Former England rugby international James Haskell has made a shock switch to mixed martial arts after announcing his retirement last season.

The 34-year-old was announced as a new signing by American MMA promotion Bellator to join their heavyweight ranks, with his debut set to come in 2020 according to reports.

"We're proud to welcome the 6ft 4in Rugby star James Haskell to the heavyweight division!" Bellator said in their announcement on Instagram.

Haskell hung up his rugby boots last season after 17 years in professional rugby, including 77 England caps and two World Cups.

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The former flanker played for the Highlanders in Super Rugby from 2012-13, and was a well-traveled professional playing for the Wasps, Stade Francais, Ricoh Black Rams and Northampton Saints.

James Haskell on the charge for the Highlanders. Photo / Photosport
James Haskell on the charge for the Highlanders. Photo / Photosport

The long-time MMA enthusiast, an imposing athlete at 6ft 4ins and 117 kg, has previously trained alongside fellow British fighter Michael "Venom" Page.

During his rugby career, he said MMA "builds strength and endurance and has helped me to manipulate and move people on the rugby pitch".

Haskell is due to speak about his career change at a press conference in London on August 28.

His ultimate goal will likely be working towards challenging the current Bellator heavyweight and light heavyweight champion, and former UFC star, Ryan Bader.