Chad Owens has been one of the toughest players to hit the last three seasons.
The Toronto Argonauts are banking on the receiver/kick returner continuing that trend early next month.
The CFL’s reigning outstanding player will make his mixed martial arts debut April 6 in Honolulu. The five-foot-eight, 180-pound Owens, a Hawaii native, is scheduled to face Junya Tevaga of Maui, who will also be appearing in his first MMA bout.
And the Argos aren’t exactly thrilled that one of their top players is participating in such a potentially dangerous off-season activity.
“I think he’s making a bad decision, our organization thinks he’s making a bad decision,” Argos general manager Jim Barker said. “But we don’t have control of what players choose to do and not do in the off-season.
“We do trust Chad, he’s been in the best shape of any athlete in this league for the last three years and, again, we trust that. We think he made a bad decision on doing this but, again, we trust he’ll come in great shape and be ready to play.”
Barker said Owens has talked to the Argos and is aware of their of their concerns.
The 31-year-old Owens 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 said he likes the challenge of mixed martial arts.
“It’s kind of like football, right?” Owens recently told Hawaii News Now. “I wanted to get into something new.
“A new challenge. Something to keep me hungry. I always wanted to get into it sometime and this off-season I thought would be the perfect time.”
At 5-8, Owens will be short for a fighter of his weight.
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. 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 also appeared on “The Ultimate Fighter,” the UFC’s reality TV show.
Herschel Walker, a former Heisman Trophy winner and NFL running back, has also 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.
Barker said there’s nothing in the standard CFL players’ contract that gives a team the authority to dictate what a player can or can’t do in the off-season. But Barker added he’s confident Owens will sufficiently protect himself in his bout and be ready to resume playing football when CFL training camps open in June.
“He’s always been a great team guy,” Barker said. “The team has always come first.”