ByMatt Juul, writer at
MMA and Entertainment Writer
Matt Juul

Thanks to the rise of MMA, more and more athletes are cross training with various martial arts disciplines in order to up their game.

In particular, the grappling art of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has seen a significant uptick in high profile stars hitting the mats. is a great way to stay in shape, after all.

Ahead, check out our list of athletes you never knew trained Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

Shaquille O'Neal

Retired NBA great Shaquille O'Neal has be a longtime proponent of combat sports and frequently hits the gym to work on his moves.

Shaq has trained BJJ, boxing, and several other styles over the years, and even once stepped into the ring with Oscar De La Hoya. "Diesel" was even set to show off his grappling moves against the Big Show at WrestleMania, until the match fell through.

Recently, Shaq was spotted working on his ground game with UFC lightweight star Nate Diaz. Maybe the all-star center will step into the cage one day, that is if they ever put together that legends league.

Tim Tebow

Photo by Steve Mitchell / USA Today Sports
Photo by Steve Mitchell / USA Today Sports

NFL star turned MLB hopeful Tim Tebow has also dipped his toes in the BJJ waters.

The former quarterback mixed up his workout routine in 2012 by taking a trip over the Gracie Academy in Torrance, California, for a crash course on fighting. According to, Tebow got some time on the mats with Ryron Gracie and former UFC heavyweight Brendan Schaub.

If the whole professional baseball thing doesn't work out, maybe Tebow's third act will be in the Octagon.

Kelly Slater

Kelly Slater isn't just a world champion professional surfer, he's also a pretty slick competitor on the mats.

When he's not hitting the waves, the pro surfer likes to spend his time working on his jiu jitsu game. A longtime practitioner, Slater has trained with several BJJ greats over the years, including Rickson Gracie and Kron Gracie.

"If you have insecurities, they get worked out on the mat," Slater told FloGrappling in a 2016 interview. "I just think it's a humbling thing. People think of martial arts, they think that'll make you a badass and you'll kick somebody's butt, but to me it's the opposite. If it's treated right and taught correctly, it's the opposite - it gives people confidence, and I think with that confidence comes less ego and more respect for other people."

Shawn Thornton

Photo by Anne-Marie Sorvin / USA Today Sports
Photo by Anne-Marie Sorvin / USA Today Sports

Fights are a common occurrence in hockey, but it's not often that you see an NFL star working on his BJJ game.

Florida Panthers star Shawn Thorton has also taken a liking to combat sports and often cross trains with boxing and grappling. During his stint in Boston, Thorton would work on his BJJ skills at Kenny Florian's gym.

Whether it's on the ice or the mats, it's probably not a good idea to pick a fight with this NHL bruiser.

John Baker

Former Chicago Cubs catcher John Baker is starting to become a serious BJJ competitor.

Last fall, the ex-MLB player earned a gold medal in NAGA's heavyweight division during his first ever grappling tournament. Baker currently holds a blue belt in the art and trains out of Danville Jiu Jitsu.

Deron Williams

Photo by Tyronn Lue / USA Today Sports
Photo by Tyronn Lue / USA Today Sports

Shaq isn't the only basketball star with a love for combat sports.

Cleveland Cavaliers player and bona fide UFC fan Deron Williams recently open his own MMA gym in Dallas and has plans to compete when his days on the court are done. Williams told SportsDay that he plans on doing a BJJ tournament in the near future.

"I think it would be realistic," Williams said. "My coach wants me to fight [in the cage]. I don't know about that. I will do some jiu-jitsu grappling tournaments."

Michael Westbrook

Former NFL wide receiver Michael Westbrook has found a new home in the MMA world.

The ex-Cincinnati Bengals player has stepped into the cage on three occasions, and even faced UFC heavyweight Travis Browne in his second career fight. These days, Westbrook competes as a black belt on the BJJ competition circuit when he isn't teaching at his Arizona gym.

Craig Gentry

Photo by Kim Klement / USA Today Sports
Photo by Kim Klement / USA Today Sports

MLB outfielder Craig Gentry briefly tried grappling during his time in Texas. The former Rangers player trained BJJ in the off-season to help with his flexibility and athleticism.

"It was fun. It was a good hobby to do. I had a good time doing it," he told Sports Day. "I’m not really doing it much anymore, but it was a good little thing to do in the off season. I thought it was good on flexibility and things like that in terms of baseball. I was kind of just doing it as a little hobby on the side. It was a fun little thing learning self defense and stuff like that.”

David Akers

Former NFL kicker David Akers is no stranger to the world of martial arts.

The ex-Philadelphia Eagles player is said to be an avid practitioner of Shaolin Kempo. He also has a jiu-jitsu background as well.

Bixente Lizarazu

French soccer star Bixente Lizarazu is a certified beast on the mats.

The former World Cup champ has been a frequent competitor over the years and became a European champion as a blue belt in 2009. Lizarazu currently holds a black belt in BJJ.

Tamba Hali

Photo by Ron Chenoy / USA TODAY Sports
Photo by Ron Chenoy / USA TODAY Sports

Kansas City Chiefs star Tamba Hali has been training BJJ for over a decade.

Currently a blue belt in the art, Hali began his training following his rookie year in the NFL. The linebacker works on his grappling skills with BJJ expert Rener Gracie.

Roy Hibbert

Two-time NBA all-star Roy Hibbert also has some moves on the ground.

The Denver Nuggets star likes to spend his off-seasons working on his grappling to stay in shape. Hibbert showed off some impressive moves when he was featured in an awesome training video shot at the Gracie Jiu Jitsu Academy a few years ago.


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