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Austen Lane poses on the scale during the UFC Fight Night official weigh-in at the Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront on June 23, 2023 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

The Heart And Hunger Of Austen Lane

Multi-Sport Athlete Set To Make UFC Debut In Front Of Adopted Hometown Of Jacksonville Saturday

Some people are just athletes. One of those people is Austen Lane.

He’s made it to the pinnacle of the sport in football, and now in mixed martial arts, but if you take a look at his Instagram page, the ship may have sailed on a sport that he really might have excelled at.

Ice hockey. Yes. Ice hockey.

“Actually, growing up hockey was probably my best sport,” said the 6-foot-6 Lane, who makes his UFC debut this weekend against Justin Tafa in Jacksonville. “Unfortunately, I had to stop playing it. They started me on defense, but I was one of the faster kids, so I ended up playing left wing. I wanted be center, really, but I couldn't win a faceoff to save my life. So then it geared towards football after that. In terms of physicality and all that, I was a pretty decent basketball player, too, but I'd be the guy that'd go in the game and get three fouls on me in literally five minutes. (Laughs) So football was definitely the sport after hockey.”

Imagine all 6-foot-6 of Austen Lane racing down the ice at you or dropping back to send an opponent into the boards. Scary, right? Well, hockey’s loss was football’s gain, and after starring at Murray State, he was drafted in the fifth round of the 2010 draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars, going on to play in the NFL from 2010 to 2014.

Austen Lane prepares to fight Richard Jacobi of Brazil in a heavyweight fight during Dana White's Contender Series season six week nine at UFC APEX on September 20, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Austen Lane prepares to fight Richard Jacobi of Brazil in a heavyweight fight during Dana White's Contender Series season six week nine at UFC APEX on September 20, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Then he decided to become a prizefighter in a sport where athleticism is a great tool to have in your back pocket, but it’s not the only thing necessary to succeed. There are intangibles like heart and hunger, things that don’t show up on the tale of the tape. And for someone who already made it to the top of one sport and who didn’t need to fight to make a living or escape a bad situation, Lane’s decision to step into this new world is admirable, and it makes him a lot more dangerous than a lot of his peers because he wants to do it, even though there are other avenues out there for him.

“I was a co-host on a radio show here in Jacksonville,” Lane said. “And I got let go from that show. When I was let go, I had a couple offers to go around the country and work for other radio stations. And when we talk about the payout of those contracts, I remember one general manager reached out to me, he's like, ‘Hey, do you want to come work for us?’ And I said, ‘With all due respect, I'm going to keep on fighting here in Jacksonville; this is where my camp is at, it's where all my teammates are. And he said, ‘Well, before you answer, let me send you some figures and then get back to me.’”

RELATED: Former Jaguars Defensive Lineman Austen Lane Set To Make UFC Debut In Jacksonville

Those figures were nice, more than what a fighter in the early stages of his career would make. But Lane wasn’t going anywhere.

“I turned those offers down because this is what I was meant to do,” he said. “I truly feel like that. Maybe in the future, radio broadcasting is still going to be there for me. But I would be pursuing this journey whether I was fighting in a parking lot or I was fighting on the biggest stage. It's just something that I told myself I was going to do, and I have to see this through, and I have to take it as far as I can take it. I think with my mindset and my work ethic, I could be successful anywhere, but I want to be successful here, not as the guy who is “a former NFL player and now MMA fighter.” When this is all said and done, I just want to be respected as an MMA fighter who earned his stripes, who paid his dues and became one of the best fighters in the world.”

That quest has brought him to the UFC, the end goal for most who compete in the sport, and while his name recognition could lead some to believe that he got a golden path to the Octagon, that’s not the case for the 35-year-old, who paid his dues to get to the big show. Remember, Lane had just a 4-0 pro record when he got a fight on season two of Dana White’s Contender Series in 2018 against fellow NFL vet Greg Hardy. Lane was stopped by Hardy and lost his next fight three months later to Frank Tate.

Austen Lane kicks Richard Jacobi of Brazil in a heavyweight fight during Dana White's Contender Series season six week nine at UFC APEX on September 20, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Austen Lane kicks Richard Jacobi of Brazil in a heavyweight fight during Dana White's Contender Series season six week nine at UFC APEX on September 20, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Some in Lane’s position might have said, okay, I gave it a shot, let’s move on. Lane doubled down, winning eight of his next nine fights, finishing each victory, including one over UFC vet Juan Adams in November of 2021. Last September, he was invited back to DWCS, and this time, he punched his ticket to the UFC with a first-round finish of Richard Jacobi. It was an emotional moment for Lane and the team that had been there with him from the start.

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“That loyalty comes from us having each other's back,” said Lane. “When we talk about the foundation that is my primary gym, Bulldog Boxing, it's myself, it's our head coach, Matt Vona, and it's my training partner Ramon Taveras, and obviously there's other guys too that come in and out. But we were really the foundation of that gym. And we've been in warehouses, a couple years ago we were in our coach's front yard because the gym got shut down for a bit. So we've been on the beach training sometimes and through those hard times when it's Jacksonville and it's the middle of summer and you're training outside on your coach's front lawn, that sucks. But I think that's made us the fighters that we are. We don't have the state-of-the art equipment, we don't have the fancy bags, we don't have all the high-tech gadgets, but what we have is heart. And what we have is the work ethic. And those two things are contagious. So when we get guys coming in and out of our gym, they love to train with us because we're always giving it our all. And that's what it takes to be at the top level in the UFC. I always say if you come train in our gym, it's the closest thing to being in a fight that you're going to be. It's not going to be comfortable. It's going to be hot, there's going to be guys that are going hard, and that's the way things have to be. I think you practice how you fight. And then that's exactly what we do in our gym. So, when we talk about other options to go train other places around this country, there's a lot of great gyms out there, there's a lot of great fighters out there. But I would be doing myself a disservice and I wouldn't be staying true to myself if I didn't respect the loyalty that my team has given to me. And I get that loyalty right back.”


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It's impossible not to like Lane and you have to respect his journey and commitment. And yes, he is 35. At least heavyweights peak late, so there’s that, but he did only enter an MMA gym for the first time in 2012, while he was still in the NFL, so he’s giving up experience and years to most of the opponents he’ll face in the UFC. That could be a concern, or it could not be. Lane is leaning towards age being nothing but a number, and he gets to show that on Saturday in his adopted hometown.

“It's not to say I'm against Father Time or anything like that, because that's not how I see it,” he said. “I see it as, in terms of athleticism, in terms of my skillset and in terms of work ethic, I think I do belong in the top echelon. So when we talk about that, I want to get as many fights as possible because I think that the way I take care of myself and the work that I put in, I think I can handle that. So I'm not trying to fight Father Time; Father Time’s always undefeated. What I'm trying to fight for is the fact that I've set out some goals for myself and I have to stay true to myself, more than anything.”

UFC Fight Night: Emmett vs Topuria took place live from the Vystar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida on June 24, 2023. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass