There are a very few skilled enough athletes to be able to make sports their profession. Even fewer are those who are able to do two professional sports at once. So when the time comes for an athlete to make a choice between two sports and focus on just one, it's a decision that very few can empathize with.
Such was the life of Rex Richards, super-heavyweight mixed martial arts fighter and professional football player.
Over this past year Richards took his love of MMA to the next level, competing more vigorously than he had in past years, due to his career with the San Jose Sabercats of the Arena Football League. So when Rex found success in MMA, especially after an impressive Strikeforce performance last December, a decision had to be made.
With the 2007 AFL season in full swing, Richards weighed his options, MMA or pro football? In the end Rex chose MMA, but as he told MMAWeekly recently, it wasn't an easy decision, nor at times did it look like the right one.
"Deep down I've always been a fighter, and until recently there hadn't been any other outlets for it, aside from football," said Rex. "I think I was a fighter in a football player's body, and now I have a chance to let it out and be who I really am supposed to be."
Richards continued, "That's always been my personality. Off the field and stuff I try to be a nice guy and get along with everybody. On the field I've always been – in my opinion, my coaches' opinions and a lot of the fans' opinions – the most intense guy on the field. I was always attacking, always going for it – and that's the way I fight. When I go out to fight, I fight to finish and MMA allows for me to really be who I want to be in a career."
Most people would kill to have to make such a decision, choosing which sport to make your full-time career, rather than work a traditional job. But according to Rex, his decision was not without its struggles.
"I probably didn't sleep for two weeks," admitted Richards. "I've always played football and had always been a good, solid player with a lot of accolades and stuff, so it was definitely a big decision. It was probably the biggest decision I've ever made, to switch to fighting full time."
Then there were those in the pro football world, which Rex had to explain his decision to.
"I've built myself there [with the Sabercats] these last few years and I think I'm a player they've wanted to have around a lot and wasn't able to [have] this year," commented Richards. "I've had a lot of football buddies of mine tell me, 'You're crazy; you're a great football player, you ought to keep playing football forever.' But, I've got a lot of my other friends saying to me, 'Hey, you're a great football player, but you're going to be an even better fighter.'"
"They're all great friends of mine, I talk to them weekly, they wish I was out there helping them out, but they're doing really good right now," added Rex.
As for what lead him to choose MMA over pro football, Richards explains that even though he loves football and his time in it, there's just something about MMA that you can't get anywhere else.
"I like the personal touch you can get as a fighter," explained Rex. "I've gone out there and bled in the trenches for years, but when you win a fight, there's nothing like it."
Richards added, "It's great to win as a team and go out there with a large group of guys and accomplish something together, but when you're in a cage, it's all you. You can thank your training partners, corner men and people that helped you get there, but when they close the doors, it's all you. The rewards, I think, are much higher than a team sport."
Since making the decision to concentrate solely on MMA, Rex has experienced one of the pitfalls of this sport that pro football experiences rarely, unexpected cancellations.
"I'm under a contract with Strikeforce," said Richards. "They were kind enough to give me an open contract, and I've had several people call, but I've had several things fall through. Basically this whole time I've been getting ready for this next fight in June."
"I would have liked to have had another fight by now and I'm anxious to get back into the cage, but that's just the cards that were dealt and now I'm eager to get another win under my belt as soon as I can," continued Rex.
And when it comes to what he'd like to do after Strikeforce in regards to his new full-time profession, Richards replied, "I would really like to compete a lot. I would like to do six to twelve fights a year. I want to get more fights and get my name out there."
Rex further commented, "I don't want it to take six or seven years to be a big name guy; I want to be a big name guy soon. I'm ready to get in there and fight whoever I have to, to do that and make myself a career."
So with Strikeforce's big pay-per-view card just over a month away, fans nationwide could very well get the chance to see one of the sports biggest (figuratively and literally) up and coming fighters when Rex Richards steps into the cage.
"I want to thank the sponsors and really all the fans for making this sport so huge," exclaimed Richards. "It's all about getting them all up and cheer in excitement and get into the fight, I want to say I appreciate that."
"I'm going to be a breakout fighter this next year, just be ready, and anybody who's not a believer in the super-heavyweight division, come watch me fight and I promise I'll make a believer out of you," concluded Rex.