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5 former NFL players who made a move into the UFC

Greg Hardy is just one of the former NFL stars to move into the UFC
Greg Hardy is just one of the former NFL stars to move into the UFC
Scott Newman

The NFL is often talked about as the home of the best athletes in the world, but while the stars of that sport do deserve respect, it’s safe to say that in the UFC, even the toughest footballers would find it hard to transition from football.

Over the years, we have seen a number of former NFL players attempt to make the transition into MMA. While a number have failed, there have been a handful who were able to make it into the UFC with some success.

With some skills, namely strength, speed and explosive power, clearly translating from the NFL right into the octagon, could we see former football stars move across sports in the future? Anything is possible.

For now, though, here are five NFL players who made the move into the UFC.


#5. Eryk Anders – UFC light heavyweight

Eryk Anders enjoyed a stellar collegiate career in football before beginning his MMA career
Eryk Anders enjoyed a stellar collegiate career in football before beginning his MMA career

Many of the former NFL stars to transition into the octagon unsurprisingly competed in the heavyweight division. However, the one outlier is Eryk Anders, who has fought in the octagon at both middleweight and light heavyweight.

Unlike many athletes who made the move into MMA, Anders didn’t wrestle during his time at college. Instead, he enjoyed a stellar football career at the University of Alabama, playing for the Crimson Tide as a linebacker.

‘Ya Boi’ helped his team to victory in the 2009 BCS National Championships. After college, he was signed up by the NFL’s Cleveland Browns. However, after failing to make an appearance in the league for them, he briefly moved to the Canadian Football League’s Calgary Stampeders before giving up on football entirely.

From there, ‘Ya Boi’ moved into MMA, first as an amateur. He then turned professional in 2015. An 8-0 run was enough to land him a contract with the world’s biggest promotion and he’s been there ever since, putting together a run of 6-6-1 and impressing at times.

Anders has yet to move into title contention, but the athleticism and power that he honed during his football career have definitely helped him in his wins over fighters such as Vinicius Moreira and Rafael Natal.

It’s fight night, who rocking with ya boi? @ufc #ufcfightnight https://t.co/ms1cDqPVTp

#4. Brendan Schaub – former UFC heavyweight

Brendan Schaub picked up a number of strong wins in the octagon
Brendan Schaub picked up a number of strong wins in the octagon

While he’s better known these days as the semi-controversial host of the popular podcast ‘The Fighter and the Kid’, Brendan Schaub was once a very legitimate contender for the UFC heavyweight title.

‘The Hybrid’ claimed huge victories over opponents such as Gabriel Gonzaga, Mirko Cro Cop and Matt Mitrione during his octagon career. While he fell to the better opponents he fought, names like Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Travis Browne, he was always a dangerous out for any fighter.

Brendan Schaub knocked out Mirko Cro Cop nine years ago today.#UFC https://t.co/hyUSX48UyL

Prior to entering the promotion via the tenth season of The Ultimate Fighter, though, there was plenty of hype around Schaub thanks to his background as a high-level athlete, particularly in the world of football.

‘The Hybrid’ was a collegiate standout at the University of Colorado. After ending his time there, he was signed by the NFL’s Buffalo Bills after going undrafted in the 2006 NFL Draft.

Unfortunately for Schaub, he was cut by the Bills before he could make any actual appearances in the NFL. He ended up signing with the AFL’s Utah Blaze before transitioning into MMA in 2008.

‘The Hybrid’ needed just four professional fights to come under the radar of the UFC. While he failed to win TUF 10, it was easy to understand why he was so highly ranked as a prospect at the time.


#3. Matt Mitrione – former UFC heavyweight

Matt Mitrione actually began his professional MMA career in the UFC
Matt Mitrione actually began his professional MMA career in the UFC

While he failed to defeat his TUF 10 teammate Brendan Schaub when they faced off in the octagon in 2013, Matt Mitrione did achieve something that ‘The Hybrid’ was unable to. He actually made multiple appearances in the NFL and played for three of their teams.

Like the other fighters on this list, Mitrione focused on football during his collegiate days, attending Purdue University on a scholarship and starting 35 consecutive games for them as a defensive tackle.

From there, ‘Meathead’ signed with the New York Giants after going undrafted in the 2002 NFL Draft. He played for them until 2004, when he was released following some injury problems.

He was then inked by the San Francisco 49ers and the Minnesota Vikings. After failing to make an impact, he found himself out of the world of football altogether.

It came as no surprise to see him move into MMA given that he’d reportedly competed in Toughman Contests as a student. Surprisingly, he was actually signed by the UFC to compete on TUF 10 before he’d made his professional debut.

While he became somewhat of a cartoonish villain during the season due to some bizarre behaviour, Mitrione did develop into a strong contender in the octagon. He picked up wins over opponents like Derrick Lewis and Gabriel Gonzaga before moving to Bellator MMA in 2016, where he somehow managed to knock out former PRIDE great Fedor Emelianenko.

É um pra lá,outro pra cá.Matt Mitrione e Fedor Emelianenko. Quase nocaute duplo, mas Mitrione venceu por KO #bellatorNYC #wandfoxfightclub https://t.co/3dyUH5hif3

#2. Marcus Jones – former UFC heavyweight

Despite a stellar NFL career, Marcus Jones struggled in the octagon
Despite a stellar NFL career, Marcus Jones struggled in the octagon

Although his career with the UFC spanned just one official fight and ended with him being knocked unconscious, it’s safe to say that Marcus Jones was one of the more successful NFL players to make the transition across sports.

A high-level collegiate footballer with the University of North Carolina, Jones was then drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 1996 NFL Draft. He ended up staying with the team until 2002, making 85 appearances and playing his entire professional career there.

By his late 20’s, though, injuries began to mount up for Jones. When a knee injury ended his NFL career for good in 2002, it looked like his athletic career was over.

However, in 2007, at the age of 34, he made a surprising transition into the world of MMA after he began to train with the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu camp in Tampa, Florida. Clearly still a capable athlete despite his advanced age, he put together a record of 4-1 before being signed by the UFC as part of the TUF 10 cast.

Training is going great. Ready for another day of hard work. I want to thank all the fans for the support and encouragement!

Jones made an impression on the reality show, earning the nickname ‘Big Baby’ due to his sensitive nature. However, he also knocked two opponents out to make the semi-finals before being finished by Brendan Schaub.

The former NFL star’s final appearance in the octagon came at the TUF Finale. He was knocked out by fellow NFL alumni Matt Mitrione and he has not fought since.

In this case, it’s probably safe to say that Jones simply came into MMA a little too late and never had the chin required to reach the top level.


#1. Greg Hardy – current UFC heavyweight

Greg Hardy has been the most high-profile - and controversial - NFL player to enter the octagon
Greg Hardy has been the most high-profile - and controversial - NFL player to enter the octagon

Undoubtedly the most successful and infamous former NFL player to move into the UFC is current heavyweight contender Greg Hardy. In fact, were it not for his legal problems, ‘Prince of War’ may still be in the NFL today.

After starring for the University of Mississippi at the collegiate level, Hardy made his way into the NFL when he was drafted by the Carolina Panthers in 2010. He enjoyed a tremendously successful run with the team until 2014, when he found himself in hot water thanks to a domestic violence charge.

The issue hung over the remainder of Hardy’s football career. He was let go by the Panthers in 2015, only to sign for the Dallas Cowboys under semi-controversial circumstances.

Following one season and under pressure from the public and media, the Cowboys chose not to re-sign him after a single season, essentially pushing him out of the NFL altogether.

From there, ‘Prince of War’ moved into MMA. Despite garnering a lot of criticism, the UFC chose to sign him to a developmental contract in 2018 before bringing him to the promotion fully in 2019.

Since then, Hardy has gone 4-4-1. While he clearly has athletic ability, he remains widely disliked by UFC fans, something that has probably prevented the promotion from fully pushing him as a star.

Right now, ‘Prince of War’ is on a two-fight losing streak, meaning his next appearance in the octagon may well prove to be his last.

TAI TUIVASA JUST KNOCKED GREG HARDY OUT COLD bars.tl/3372752 https://t.co/Rc17Why4pm
Edited by Harvey Leonard

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