AP Photo/Nick Wass
Stretching it: At 33, Stephen Neal might be running out of time to try his hand at MMA fighting.
Conversations about Brock Lesnar occasionally drop in the name "Stephen Neal."
Neal, a 6-foot-4, 305-pound New England Patriots guard, was a two-time NCAA Division I champ who once beat Lesnar for that title in 1999. His MMA participation has been a what-if proposition. At 33, he is flirting with middle age in combat sports.
But maybe Neal himself doesn't think so: In an interview with CSN.com, agent Neil Cornrich indicated that his client had several options when his NFL free agency begins March 5. In addition to continuing with the Patriots or another team, Cornrich said, Neal could "perhaps after that take a chance at the UFC. Getting back involved in Olympic-style wrestling is definitely a consideration."
The latter comment is oddly out of context with MMA, since the current interest in "Olympic-style wrestling" is all but nonexistent without the addition of strikes. Cornrich could be talking just to talk, but a 2008 Boston Herald piece mentioned that Neal had trained with Tito Ortiz; Lesnar himself thinks Neal would be a natural.
Is there a market for Neal? He was a standout wrestler, but he doesn't share Lesnar's WWE fame or his ability to stare down a camera crew. If he were built up as Lesnar's doppelganger, maybe there's a hook there. But it's unlikely he'd command a huge starting salary. If he took the plunge, it would have to be for the love of competition -- not for anything even approaching his four-year, $10 million deal that's about to expire with the Patriots.
Maybe that would be enough. "I'd love to [get back into wrestling]," he told USA Today in 2005. "The weight class is 263 pounds, and I'd like to get my body back down to that weight. I don't know. I might be too old by then. I might be too beat up. But it's a dream."