Top Notable Combat Sports Stars Who Played Football

The NFL Draft is tonight! Several lucky individuals will get an opportunity to turn professional on April 23, 2020 after showcasing their skills in school. What happens to them after football, however?

There have been several football stars who have made the transition to combat sports, whether it be boxing or MMA. Some have succeeded, while others, like their football career, were there for a cup of coffee. Regardless, the fact they have done both is commendable.

In honor of those individuals, here are the top athletes who have competed on a field and in any form of combat sport:

(via UFC)

Marcus Jones

An All-American in 1995 for North Carolina, Marcus Jones (4-2) was a first-round pick by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In 85 games for the Bucs, he had over 124 tackles and 24 sacks.

Released by the team and waived by the Bills, Jones tried out for MMA in 2007. He ended up competing on The Ultimate Fighter in 2009. He made it to the semifinals before losing to Brendan Schaub. Making his UFC debut at 4-1, Jones was knocked out by Matt Mitrione (more on him later) in ten seconds of the second round of their fight.

While he retired right after, his short stint was still impactful.

(Chris Unger/DWTNCS LLC)

Greg Hardy

A controversial figure outside of the sports world, Greg Hardy is one of the most recent additions of football stars crossing over to MMA.

A Pro Bowler with over 238 tackles for the Carolina Panthers and Dallas Cowboys, Hardy was at one point considered the top prospect in the 2010 NFL Draft. From 2010-2015 he played in 52 games and had over 40 sacks.

Joining MMA in 2016, Hardy (5-2, 1NC) went 2-0 in the amateurs before joining Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series. He was awarded a contract right away following his TKO win over Tebaris Gordon. Looking impressive due to his power, Hardy’s overall skills still need some improvement. It was noticed during his loss to Allen Crowder via illegal knee and his overturned fight against Ben Sosoli for using an inhaler during the bout.

Still, Hardy has been used for mainstream exposure and his skills. If he can sharpen everything up, the future looks bright for Hardy.

(Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

Brock Lesnar

While he never officially made it to the regular season, Brock Lesnar is still a notable name that competed on the football field.

After becoming an NCAA Champion and a stint with WWE where he won multiple titles, Lesnar (5-3, 1NC) tested the NFL out in 2004. One had to wonder what life would have been like if he didn’t get into an accident following the NFL Combine. Lesnar was signed by the Vikings but was only on the practice squad. Eventually, he joined MMA.

Competing in 2007, Lesnar was signed by the UFC in 2008. An immediate money machine, Lesnar was involved in some of the top fights for the promotion. A former UFC Heavyweight Champion, rumors of Lesnar in the sport are always creating headlines, even today.

(Ed Mulholland/USA TODAY Sports)

Matt Mitrione

The other side of the Jones coin.

Signed by the New York Giants, San Fransisco 49ers and Minnesota Vikings, Mitrione’s time in football was cut short due to several injuries. With seven surgeries to his foot and only four tackles to his name, he was never going to be the same. However, he used his passion for competing to join the world of MMA.

Mitrione (13-7, 1NC) joined the tenth season of The Ultimate Fighter. While he lost in the quarterfinals, his presence as a heavyweight would do wonders for him. In his UFC career, Mitrione beat Kimbo Slice, another football star in Jones, Derrick Lewis and Tim Hague. Following a successful UFC career, he joined Bellator in 2016 and is currently 4-2 with the promotion with one no-contest.

Some of his most memorable moments with Bellator have been knocking out Fedor Emelianenko and beating Roy Nelson in the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix.

(Chris Farina/Top Rank)

Tom Zbikowski

A kick returner, defensive back and strong safety for the Baltimore Ravens and Indianapolis Colts, Zbikowski ended up boxing during the NFL lockout. It wasn’t something he randomly decided to do, however, as he had an intrigue for the sport since he was a little kid.

The Athletic managed an in-depth piece on Zbikowski, whose journey through the sport and life has been one to remember. Zbikowski (8-0) ended up training with Emanuel Steward, who is credited for being a teacher to Oscar De La Hoya, Thomas Hearns and Evander Holyfield.

A total of 126 tackles and three interceptions in the NFL, Zbikowski has tried several things to keep himself preoccupied. He has since had the urge to fight again, and was meant to return in 2020 for Top Rank before the coronavirus pandemic. At 34, all he can do now is wait.


(Esther Lin/Strikeforce)

Herschel Walker

Probably the most successful name on this list, Walker’s (2-0) accomplishments in football are undeniable. A three-time All-American, Walker had a total of 49 touchdowns and 5,259 rushing yards with the University of Georgia. Walker set the rushing record for a freshman in 1980 and won the Heisman Trophy in 1982. As a result, he is in the College Football Hall of Fame.

Going pro in 1983 with the USTA, Walker rushed for over 5,562 yards. Joining the NFL in 1985, he became one of the top running backs for the league in 1988. While going from Dallas to Minnesota eluded him of a Super Bowl win, he made the most of his career. A two-time Pro Bowler, Walker ended up with over 8,225 rushing yards, 61 touchdowns and multiple rushing records.

Outside of football, combat sports seemed like a natural fit. Walker has a black belt in tae kwon do and looked to use his skills in MMA. Signed by Scott Coker’s Strikeforce, he fought twice with the promotion. In 2010 he beat Greg Nagy via TKO, and he did the same in 2011 against Scott Carson. While his MMA career was short, one can wonder what he could have done if he left football a little earlier.

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