(Reuters) – Former England rugby international James Haskell has signed a deal with mixed martial arts promotion Bellator MMA and will compete in the heavyweight division, the 34-year-old confirmed on Thursday.
While the date has not been set for his professional MMA debut, British media reported Haskell is expected to continue training for the remainder of 2019, with his first fight expected to take place in 2020.
“They say new year new you,” he said in an Instagram post, that contained a video of him in his combat kit.
Haskell was capped 77 times by England, and played at two World Cups, as well as helping them win three Six Nations titles.
He made over 200 appearances for Wasps in two spells at the English Premiership club and was part of the British & Irish Lions squad that toured New Zealand in 2017.
Yet he struggled with ankle and toe problems while playing for Northampton Saints last season and announced his decision to retire from the sport after a 17-year professional career.
Haskell has shown a keen interest in MMA for several years, having previously trained with British fighter Michael ‘Venom’ Page and worked as a television pundit covering the sport.
“Good luck to him, we’re pleased he’s doing well and it’s really good to see,” said England rugby coach Eddie Jones. “He was a great servant for us, an important part of our Grand Slam-winning team in 2016 and was a great player for England.
“Whether he’s any good or not…I’m definitely going to buy tickets for his first fight. I’ll be sitting ringside, hopefully I won’t get any of his blood on me.”
(Reporting by Hardik Vyas in Bengaluru,additional reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Toby Davis)