When the 10th season of The Ultimate Fighter debuts Wednesday night on Spike, most of the eyes will be on Kimbo Slice, the street fighter turned YouTube star who is trying to make it into the UFC. But Kimbo is far from the most accomplished athlete on the upcoming season.
That distinction belongs to Marcus Jones, a former Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end who was a first-round draft pick in 1996 and finished eighth in the NFL in sacks in 2000. Jones talked to FanHouse last week about why he made the transition from football to MMA, and why he thinks fighting in the Octagon is tougher than playing in the NFL.
Michael David Smith: What's more physically demanding, playing in the NFL or fighting in the Octagon?
Marcus Jones: Fighting in the Octagon is more demanding on your body. The pain that you go through over a short period of time, all the training that you have to do for just 15 minutes of fighting, to me, that's just incredibly difficult.
When did you decide you wanted to try MMA?
The biggest factor for me was the Tim Sylvia-Randy Couture fight (in March of 2007). I was 33 at the time and I saw that Couture just started fighting at 33 and was still great into his 40s. I didn't want to be that person who just spends his life standing on the sidelines, wondering, "What if?" so I started taking jiu jitsu classes at Gracie Tampa, and five months after that I had my first fight.
Do you have any regrets about how your athletic career has turned out, playing football through your 20s and now trying MMA? Do you wish you had tried MMA sooner?
I'm happy that I played football as long as I did. Any time you do a sport you enjoy, it's never a job, it's never work. But I do wish I had started MMA at an earlier age. I ask myself, If I would have started jiu jitsu in my 20s, can you imagine what kind of fighter I'd be today? I'm a much better fighter now than I was during my first fight. In my first fight, I barely knew how to throw a jab. Now I feel comfortable fighting anybody.
Are you satisfied with your NFL career? You had one very good year with 13 sacks in 2000, but overall do you wish you had accomplished more?
I wish it would have turned out differently in the NFL, but you have to be comfortable with who you are. I knew early on that I wasn't the caliber of player of, say, a Simeon Rice. I also had a lot of injuries and that slowed me down. I loved college, and I loved playing in the NFL, but there came a point in my career where I knew it was time to move on. To move on to MMA is great because I've always watched it, I've always been a big fan of the sport. When I learn something new, it's exhilerating.
You're the most accomplished football player of this year's Ultimate Fighter cast, but there are other former football players as well. Did you talk to them about your experiences?
We talked a little bit about it. Some of the differences, some of the likes and dislikes. All the guys who were in the Ultimate Fighter house who played in the NFL truly love MMA. It's not like we're just toying with it.
Which sport do you like better, MMA or football?
Well, I loved playing college football, the camaraderie I had with my teammates there. I didn't feel as much of that in the NFL, but now I feel that with some of the guys I train with at Gracie Tampa, and with other MMA fighters. One of the things I like most about MMA is the camaraderie I've developed with other fighters.
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