Stephen Neal, the New England Patriots guard who is about to become an unrestricted free agent, is not retiring. But he is thinking about what he might do after he finishes his NFL career — and that might include mixed martial arts.
Neal’s agent, Neil Cornrich, told Tom E. Curran of CSNNE.com that Neal, a former NCAA heavyweight wrestling champion, would be interested in signing with the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
“He’s excited to continue in the NFL and perhaps after that take a chance at the UFC,” said Cornrich. “Getting back involved in Olympic-style wrestling is definitely a consideration.”
Neal certainly has the athletic ability to make it in the UFC, and his background as an amateur wrestler gives him a major leg up, as many of the top UFC fighters were amateur wrestlers before they gave MMA a try.
As a senior at Cal State-Bakersfield, Neal (who did not play college football) actually won the NCAA title by defeating Minnesota’s Brock Lesnar, who is now the UFC heavyweight champion. Lesnar said in 2008 that he believed Neal could make it in MMA if he wanted to.
“He could become something great,” Lesnar said. “If he ever tried [UFC] and could make weight, I’d have to say he could be a force to be reckoned with.”
Neal, who’s listed at 305 pounds, would have a bit of trouble getting down to the UFC’s heavyweight limit of 265 pounds, but with the proper strength and conditioning program he’d be able to do it. It’s probably not realistic to think he could be as successful as Lesnar, but there’s no reason he shouldn’t try when he’s done with football.
For now, though, football is Neal’s focus, and he hopes to sign a new contract with the Patriots.
“He’s been with the Patriots his entire career and would like nothing better than to finish his career with another Super Bowl win in New England,” Cornrich told Curran. “He’s very appreciative of the opportunity the Patriots have given him and how they helped him in his transformation from wrestler to professional football player.”