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The Next Lesnar? A New Class of Athlete Invades the Octagon




The New York Times, the venerable gray lady of journalism, has a new story up about the new season of The Ultimate Fighter. And, for once, the focus isn't all on one Kimbo Slice. The real story isn't the former backyard fighter making a desperate grasp for that final minute of fame. It's the journey of some of the world's best athletes into the Octagon.

As the money grows, MMA will continue to attract a better class of athlete. This season former NFL players Marcus Jones, Matt Mitrione, Brendan Schaub and Wes Shivers will all compete on reality television for a chance to fight in the Octagon.

While the former N.F.L. players may not have made it in football, they are all explosive athletes, according to Rashad Evans, one of the coaches on the show, especially compared with the average heavyweight in mixed martial arts. And Lesnar’s success, Evans said, has proved that power and athleticism can go a long way.

Yet technique is still vital in mixed martial arts, and unlike Lesnar, who was an N.C.A.A. wrestling champion, the former N.F.L. players are largely green. They may initially struggle because of their raw and and rudimentary skills.

Nonetheless, as with Lesnar before them, 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.

It will be interesting to see how well pure athleticism translates into MMA success. It's been a huge boon for Lesnar; being bigger, stronger, and faster is always an advantage. But as the Times rightly points out, Lesnar already had a combat sports background. One thing you know about these football players: if you've watched HBO's Hard Knocks, you know just how hard they work. Combine that ethic, with a superior class of athlete, and many of the UFC's plodding heavyweights may be in for some hard times.