Friday, February 26, 2010
By Robert Gardner
February 25th, 2010
Even though the UFC heavyweight division is rapidly evolving into the most exciting and interesting division in the sport today, I still have a hard time picturing any of the current contenders being able to rip the title from Brock Lesnar’s massive meat mitts.
It’s not that this current crop of contenders lack the skill or the drive; I just don’t see any of them having the tools to compete with Lesnar’s combination of freakish athletic ability and elite wrestling pedigree.
However, recently one name has emerged that I feel could be just the man for the job—Stephen Neal.
That’s right, current NFL free agent guard and three-time Super Bowl champion Stephen Neal.
Neal’s agent, Neil Cornrich, has stated that the former New England Patriot guard has been contemplating a return to amateur wrestling or perhaps even trying his hand at MMA.
“He’s excited to continue in the NFL and perhaps after that take a chance at the UFC,” Cornrich told CSNNE.com’s Tom E. Curran.
Now before you scoff at the idea of Neal entering MMA, remember that he is a former four-time All-American and two-time Division I National Champion wrestler from Cal State Bakersfield. The wrestling accolades don’t stop there, either; following his collegiate career, Neal went on to win the US Freestyle Championship, the Pan-American games title, and the World Championships.
It was not until after narrowly missing an opportunity to compete at the 2000 Sydney Olympics that Neal transitioned into the NFL—unlike Lesnar, Neal flourished with his transition.
Why do I think Neal could find success within the confines of MMA?
First, his wrestling pedigree is undeniable. Neal not only has a better amateur resume than Lesnar, but he also defeated the current UFC heavyweight champion to win his second national title.
Second, Neal has the athleticism and physical gifts to rival that of anyone currently competing in MMA.
Playing in the NFL is no small feat, and when you take into consideration that Neal was able to do so without ever playing a down of football in college, it’s just incredible. That achievement alone not only speaks to Neal’s athletic ability but also his work ethic.
The final reason Neal would find success in MMA is tied directly to the position that he played in the NFL, offensive guard.
Guards, for those who are unfamiliar with football, play in the trenches—an extremely physical and violent world. The goal of a guard is dominate and impose your will of the man lined up across from you, just like in the Octagon.
I have little doubt that if Neal were to make his way to MMA, he would become a force to be reckoned with.