MIAMI - Israel Adesanya tweeted a pro wrestling promo from 2001 on April 1, one week before his UFC middleweight title main event against Alex Pereira. The promo, one of the most famous in WWE (then WWF) history, featured The Rock and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin ahead of their WrestleMania 17 match set to the tune of "My Way" by Limp Bizkit.
Two days later, UFC parent company Endeavor announced it would be acquiring WWE and merging it with the UFC into a new, publicly traded company that will have a valuation of $21.4 billion.
Adesanya, according to his manager, Tim Simpson of Chosen Advisory Group, had no inside information. He wasn't exactly prescient, either. Adesanya has just been a pro wrestling fan since he was a kid in New Zealand. It was just one of several wrestling-related things he and his team watched during fight week, including several episodes of the Vice docuseries "Dark Side of the Ring."
"He likened [the promo] to him and Alex, like The Rock and 'Stone Cold' - like the biggest thing, this is a big moment," Simpson told ESPN.
Adesanya has used elements of WWE characters over the years. In 2019, he pulled off finishing moves from The Rock and Austin during an open workout. He also hit Booker T's Spinaroonie breakdancing move and then used Batista's double machine gun celebration after beating Robert Whittaker to become the undisputed UFC middleweight champion. He even did an Undertaker-themed walkout at UFC 276, complete with the legendary WWE star's music and an urn, for his fight against Jared Cannonier. It was one of the most unique entrances in UFC history.
Adesanya, who knocked out Pereira to regain that belt last Saturday night at UFC 287, was one of several UFC fighters in Miami during the week who expressed excitement and optimism about the UFC and WWE being under one roof beginning later this year. Some said they would be interested in crossing over to pro wrestling at some point, while others were unsure how much would change with either product.
"I love it," Adesanya said. "I think it makes sense. ... Merging is a smart move. I like hearing those [financial] numbers, too. It's nice."
MMA and pro wrestling have a history of crossover, going back to the early days of the UFC when pro wrestlers Ken Shamrock and Dan Severn were some of the biggest stars competing in the Octagon. WWE currently has Brock Lesnar, Ronda Rousey, Matt Riddle and Shayna Bazler on its roster, and all of them fought in the UFC. Jorge Masvidal, who co-main evented the UFC 287 card, has made several appearances with All-Elite Wrestling (AEW). CM Punk, a former WWE champion, competed in the UFC, and many pro wrestlers have a background in some form of martial arts, if not MMA.
Strawweight Cynthia Calvillo, who would be released from the UFC just days after her UFC 287 loss, joked during fight week that her brothers prepared her for a future career in pro wrestling when they were kids and put her in submission moves and suplexed her. She said she already has a character laid out as a high heel-wearing "spicy Latina" who "blows up on everybody for no reason." Calvillo said she'd like to do it in the "near future."
"I'm pretty sure a lot of fighters thought that, 'Oh, that's gonna open the door for a lot of fighters to transition over,'" Calvillo said of the merger. "That would be really cool, because there's a lot of big personalities here. I think it would be really great for WWE. We saw what Ronda Rousey did. I think we could be just as successful. I think this thing is gonna blow up. I'm stoked. I'm ready."
Calvillo's opponent at UFC 287, Mexican-born fighter Loopy Godinez, said she grew up watching lucha libre, the Mexican style of pro wrestling, every Sunday with her family in Aguascalientes. Lucha, she said, was what she wanted to do as a career before moving to Canada and discovering MMA. She's hoping the UFC's new affiliation with WWE will allow her to perform as a wrestler in the future.
"Hopefully eventually after I'm done here, I get to participate in that," Godinez said. "Actually, it's one of my dreams that I want to do."
Xtreme Couture MMA coach Eric Nicksick is hoping for more crossover and more potential opportunities in WWE for UFC fighters who might be at the tail end of their MMA careers and who have a good look or charisma but aren't necessarily competing for a championship. Nicksick has worked with former AEW champion Jon Moxley, who used to train regularly at his Las Vegas gym. He said recently WWE scouts came into Xtreme Couture looking for talent and were "madly in love" with UFC strawweight Cheyanne Vlismas.
Popular UFC welterweight Kevin Holland would be a natural fit for pro wrestling with his oversized personality. His nickname is "Big Mouth," because he doesn't stop talking -- even during fights. But Holland was not nearly as bullish about the possibility of going to WWE as some of his peers.
"I fight," Holland said. "I don't fake fight."
UFC president Dana White said at the UFC 287 press conference that he doesn't feel much, if anything, will change with the merger. He said that if fighters wanted to go into pro wrestling, the UFC was already allowing them to do it, like Rousey, for example.
"We had Brock come over here, we had Ronda go over there," White said. "If that's ever possible, if guys leave here and they love wrestling and they're good enough to do it, before this deal we would have been good with that."
Pereira deadpanned last week that WWE would be a good place for Adesanya, because "after this fight, what is he going to do here?" The Brazilian slugger implied he would send Adesanya to pro wrestling with a win at UFC 287.
Of course, that did not turn out to be the case. Adesanya knocked Pereira out violently in the second round, moments after he entered the Octagon and spat water into the air like the signature taunt of current WWE executive and former champion Paul "Triple H" Levesque.
Simpson, who describes himself as a "massive" pro wrestling fan, said Adesanya and his team had a "WWE heavy" week even before the announcement of the merger. At a Miami Airbnb rental, the group watched documentaries, Royal Rumbles and women's matches featuring the likes of WWE Hall of Famer Trish Stratus. Adesanya, Simpson said, will do something with WWE eventually.
"It's on his bucket list, for sure," Simpson said. "He wants to [do a match]. He's been very disciplined. We've had acting opportunities turned down. He's been very disciplined about being an athlete. Because he knows that's all in his future. So, I can't see him doing it while he's still competing. But in the future? Definitely bucket list."