Leading mixed martial arts promotion Bellator MMA has announced the signing of former England international rugby star James Haskell to its elite roster of athletes.
Haskell will compete in the Bellator heavyweight division and is expected to make his professional MMA debut for the global promotion in 2020.
Haskell announced the end of his stellar 17-year professional rugby career, which saw him achieve major honours for both club and country, in May this year, at the age of 34.
Haskell joined Wasps in 2002 and played a huge role in their English Premiership and European Heineken Cup-winning seasons in 2007 and 2008. His club career also saw him represent Stade Francais in France, Ricoh Black Rams in Japan, Highlanders in New Zealand as well as Northampton Saints.
Haskell made his England debut in 2007 and went on to win 77 caps, earning inclusion in England’s 2011 and 2015 Rugby World Cup squads. He played an integral part in England’s return to form under coach Eddie Jones in 2016, which saw the side win their first Six Nations Grand Slam for 13 years, before successfully defending their title the following year.
The back row forward also earned inclusion on the 2017 British & Irish Lions tour to New Zealand, flying out to replace the injured Billy Vunipola.
Alongside his many rugby accolades, Haskell has shown a keen interest in the sport of MMA for a number of years, working as an MMA TV pundit and training alongside British MMA star Michael “Venom” Page at London Shootfighters gym.
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.
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.
While a date has not been set for his professional MMA debut, Haskell is expected to continue training for the remainder of 2019, with his first fight expected to take place during the first half of next year.
Amir Khan has set his sights on eight-division world champion Manny Pacquiao after breezing past Billy Dib to claim the WBC international welterweight title in Saudi Arabia.
The British fighter outgunned an inferior opponent in every department at King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah.
Dib’s corner threw in the towel after Khan showed his hand speed to floor the Australian for the second time with a flurry of body shots.
Dib stepped in to face Khan at short notice and had to put on 17lbs to face the welterweight.
Speaking after the fight to broadcaster talkSPORT, Khan said: “We want the Manny Pacquiao fight, let’s hope he comes to Saudi Arabia.
“Hopefully we come back again at the end of the year and bring Manny Pacquiao here.
“I felt very comfortable in there. Obviously having a new trainer, Bones Adams.
“We had to work on a strategy, I slowed myself down a little bit instead of rushing all the time.
“I was seeing everything, making sure I was putting in the right shots, I felt very comfortable in there.”
The 32-year-old from Bolton was back in the ring for the first time since his controversial WBO welterweight title defeat to Terence Crawford in April.
He was originally scheduled to meet Neeraj Goyat.
But Indian Goyat was forced to pull out after suffering serious injuries in a car accident in June, leaving Dib, a former IBO super-featherweight and IBF featherweight champion, to move up the weights and step in.
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The 24-year-old created history for the UAE two years ago when he signed a four-fight contract with Bellator to become the first Emirati to join an international MMA promotion.
Yahya, who fights out of TK MMA Gym based in Dubai, made his debut late in 2017 and secured an emphatic first-round finish of Ash Griffiths.
However, after entering the bout with a torn anterior cruciate ligament injury, the high of victory was followed by the low of surgery.
Out of action for 15 months, Yahya makes his long-awaited return to the Bellator cage on Saturday May 4 to face Gavin Hughes in the 155lbs division at Bellator Birmingham: Primus vs. Wilde live on the Bellator app.
And Yahya is ready to create some noise through his fists having been called out by Chalmers, star of the MTV hit show Geordie Shore, last summer.
Mohammad Yahya let’s go next 💪🏽🥊 https://t.co/w5zmAvPdP6— Aaron Chalmers (@AaronCGShore) June 9, 2018
“I haven’t seen the call-out on Twitter but I hope he did because that’s one guy I would really like to fight,” Yahya told Sport360.
“Hopefully after this one we can get that done. Maybe we could do it in Dubai? That would be a great fight for Bellator to bring a card to the UAE and have a big fight here.
“I see him as the perfect opponent for that.
“I believe I can beat him in every aspect, so I hope he is calling me out and after this fight, let’s get that done me versus Aaron Chalmers in Dubai.”
The call-out emerged after Chalmers secured a victory of his own over Yahya’s debut opponent Griffiths, via first-round Guillotine Choke.
And despite the Briton fighting at welterweight, a division above the Emirati’s lightweight limit, Yahya is determined to get the bout made providing he comes through against Liverpool’s Hughes.
“It’s a fight which makes sense, though. My team wants me to fight him,” he explained.
“I think he fights in the division above me so maybe I would have to come up to 170lbs or maybe it could be catchweight. It doesn’t matter, any weight I’ll fight him.”
First, though, Yahya, who will make his seventh professional outing, must navigate a very tricky encounter with Hughes on May 4.
The British fighter is competing for the first time since being knocked out by Martin van Staden last March and will be making his debut for Bellator.
It was Hughes’ first loss having gathered a record of nine wins but Yahya is in confident mood as he enters the bout free of injury.
“In my last fight, there’s not a massive amount you can tell about my style,” he said.
“I was 50 percent, I literally went into it with a torn ACL and I still made the fight look easy.
“Naturally with the injury I showed some weaknesses in my game but I need to get back in the mix after my big recovery, I need a couple of fights under my belt.
“Hopefully this fight goes well and I get the win, but I don’t know if anything has been discussed but obviously there are plans for Bellator to come to Dubai one day.
“That would be amazing for me because it would open up so many doors, but it would also be amazing for Bellator to get coverage in the Middle East.
“They love combat sports in Dubai and in the UAE so it’s a good place to do an event.”
Watch Mohammad Yahya in action against Gavin Hughes at Bellator Birmingham: Primus vs. Wilde live on the Bellator app on Saturday, May 4.