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Heavyweight crossover: Former England rugby star James Haskell signs to fight for Bellator MMA

Heavyweight crossover: Former England rugby star James Haskell signs to fight for Bellator MMA
Former England rugby union star spent 17 years taking untold amounts of physical punishment on the rugby field. Now he's reigniting his sporting career... as an MMA fighter.

Haskell has signed to fight for American promotion Bellator, and is expected to make his pro debut for the organization in the first half of 2020.

It's a huge step for the 34-year-old former England international, who represented his country 77 times as a flanker, where his physicality and brute strength were called upon both in the scrum and in the open field.

But, rather than enjoying his retirement from one of the toughest team sports on the planet, Haskell has decided to turn his hand to arguably the toughest individual sport in the world, as he prepares to make his Bellator MMA debut next year.

Haskell's signing was teased by Bellator earlier in the week, who circulated dimly-lit photos of Haskell, being careful to avoid any noticeable features that would reveal his identity. 

They then announced his signing on Thursday, confirming that the former rugby star had joined their roster and will compete as a heavyweight.

Haskell is very familiar with MMA and MMA-related training – he regularly cross-trained with the London Shootfighters gym while playing for Premiership Rugby side Wasps – and he even presented MMA-related clips for UK broadcaster BT Sport's UFC magazine show, Beyond The Octagon.

Now Haskell is now training at London Shootfighters for the real thing, and is getting ready alongside fellow pro fighters, including British Bellator welterweight superstar Michael "Venom" Page.

Critics will no doubt label Haskell's signing as a publicity stunt, but for the former England star, his foray into mixed martial arts is very, very real, and as a man who has been in close proximity to the athletes to compete in the sport week-in, week-out, he knows what he is letting himself in for.

How will he fare? As an elite-level former rugby international, he certainly has the size, the strength and the physical tools to be a serious presence inside the Bellator cage. But will his skills, and his chin, pass the test? Only time will tell...

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