Lashley faces unavoidable decision
Is he a professional wrestler or a mixed martial artist?
Lashley, the former collegiate wrestling star, currently participates in two professional occupations. The first one is MMA. He is an up-and-coming fighter that recently signed with Strikeforce.
Lashley has a 4-0 record and is set to debut with the company on Saturday, Jan. 30. Showtime will broadcast the fight. At this point, Lashley does not know who he will be standing across the cage from.
"If I knew that answer, I would tell you," Lashley said, when asked about an opponent. "I know they are talking about a few names with my manager. I just don't know right now."
Lashley's other occupation is as a professional wrestler. His employer is Total Nonstop Action (TNA). The show can be seen on Spike TV. Coincidentally, Spike TV is also home to UFC, which Strikeforce hopes to compete with.
When asked which sport Lashley wants to pursue, Lashley said that the answer is both.
"For the time being, TNA is working real well," Lashley said. "They give me the time I need."
Even with a scaled-back schedule in wrestling (Lashley only works very select dates for TNA), he will likely have a difficult time maintaining a high level of performance in both sports.
MMA takes month of training to prepare for a major fight, and professional wrestling causes substantial wear and tear on an athlete's body.
"When I get to the bigger matches," Lashley said about his MMA career, "and every heavyweight fighter in Strikeforce has to set their sights on Fedor. When that fight is scheduled, I'm going to have to completely dedicate myself."
Another problem Lashley has encountered with dual careers is mutual acceptance. Only one sport is truly supportive, and that is wrestling.
"A lot of the wrestlers are MMA fans," the former NAIA collegiate champion said. "Whenever I'm about to fight, I get text messages from all my comrades -- including WWE -- giving me support."
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for how the MMA community views Lashley's involvement with pro wrestling.
"At the end of the day, I really don't care," Lashley said, when asked if people take his MMA career seriously. "I would like for people not to take me seriously. That would be great. If they don't take me seriously, I'll drop them left and right."
Lashley, however, is certainly dedicated to his MMA career.. He recently opened up his own gym in his home area of Denver, Colo. As a protégé of the American Top Team gym out in Coconut Creek, Florida, Lashley aptly named the new gym "ATT Altitude".
By religiously training himself to get to the top of MMA, Lashley believes he will set himself up for more important match-ups.
"Within 2010, I'd like to get some of the bigger fights," Lashley said. "I know a lot of people want that, but I'm just 4-0 right now. I'm still an infant in MMA. When the time comes, I'll be ready for it."
Lashley does not feel his MMA preparation will neglect his obligations to TNA.
"Pro wrestling is something I've done [for] so long, I really don't need to train for it," the former ECW champion said. "I'm strictly doing mixed martial arts training."
Like Lashley, another collegiate wrestling star competes in TNA. Olympic gold medal winner
Lashley is not sure there will be another crossover star.
"Kurt Angle has been talking about it for several years," Lashley said. "I don't know if he actually wants to do it. Mixed martial arts is one of those things where you never know who could do it. There are some tough guys in TNA. I just don't know who has the desire to do it."
Not everything has gone perfectly for Lashley though. He clearly is not pleased with some of the criticism he has received.
"I deal with a great deal of stress in MMA," Lashley said. "Because of the professional wrestling background, people expect a lot more out of me. If any other guy came on the scene and had just a few fights, people would say 'I hope it goes well for him'. With me, it's like 'I want to see him fight Brock or Fedor.'"
For now, Lashley will continue to pursue both sports. How long that will last is not known. Lashley himself is not willing to commit to a timeframe for either. However, he definitely is giving strong hints that MMA will be his chosen path.
"I love MMA to death," Lashley said. "I think it's what I was born to do. There are some tough guys in Strikeforce, and when I get those fights I will completely dedicate myself."