Recently, I got into this ridiculous argument with a friend who I constantly get into pointless, farcical arguments with. Our arguments usually fall into the football vs. some evil force (I usually defend the evil force). The latest one has been perpetuating for far too long. The argument is over the question: Which sport is tougher, NFL football or Mixed Martial Arts? He is a devout Chicago Bears fan and I think that he might get up every morning and bow to his Chicago Bears shrine, decorated with the glory days of Bears past. He proclaims to the Bears Gods, “I shall defend football against all of thy enemies. I shall shout football’s glory from the highest mountains for all to hear. I shall claim football’s supremacy to all that shall listen. Those that choose to disagree are worthless humans that deserve to die in a car fire.”
Well I could be blowing it a little out of proportion but he does constantly claim that NFL athletes are the greatest athletes in the world and that the game they play is the toughest. I disagreed about a month ago and told him that, in my opinion, MMA – particularly the elite fighters employed in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, compete in the toughest sport in the world. From there—the arguing commenced. I have constantly asked myself what the hell I am doing arguing a question of value over something as insignificant as this? Well, I have nothing better to do that’s why. Plus I enjoy getting all riled up over stuff like this—I clearly have a problem.
I don’t know everything but let me tell you one thing that I do know—it’s much tougher to fight in the UFC than play in the NFL. That’s right, I said it Chicago. Don’t take my word for it; a few former NFL players, who’ve trained or competed in MMA, have also reiterated my sentiment. “This is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done; this was a very tough sport for me. Every muscle in your body is sore.” Herschel Walker stated after his professional MMA debut fight this past January. Marcus Jones, a former NFL first round draft pick and currently famous for his stint on the tenth season of the MMA reality television series, The Ultimate Fighter, stated in an interview: “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.”
It was even more entertaining to observe other former NFL players, along with Marcus Jones, who competed on the MMA reality show; Wes Shivers, Matt Mitrione, and Brendan Schaub dropping like flies during the first few workouts. They had their hands down at their sides, fighting the urge to quit, sucking for breath that couldn’t come in fast enough. All stated immediately that it was much more grueling than anything that they have ever done. And that includes playing in the NFL! Things got even more entertaining when the former ‘NFLers’ now mixed-martial artists got into the octagon to fight. Most were winded after the first 5 minute round. So if MMA is so inferior to NFL football, shouldn’t they be experienced enough to get conditioned adequately to make it through one lousy round?
A brief history lesson on Mr. Allen: During an offseason with the Kansas City Chiefs he ran into Jay Glazer, a MMA and NFL reporter. Jay convinced him to train MMA with him in Arizona, where they both reside. After training Jiu-Jitsu, kickboxing, and wrestling at Glazer’s camp he lost 25 pounds of, as Allen refers to it, “bad weight.” He also went on to lead the NFL in sacks and then signed, at the time, the biggest deal ever for a defensive end with the Vikings.
The fact of the matter is that MMA fighters are world class athletes that are well versed in a multitude of martial arts along with wrestling, and boxing. There are no teammates to help you. There are 5 minute stretches of massive exertion paired with a minute of rest. Proportionally that doesn’t compare to the 5 seconds of play with 40 seconds of rest in between that NFL players have the ‘luxury’ of. Also, you have some guy that isn’t trying to knock you down and take some ball away—he’s trying to knock your ass out, slam you down, pound your head into the mat with his fists, break your arm/leg, or choke you out. Any of these scenarios could happen at any moment and you need to be prepared for it all. Skill, not just God-given physique or speed, is required to be on top. Sounds kind of like playing offense and defense – do you have to do that in the NFL?
That’s just the night of the competition. However, that’s assuming the MMA fighter will survive the training camp to get to the fight. An MMA fighter will train for 6-8 hours per day on their cardio, ground attacks & defense, and standup fighting coupled with weight training and sparring. Now while you are doing these strenuous daily workouts you need to make sure that you will be at the right weight. Usually you have to weigh exactly the weight limit the day before the fight and this usually requires a fighter to cut up to 20-25 pounds the day before the fight and put it on after the weigh-ins before the fight. This drastic cut in weight causes some fighters to collapse from exhaustion and dehydration trying to walk to the scale. This gives them about 24 hours to prepare to fight.
To compare I will walk you through a typical week for an NFL Player. On Monday you show up, maybe have to lift some weights or see the trainer. On Tuesday, it’s a mandatory day off. Wednesday, you are in meetings all morning, a walk-though wearing shorts, and then you study film of the walkthrough. Practice ensues afterwards with pads and light hitting. Hit the weight room once more and ice down, for the day is complete. Thursday is the same. Friday, practice ends early leaving more than enough time to prepare to tear up the clubs later that night. Saturday, you have a walkthrough of all the plays in sweatpants. Damn, I guess he’s right that does sounds so much tougher than training for 3 months solid for a MMA fight. No wonder J. Allen cut 25 pounds of “bad weight” training in MMA.
In conclusion, I am not trying to say that playing NFL football is a breeze by any stretch of the imagination. There are some beasts in the NFL and without a doubt, they hit like trucks. But to say that playing in the NFL is tougher than MMA or to go even further to claim that they are not even close is insanity. If you think that MMA is a breeze, give it a shot. You may end up like NFL QB Matt Leinart, puking after 10 minutes of cage training according to Jay Glazer. Or ask Herschel Walker what he thinks now that he is a professional fighter. “I would rather go through NFL training camp because it’s a little easier.” Hey I am not going to argue with a Heisman Trophy winner and an NFL great like Mr. Walker, are you? So pay attention Chicago, as un-American as it sounds, it’s time that we all start to realize that Mixed Martial Arts is tougher than NFL football.
-Information gathered from: Fox Sports, MMAfighting.com, NationalFootballPost.com, and Strikeforce
Sports Science believes the hardest hit in sports came from this mixed-martial artist: