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Shawne Merriman Considering MMA Fight I've Talked with Bellator

10/2/2016 12:55 AM PDT

NFL's Shawne Merriman Is Considering MMA Fight

EXCLUSIVE

Shawne Merriman could be the the next NFL star to get in the cage -- telling TMZ Sports he's actually had talks with Bellator about a real MMA fight ... and he's dead serious. 

The former NFL star has been training with MMA fighters for almost a decade -- and says he'd be down to do it, if the conditions were right. 

In fact, Shawne says he's jokingly talked to Bellator president Scott Coker about it  -- but says, "there's always some seriousness behind every joke."

We asked Coker about the possibility of S.M. steppin' into the cage. He told us, "Shawne is a great friend to Bellator with some serious martial arts skills. I have no doubt that he could find success in this sport and when he's ready for his first fight, we'll be here to promote it."

Watch the clip -- seems like Shawne means business ... especially when we brought up CM Punk

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