For the rugged CFL warrior, it is a natural progression to go from battling in the gridiron trenches to grappling in a cage.
Former Winnipeg Blue Bombers offensive lineman Mike Abou-Mechrek will make his pro mixed martial arts debut when he fights a yet-to-be identified foe during the Ultimate Cage Wars' March Madness at the Winnipeg Convention Centre, March 13.
"In football, we have protection on but people are attacking you; you're attacking other people," Abou-Mechrek said at a press conference yesterday. "In football, you're not 'allowed' to punch or kick. It doesn't mean it doesn't happen. It doesn't mean I haven't been doing it.
"As you guys know, I've been kicked out of a bunch of games for doing just that. Now, it kind of opens the door a little bit. It's going to be fun and I'm really looking forward to it. I've been waiting 30 years for this."
Abou-Mechrek, who has played for the Saskatchewan Roughriders since 2007, has never fought as an amateur and only started training for this bout after promoter Tony Condello invited him to help out in December.
"Have I ever been in a ring in a professional wrestling match? No," said the 6-foot-5, 318-pound Toronto native. "Have I been fighting my whole life? Yes.
"I'm a huge fan of the fight. I don't know if anyone's actually watched me play football. But it's more fighting for me than technique and style points. I haven't played 10 years because I'm a technician ... I'm not just a regular guy starting off from nothing. I've had people swinging at me for 18 weeks a season so I kind of see where things are coming from. I've been told I have very good vision and just need the body to match up with the vision."
Although Abou-Mechrek claims to have challenged many Bomber to meet him in the ring, there were no takers. So, he did not know who he would be fighting or what kind of fight it will be. The name of ex-Bomber kicker Troy Westwood, who has boxed before, came up.
"I would love it if Troy showed up here," said Abou-Mechrek, 33.
"I would wring his neck like nobody's business ... the Banjo Bowl."
However, in an ill-advised and rather goofy setup, someone did show up in a mask with a note that read: "I'm here to answer Mike's open challenge to any Winnipeg pro football player. I always jump at the chance to get my hands on Saskatchewan football players. In fact, I specialize in it.
"I can guarantee that I would never allow a Saskatchewan victory in any contest. To maintain a competitive advantage, I will keep my identity hidden until Friday the 13th."
Excluding the Abou-Mechrek novelty bout, the card will offer 11 fights. The feature MMA match will be between the USA's Ferrid Kheger and Calgary's Graydon Tannas. It will also include the home debut of Winnipeg's Chris Stranger, who is 2-0 as a pro.
"This will be one of the biggest events we've ever had in Winnipeg," said Gabriel Santos, operations manager/matchmaker.
Tickets can be purchased through Ticketmaster or call either Condello at 229-9173 or Santos at 295-7003.
FREE AGENCY: Because Roughriders GM Eric Tillman was recently charged with sexual assault, Abou-Mechrek's negotiations with Saskatchewan have been put on hold. "Who knows? I could be back here (as a Bomber) by the time the fight comes," said Abou-Mechrek, who is due to become a free agent this month. He declined comment on the Tillman situation.