The Interwoven Worlds of Professional Boxers and MMA Fighters
Over the last few months there have been a variety of news stories circulating about boxers picking up to join ranks with mixed martial arts organizations, and MMA fighters with aspirations to make the opposite trek as well. I’ve long taken the stance that boxing should not be compared to the UFC, however with all of these moves it raises some important questions. What should we make of this growing trend and who has fared the best?
Professional Boxers Transitioning to MMA
The story of longtime, top level professional boxers transitioning into the world of mixed martial arts largely reads: old boxer no longer competitive at those top levels picks up MMA and hopes he can knock people out.
One time heavyweight titlist Ray Mercer did that, and first was submitted by Kimbo Slice – whose transition from street brawler to UFC punching bag will not be discussed here – before stunningly knocking out former UFC heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia in less than 10 seconds.
All told, a raging success, even if only for that fleeting moment. Prior to that Mercer had only been in two or three boxing matches of substance since the turn of the new millennium.
Future hall of fame fighter James Toney has recently signed a contract with the UFC, and is rumored to be taking on UFC Hall of Famer Randy Couture in the future, possibly at UFC 118. It’s an unfortunate match-up for Toney, a fighter who only fought at the heavyweight ranks in boxing because he ate himself up from middleweight, and surely does not have the conditioning or skills to compete with an intelligent game planner such as Couture in the cage.
Toney’s last impressive showing in the boxing ring came against John Ruiz in 2005, in what should have been a hevayweight title winning effort but instead was a No Contest following Toney testing positive for steroids.
Next weekend Ricardo Mayorga, a former boxing champion, will be taking on Din Thomas on the Shine Fights 3 card as long as Don King does not legally intervene. It’s another unfortunate match-up, as he’s lined up against a highly skilled and active professional MMA fighter in his first MMA fight.
This is especially true for a boxer such as Mayorga who always had dynamite in his fists but never had a strong technical base to begin with. Sure, he could land a home run with those tiny MMA gloves on, but more likely Thomas picks him apart with kicks before bringing him to the canvas at the first sign of trouble and tapping him out via any method of his choosing.
Prior to this, Mayorga had been knocked out in three of his last five professional boxing matches, and had only fought three times since the summer of 2005.
UFC Fighters that Were Briefly Boxers
There have been several prominent UFC fighters who began their journey in the world of combat sports with professional boxing careers. These include Alessio Sakara, Marcus Davis and Chris Lytle. While their boxing skills are commonly referenced in the MMA community and by UFC broadcasters, a quick inspection of their records reveals they were at best inexperienced club fighters.
In 15 fights Lytle fought just three boxers with winning records and more than five fights to their credit. Sakara fought nine times as a pro, only once against any fighter with a winning record and Davis had 20 pro boxing bouts, only five of which came against fighters with winning records.
None of them had bouts against any significant or recognizable figures, except for the always compelling Reggie Strickland, a fighter with a 66-276-17 pro record, who took on Lytle in 2004 when he had a much more respectable 64-256-15 record.
MMA Fighters Transitioning to Boxing
Andrei Arlovski is the most prominent longtime MMA fighter to be considering a switch to the boxing ranks. The former UFC Heavyweight Champion trains with Freddie Roach, and is eager to make his professional boxing debut, although he’s still competing in MMA. He also has a promotional contract with Golden Boy Promotions.
With his athleticism and decent boxing skills he could be in some entertaining bouts, but realistically he would be picked apart by any moderate technician, and he would find his formerly powerful hands limited in their new highly cushioned homes.
Other MMA practitioners seem to have the raw skills in place to have been quality boxers, but are immersed in successful UFC careers with no plans of making an unsuccessful switch this late in their lives. They include BJ Penn, Frankie Edgar, and Georges St. Pierre, an athlete would have excelled in any sport of his choosing.
So what does it all mean?
Ray Mercer showed the world that anything can happen when a fighter crosses realms and switches disciplines. His quick KO of Sylvia will undoubtedly lead to countless other boxers giving MMA the old college try, but the stories of Mayorga and Toney will read a much more predictable and unfortunate script (for them), to be certain.
The remaining question is who will it be more unfortunate for? The boxer who unceremoniously gets submitted, or even knocked out by strikes, in an MMA match, or the organization that promotes the boxer’s debut to make a quick dime?