NFL players who have made careers Fighting MMA
Many fans and experts alike have claimed that the National Football League (NFL) is home to the planet’s most explosive and powerful athletes. After all, depending on the position you play, to compete in the NFL you have to be extremely fast, strong and athletic. If not all of these things combined.
So, with this in mind, it’s not surprising that quite a few NFL players have transitioned into MMA over the years. Nor is it shocking NFL MMA fighters have had success, competing in the world’s toughest, combat sport.
NFL players who have fought for the UFC
One of the most successful NFL MMA fighters to move from professional football to the UFC is Brendan Schaub. While Schaub never played in an official NFL game, he was signed by the Buffalo Bills after playing for the University of Colorado. Schaub was added to the Bills’ practice squad but was released before the 2006 season began. The future comic ended up signing with the Arena Football League’s Utah Blaze, before retiring from football in 2007 .
Schaub made his way to the UFC via “The Ultimate Fighter” competition in 2009. Although he was knocked out by Roy Nelson in the show’s finale, Schaub proceeded to turn heads by winning four straight fights. One of those victories was a knockout win over the legendary Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic in 2011.
The now 36-year-old’s MMA career peaked, however, with his win over “Cro Cop”. After that, Schaub proceeded to go 2-4 in his next six professional fights, and in 2015 he announced he was hanging-up-the-gloves. “Big Brown” exited the sport armed with a record of 10-5.
One of the more polarizing NFL players to move to MMA is unquestionably Greg Hardy, on account of his highly publicized, allegations of domestic violence. 
Following his collegiate career with the University of Mississippi, Hardy was drafted by the NFL’s Carolina Panthers, where he went on to become a Pro Bowl defensive end. Hardy transitioned into amateur MMA in 2017, and after going 3-0, he was invited to compete on “Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series” (DWTNCS).
Hardy proceeded to take out fellow, former NFL player turned MMA fighter Austen Lane in 2018, and the 6’5 tall heavyweight was offered another fight on the show. Hardy needed just 17 seconds to finish Tebaris Gordon in his second, DWTNCS bout.
After recording another, quick KO win at an Xtreme Fight Night card, Hardy was signed to his first, official UFC fight. In January, 2019, under extensive media coverage, the controversial fighter faced Allen Crowder at UFC Fight Night 143. Hardy was disqualified, however, for hitting Crowder with an illegal knee in round two. Following the fight, UFC President Dana White was quick to praise the abilities of the heavy-handed prospect .
“One thing that I did learn about Hardy tonight, he can fight. He can fight, he’s an athlete, not only can he punch hard, but he can take a big punch…I think everybody thought if he got taken down to the ground that was gonna be the end of him.”Dana White
The 31-year-old Hardy rebounded from the DQ loss by finishing Dmitry Smolyakov and Juan Adams in his next two, UFC bouts.
Another successful NFL player to move into MMA is Matt Mitrione. After the fighter wrapped up his college football career with Purdue University, Mitrione was signed by the New York Giants. The defensive tackle went on to play for the Minnesota Vikings and San Franciso 49’ers, but Mitrione’s football career was cut short due to injuries .
Mitrione began training in MMA after his football career ended, and as a testament to his athleticism, he was selected for the tenth season of “The Ultimate Fighter”, despite having no fights on his record. Although Mitrione was submitted by James McSweeny in the competition, the dynamic heavyweight was offered a UFC contract. Mitrione went on to win his first five, professional MMA fights, before he lost via decision to Cheick Kongo in 2011.
After Mitrione was stopped by Travis Browne in 2016, “Meathead” opted for free agency and signed with Bellator. Mitrione went on to avenge a 2012 loss to Roy Nelson under the Bellator banner, and he also took out the legendary Fedor Emelianenko at Bellator 180 in 2017.
Now, upon seeing the name above, you may be asking did Brock Lesnar play in the NFL? The decorated collegiate wrestler and pro-wrestling star never played in an official, NFL game no. But, after trying out for the Minnesota Vikings in 2004, Lesnar played in a couple of exhibition games, before being released.
So, if you view Lesnar as a former football player, then there’s little doubt that the massive heavyweight is the most successful, NFL player to date to become a UFC fighter. After all, Lesnar went on to win the UFC’s heavyweight title. Before the arrival of Conor McGregor, Lesnar was also the driving force in the UFC’s biggest pay-per-view card to date.
Lesnar began his pro-fighting career in 2007, under the Dynamite! Banner, and he tapped out Min-Soo Kim with strikes. Lesnar was signed to a UFC deal in 2008, and after he was quickly submitted by Frank Mir at UFC 81, many people wrote the wrestler’s MMA aspirations off.
Lesnar went on to prove the doubters wrong, however, as after defeating Heath Herring, he won the UFC’s heavyweight crown in 2008, by finishing the legendary, Randy Couture. Lesnar also avenged his loss to Mir in his first title defense, by stopping the feared submission artist at UFC 100 in July, 2009. The card is believed to have sold around 1,300,000 PPV buys, which was a UFC record until 2016.
The reign as champion was ended by Cain Velasquez in October, 2010, and then a battle with diverticulitis, as well as a quick, stoppage loss to Alistair Overeem, sidetracked his MMA career. After years of speculation, as to if and when the star would fight again, he was booked to fight feared striker, Mark Hunt in 2016. Ahead of the contest, Lesnar said this :
“I’m a grappler at heart, he’s a heavy hitter and that’s what the people want to see. The UFC ultimately culminated because we’re going to put guys with opposing disciplines against each other. I think I match up very well…”Brock Lesnar
Lesnar proceeded to defeat Hunt by decision, but the All-American wrestler tested positive for the banned substance clomiphene, and the fight was overturned.
The UFC made it be known that the promotion hoped to have Lesnar challenge Daniel Cormier for the heavyweight title in 2019. But the fight never materialized, and White claimed it was because Lesnar decided to remain focused on professional wrestling.
Other NFL-Turned-MMA fighters
In addition to the fighters mentioned above, here are several other former NFL players who transitioned into MMA.
- Herschel Walker
- Eryk Anders
- Marcus Jones
- Bobb Sapp
- Wes Shivers
- Michael Westbrook
- Rex Richards
- Jarrod Bunch
- Wikipedia, Brendan Schaub. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brendan_Schaub
- Bradley, Jim, (2014, July 14), Panthers’ Greg Hardy found guilty on 2 counts of domestic violence. Retrieved from https://www.wsoctv.com/news/local/panthers-hardy-trial-start-tuesday/113293416
- Ordonez, Milan (2019, July 19), Dana White impressed by Greg Hardy even with DQ loss, will give him another UFC fight. Retrieved from https://www.bloodyelbow.com/2019/1/20/18190272/ufc-dana-white-impressed-by-greg-hardys-ufc-brooklyn-performance-even-with-dq-loss-mma-news
- Wikipedia, Matt Mitrione. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matt_Mitrione
- Fox Sports, (2016, June 16), Brock Lesnar makes a bold prediction for his fight with Mark Hunt at UFC 200. Retrieved from https://www.foxsports.com/ufc/story/ufc-brock-lesnar-makes-a-bold-prediction-for-his-fight-with-mark-hunt-at-ufc-200-061616
Hi, I’m Brandon, editor here at MMA-Today. Mixed Martial Arts has been my life long obsession as long as I can remember. I was introduced to Muay Thai at a young age, but ultimately fell in love with BJJ and grappling in my teenage years, and have never looked back. My goal with MMA today is to inspire people to train and enjoy mixed martial arts more every day.