Former UFC heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia
will try his hands at the professional wrestling game later this month in Japan – and will be joined by fellow heavyweights Josh Barnett
, Bobby Lashley
and Bob Sapp
. Barnett and Sapp both have wrestled professionally in Japan; Lashley was a pro wrestler for WWE and TNA before taking up MMA.
A source close to Sylvia's camp told MMA Fighting on Friday that a deal is in place for Sylvia to take part in two fights, with the first coming in two weeks – and that first bout is likely to come against Barnett. The source also said Lashley and Sapp will compete for the same promotion.
Sylvia made a vague reference to the deal on his Twitter account
on Friday, saying: "O ya japan in 2 weeks pro wrestling."
Exact terms of the deal, as well as which promotion, were not disclosed to MMA Fighting, but it is believed Sylvia's two fights will each be one three-minute round.
Lashley began his pro wrestling career for WWE before moving on to the ECW and TNA promotions. He recently was upset by Chad Griggs at Strikeforce: Houston, his first MMA loss.
Barnett, still considered to be one of the top heavyweight fighters in the world, most recently beat Geronimo dos Santos at Impact FC's debut event in Australia. Also a former UFC heavyweight champ, Barnett was stripped of his title after testing positive for steroids after beating Randy Couture at UFC 36.
Barnett then began to dabble in pro wrestling, finding plenty of success on the New Japan Pro Wrestling circuit.
Sapp, a former NFL lineman, has an on-again, off-again career as a professional wrestler. He has wrestled in Japan, also for New Japan Pro Wrestling, as well as South Korea.
Sylvia beat Andrei Arlovski at UFC 59 to win the heavyweight title and defended it twice before losing it to Randy Couture at UFC 68. After a win over Brandon Vera at UFC 77, Sylvia's MMA path hit a rocky stretch. A loss to Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, along with a contract dispute, chased him from the UFC.
He signed with Affliction for its first MMA event, losing to Fedor Emelianenko in just 36 seconds. And his fight career seemed to hit rock bottom when he took an MMA fight against boxer Ray Mercer at Adrenaline MMA 3 – and was knocked out in nine seconds.
But since that loss, he has rebounded with three straight wins over Jason Riley, five-time World's Strongest Man winner Mariusz Pudzianowski and, most recently, former UFC and Strikeforce fighter Paul Buentello at War on the Mainland. After that win, it was announced he would defend his new War on the Mainland heavyweight title against Pedro Rizzo.
Professional wrestlers have found mixed success becoming MMA fighters, with UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar the most prominent. Lashley is 5-1 in his MMA career, and Sapp is 11-6. Rarer is the MMA fighter who crosses over to pro wrestling. Most notable in that category is Ken Shamrock, who left the sport for several years in the WWF before returning to MMA.