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Magazine > NHL ATHLETE
As seen in the Fall 2011 issue.

Fight Club
Anaheim Ducks tough guy George Parros and UFC fighter Sam Stout have a few things in common.
By Evan Lips | Photos by Maxwell Cohen

One man works in an octagon, the other a skating rink.

The man in one corner is two parts Capt. Jack Sparrow, one part Yanni and 100 per cent mean, at least when he's on skates and working the corners for the puck. Get into a scuffle with him on the ice and he'll knock your brains headlong out of the Acropolis. So much of his self-worth comes from the bristling black mustache he sports above his lip - it's an inside joke, but not really. The man is "the 'stache," the stache is The Man.

Then there's this other guy. He's clean cut, his face shaved and Canadian - a wheat prairie boy from London, Ont., who resembles a New York Yankees farmhand, called up today from Triple A. Last June he lit up the Ultimate Fighting Championships world with a one-punch knockout that would make Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren's character, of Rocky IV lore) turn his underwear into a Jackson Pollock painting.

They're known as tough guys, on the ice and in "The Octagon," but that's where the bloodshed stops. You see, there's heart, and then there's Anaheim Ducks forward George Parros. And then there's a man who'll stop at nothing to protect his family, and his name is UFC fighter Sam Stout.

One grew up a slapshot away from the New Jersey Turnpike, the other was raised in the incandescent shadow of Toronto's bright lights.
 

Not many hockey fans are aware that Parros, the Princeton University man whose senior thesis researched the plight of the California longshoreman during John Steinbeck's dust-bowl era, was plucked by the Los Angeles Kings in the eighth round of the 1999 NHL Entry Draft because a few scouts thought he had a scoring touch. But Parros knew better - plenty of guys got NHL attention due to a few goals and assists scored in a nameless rink against talentless teams. Parros realized at an early age that the only part of his game that would get him to the NHL was his bare knuckles.

Stout, he of London, Ont., says he got hooked on mixed-martial arts when he was barely out of puberty. The man who served as his mentor, coach, best friend and eventual brother-in-law taught him the ways of Muay Thai kickboxing when he was just 16 years old. The gift Shawn Thompkins gave Stout has paid itself tenfold over the course of the last decade.

"He broke me down and built me from the ground up," Stout said of Thompkins, who had been his trainer up until Aug. 14.

Stout, a 27-year-old UFC fighter with 24 mixed martial arts victories on his resume, does not tower over anyone. He's listed as being five feet and nine inches tall and weighing just a shade under 155 pounds. But when he squares up, there's a reason why fans and other professional fighters call him by his nickname: Hands of Stone. For a hockey player, it might not be the best moniker (think "Bill Clement, Hands of Cement!" for hockey fans who remember the former ESPN hockey analyst and Philadelphia Flyer), but the nickname suits Stout just fine.

Last June during UFC 131 in Vancouver, Stout flattened 34-year-old MMA veteran Yves Edwards with a perfect one-punch knockout - the type of leveling that drew fans to their feet, chanting his name, like Russell Crowe in Gladiator shortly before he "has his vengeance, in this life or the next."

Stout said earlier this month that his knockout of Edwards, a fighter nicked named "The Thugjitsu Master," was "definitely the highlight moment of my career."

But there was no taunting after his victory. Just a primal scream of joy and two a
rms raised high in the British Columbia night. Like Parros' relationship with other enforcers in the NHL, there's a "code" in the UFC.

"There's a respect in this league that comes from the hours of training and work that every guy puts in," said Stout.

That sense of respect for thine enemy is also embedded in Parros' veins. He admits that he's a UFC junkie who never misses a fight unless he has commitments on the ice. Outsiders are always asking him: when you hang up your hockey gloves, any interest in baring your fists for a UFC bid?

But Parros and his fierce black 'stache remained ambiguous last month when asked about the possibilities. "Those guys are in some serious shape," he said, commenting on the fitness level of UFC fighters. "It's completely different and they're as tough as they come. Maybe if I got 'em on skates."

So while he might be the biggest mixed-martial arts fan in the National Hockey League, the closest he's come to mixing it up in eight-sided circle happened when he took on UFC fighter and "Huntington Beach Bad Boy" Tito Ortiz in a Wii boxing match for charity last October.

This week Parros has his own conditioning to worry about. It's mid-September and the 31-year-old enforcer, who racked up 171 penalty minutes and 27 fighting majors last season, is getting prepared to lace up the skates. He's spent a lot of the summer running on the sand near his Hermosa Beach, Calif., home -- but pretty soon he'll be breaking out the punching bag.

"I've got a sparring partner I work with," he adds matter-of-factly, as if it's a natural part of NHL off-season conditioning. Suffice it to say, Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews don't work with sparring partners.

But there's also a soft side to Parros. The man who married a Wisconsin girl is an addict when it comes to the Ducks Foundation, his team's charity. He's chopped off his flowing locks to help raise money for children with cancer, met with American troops stationed overseas and now works with Defending the Blue Line - a nonprofit that helps pay for ice time, equipment and coaching of children who love hockey but face the obstacle of having a parent stationed overseas.

Still, the man loves a good throwdown. Parros said he started watching UFC fights when he was 14. The wrestling craze that reeled in a lot of his school friends while he was growing up in western Pennsylvania and New Jersey never caught. "All that grabbing and grappling just looked lame," he said.

Parros is no newcomer to the UFC bandwagon -- he's the kind of UFC fan who knows the history. "Rorian Gracie was kind of like Sgt. Slaughter but with more hair," he says about the UFC co-founder. "He helped build UFC into what it is today."

His only gripe about the UFC is the noticeable lack of mustaches. Gracie, he said, rocked a ‘stache in his early days. But Parros said he can't think of a single mustachioed UFC fighter. "That's gotta change," he said with a chuckle. "That just ain't right."

Take a look at Stout's face and you'll see the anti-Parros. Every inch of his scalp is razor-sharp, just like his physique. There are no flowing locks, just veins flowing with juice.

But Stout and Parros, the American and the Canuck, happen to share a common bond: you don't mess with either of them when it comes to their respective disciplines.

On the night of Aug. 14, Stout's trainer, brother-in-law and "most influential person" in his life, Shawn Thompkins, passed away. The man who married Stout's sister and introduced him to Muay Thai kickboxing was dead at 37.

Stout later announced he was backing out of his scheduled Oct. 29 Las Vegas matchup against German lightweight Dennis Siver. Up until Thompkins' death, Team Stout was riding high. The young fighter had compiled a 4-1 record and racked up four fight night bonus awards in his last five appearances.

Said Stout: "I need some time to figure out what I'll do without him... [he was] the only coach I ever had."

Stout said he spoke to Dana White and UFC Vice President of Talent Joe Silva about his decision to temporarily step away from the sport.

"There was no question, they told me to take the time I need and said they understood," said Stout. "They said if there was anything I needed they'd be there. They've been good to me over the years and I think I've been good to them."

It's an unexpected twist of events for the man who strode victorious out of The Octagon just two months before. Stout admitted that the shot of adrenaline he felt after June 11 fired him up – he was walking on air - and after recovering, he hit training "like a man possessed."

Parros, whose biggest shot of adrenaline likely arrived in 2007 when his name was engraved on the Stanley Cup, remembers his younger days and thinks about the time the UFC found him, instead of vice versa.

Flashback to Jan. 23, 2006. It's Parros' rookie season. He hasn't yet landed in Orange County with the Ducks but he's pretty close. As a Los Angeles King, Parros knew that if he wanted to stay in the NHL, he was going to have to bare his knuckles.

"I heard that (UFC President) Dana White was going to be in the stands that night," said Parros. "He saw me get into it in the corner with Todd Fedoruk. There was no way I was not going to fight that night."

Fedoruk, playing for Anaheim at the time, quickly found himself helmet-less and struggling against the charging Parros. According to Parros, White went crazy.

"I was living with J.R. (Jeremy Roenick) at the time and he knew Dana and took him to the game,” said Parros. "After the game I'm hanging out with Dana and I can't believe it. He loved the fight."

Despite the fame, the fortunes and the regular grind of the NHL season, Parros knows there will be a day when he won't be wearing an Anaheim Ducks uniform - or any other hockey jersey, for that matter. That's when his Ivy League education comes in - here's a guy who can put pen to paper, not to mention fist to face. A guy who was recently ranked by The Sporting News as the fourth smartest professional athlete in the world.

Parros said he'll play as long as he can, but his chief priority for the future is not how he'll be remembered on the ice, but how he's going to be remembered as a man.

For Sam Stout, the number-one priority right now remains his sister, Emilie, who still grieves over the loss of Thompkins.

"She is a strong personality," he said of his sister. "She's holding up OK. She's obviously lost the most important person in her life."

There's no timetable set for Stout's return to UFC.

Weeks ago, Parros was spotted in the gym taking up kickboxing, according to a Sept. 7 story that appeared in the Montreal Gazette. Parros explained that the sport helps him practice keeping his balance.

And if there's one thing that both Stout and Parros don't need any practice doing, it's maintaining a balance between their lives inside their respective arenas and the life that awaits them on the other side of the locker room.
 

 

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