New England Patriots guard Stephen Neal took an unusual route to the NFL: Neal didn't play football at all in college, but he was a very good wrestler, winning the NCAA heavyweight title his senior year. The Patriots recognized his great athleticism and offered him a tryout in training camp, and now he's got three Super Bowl rings.
As for the guy Neal beat in the NCAA heavyweight wrestling final? That would be UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar.
Neal and Lesnar told the Boston Herald what they remember about each other:
"He was just this big, strong, powerful man the wrestling world hadn't seen," Neal said. "He was so big and strong, you didn't want to make a mistake against him."
Lesnar returned the compliment. "The kind of athlete Stephen was, we were men amongst boys," he said.
Lesnar was a junior when he lost to Neal, and he won the NCAA title the next year. He then went on to pro wrestling before taking up MMA. Neal thinks Lesnar could have succeeded in the NFL, and Lesnar thinks Neal could be a great MMA fighter.
Says Neal of Lesnar's prospects on the football field:
"If he had gotten the opportunity that I had, for three years or something, he could have made the transition," Neal said. "There's no question he could have made it. ...
"The guy's a beast, man. You've got to give him credit. He's still a powerful beast of a man. He's really impressive."
Neal has trained with Tito Ortiz and has thought about trying MMA, but he says he's hurt his shoulders so many times in football that he doesn't think he could do it anymore. But Lesnar thinks Neal has the talent for MMA -- as long as he could get down to the heavyweight limit of 265 pounds:
"Obviously, he could become something great, but he's in a great spot playing with the top team in the world," Lesnar said. "If he ever tried (UFC) and could make weight, I'd have to say he could be a force to be reckoned with."
We'll never see a Lesnar-Neal rematch in the Octagon. But it's fun to think about.
Patriots' Stephen Neal Recalls Wrestling UFC Heavyweight Champ Brock Lesnar originally appeared on NFL FanHouse on Wed, 19 Nov 2008 11:55:00 EST . Please see our terms for use of feeds.