For weeks on end, MMA fans across the world have been asking the question ‘Who will be the next big signing for Bellator?’ after the promotion teased a major announcement complete with several photos that preserved the fighters anonymity.
Rumors abounded as to who the hulking European might be, and those guesses were further accentuated by the intrigue that grew as fans, media, and fighters alike aimed to deduce to whom the arms and massive torso depicted belonged.
In a shock announcement earlier Thursday, Bellator confirmed that former England international rugby player James Haskell (0-0) had signed with the promotion.
Haskell was capped 77 times for his nation, playing in two World Cups and numerous Six Nations competitions, including the historic Grand Slam win in 2016. He retired from the sport in May after playing professionally for 17 seasons, which is a remarkable achievement in a sport as ferocious as rugby.
Bellator have stated that the 34-year-old will continue training for the remainder of 2019, and will likely make his mixed martial arts debut “during the first half of 2020.”
Haskell, who purportedly played at around 260 pounds in the rugby world, will be competing at heavyweight.
The 6-foot-4 Haskell has trained with fellow Bellator athlete Michael ‘Venom’ Page, and he has previously covered MMA as a television pundit.
In a 2012 interview with Joe.ie, Haskell spoke openly on his love for MMA and how the skills needed to succeed correlate superbly to rugby.
“I’ve been interested in mixed martial arts for around three years. I have the same physio as the guys at Shootfighters and he got me into it. It’s a fantastic form of training, it builds strength and endurance and has helped me to manipulate and move people on the rugby pitch. It has definitely benefitted my game,” Haskell said.
He went on to speak about what part of the sport fascinates him the most.
“For me, jiu-jitsu is the best aspect of MMA. The skill level is just incredible. It teaches you how to control and move your opponent, which is obviously key for me. I regret not doing boxing as a kid because the footwork and movement you learn is so important, being able to rotate your body correctly is vital for every sport,” lamented Haskell.
Haskell will have the opportunity to learn that footwork and movement now as he transitions to mixed martial arts in the Bellator cage.