Mixed martial arts has become a popular part of the offseason training regimens of NFL players, and a few former players have even tried to become professional fighters. But tonight marks the first time that two former NFL players will square off in a high-profile Ultimate Fighting Championship pay-per-view.
As NFL players, Matt Mitrione and Brendan Schaub never got very far. Mitrione played nine regular-season games as a defensive lineman with the Giants, while Schaub’s career ended after a brief stint as a fullback on the Bills’ practice squad. More successful football players have become pro fighters (Herschel Walker has defeated a couple no-name opponents, while Johnnie Morton found out the hard way that MMA isn’t easy), but when Mitrione and Schaub face each other in the Octagon tonight, it will be the first time two former players have squared off in a high-profile fight. The winner of tonight’s fight will have a good case to call himself the most successful football-to-MMA crossover.
Being big, strong, and athletic enough to play in the NFL is obviously helpful to anyone wanting to pursue an MMA career, and tonight’s event also features UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, who as an athlete looks like a skinnier version of his brothers, Ravens defensive lineman Arthur Jones and Patriots defensive lineman Chandler Jones. But Schaub told the Bills’ website that when moving from football to MMA, the mental approach to competition that he learned in football was what really helped him.
“I do the same type of preparation I did when I was playing football,” he said. “You break down tendencies, you watch fight film, you go over strengths and weaknesses. It’s no different than the NFL. Coming from football, I think it’s helped me. It’s given me advantages as more of a cerebral fighter.”
Schaub and Mitrione will both take that football experience with them into the Octagon.