PFL Challenger Series 6: Jon Cunningham Details Dark Time After NFL Stint, How MMA And His Wife Pulled Him Out


As of 2021, there is a 1.6% chance a college football player will make it to the NFL. Now, imagine playing football your entire life, making it all the way to the NFL, and then within a couple of years, it’s all over. An NFL team will not sign you. That happened to former NFL defensive line-turned martial artist Jon Cunningham, and it hurt.

“It was over in a blink of an eye. It was like; I didn’t get a chance to sort of really fully absorb it all and show them what I could do. Maybe that’s why they stopped f*cking with me, maybe because they felt like I didn’t give them my all. Bottom line, it wasn’t meant to be, and no hard feelings. I know that it’s a business. But my feelings were hurt. They were hurt,” Cunningham, who played for the Atlanta Falcons, told Cageside Press in an exclusive interview recently. “It felt like it was like a bad, a bad bad breakup, like a really bad breakup and then everything else with life on top of that, it just weighed me down there. And like, it was a dark moment for me. It was a really dark time for me.”

As Cunningham said, his life got dark for a while after his stint in the NFL, including drugs, homelessness, and more.

“I was homeless. I had my two sons, so I really had to just couch surf. I was at my parent’s house on the weekends, so I can be with them. I would have them Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and then they go back with their mom for the rest of the week. And then throughout the week. I’d go to work. But I go to work drunk. I developed a really bad drinking problem. I was just I was off the rails. My life felt like it was falling apart. And the only safe haven I had was a bottle and drugs. It was a dark time; I became depressed more depressed than usual. I became angry suicidal; I tried to kill myself. And in between me couch surfing, I found my wife,” Cunningham said.

The 26-year old believes his wife is one of the biggest reasons why he came out of the darkness. As Cunningham was trying to get back to the NFL by playing for an arena football team in New Mexico, he found the legendary gym Jackson-Wink. After a week of practice at the, he finally quit his football career and found his new love, mixed martial arts.

Cunningham (1-0) makes his PFL debut on Friday for the PFL Challenger Series. He faces a fellow former football player, Daiqwon Buckley. A win over Buckley and Cunningham potentially earns a contract with the PFL and a spot in the 2022 season to win 1 million dollars.

The former NFL player sees an entertaining fight going down, and if a finish is available, he will jump on it — but will not force anything.

Watch the rest of our interview with Jon Cunningham above, where he talks about fighter pay, his journey, Jackson-Wink, and more. The PFL Challenger Series is available on FuboTV.


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