In a surprise move, the reigning Canadian Football League Most Outstanding Player, Chad Owens of the Toronto Argonauts, is set to make his mixed martial arts debut on April 6 at an event in his native Hawaii.
Owens will debut in the Hawaiian-based promotion Destiny MMA against Junyah Tevage. The event, titled “Na Koa III,” will be held at the Neal S. Blaisdell Arena in downtown Honolulu.
“It’s a new challenge for me,” Owens said in an interview with Hapa Boy Productions. “I’m a pro football player, but it’s always good to change things up and create a new hunger and that’s what this is.”
Hawaii has a rich history of developing top MMA talent, including former UFC lightweight and welterweight champion B.J. Penn.
“MMA has always kinda been, not a dream of mine, but I love the sport,” Owens said. “Obviously watching B.J. (Penn) fight is always inspiring.”
Naturally, the Argos are concerned about a potentially dangerous situation.
When contacted by sportsnet.ca, the Argonauts organization forwarded the following statement regarding Owens:
“The club is aware that Chad Owens is training for an MMA fight in Hawaii on April 6. Although we are concerned for his wellbeing, there is nothing in Chad’s contract that precludes him from participating in extreme activities (this is typical of CFL contracts). It’s not without precedent as other CFL players have participated in MMA in the past and we fully expect that Chad will come to training camp healthy and ready to compete in June.”
Owens has been training for his MMA debut in Hawaii with former UFC heavyweight and The Ultimate Fighter season 10 veteran Scott Junk.
"He shows up, gives 110 per cent and at the end of the day, when it's all over, there's a puddle on the floor where Chad was training. Chad puts in work," Junk told HawaiiNewsNow.com. "If you had to market him and compare him to somebody, he's like (former UFC light-heavyweight champion) Rashad Evans. He's really explosive and really smooth and he's relaxed but he's powerful."
Owens added that although he is new to the sport he is picking things up rather quickly.
"It's kind of like football right? You go to training camp and you practise, practise, practise. You can't wait until you get to that game so you can hit somebody else. I've been training, training, training, and training and that fight night, that's that game," Owens said. "I'll be able to just let my hands go until someone stops me or until I can't throw no more."
Watch as Owens trains at the UFC Gym in Hawaii:
Last season in the CFL, Owens set a new professional football record for all-purpose yards in a season with 3,863 and helped lead the Argos to a Grey Cup victory in November in their home stadium, the Rogers Centre.
Although his decision to try his hand -- and feet and knees and elbows, for that matter -- at MMA comes as a surprise to many, the CFL has had numerous connections to MMA over the years.
Former CFL commissioner Tom Wright is currently the UFC’s director of operations in Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
Earlier this year, Calgary Stampeders quarterback Drew Tate announced he has been training MMA with UFC 13 lightweight tournament champion Guy Mezger as part of his off-season conditioning program.
Former Edmonton Eskimos defensive lineman Adam Braidwood competed in an MMA bout in 2007 while he was an active member of the Eskimos. In fact, in his lone MMA bout Braidwood knocked out future UFC light-heavyweight Ryan Jimmo, who would eventually go on a 17-fight win streak and became the Maximum Fighting Championship’s 205-pound champ along the way.
Former CFLer Marvin Eastman had a successful run in the UFC, fighting the likes of former UFC champions Quintion (Rampage) Jackson, Vitor Belfort and Rich Franklin, among many others. He is still active in MMA having last fought in April 2012.
Days before last week’s UFC 158 in Montreal, following the open workouts, CFL players Anthony Calvillo, Steve Charbonneau, Luc Brodeur-Jordain and Etienne Boulay took part in a Canadian celebrity athlete MMA seminar hosted by UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre’s trainer Firas Zahabi.
On the other side of the border, former NFL stars like Herschel Walker (who went 2-0 in Strikeforce) have transitioned to MMA. Current UFC heavyweights Brendan Schaub and Matt Mitrione are also former NFLers.
Whether Owens wins, loses or draws in his MMA debut, the main thing his football club is hoping for is that he comes out unscathed and ready for the 2013 CFL season.