Hockey ruffian Brashear readies for MMA

Ice and dice: Donald Brashear never let hockey's rules come between his foes and a beatdown. Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

We’ve seen football players do it, pro wrestlers, even rugby players -- but there’s something in the madcap nature of a hockey player trying their hand at mixed martial arts that can’t help but pique interest. Particularly a free-swinging menace like Donald Brashear, who, after 18 seasons in the NHL, is making his MMA debut on Saturday in Quebec City at the Pepsi Colisee.

“I was a fan, obviously,” the 39-year-old French-Canadian said last week after a crash-course training session at Nordik Fight Club. “I love all fighting sports, and I always wanted to do it -- to do some sort of fighting. I always wished I was a boxer when I was younger. Now it’s MMA.”

Brashear racked up a total of 2,634 penalty minutes in the NHL -- good for 15th all time -- over 1,025 games. He wasn’t (always) a cheap player, but he didn’t get that way by playing clean, either. Before the “enforcer” euphemism became so popular in the hawk days of political correctness, Brashear was a goon. A really prolific and especially violent goon, as he had 212 on-ice fights in his career, starting with the late Bob Probert in 1993 as a Montreal Canadien. The Marty McSorley stick incident was just a microcosm of Brashear’s time on the ice. He is hockey’s Jeremy Horn.

“All those fights are memorable, doesn’t matter,” he said when asked which stuck out in his mind. “From the first to the last, it’s different every year. The first ones are tougher, and then you get better and it starts getting tougher for the other guys. Towards the end it’s a little harder, because you have experience but guys are younger and stronger.”

Brashear’s venture into the cage has strangely fascinating intangibles. Things like not having the benefit a jersey to pull over his opponent Mathieu Bergeron’s head or, you know, not fighting while wearing ice skates. But why this can’t help but be a highly publicized novelty is that Brashear has only been training the ground game for about a month.

“I’m feeling pretty comfortable,” Brashear said of the cramming sessions. “I’m working on it everyday, and it’s kicking in pretty good. You only need to learn the basic stuff, mostly how to defend yourself and how to get out from underneath. But with good techniques, good speed and good strength you can do lots of stuff.”

Brashear signed a three-fight contract with the Canada-based Ringside MMA promotion, which isn’t binding -- he has the option to walk away after his heavyweight bout with fellow neophyte Bergeron (0-0-0) if he finds it’s not for him.

“I’m planning on doing more though,” he says. “I would like to do two or three of them for sure.”

Especially if he can knock the 260-pound Bergeron out. That’s his preferred -- possibly only --method of finishing; it’s not like he’s thinking of slapping a gogoplata on somebody. Brashear isn’t disillusioned. And realistically, on June 4 people are going to want to see Brashear banging away at his opponent and eating punches in return for his effort. A gentleman’s handshake to keep things standing would be a smart thing, but if Brashear did the smart thing he might not be fooling around with cage fighting at this stage of the game in the first place.

“I have to approach it as a stand-up fight; I don’t see myself getting into jiu-jitsu,” he says. “I am going to get into my strengths and work around that and see what I can do.”