Seated in the sixth row at Paul Posluszny’s retirement news conference Monday, former teammate Austen Lane could relate to the Jaguars linebacker’s uncertainty about any future plans beyond going to graduate school.
Lane, who retired from the NFL in May 2015, knows all too well from listening to his football peers how difficult it can be to retire or be forced out of football.
“A lot of them don’t have a fallback plan,” said Lane, a fifth-round draft pick and defensive end who played three seasons for the Jaguars (2010-12) before finishing his career after one game with the Chicago Bears in 2014. “There’s so much structure around your life being an NFL player, and then it’s gone.
“I’m fortunate I knew what I wanted to do when football was over. I had an easy transition.”
Lane’s new athletic life as an MMA fighter is hardly easy. But since the Jacksonville resident was already into some form of mixed-martial arts training with jiu-jitsu while in the NFL, it didn’t faze him a bit when his football services were no longer required.
Though participating in jiu-jitsu tournaments in the offseason violated the terms of his Bears contract — Lane would turn down cash prizes and slip out the back door — the former Jaguars’ pass-rusher knew he wanted out of the lucrative NFL life, even if it meant a pauper’s existence in MMA.
“Toward the end of my football career, it wasn’t fun for me anymore,” said Lane, who initially started MMA training to help his hand speed as a pass-rusher. “I’ve played in front of 70,000, 80,000 people and that’s a pretty big rush. One of my first amateur MMA fights in Jacksonville was in front of 100 or 200 people.
“But once that cage closed, I had so much adrenaline going, more so than I ever had in football. I care a lot about both sports, but where I’m at in my life, I think MMA is the answer.”
At 6-foot-6, 245 pounds (20 pounds lighter than his NFL weight), Lane has won four MMA fights since turning pro last April, all by knockout or a forced stoppage in the first round. He trains at Bulldog Boxing off Old Kings Road with coach Matt Vona, and thoroughly enjoys the gruesome training schedule, despite the pittance income compared to his NFL employment.
He made a combined $1 million with three different NFL teams. His earnings from four MMA pro fights amounted to less than $9,000, excluding $1,500-$2,000 he made from sponsors for knocking out Ben Rowland in 3 minutes, 53 seconds in a Warfare MMA matchup last month in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Lane, who got married last September to Cody, the mother of his 3-year-old son, Ronin, supports his family off his NFL income. Whatever money Lane needs for MMA expenses, he taps from his moonlighting job as an Uber driver, using his wife’s Hyundai.
“A lot of guys my size don’t want to pursue this career because there’s not much money to be made in MMA early on,” said Lane. “The Uber thing, that keeps me humble. I only played for [former Jaguars coach] Gus Bradley about three weeks, but I remember one of his sayings was, ‘You can’t be addicted to the big meal. You have to eat crumbs.’ It made me realize you have to stay hungry.
“The beauty of MMA is it has so many disciplines and arts, so you can add to your game. I train boxing, kick-boxing, ju-jitsu, Muay Thai and wrestling. In football, there’s a set guideline of how to do things at every position. MMA is complete freedom, the ultimate form of expression, and that fits me.”
Lane, 30, is still relatively young by heavyweight MMA standards, where 35-year-old Stipe Miocic has been the reigning UFC champion since 2016. At minimum, he wants to fight for a U.S. heavyweight title, but insists his obsession with MMA won’t reach a point where he jeopardizes his health or brain to become a contender.
“The brotherhood part of MMA is a big part of why I do it, and that comes from training,” Lane said. “You spar for about an hour, punch each other in the face, then get a hug after and say, ‘good job.’ It’s not the same thing as football, but it’s still a special bond a lot of people can’t understand.”
Lane is one of the most interesting characters in Jaguars’ history. A social butterfly with a wide variety of interests, he has set three life goals: to play in the NFL, fight in UFC and write for Rolling Stone magazine.
Unlike Posluszny, whose pro career lasted 145 games and whose body absorbed 1,381 tackles, the NFL career of Austen Lane didn’t last much beyond the 28 games, 17 starts and 3.0 sacks he accrued with the Jaguars. But put him in a cage, and he’s still got a lot of fight left in him.
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