FROM JACK BECHTA:
In August 2008, my phone used to light up about once day, sometimes twice. Kelly Gregg, one of my best clients and the NFL’s leading tackler among D-linemen from 2002 to 2007, was on the line, telling me he was worried he might be cut by the Baltimore Ravens because of a knee injury.
I explained to Kelly that the Ravens couldn’t and wouldn’t let him go because of his knee. “Well,” he told me, “if I do get cut, I want to go into the UFC and fight and beat the best!” I assured Kelly we would get him the finest medical attention available so he could play several more years.
But as the Ravens’ 2008 season moved on without Kelly, the calls kept coming – and so did the talk about being UFC champ. Eventually, his knee healed, the calls subsided and the conversations went back to playing football.
After reading Mark Preston’s story in the Baltimore Sun last week about Kelly’s progress, I decided to check in on him, as I frequently do. An upbeat and confident Kelly answered the phone and gave me a positive report on his knee, his strength and his overall physical progress. He also said one more thing: “I want to fight Brock Lesnar,” the current UFC champ.
“That would be impossible as long as you’re under contract with the Ravens,” I replied.
“Well, that sucks because I know I can beat him,” he said.
For all you MMA and UFC fans, don’t take Kelly’s comments lightly. People who play with and against him would be willing to put some money on him. Kelly has the heart of a warrior, the skill and stamina of a wrestler and the courage of a lion. Lesnar has all the physical tools to be a superior NFL player but for whatever reason couldn’t make it. Kelly, on the other hand is a superior NFL player and was a superior wrestler as well. In fact, the three-time state and two-time national champion would have wrestled at the college of his choice had he not accepted a football scholarship to Oklahoma.
Just for fun, let’s look at the tale of the tape:
KELLY GREGG / BROCK LESNAR
AGE: 32 / 31
HEIGHT: 6-0 / 6-3
WEIGHT: 315 265
NFL: Defensive Lineman Cut
WRESTLING: Okla. state champ, Natl. champ 2-time Big 10, NCAA Champ
MMA/UFC EXPERIENCE: 0 / 2 YEARS
The reason I’m writing this is because Kelly remains serious about fighting in the UFC. He wants to play football about five more years, then, fight in the UFC for about two or three years with the goal of winning the championship belt. He wants to fight at 260 pounds. He’ll be about 38 or 39 years old. To put that in perspective, Randy “the Natural” Couture will turn 46 in June of this year (that’s me with Randy on the right).
Kelly loves wrestling and competing. My O-line clients both love and hate playing against him. They love him because he plays hard but clean. If he gets blocked, he’ll make a comment about getting cut again, which usually brings some laughs during the battles in the trenches. They hate him because he goes hard and brings it on every play. Believe it or not, the majority of D-linemen will take a play off if it’s away from them or if they’re doubled-teamed. Not Kelly. He just keeps coming like the agents from “The Matrix.”
When I recruited him in 1999, I realized there was something different about him. I had never met a draftee who kept telling me how he simply wanted to beat the best, whoever was put in front of him. For two days straight, Kelly tried to convince me that he could beat anybody — on the football field, the wrestling mat or on the street. Not in a cocky, boastful manner, but in a purely competitive way.
On the flip side, there I was trying to sign him and convince him that I was the right agent for him. When I told him that I would always “fight” for him, he gave me the green light to represent him.
“Grrrrrr” or “Buddy Lee,” as Kelly is affectionately known by his teammates, isn’t afraid of anyone or anything. When he visited me in San Diego in 1999, we ran into the Chargers’ stud running back, Natrone Means, and several of his teammates. As some of the guys walked by our table and said hello, Kelly asked if one of them was Means.
“Yes,” I told him — and the next thing I knew, Kelly was out of his chair chasing after Natrone and his party. He stood nose to nose with Natrone and said, “No disrespect, but when I get in the league, don’t run in my direction because you’ll end up on your back in the backfield, and you’ll be lucky to have a 25-yard game.”
Understandably, Natrone’s teammates bounced in front of Kelly to protect their star player. But Kelly didn’t budge.
“I’m not here to fight, just to make a statement to Mr. Means,” he said. “Now, if you want to fight, I will kick all your asses.” Natrone simply wished Kelly luck and moved on with his crew.
When I incredulously asked Kelly what he was thinking, he replied, “Jack, you don’t understand, but the only thing I know is to compete. It’s hard for me to sit still. I wish I could wrestle and play football 365 days of the year.”
So don’t be surprised to see Kelly and Lesnar square off in the octagon in 2015. Until then, he’s on his way to becoming the Ravens’ all-time leading tackler and the NFL’s most prolific run stopper.
Who would you pick? Gregg or Lesnar?