Boxing vs MMA: When Worlds Collide

20 Feb , 2019,
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Through the ages, long before the term ‘Mixed Martial Arts’ has ever been uttered or even conceived, the practitioners and spectators of various martial arts and combat sports have asked the question: which art is the most effective of them all? And the beginnings of modern MMA were intended to precisely answer that question (and the answer, at least around the time of early UFCs, was Brazilian Jiu Jitsu). Of course the days of “style vs style” are long behind us, and today to be a successful mixed martial artist, one needs to have a diverse skill set that borrows from a plethora of martial arts and styles. However we still experience an occasional cross-over matchup between practitioners of different arts. In this article, I will examine some of the most notable cross-overs between mixed martial arts and boxing.

Conventional wisdom dictates a significant “home court” advantage in a style-vs-style matchup: if a boxer faces a mixed martial artist in a ring under boxing rules, the boxer is a lot more likely to win than if the bout took place under MMA rule set – and vice versa. Betting odds reflect this, and so do most of the past fight outcomes. So if you’re a gambler, you could place a large, relatively safe bet for a comparatively small payoff on the odds favorite. Or you could take a big risk with a small bet on the underdog, in hopes of a big payoff if your prediction comes true.  Either way, next time your favorite MMA star steps into the boxing ring, you can get some help from the UK’s betting sites.

Art Jimmerson vs Royce Gracie

While this can’t be exactly be called a “boxing vs MMA” matchup – since MMA did not exist yet, and Royce Gracie represented BJJ in the first UFC – we have to start at the beginning. The very beginning might technically be Muhammad Ali vs Antonio Inoki, but UFC 1 is usually a good starting point for anything MMA-related. Of course the first UFC was organized and promoted by the Gracie family as a means of letting the world know about Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, and to show that GJJ/BJJ was the supreme martial art. To this end, rumor has it that UFC 1 competitors were not truly the best of the best at their individual sports, to assure an easier path to victory for Royce. Art Jimmerson is a good example of this – while he had a respectable boxing record of 29-5 prior to his fight with Gracie, Jimmerson did not earn many accolades in the boxing world. He also went 4-13 upon returning to the right after his brief UFC stint, indicating that he may have already been past his prime when he faced Gracie. Regardless, Art clearly had no clue of what he was getting himself into – of course, neither did most other UFC 1 contestants. Inexplicably, Jimmerson showed up to his one and only match in the Octagon wearing a single boxing glove, and was quickly taken down and mounted by Gracie. Trapped on his back with no idea how to escape the position, Jimmerson panicked and tapped out rather than absorb needless punishment. And thus began the legend of Royce Gracie.

Ray Mercer vs Kimbo Slice

As MMA evolved from the days of early UFCs into a full-fledged sport which combined elements from all martial arts and styles, the “style vs style” matchups became a lot less common. There were still occasional cross-overs: UFC fighter Marcus Davis had a boxing record of 17-1-2 prior to starting his MMA career. Chris Lytle dabbled in both sports for a number of years before primarily focusing on MMA; while established MMA contenders like Nick Diaz and Andrei Arlovski – just to name a few – stepped into the boxing ring at least once. However these mostly flew under the radar, while MMA and boxing fans alike were busy arguing about what would have happened if Mike Tyson rather than Art Jimmerson participated in UFC 1. Until the advent of bare-knuckle street fighter/YouTube star turned mixed martial artist, Kimbo Slice.

Similar to Jimmerson vs Gracie, it’s a bit of a stretch to label this exhibition bout as “MMA vs Boxing” – Kevin ‘Kimbo Slice’ Ferguson was not exactly a mixed martial artist at the time. Kimbo’s claim to fame was participating in and promoting a series of unsanctioned bare-knuckle backyard fights in Florida; neither MMA nor boxing but conceptually closer to the latter. However by the time his fight with Ray Mercer came around, Slice was training with MMA legend Bas Rutten, so we could say that he was at least nominally representing MMA. And he used grappling to defeat an opponent far more experienced in the striking arts, making Mercer tap out to a guillotine choke in the very first round.

Ray Mercer vs Tim Sylvia

While Kimbo Slice went on to fight eight times under MMA rules and another seven bouts in the boxing ring before succumbing to an untimely death, Ray Mercer had three additional boxing matches before the final outing of his storied combat sports career. This was supposed to be a boxing match against former UFC heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia; however the rule set was changed to MMA at the last minute as Sylvia was denied a license to box the former world champion and Olympic gold medalist. And so this became the first official boxing-vs-MMA bout in the modern era.

As I mentioned earlier, there is a significant home court advantage in these types of cross-over bouts, however upsets can and do happen. In this case, Sylvia severely underestimated Ray Mercer and came into the fight grossly out of shape. Tim lead off with a lazy leg kick, which Mercer easily countered with a huge right hand, knocking Sylvia unconscious. The embarrassing loss made Sylvia a laughing stock of the MMA community and was effectively the beginning of the end of his MMA career: while Tim competed for another few years, amassing a 7-4 (1 NC) record mostly on the regional circuit, he never quite regained his old form. Ray Mercer on the other hand retired from combat sports for good. Fun fact: Mercer had also competed in kickboxing back in 2004-2005, fighting twice under the K-1 banner. Though he lost both fights to kickboxing legends Musashi and Remy Bonjaski, Mercer certainly demonstrated willingness to take on all comers under a variety of rules.

Randy Couture vs James Toney

UFC President Dana White has often fanned the flames of the boxing vs MMA debate, and he seemed to take Sylvia’s loss to Mercer personally, as a black eye on the face of mixed martial arts. To extract his revenge, a year after Sylvia-Mercer UFC booked an MMA bout between two legends of their respective sports: Randy Couture and James Toney. The fight went exactly as you might have expected – Couture has always been a consummate professional and not one to underestimate any opponent, while Toney seemingly just took a payday, with minimal training and preparation. Not that any amount of training could have prepared Toney for fighting Couture under MMA rules at this stage in his career. Couture was able to quickly secure a takedown and force a tap out with an arm triangle choke. The natural order of things was restored, and with the exception of occasional talk of Anderson Silva’s desire to have a boxing match with Roy Jones Jr (which never came to fruition), a  truce has been established and held for many years.

Floyd Mayweather vs Conor McGregor

This truce lasted until 2016, when Conor McGregor became UFC’s biggest superstar. Becoming the first man to simultaneously capture UFC titles in multiple divisions was not enough for the featherweight/lightweight champion. McGregor wanted to test his mettle in boxing – and he had a very specific opponent in mind. Conor’s oversize ego would not allow him to box just anyone: despite a lack of professional boxing experience, he set his sights on arguably the greatest boxer of all time, recently retired Floyd Mayweather Jr. At first the rumors of this fight seemed like just hype that would not amount to much besides keeping Mayweather’s and McGregor’s names in the news. However money makes the world go ’round, so all parties involved somehow managed to come to an agreement – and a boxing bout between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor was officially scheduled for August 26, 2017.

Surprisingly, many MMA fans thought that McGregor actually had a chance of defeating Floyd under boxing rules. All things considered, Conor acquitted himself well – going 10 rounds of the scheduled 12 and even winning several rounds on the scorecards in a clinch-heavy bout. However he ultimately succumbed to Mayweather’s attack, causing the referee to call an end to the bout and bringing Mayweather’s record to a perfect 50-0.

Floyd Mayweather vs Tenshin Nasukawa

Mayweather resumed his retirement after defeating McGregor, but he didn’t let that get in the way of scheduling a three-round exhibition bout with Tenshin Nasukawa, a twenty year old Japanese kickboxer and fledgling mixed martial artist. Undefeated in both sports, Tenshin tasted his first loss in a boxing ring when his corner stopped the fight in the first round after Nasukawa was knocked down multiple times with shots to the body and head. Many in the MMA community argued that this fight was ‘fixed’; I don’t agree but will let you judge for yourself.

Conor McGregor vs Paulie Malignaggi

And now for a few fights that haven’t happened (though this one might, yet). Paulie Malignaggi was brought in to spar with Conor McGregor in his preparation for the Mayweather fight. Apparently Conor and Paulie didn’t get along as Malignaggi left the training camp quickly, and sparring footage was released of what appeared to be McGregor knocking down Paulie. The two have been occasionally sniping at each other in interviews and social media ever since, and recently a rumor of a boxing match has been floated. McGregor may actually have a puncher’s chance here if this happens, as Malignaggi has been knocked out a few times towards the tail end of his career.

Anderson Silva vs Roy Jones Jr.

Just to think, this fight could have been the spectacle that McGregor-Mayweather was, ten years sooner. Alas. Apparently Anderson and Roy have not given up on it quite yet, at least as of a year ago the idea of this fight was still being floated. At this point in their careers? Please, no.

Dana White vs Tito Ortiz

I’ll save the most ludicrous for last. I shouldn’t even mention it but I can’t resist. Did you know that Dana White and Tito Ortiz were once supposed to have an exhibition boxing match, televised on Spike TV? The match never happened – apparently Ortiz came to realize that beating up your boss is not a great look, and getting beat up by your boss is even worse – but Spike aired a documentary about it anyway.