Chad Owens is back to being a football player, but the CFL’s 2012 outstanding performer isn’t ruling out a return to the Octagon.
The Toronto Argonauts receiver/kick returner said Monday his priority has shifted back to preparing for training camp in June and helping the CFL club defend its Grey Cup title. But on Saturday night, the five-foot-eight, 180-pound Hawaii native made his mixed martial arts debut a winning one.
Owens earned a unanimous decision against Junyah Tefaga in Honolulu. The two fought as amateurs and battled through two three-minute rounds.
“If all the dots align and it makes sense, then yeah, I’d definitely love to experience it again and see where it goes but for right now, I’m not looking towards that,” Owens said. “I’m focused on June 1, which is when have to report to training camp, that’s the next fight and once I conquer that then we’ll go into the season and it’s a new fight each week.
“I’ve been fighting for a long time, that’s just my way of looking at it. But (the MMA event) was exciting, it was awesome, I thought I was in the UFC for a second. It’s rare in the off-season you get your competitive juices flowing to that level of game day but that’s what it was. It was a personal thing, something inside … stuff that I needed and wanted to do.”
And for a long time, Owens added.
“It’s something I’ve been wanting to do and talking about doing for years now,” he said. “The opportunity came up and I rode with it.
“The feeling is something I’ve never felt before and I like the feeling. You put in the work, you put in the time and you only have yourself to blame if you fail and I’m not about failure. I was very motivated going into this fight, believe me.”
Despite fighting for the first time, Owens said he wasn’t nervous heading into the bout.
“My nerves were pretty calm but there was a lot of anxiety,” he said. “I couldn’t wait to get out there.
“Only a fighter would know that feeling and now I know.”
The five-foot-eight, 180-pound Owens fought in the 170-pound class and went by the nickname of Mighty Mouse.
But the Argos weren’t exactly thrilled about their top offensive threat participating in such a potentially dangerous activity. GM Jim Barker didn’t mince words about it, saying both he and the club felt Owens was making a bad decision stepping into the Octagon.
Trouble was, the Argos were powerless to stop Owens because a standard CFL contract doesn’t include clauses preventing players from taking part in potentially dangerous off-season activities.
“I definitely wouldn’t expect them to be OK with it and I’d expect them to want to do something in my contract if we get to that point,” Owens said. “All I can do is prepare every year, every off-season to reach new heights and new challenges.
“That’s all I can control, how hard I work and how determined I stay.”
Owens, 31, was an integral part of Toronto’s 2012 Grey Cup-winning squad. He posted a league-record 3,863 all-purpose yards and also was the CFL’s top receiver with 94 catches for 1,328 yards and six TDs.
Owens isn’t the first CFL player to step into the Octagon.
Adam Braidwood, a former defensive linemen with the Edmonton Eskimos, won his debut bout in 2007 while Mike (Wolverine) Maurer, a former Eskimos fullback, has also fought.
Former NFL lineman Matt Mitrione and Brendan Schaub, a former Arena Football player who was on the Buffalo Bills’ practice squad, fight as heavyweights in the UFC.
Former NFLers Marcus Jones and Wes Shivers appeared on “The Ultimate Fighter,” the UFC’s reality TV show, while former Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker has fought in Strikeforce.
But unlike football where players wear equipment — including a helmet — for protection, MMA fighters enter the ring wearing little more than shorts, a protective cup, mouthpiece and light gloves.
They use everything from striking and kickboxing to wrestling and Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
Fighters can use their hands, elbows, forearms, knees and feet to strike an opponent in the body or head, although there are rules governing hitting a downed opponent and where you can connect.
Owens emerged from his bout unscathed and never feared being injured.
“The threat of injury is there every day of my life, there’s always a threat and when you get hurt, you’re not planning on getting hurt,” Owens said. “Yeah, you can lower the risk by not putting yourself in certain situations … but if it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen.
“My belief was that it wasn’t going to happen, I was going to be healthy and I was going to be just fine. It’s amazing if you believe in something hard enough and really have faith in God that he’s going to pull you through, it just happens that way. If you believe it will work out, it will work out.”
Owens said it’s difficult to compare the exhilaration of winning a Grey Cup to the thrill of a one-on-one fight with another individual. But he puts both atop his list of athletic achievements.
“That’s a tough comparison because football is what I do and that’s what you work towards and sacrifice for, the team,” he said. “Winning the Grey Cup and being in that game was amazing … but the feeling inside knowing that was my first time fighting MMA and who knows what’s going to happen was totally different.
“But both are exciting and definitely highlights of my life, things I will never forget.”