Former UFC heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos will be back in action soon. But not in the octagon. The Brazilian, who was released by the UFC in March, will make his professional wrestling debut next weekend with All Elite Wrestling (AEW), it was announced Wednesday on the AEW Dynamite program.
The fight will take place on October 15 or October 16, as part of consecutive AEW television cards in Miami.
Dos Santos will be in a six-man match, alongside AEW wrestlers Ethan Page and Scorpio Sky facing pro wrestling legend Chris Jericho, Jake Hager and Sammy Guevara. UFC star Jorge Masvidal, who was dos Santos’ teammate in MMA, will be in his team’s corner.
“I love it,” dos Santos told ESPN Wednesday night. “It’s very different from MMA, but just as exciting. The reactions from the fans are amazing. I’m having a lot of fun and I hope to kick Jericho and Hager’s butt next week.”
Dos Santos, 37, will become the 11th former UFC heavyweight champion to perform in a professional wrestling match; There are only 17 heavyweight champions in UFC history.
His departure from the UFC came after four straight losses, though all came against top contenders. Dos Santos, nicknamed “Cigano,” held the UFC heavyweight title in 2011 and 2012 and owns UFC victories over former champions Stipe Miocic, Cain Velasquez and Frank Mir.
Dos Santos’ six-man fight is part of a story involving his MMA gym, American Top Team. Dan Lambert, the owner of the real-life American Top Team and a longtime professional wrestling enthusiast, is playing the role of on-screen manager for Page and Sky, while bringing his MMA fighters as muscle. Masvidal and another former UFC heavyweight champion, Andrei Arlovski, have appeared several times on AEW programming over the past few months.
On Wednesday night in Philadelphia, Lambert and dos Santos were joined by former UFC fighter Paige VanZant and Austin Vanderford (VanZant’s husband) of Bellator and Dalton Rosta. In the story, the American Top Team group hit Guevara after their fight and Jericho and Hager, who also fights for Bellator, saved Guevara with Jericho and dos Santos locked in a give and take.
Masvidal got physically involved in a segment two weeks ago, hitting Jericho with the rolling knee that made him famous in the UFC by knocking out Ben Askren in five seconds. VanZant, who competes for Bare Knuckle FC, also landed shots to Jericho’s body early in that sequence.