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New York Times Looks at NFL Players Coming to MMA

Marcus JonesNext month, the UFC and Spike TV will unveil its newest edition of The Ultimate Fighter. Because of the presence of former internet phenom Kimbo Slice, it is expected to be the highest-rated of the show's 10-season run. But for the sport's long-term growth, the more important element could be the inclusion of four former NFL players.

Witness for example a piece penned by New York Times writer R.M. Schneiderman, which discusses the participation of the four athletes: Marcus Jones, Matt Mitrione, Brendan Schaub and Wes Shivers.

The New York Times only occasionally writes about MMA, so any mention is hugely important. And with the NFL clearly in the lead as America's favorite sport, athletes who cross over from the gridiron to the cage will almost certainly bring along some curious followers.

But the key to the transition is the elite class of athlete that may one day see MMA as a viable option. College football and the NFL are both stocked with some of the country's best physical specimens, but many of them may not make it as stars or suffer an injury that ends their football career but may allow them to continue in another athletic endeavor. For some of them, MMA is now a realistic alternative.

Not everyone is going to be able to make the transition to the cage and become a champion within a few matches as Brock Lesnar did, but with hard work and dedication, elite athletes will undoubtedly make an impact.

For proof, take a look at Lesnar's next opponent: Shane Carwin. Back in 1998, Carwin was a legitimate NFL prospect after an excellent collegiate career at Division II Western State College of Colorado. Many draft projections expected him to be selected in the fifth round, but he was bypassed. Carwin believes his NFL hopes were dashed by bulging discs in his back.

His story is not unusual, and there are many excellent athletes with football backgrounds who love physical contact but don't make it in the NFL. For them, as MMA gets bigger and the compensation grows, the sport will become more and more attractive.

That's not to say those men will come in and dominate. Like Lesnar, Carwin also had an extensive wrestling background that made him a natural to transfer his athletic skills. But there is something to be said for the level of athleticism required to make the NFL, and truth be known there aren't too many elite athletes in MMA these days -- especially in the higher weight classes NFL players would be likely to target -- so for some of the players who wash out early, MMA is worth considering. There are also tons of MMA fans in the NFL, and more and more of them are using MMA for off-season conditioning, so it seems likely that we'll be seeing more of the influx of former footballers in the cage, and it's something we should welcome.

As Schneiderman concludes, "their presence within the sport's ranks perhaps says something about where mixed martial arts is going in the future and the caliber of athletes it may be able to attract."

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