Pro wrestling has certainly gone more mainstream in recent years with sports outlets such as ESPN and Sports Illustrated now having wrestling-specific writers. An example of this came at Wednesday's ESPYs when "Best WWE Moment" was one of the categories.
Former NFL player and current MMA fighter and sports radio show host Austen Lane talked about the ESPN-WWE connection when he spoke to Wrestling Inc. on our WINCLY podcast.
"There's always gonna be that group of people who want to call out wrestling fans and say it's fake. But you gotta remember that this is the same world we live in now where you can turn on ESPN2 and watch cornhole or video games being played," said Lane. "It's not up for debate whether wrestling is a sport or not; it's sports entertainment. Sports Illustrated and ESPN are covering it; Becky Lynch was the first wrestler to be on the cover of ESPN The Magazine… On our radio show we're getting a lot more people that are fans of us talking wrestling than that aren't.
"I think going forward it's only gonna help the brand of ESPN having wrestlers at The ESPYs or SI or whoever is covering it and it's gonna make wrestling that much bigger as well."
As someone involved in sports broadcasting, impartiality is always a topic of conversation and Lane was asked if he can objectively cover WWE while working for ESPN.
"It's not hard for me at all… I got into the business of sports radio because I thought I had a voice and wanted to talk about things that matter to me. I'm passionate about NBA, MMA, football and I love watching wrestling," stated Lane. "I understand it's my job to cover it and not pick sides, and that's what I do, but I am a fan."
Lane played for the Khans while he was with the Jacksonville Jaguars and he revealed if he's had any talks about possibly joining AEW.
"No, we haven't had any talks yet," Lane said before adding that there was another wrestling promotion that wanted him to do a tryout but he couldn't do it because he was training for MMA.
"As far as working for AEW or a wrestling company one day, never say never. I've had people call into the show who want me to get in the ring and be a pro wrestler, but I just have too much respect for it and I know the amount of time it takes to be in that craft. I don't know if I could spend that much time on something new like that."
Lane noted that he was a big comic book guy but he doesn't want to be in a Marvel movie because he doesn't want to be on the inside as that would ruin it a bit for him. He doesn't want to see behind the curtain with pro wrestling because he wants to enjoy it for what it is.
"In a capacity of commentating or interviews, I'm all for that," Lane said. "But as far as getting into the ring, never say never but I doubt it."
Bridging the worlds of MMA and wrestling is an upcoming MMA fight between UFC Hall of Famer Tito Ortiz and Alberto Del Rio/El Patron. Lane brought up that El Patron once faced off with MMA fighter Mirko Cro Cop in 2003 that didn't end well. El Patron came out in the traditional luchadore gear only to get kicked so hard in the head that he bled through his mask and was knocked out.
"I know Alberto has been associated with Combate Americas but I'm not sure of his MMA experience," stated Lane. "Tito is one of the OGs of the MMA world and had battles with Chuck Liddell…
"How do I see this fight going down? My money's on Tito because he is the MMA fighter, but I'm just hoping it's a good match and is actually a real fight."
When asked if he would like to take on any pro wrestlers in an MMA octagon, Lane brought up that CM Punk was recently on his radio show and his co-host unsuccessfully tried to get the two of them face one another. Lane, who has a 4-1 MMA record with his only loss being to former NFL Superstar Greg Hardy, also said that he thinks he would fare well against WWE Universal Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar.
"I would be remiss to not call out Brock Lesnar because in terms of popularity in the MMA community, and money it would garner, I think Brock Lesnar would be the man to call out," said Lane. "I like my chances to be honest with you. He's a good wrestler and an All-American and his hands are decent. But he was supposed to fight Daniel Cormier and that fight backed out for whatever reason, so I think he's done fighting MMA. But if the opportunity presented itself, why not? I'd be all for it."
Lane then teased an upcoming wrestling project for ESPN that he's working on and said more details would be released shortly.
"I'm talking to somebody right now; I can't give the name yet. But he has been in a ring before and hardcore fans would recognize the name. But what I foresee happening is that we get our own show with ESPN690 and we basically spend an hour each week talking wrestling and MMA which I think would be awesome. I can't give out too much more information than that but hopefully I can announce it in a couple of months or so," said Lane.
Austen Lane can be heard weekdays 3 - 6 pm EST on ESPN690. You can check out past episodes of the WINCLY here. Subscribe to Wrestling Inc. Audio on iTunes or Google Play. Listen to the show via Spotify here or through TuneIn here.