The shake-up at Bellator MMA that resulted in the ousting of founder and CEO Bjorn Rebney and the hiring of former Strikeforce founder Scott Coker has finally started to show results in the cage. It may not be the sport over spectacle approach that Bellator was founded on, but people are watching, and the promotion, under Coker, has made a few key pick-ups: Paul Daley, Melvin Manhoef, and former WWE superstar Bobby Lashley, until recently champion in TNA Wrestling (TNA for a time shared a home with Bellator on Spike TV, and had a number of MMA fighters appear under its banner: Tito Ortiz, Rampage Jackson, and King Mo in addition to Lashley).

The Lashley signing by Bellator MMA was no a huge surprise. Scott Coker had worked with Lashley before, after all, back in Strikeforce, where the massive heavyweight with the chiselled physique went 1-1, losing to a fellow prospect at the time, Chad Griggs, who would eventually join the UFC as part of the Strikeforce merger and wind up cut after an unsuccessful drop to light heavyweight. Lashley, at that point, was going a different direction, fighting in smaller regional promotions as well as making an appearance in India’s Super Fight League (marking his only other professional MMA loss, a decision to James Thompson, who he will rematch in Bellator early next year).

Lashley’s MMA career, to date, has been largely successful considering the age at which he made the transition, and the fact that he has simultaneously juggled a pro wrestling career through a large part of it. The 12-2 fighter trains out of American Top Team and is on a five-win streak currently, winning his first two bouts under the Bellator banner. While his competition level essentially peaked with the two men who have defeated him thus far, he’s a legit mixed martial artist who does have a shot in Bellator’s slim heavyweight division, even if it’s a small one. And if he doesn’t hit gold, there are still options for Lashley in Bellator. Aside from the Thompson rematch, there’s a big money fight waiting for Lashley with Cheick Kongo, for one.

Bobby Lashley’s MMA career, however, has never been the massive press circus that Brock Lesnar’s was. Maybe it’s because Lesnar made the transition a year prior. Maybe it’s because Lesnar fought a higher level of competition and after just one pro fight was in the UFC. Almost certainly, it’s because Lesnar went on to be UFC heavyweight champion while Lashley has flirted with the limelight.

Then there’s CM Punk. Punk’s signing in December by the UFC created a media firestorm not seen in the MMA world since, well, Brock Lesnar. Punk, unlike Lashley and Lesnar, has no amateur wrestling background. He’s not a giant, imposing physical specimen. He’s just a dedicated guy, a huge fan of the sport, a little bit outspoken and somewhat notorious — and as a result of his pro wrestling fame, he has the potential to greatly boost the UFC’s bottom line.

Bellator has certainly taken note. Already in business with Lashley, which has worked out just fine for them to date, they’re eyeing the next Lashley, or better yet, the next Punk. The MMA rumor mill, always a whirlwind, had them interested in Punk, interested in Lesnar (whose status with the WWE after Wrestlemania 31 is still up in the air), and interested in former WWE champion Alberto Del Rio.

That last name, at the very least, was confirmed this week by Scott Coker, who stated that the organization has had talks with the Mexican star.

Before you roll your eyes, consider this: Alberto Del Rio has been in the ring (the Pride ring, to be exact), with none other than Mirko Cro Cop. Sure, he got head kicked into oblivion, but he still fought Cro Cop. Prime Crop Cop. He just did it under another name, Dos Caras Jr.

As Dos Caras Jr, Del Rio (whose real name is actually José Alberto Rodríguez) has a respectable 9-5 record, fighting in Pride, Deep, and smaller promotions. He hasn’t fought since 2010, but his MMA career spanned nine years, and at age 37, he’s actually in the exact same age range as Brock Lesnar, CM Punk, and Bobby Lashley.

Will his signing, should it happen, draw eyeballs to Spike TV? Absolutely, especially since he has fought at heavyweight, and could be booked against Lashley in a WWE Superstar vs. WWE Superstar MMA bout, the first of its kind. Is it a good move for Bellator MMA? Is it a wise move for them to jump (again) onto that pro wrestling bandwagon?

Well, there is your question, and it’s a question of legitimacy. Lashley, despite his competition level sometimes lacking, went about his career the right way. He worked his way up. He put time in on the regionals. He became a mixed martial artist, putting in the hours, the blood, sweat, and tears as the saying goes. Lesnar, who jumped almost straight to the UFC, was an anomaly, but really, how many guys would be able to do what he did? The CM Punk signing, while good for the bottom line, was not a case of an athlete going out and earning his spot, and it hurt the legitimacy of the MMA game in that regard. How much? Not a ton, because the Punk signing is what it is — we all know that for the UFC, it’s about money.

So again, legitimacy. Dos Caras, Del Rio, whatever you want to call him, he is a legit fighter with an established record, but he’d be making a pretty big jump, a pretty much unearned jump, were he to go straight into a Bellator main event. Should Bellator handle him correctly, giving him a few lower tier guys and letting him work his way up, well sure, then the move might work out. Would they be willing to gamble away a marquee fight with an ex-WWE star on the off chance he loses to a can? That’s the biggest question, and with Bellator leaning more and more to the side of spectacle, it’s questionable.

More concerning, however, is the possibility that Bellator is interested in more pro wrestling stars to bolster their roster. That was the rumor making the rounds after the Punk signing, as Bellator no doubt had a case of wrestler envy after losing out on the straight edge superstar (is he still even called that?). How long before MMA fans are forced to roll their eyeballs at a Dirk Diggler or Miz showing up in the cage? And that’s not to say that those wrestlers, or any, couldn’t cut it — but there’s something to be said for paying your dues and earning your shot in a sport built on violence and blood that can take years off a fighter’s life. Cutting the line, frankly, leaves a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths.

So sure, Bellator, go ahead and sign Del Rio if he’s interested and a deal can be made (he recently inked a deal with Ring of Honor in the pro wrestling realm, but that shouldn’t stand in the way of some MMA fights any more than Lashley being TNA champion did). Having said that, however, do not open the floodgates, lest you want to watch what little legitimacy you have left wash away.

About The Author

Senior Staff Writer

Covering the sport of MMA from Ontario, Canada, Jay Anderson has been writing for various publications covering sports, technology, and pop culture since 2001. Jay holds an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Guelph, and a Certificate in Leadership Skills from Humber College under the Ontario Management Development Program. When not slaving at the keyboard, he can be found in the company of his dog, a good book, or getting lost in the woods.