Stephen Neal is a free agent and word coming out of his camp continually is changing. He’s been rumored to be retiring, then it was that he was going to test the free agent market, and now the latest rumblings have him possibly giving the UFC a shot.
At first the rumor seems a little ridiculous but there is some legitimacy behind it.
Neal didn’t play football in college; instead he was a spectacular amateur wrestler at Cal State-Bakersfield.
Neal went 151-10 in his wrestling career, won national titles his junior and senior year, and in 1999 was awarded the Dan Hodge Award, which is referred to as the Heisman Trophy equivalent in collegiate wrestling. Neal also competed at the 2000 Summer Olympics trials.
He has success against the best in the business too.
Neal’s final championship came in a win over future NCAA wrestling champion, WWE Champion, and UFC Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar.
Still, that was in amateur wrestling not mixed martial arts.
There are a lot of potential pitfalls to a potential switch to the UFC.
For starters, Neal has had injury problems in his NFL career. He has been placed on both the injured reserve list and the physically unable to perform list multiple times in his nine-year career.
Especially at the offensive lineman position, nine seasons and 78 games played really takes a huge toll on one’s body. Neal may not have the juice to compete with the toughest fighters.
He’s also about 20 pounds heavier than his wrestling weight in 1999 (286 pounds), and at his position on the field, it isn’t 20 pounds of pure muscle. He is certainly strong and athletic, but it’s tough to imagine him moving swiftly in the octagon.
There’s also one very serious concern with a move like this.
A recent hot topic in the NFL is concussions and the risk of serious brain damage that plagues football players beyond their playing days. It cannot be good at all for Neal to step into the ring and get punched in the head, and in the UFC he wouldn’t have pads and a helmet to protect him.
At the end of the day though, this could still be a far-fetched rumor drummed up by Neal’s agent in order to drive the market for him. Agents lie about these things frequently, and with the potential struggles and dangers that Neal would face, it is tough to imagine the three-time Super Bowl champion making such a drastic career change.