Former UFC star Junior dos Santos set for professional wrestling debut, planning boxing match next

Junior dos Santos seems to have several options moving forward with his combat sports career following his release from the UFC earlier this year.

The former UFC heavyweight champion will make his professional wrestling match debut Friday for All Elite Wrestling. And dos Santos told ESPN on Wednesday that he is also in talks about making his boxing debut.

"Let's see," dos Santos said. "I've been having some good conversations, even on boxing. Boxing, I think, would be the perfect way for me to go. I'm a boxing guy, everybody knows that. I've never had an official pro boxing fight. Maybe this is the time."

Dos Santos, 37, did not go into detail about when he might fight in boxing or who the opponent could be, because he said he's focusing right now on his work with AEW. On Friday, "Cigano" will team with wrestlers Ethan Page and Scorpio Sky in a tag-team match against wrestling legend Chris Jericho, Jake Hager (who also fights for Bellator) and Sammy Guevara.

The match is part of an AEW storyline that involves dos Santos' American Top Team MMA team backing up Page and Sky with American Top Team owner Dan Lambert as their on-screen manager. Dos Santos and several other ATT fighters -- including UFC veteran Paige VanZant, former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski and PFL champion Kayla Harrison -- made their first AEW appearances as part of this storyline in August and September. Some have gotten physical in segments, but dos Santos will be the first one to actually wrestle in a match.

"I wasn't really a big fan of it [before]," dos Santos said. "But this thing changed a lot. After Dan Lambert invited me to go there and see how hard it is. It's not a joke, man. Those guys, they go hard. And they have to be very well-prepared for that. So, then when I saw all of it, I got very interested in it. And then I said, 'Man, I want to do it.' Ask Dan Lambert. I was saying, 'Man, I need to be in that ring.'"

Dos Santos said the most "amazing" thing for him was the loud, raucous pro wrestling crowds and how they interacted with the show.

"That type of energy was amazing to feel," dos Santos said. "A long time, I don't feel this way. Long time, I don't feel this excited to go in the ring and perform and give the best of me and my performance. Man, I'm looking forward to Friday night.

"Back in the day, in the UFC and MMA itself, I was feeling kind of pressure all the time. I wasn't being appreciated to be there. Now, it's different. People love me to be there, even if they don't like me. They are showing that."

Dos Santos was released by the UFC in March following four straight losses, though they all came against elite heavyweights.

Dos Santos held the UFC heavyweight title in 2011 and 2012. He owns MMA victories over former UFC champions Stipe Miocic, Cain Velasquez, Fabricio Werdum and Frank Mir.

This weekend, dos Santos will be in a pro wrestling ring. But don't be surprised to see him in a boxing ring at some point in the future, either.

"Let's see what's gonna happen next, but the boxing thing would be amazing," dos Santos said. "As you guys know, I love knocking people out. I love punching people in the face. That would be a good way to go."