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:

Bellator Europe @Bellator_Europe

🏉 👊 After finishing up a stellar 17-year professional rugby career, @jameshaskell has officially made the jump to MMA! ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Who's excited for his Bellator debut? #Haskell2020 https://t.co/6LdE9UFNuB

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:

Kyran Bracken @KyranBracken

@jameshaskell Couldn’t you just do ice skating or strictly like rest of us? #barmy @dancingonice @bbcstrictly

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:

Nick Heath @nickheathsport

Eddie Jones reacts to news of @jameshaskell's forthcoming #MMA career and signing with @BellatorMMA. "I'm definitely gonna buy tickets to his first fight." More soon on @RugbyPass. https://t.co/UzlvWLqeAO

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.