Ex-England back-row Haskell swaps MMA for stand-up comedy

James Haskell
James Haskell had been expected to make his MMA debut as a heavyweight last year

James Haskell has been forced to abandon his plan to become a force in mixed martial arts after having back surgery.

But the ex-England and Lions international is far from downhearted – in fact, quite the opposite. He now wants to become a stand-up comedian.

“The MMA’s been put paid to,” he said. “I had spinal surgery four weeks ago.

“I spent a year preparing for it and Covid got in the way, then I had a major problem with my spine,” he added.

“I had to have part of a disc removed which was crushing my spinal chord. But, having had that sort of scare, I’m not sure I need to add to what I already have with my body – arthritis in my ankle and various other issues.

Haskell, 36, told BBC Hereford & Worcester: “I just need to readdress what’s important in my life. And, to be honest, I find podcasting and speaking much more desirable than going into a cage and adding to my laundry list of ailments.

“I have an active mind. I feel 21 but sadly my body doesn’t. What I’d like to be doing is very different to what I can do. I just need to cut my cloth accordingly.”

Since packing in rugby union in 2019, when he realised his injuries had already taken their toll and that he was not going to make it to a third World Cup, Haskell has tried his hand at a variety of roles.

Aside from his fight training, he endured the jungle on reality show I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here, wrote the award-winning book What A Flanker and became a popular podcaster on The Good, The Bad and The Rugby, alongside former England team-mate Mike Tindall and presenter Alex Payne.

James Haskell is tackled by Italy's flanker Simone Favaro during the 2017 Six Nations match between England and Italy
Haskell won 77 England caps between 2007-18

While Tindall married into royalty, Haskell married into TV royalty – his wife Chloe is the daughter of presenting duo Richard and Judy.

And he freely owns up to being a bit of a performer himself.

“I’m a massive show-off,” he said. “Everything’s about performing.”

So much so that he will go on tour with a four-night, one-man show in November, as well as being booked for more live podcast dates in the new year.

“I always wanted to do this. And I secretly want to do stand-up. But this is a nice little sojourn into that world, a chance to dip your toe in the water,” he said, revealing that he loved it when he was sent videos of people laughing in reaction to his podcast.

James Haskell
Haskell spent most of his club rugby career with Wasps, also playing in France and Japan before ending his career at Northampton

“Stand-up should be fun,” he said. “It’s a natural progression from my book and podcast.

“I might die on my backside and never be heard from again but it might be fun to risk it all and find out.”

For now he is planning to hit the same market, armed with a new book Ruck Me, a new podcast, a new show – and new material, as some of the many untold stories from last time get an airing.

“It’s self-reflective. I’m a bit of an idiot, [so] it’s about why I’m an idiot and what led to me being an idiot,” he said.

“If you tell the truth, people get their feathers ruffled. But it’s meant to be fun, certainly not controversial, and there’s no intention to throw anyone under the bus.

“There were quite a lot of people who called and asked me before the first book, asking if a certain story would be in there. And I’d say: ‘It isn’t. I’d forgotten that. But it’ll be in the next book.'”

James Haskell was talking to BBC Hereford & Worcester’s Andrew Easton.


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