? Let us know in the comment section below or tweet me directly @JezDoesWords.