Bobby Lashley (right) was successful in his Bellator debut. | Keith Mills/Sherdog.com
To hear him tell it, Bobby Lashley barely resembles the fighter he was four years ago, when his trial by fire came on a national stage for what was then the world’s second-largest mixed martial arts promotion.
When the hulking professional wrestling star stumbled against Chad Griggs in his second Strikeforce appearance in August 2010, much of the hype surrounding his MMA foray subsided.
Lashley admits that he might not have been ready for such a rapid ascent. Thanks to his professional wrestling background, however, Lashley was already a recognizable commodity before ever setting foot in the cage.
He skipped the amateur scene, and signed with Strikeforce after three victories on the regional circuit. In hindsight, Lashley says he would probably have done things differently.
“I understand the sport a lot more [now],” he said. “I was really young, didn’t have an amateur fights, just jumped right in there. [Three] fights into it, I’m going to the second largest promotion, whether I was ready for it or not. I think it was a little early. I do value my time there, and I appreciate the opportunity to do it, but I’m a completely different fighter than I was when I was there.”
Since then, Lashley has quietly won six of his seven fights – with the only setback a disputed unanimous decision loss to James Thompson at Super Fight League 3.
He made his Bellator debut on Sept. 5, submitting Josh Burns with a rear-naked choke in the second round as part of a highly-touted card that went head-to-head with a UFC Fight Night offering on the same evening.
“I had been off for a little bit, but I just wanted to go out there and feel comfortable in the cage. I could always say that I wanted to finish him a little quicker, but then again, I wanted to spend some time out there. I don’t think there was anything I would have changed in that fight,” Lashley told Sherdog.com.
A little more than a month later, Lashley will make his second promotional appearance, as he takes on unbeaten British heavyweight Karl Etherington in a featured bout at Bellator 130 at the Kansas Star Arena in Mulvane, Kan., on Friday night. The evening’s main card airs on Spike TV beginning at 9 p.m. ET, while the preliminary draw streams immediately prior on Spike.com at 7 p.m. ET.
It’s a fight that could serve as a precursor to bigger things for Lashley, who feels that he might be two victories away from getting a crack at Bellator heavyweight gold.
“That is something I’m thinking about. Especially with Bellator, I think with the right fights coming up, I think there is a possibility of looking for a title shot,” he said. “It’s just fighting the right people. If this fight goes the way that I want it, I think there’s a couple opponents that will give me the opportunity to fight for that title. I think that’s what we’re going to be looking at next.”
Lashley’s sports entertainment duties – he is currently the Total Nonstop Action Wrestling champion – do not interfere with his fight camps. While being a champion takes still takes its toll, Lashley admits that the TNA schedule is far more forgiving than his previous employer, World Wrestling Entertainment.
“Right now I’m the champ of TNA, so it was really physically demanding because we were trying to put on great matches every time. I got beat up and bruised up pretty bad this time. It’s not the normal schedule that I had when I was in WWE. When I was in WWE, we were on the road all the time – just a tremendous amount of torture being put on my body. I don’t know if I even could fight when I was in WWE,” he said. “But with TNA the schedule is completely different. I was able to get some fights and training like I would have wanted to. Right now, if I had to compare the two [in terms of physical demands], I would say MMA [is more demanding] right now because TNA has a lighter schedule. And they give us more breaks, so we have opportunities to heal ourselves in between matches.”
Lashley has fulfilled his obligations with TNA for the rest of 2014, which has allowed him to focus completely on MMA.
“Right now I’ve been off for some time with TNA,” Lashley said. “We did a huge taping the last time I was there, and that was before my last fight. That’s gonna take us all the way into the New Year. So I haven’t been doing any pro wrestling. I’ve just been training for my fight.”
Although he doesn’t plan on cutting back on either wrestling or MMA anytime soon, the break from TNA has allowed Lashley to continue to implement new elements into his game. While the former NAIA wrestling national champion doesn’t plan on reinventing the wheel in the cage, he believes he is capable of showing more skills should the opportunity present itself.
“There are some things that I want to do on my fights that’ll let me know there is a progression. In my next two fights I do want throw some other things out there,” Lashley said. “There’s not going to be anything crazy, and I’m not gonna push myself super hard to do anything new or make the fans appreciate it. It’s not about that. Just basic growth. My wrestling’s really strong; I want to just get some more submissions in there, and I want to have more fights where I end up in the standup.”