Whether it’s competing as a mixed martial artist in Bellator’s heavyweight division or defending the TNA world championship in pro wrestling, Bobby Lashley has made it look easy as he “late shifts” between his two passions.
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Lashley (14-2), 40, will make his return to the cage on Oct. 21 when he puts his seven-fight win streak on the line against Josh Appelt at Bellator 162 in Memphis, Tennessee. But before then, he enters an important pay-per-view card on Sunday with TNA Impact Wrestling, when he headlines Bound For Glory against Ethan Carter III in Orlando.
At least that seems to be the plan at the moment.
With TNA undergoing financial issues amidst an impending sale, there’s some speculation the card may not come off at all — an issue president Billy Corgan addressed Thursday on The Dan Le Batard Show.
Lashley is ready to go regardless, and caught up with ESPN.com to talk about TNA and his own future in the squared circle.
ESPN: What’s the hardest part about juggling a pro wrestling and MMA career simultaneously?
Bobby Lashley: “Obviously, the hardest part is having two promoters that are willing to work with me and work with each other. And I have that. So it’s not as hard as someone would think, because my schedule with TNA is very light because we usually film five or six shows in one week and then we are off for a month and a half. With everyone else, they are having to go work a full-time job, so it’s a little harder for them than it is for me. I have all day to work [on MMA training]. So I have a really good schedule for me.”
ESPN: As you prepare for Sunday’s PPV, how difficult has it been as a performer knowing the uncertainty regarding TNA’s future?
BL: “For me, I just kind of shut things down. I’m not one to read all of the dirt sheets so I have no idea. I went to check online to make sure my plane ticket was still good, and it was, so that’s all I know at this point. As far as I know, I’m supposed to be doing a match Sunday and if anything changes up until then, it’s no big deal. If anything changes, I’m still training for my fight [at Bellator 162]. I have training people lined up for me in Orlando for when I go. I have my boxing coach who is coming with me and I have a few people I am looking into sparring down there so I already put the heads up to those guys that if things don’t work out, I’ll just switch gears and drive down to Coconut Creek and I’ll go to [American Top Team] and do some work down there. So it’s not really a big deal to me. I want to be wrestling and I want TNA to stay alive because it has been a great program for me up to this point.”
ESPN: How would you describe what new president Billy Corgan has brought to TNA?
BL: “He brings a fresh outlook. He’s just another person to talk to. Billy is a cool guy. He is an open ear, that’s one thing. When different people come into your organization, especially what we’ve been going through, you get kind of worried that somebody is going to push their way in and change everything. He hasn’t really done that. He has been really open and has been a huge person to talk to. One thing he always says is, “My door is open and here is my personal number so just give me a call.” That’s one thing that has been really cool. Because at the end of the day, no one is going to tell us how to do our jobs better than we already know.”
ESPN: In what ways are you different now as TNA champion than you were one decade ago with WWE?
BL: “I’m a beast now. I have fun with it and I get it. They always say in wrestling that most people don’t get it and that’s the biggest problem that they have had in wrestling. And when I was in WWE, I didn’t get it. I had no idea what I was doing. I was just a pawn in the game. I was put in different positions and just tried to be the best I could be in each of those positions. I had no idea what was going on. I didn’t know that then. I know it now because of everything that has changed. Now, I go out there and it’s real to me. That’s how I bring my character and I think the fans understand that a lot more. They know what’s going on.”
ESPN: How has the portrayal of your pro wrestling character changed since you transitioned into MMA?
BL: “I think it helps because we are in that transition of reality and right now everything is so up front. So just having an opportunity to fight [in MMA] and then going back [to wrestling] and saying, ‘Look, I’m not just a character anymore.’ So the things that I am saying have a lot of truth and that’s what I try to bring in. I’m not out there just lying the entire time saying I’m tough or this and that. And that’s a hard thing to do because we are not actors. We do a bit of acting on TV but we are not actors so we can’t go out there and lie and have other people believe it also. So the things that I’m saying and the things that I’m doing are kind of a shoot most of the time. And that’s what I’m trying to bring to TNA because I’m trying to make it a little different.”
ESPN: What was your reaction to CM Punk’s recent UFC debut?
BL: “I understand what he was trying to do, I just don’t know exactly if he was prepared for it. I take my hat off to him for going out there but CM Punk really didn’t come from an athletic and competitive background like myself. It was kind of a different situation.”
ESPN: TNA has made plenty of noise in 2016 with the Matt Hardy-inspired “Final Deletion” segments. Do you ever envision yourself joining that universe for the right storyline?
BL: “Oh yeah, oh yeah. I can’t wait. That was something that was put together all by Matt Hardy and his brother Jeff and they were allowed to do it. That’s something we have never been allowed to do like that. That’s why I think my character has come so far because I feel comfortable going out there. That’s what everybody has been doing. We go out there with a different kind of swag because we are comfortable. We say what we want and we can do whatever we want. Of course, they pull back on the reins if they have to. One of the best things I’ve ever been told is that it’s better for someone to tell you to slow down than to speed up. Right now, I’m not slowing down.”
ESPN: How many years do you believe you have left in both careers?
BL: “Fighting, I would say two, maybe three. And it’s not because my body is not holding up because my body is feeling great. I would say it’s more because my kids are young. I’m a full-time single father so I would like to spend a little bit more time with my kids. When I train for fights my kids understand and they have my back. They are there with me. I want to get to a time when I can focus on them a little bit more. As far as wrestling, it just depends on who I am wrestling for and when I’m wrestling. If I’m wrestling for TNA and we have kind of the same schedule, s—, I can do that for 10 more years.”
ESPN: How much does your desire to be a devoted family man cancel the possibility of you one day returning to WWE, considering their demanding schedule?
BL: “It does to a certain extent. It would have to be the right deal if it was. I don’t know if there is even an opportunity. There are certain people in the business who may not want you there and that’s why I left the first time. I don’t know if there is even a possibility of going back but their schedule is challenging. A lot of their guys are dealing with that. If I were to go back full-time, it would have to be something we sit down and really piece together and make it make sense. I would hate to say yes I’m doing it and get back and then it’s, “Oh no. Boo-hoo. What about my kids?” I don’t want to have a bad attitude. So I would have to really sit down and say this is what we can do.”
ESPN: Former WWE star Ryback was reportedly in talks with Bellator MMA, although nothing has been agreed to. Considering most fans would look to you as a natural opponent, what’s your reaction?
BL: “Fighting is about money, as we see with Conor [McGregor] getting a [UFC] title shot at 155, bypassing everybody else. There is a fight business aspect of all of this also. I think right now, I don’t even know that a commission would allow a guy with 15 fights against somebody with no fights. I don’t know if it could happen. But, if it’s something that they wanted to do, it would be something that we could talk about. But I wouldn’t by any means try to call the guy out and I don’t know if he’s just doing it right now because he just left WWE and is trying to keep his name out. Something like that might be the case. I don’t know what his motivation is and I don’t know Ryback so close like that so I really don’t know. So if he wants to do it I would say by all means get in here and do it. But if he’s not serious about it, don’t go out there and do it half-assed.”
ESPN: Do you believe that Bound For Glory will happen on Sunday and that TNA will continue as a brand?
BL: “Yes, because one thing people don’t understand is that [current owner] Dixie [Carter] is not broke. She was never close to being broke. Her parents are billionaires so it’s not like they don’t have the money. They are just trying to make the right deal and that’s what we have known all along. I think it’s just one of those deals where this is business and it’s going to happen every year. For at least the past five or six years that I have known, around that end of the year point there’s always this, “Oh no, is TNA going to be sold? Is TNA going here? Is TNA going there?” And then next thing you know, bam, everything is fine and then we run again. And then the next year it’s the same question. I don’t know why it’s the same deal every year and it gets to that point. I think right now they are just trying to make the right deals with the right people. I know a lot of people have their hands in the pot and a lot of people are trying to pitch different things. Whenever the deal is done, it’s done.”