As the worlds of pro wrestling and MMA continue to converge, it’s not hard to find an athlete who is interested in both. Case in point is Ring of Honor wrestler Kyle O’Reilly. Not only is O’Reilly one of the top wrestlers in ROH and on the independent scene, he’s a fan of MMA and has experience with many of its disciplines.
As well as having his own interest in combat sports, O’Reilly has wrestled MMA legend Kazushi Sakuraba in New Japan Pro Wrestling, and slated to face former MMA fighters Katsuyori Shibata in ROH, and UFC veteran Matt Riddle at Pro Wrestling Guerilla’s Battle for Los Angeles event in September.
Speaking to MMAWeekly.com during a brief break in his busy schedule, O’Reilly spoke about the how he got into combat sports, its influence on his pro wrestling, and getting to work with many of the crossover athletes between the sports.
MMAWeekly.com: Thanks for taking time out for us, Kyle. Tell us how you got into grappling and what it’s done to add to your pro wrestling style.
Kyle O’Reilly: First and foremost, my goal was always to be a pro wrestler, and that’s what I’ve set my sights on since day one. Training in Jiu-Jitsu, kickboxing, and MMA, as a whole, kind of just came as a way to supplement my pro wrestling training.
A couple years into wrestling, I started to experiment with Jiu-Jitsu a little bit and I fell in love with it. It translates so well into my pro wrestling. I felt like the movements and having that legitimate base of submission work and stuff can help to translate to pro wrestling so easily. It was just a natural fit.
MMAWeekly.com: In New Japan Pro Wrestling, you’ve had the chance to wrestle some former MMA fighters like Pride FC legend Kazushi Sakuraba and Dream fighter Katsuyori Shibata. What is it like doing pro wrestling with guys who have MMA experience?
Kyle O’Reilly: They know that I’ve never fought or anything like that, but they respect my ability to perform that same style. I’ve gotten to work with Sakuraba a couple times. It was a dream come true. Here’s a living legend in MMA, and I’m having a grappling exchange with him, and we end up standing on our feet facing each other, and the crowd is losing their minds. It’s a really cool and surreal experience to get to work with those guys.
MMAWeekly.com: At the upcoming Battle of Los Angeles event series by Pro Wrestling Guerrilla at the start of September you are slated to face former UFC veteran Matt Riddle. Tell us your thoughts on getting to match up with Matt.
Kyle O’Reilly: I’m really looking forward to work with Matt. I’ve been watching a lot of his pro wrestling online. I’m very impressed with his ability to go from MMA to pro wrestling. Sometimes it’s not always the easiest thing.
Fighters have fighter’s instincts, and it’s hard to let someone else sort of kick your ass, and be able to move around and take those bumps voluntarily. He’s done a tremendous job coming into pro wrestling. It definitely shows how dedicated he is and how hard he’s working at this point. I’m really looking forward to that match.
Pro Wrestling Guerrilla’s Battle of Los Angeles is kind of the mecca of independent pro wrestling. The crowd is absolutely insane. It’s a really special place and I hold it very dear to my heart. They’ve been really good to me over the years. It’ll be a really cool experience to get to wrestle Matt.
MMAWeekly.com: What’s your opinion on the more consistent crossover we’ve been having of late between MMA and pro wrestling?
Kyle O’Reilly: I think it’s great for pro wrestling. I think it helps legitimize pro wrestling and helps legitimize pro wrestlers. A lot of fighters who train at the gym that I train at, they’ll see that I’m a pro wrestler or they’ll see a match I’ll do, and they’re like, “Oh my god, man, I could never do any of that stuff. I can’t believe you go out there and do that.” I’m like, “I can’t believe you go out there and fight for real.” It’s cool there’s mutual respect between the sports.
It’s really cool when there’s that crossover. The roots are so instilled in each other. One didn’t start without the other. MMA was sort of birthed in from pro wrestling. It’s cool to see people have that respect for it. I think more fighters that transition into pro wrestling I think it’s better for pro wrestling as a whole, in my opinion.
MMAWeekly.com: Thanks for taking time out for us, Kyle. Is there anything you’d like to say to our readers in closing?
Kyle O’Reilly: Just keep supporting pro wrestling as a whole if you’re interested in it. Independent wrestling is a completely different flavor than what you’ll see on Monday Night Raw. We work really hard to legitimize the sport and try to make it believable. I really recommend you check out NJPW and ROH. Thank you for giving us a shot to try to entertain you guys.