James Haskell: Former England rugby star joins Bellator MMA to begin new career in mixed martial arts

Former England rugby international James Haskell will embark on a new career in mixed martial arts after signing for Bellator MMA.

The 34-year-old called time on his rugby union career in May after suffering an injury-hit season, with toe and ankle injuries limiting him to just four appearances in his final season in the sport with Northampton Saints.

But barely three months’ later, Haskell has signed a deal with Hollywood-based fight promotion Bellator, which is largely seen as the biggest rival to the UFC.

Bellator teased the “major new signing of a top international athlete” on Tuesday, and confirmed on Thursday morning that the 77-cap England international has signed to join their heavyweight division.

“Known as one of sports’ great characters, Haskell is sure to bring his livewire, quick-witted and at times no-nonsense personality to the sport of MMA – along with genuine, knockout power,” a press release read.

“Standing at 6ft 4in and weighing in during his rugby career at 260lbs, Haskell will compete in Bellator’s heavyweight division which features the likes of current champion Ryan Bader, challenger Cheik Kongo, MMA veteran Josh Barnett and Fedor Emelianenko.”

Haskell trains alongside current Bellator star Michael ‘Venom’ Page at London Shootfighters Gym and has also previously appeared as  pundit during live broadcasts, but it no doubt represents a bug risk given how late he will begin his MMA career.

Bellator expect Haskell to train for the remainder of 2019 and make his debut in the first half of 2020, although a date is yet to be confirmed.

During a 16-year professional career, Haskell represented childhood club Wasps, as well as Stade Francais in France, Ricoh Black Rams in Japan and Highlanders in New Zealand before returning to England to rejoin Wasps and latterly Northampton. He made his England debut in 2007 and was part of the squads for the 2011 and 2015 Rugby World Cups, while he also won three Six Nations titles during his international career in 2011, 2016 and 2017.

At club level, Haskell helped Wasps to the Heineken Cup triumph in 2006/07 and the Premiership success the following season, while he also represents one of England’s most well-travelled players after choosing to gain experience abroad before returning to the English top flight in 2013.

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