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Wanderlei Silva may do pro wrestling, but in Japan

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

With all the talk of Wanderlei Silva and World Wrestling Entertainment, there has been talk in recent days that Silva may debut as a pro wrestler shortly, but in Japan.

Silva, 38, who was probably Japan's second most popular foreign fighter of the Pride era, behind only Mirko Cro Cop, has been linked to a match with Phil Baroni on a Feb. 20 card with the Inoki Genome Federation. 

Baroni, also 38, is a long-time pro wrestling fan who had been interested in doing it himself for years. Of late, he has been training at the Future Stars of Wrestling school in Las Vegas, under former Japanese wrestling regular Michael Cariglio, who wrestled as Michael Modest. King Mo Lawal also trains pro wrestling at the school, where Baroni also instructs MMA and amateur wrestling.

Baroni did not respond to questions on the subject.

Silva and Baroni would have history in Japan, as during the heyday of Pride, in 2006, there was an in-ring brawl and post-brawl heated confrontation after the first Mark Coleman vs. Mauricio "Shogun" Rua fight. Baroni, in Coleman's corner, was part of it, as was Silva.

The match has yet to be announced in Japan and it is believed the deal is not finalized. With Silva still under contract to UFC, even though they can't use him due to Nevada refusing to license him after he refused to take an out-of-comeptition drug test in May, it would require UFC giving approval to appear. UFC recently allowed Josh Barnett to do a pro wrestling match with the IGF, and also once allowed Cro Cop to participate in a pro wrestling event when he was under contract to the UFC. However Silva and UFC are hardly on good terms these days, with Silva being an outspoken critic of the company.

The Feb. 20 event is at the Tokyo Dome City Hall, a 3,000-seat building near the Tokyo Dome and Korakuen Hall, two landmarks for pro wrestling and combat sports in Japan. The Inoki Genome Federation is named after the face of its promotion, Antonio Inoki, the second biggest star in the history of Japanese wrestling. Inoki, whose 1976 mixed match with Muhammad Ali is considered in Japan as the birth of mixed martial arts, was a key figure in the Japanese MMA scene during Pride's heyday. He would give speeches at the shows, and was far more popular than any of the fighters. Feb. 20 would be Inoki's 72nd birthday, so it is a major event for the promotion, which is built around using former golden era fighters as pro wrestlers, like Barnett, Jerome LeBanner, Kazuyuki Fujita and Naoya Ogawa.

Baroni, who fought for Pride in 2005 and 2006, last fought for Bellator on July 25, where he lost via TKO to Karo Parisyan in 2:06 in a bout in Temecula, Calif. He has a 15-18 MMA record. He was a UFC regular from 2001 to 2005.

Silva on Twitter on Thursday stated that he had received an interesting offer from WWE. The previous day, Chael Sonnen claimed on TSN's "Off the Record" that both he and Silva had been talked with by WWE officials.

"We have not had any discussions with him," said a WWE source when asked about Silva's Twitter statement. WWE officials had also denied any talks with Sonnen, who has said that he will be attending WWE events on March 28 and 29 in Northern California.

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