UFC 128: Brendan Schaub and 8 Former NFL Players Who Crossed Over to MMA

Scott Harris@ScottHarrisMMAMMA Lead WriterMarch 19, 2011

UFC 128: Brendan Schaub and 8 Former NFL Players Who Crossed Over to MMA

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    Photo Credit: Sports Illustrated
    Photo Credit: Sports Illustrated

    UFC heavyweight Brendan Schaub will face Mirko Cro Cop at UFC 128 in New Jersey tonight.

    Before he ever scored a take-down in the cage though, Schaub was taking down tacklers as a fullback on the Buffalo Bills' practice squad, following a stint with the Arena Football League's Utah Blaze and a college football career at University of Colorado.

    After retiring from the gridiron, Schaub got serious about MMA and eventually hooked up with middleweight Nate Marquardt and Marquardt's High Altitude Martial Arts gym in Denver. Thus far, the change seems becoming for Schaub, who sports an 8-1 record and reached the finals of the 10th season of The Ultimate Fighter.

    For some, like Schaub, the move from the NFL to the UFC has proven successful. For others, less so. Here's a look at the eight players who have made the move. It is a bit of an awkward number, but, well, I think this is all of them.

    For more news, analysis and results from UFC 128, check out Bleacher Report's event coverage.

8. Michael Westbrook

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    The Washington Redskins had high hopes for Westbrook when they drafted him fourth overall in 1995.

    But after seven seasons of underwhelming play on the field and a steady string of controversies off of it (including punching out teammate Stephen Davis during a team practice), the highly touted wide receiver was traded to the Cincinnati Bengals. By 2002, he was out of the league for good.

    Not long after, Westbrook transitioned to MMA, and in 2005 he made his debut for the King of the Cage promotion, defeating Jarrod Bunch. But like his NFL tenure, Westbrook's fighting career did not meet initial expectations.

    He fought twice more for KOTC, earning a knockout loss and a no-contest following a groin strike. He has not fought since 2009, though in 2010 he did appear in an episode of the MMA-themed MTV show Bully Beatdown

    Bully for him.

7. Rex Richards

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    Richards has done his share of time in the trenches, both in football and in fighting.

    Richards played for the Indianapolis Colts for a short time in the 1990s, then moved to arena football, then to MMA.

    After losing about 100 pounds in order to fight as a heavyweight, Richards spent a little time with Strikeforce in 2006 and 2007. He spent the next few years bouncing around the sport's minor leagues, most recently losing to TUF alum Darrill Schoonover in the Shark Fights promotion. 

    He has not fought professionally since 2009.

6. Brock Lesnar

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    Fine, I'll throw him in here. 

    Lesnar did not grow up playing football, but after a pro wrestling career, he tried out for the Minnesota Vikings. He didn't make it, but reached the final round of cuts.  That is pretty impressive, given he had no real football experience to speak of prior to trying out, basically, as an NFL walk-on.

    So even though he didn't actually play in the NFL or transition to combat sports since he started there, I suppose this still deserves a mention, given that he's famous and all.

5. Marcus Jones

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    Photo credit:  MMAFight
    Photo credit: MMAFight

    Jones played seven seasons at defensive end for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, At 6'6" and 262 pounds, he cuts an imposing figure, but he ultimately did not seem to have the constitution for a fight career.

    Jones appeared on season 10 of The Ultimate Fighter alongside fellow ex-NFLers Schaub and Matt Mitrione. In fact, he fought them both at various times on the show and lost both times by knockout.  After losing to Mitrione on the show's finale, the gentle giant called it a career after posting a record of 4-2 and went on to pursue other interests.

4. Wes Shivers

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    Shivers rounds out the four ex-NFL fighters who graced the cast of The Ultimate Fighter's 10th season.

    The Tennessee Titans drafted the super-sized Mississippian in 2000; he played three games at offensive tackle before being cut.

    Though he lost to James McSweeney on TUF and did not get another shot with the UFC, Shivers is now fighting under the Strikeforce banner. Back in November, he knocked out Goldman Butler to run his professional fight record to 8-1.

3. Herschel Walker

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    Photo credit:  Esther Lin/Strikeforce
    Photo credit: Esther Lin/Strikeforce

    Walker is probably the best-known NFL player to make the move to MMA. One of the most talented and widely-hyped players in college football history, Walker played in the now-defunct USFL before spending 11 seasons at running back with four different NFL teams.

    Now competing in the Strikeforce promotion at the advanced age of 49, Walker is 2-0 in his professional career, including a January first-round stoppage of Scott Carson. It will be interesting to see if he ever gets a legitimate opponent, but competing professionally at any level is really admirable for someone nearly 50 years old and with so many clicks already on the odometer.

2. Matt Mitrione

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    In his relatively short MMA career, Mitrione has the interesting distinction of having ended not one but two fighting careers.

    Marcus Jones retired after suffering a second-round knockout at the hands of Mitrione. Six months later, Mitrione effectively served Kimbo Slice his UFC walking papers in the form of a second-round stoppage.

    After defeating Tim Hague in January, Mitrione showed serious improvement to his already-formidable standup game. The future looks pretty bright for this former New York Giant and Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle.

1. Brendan Schaub

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    The Hybrid is currently the ex-NFL player with the most promising MMA career.

    Now training with fellow heavyweight Shane Carwin and others at the renowned Greg Jackson camp, Schaub is a very competent and powerful striker with strong take-down defense and solid submission skills. 

    A win over Cro Cop at UFC 128 would not only vault him into the top echelon of the UFC's heavyweight division, but would probably cement his status as the most successful NFL-MMA crossover to date.