Former Rugby Star James Haskell to Transition to MMA, Signs with Bellator

Gianni Verschueren@ReverschPassFeatured ColumnistAugust 22, 2019

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - MAY 07:  James Haskell, of Northampton Saints and England, poses after announcing his retirement from rugby at a press conference held at Franklin's Gardens on May 07, 2019 in Northampton, England. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
David Rogers/Getty Images

Former rugby star and England international James Haskell has signed with MMA promotion Bellator. 

The promotion announced the news on Thursday with the hashtag #Haskell2020, suggesting he will make his heavyweight debut next year:

The 34-year-old confirmed the move on Twitter, where former England international and Dancing On Ice winner Kyran Bracken poked fun at the former back-rower:

Per MailOnline's Will Griffe, Haskell retired at the end of last season after collecting 77 caps for England. On the club level, he's mostly remembered for his association with Wasps after coming up through their academy.

Haskell will train at London's Shootfighters gym, working alongside the likes of Michael 'Venom' Page, who has fought in Bellator since 2013.

Per Griffe, he has been following the sport and training in MMA for a long time and has even done some punditry.

England national team coach Eddie Jones has promised to attend his first bout:

Bellator crowned Ryan Bader as their heavyweight champion in a Grand Prix Tournament last year.

While the tournament was a success, it also highlighted the lack of heavyweight depth within the promotion, with Chael Sonnen―a natural light-heavyweight―making the semi-finals and 42-year-old Fedor Emelianenko advancing to the final.

Bader is also Bellator's light-heavyweight champion and competed in that division during his run in the UFC.

Athletes crossing into MMA from other, non-combat sports at a later age have had mixed success. Former football star and Heisman Trophy winner star Herschel Walker went 2-0 in Strikeforce, despite making his professional debut at the age of 47 (4:43 mark):

Haskell is a lot younger than Walker was at the time, and if he has indeed been training MMA for a long time, could find success in Bellator's thin heavyweight division.

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