War Of The Worlds: When Boxers And MMA Fighters Collide

If Fury and Ngannou fight, they will be following in some famous footsteps
21:13, 09 Jan 2022

Boxing and UFC’s world heavyweight champions have been exchanging fighting talk on social media this week. Tyson Fury and Francis Ngannou have been stirring up interest in a potential cross-codes clash. While two champions of their respective sports have never met in such a match-up, there has been a number of boxing vs MMA battles down the years. Here’s a round-up of some memorable meetings through the years, starting with the battle that pretty much paved the way for MMA as we know it.

ali vs inoki was the big bang for mixed martial arts
ali vs inoki was the big bang for mixed martial arts

Muhammad Ali vs Antonio Inoki

The ‘Avatar’ of fights, this boxer vs wrestler battle is remembered more for its cultural impact than its content. Inoki was the star and owner of New Japan Pro Wrestling, but his martial arts background was very much real. A fight with reigning world heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali was the genesis for the cross-codes world of MMA.

The fight itself was a dud. Inoki lay on the mat, fearful of Ali’s punching power, and kicked at the legs of ‘The Greatest’. Ali would not go to the ground as he was similarly wary of Inoki’s mat techniques, as well as putting his head too close to the Japanese star’s educated feet. The result was a time limit draw, but the melding of styles would inspire others to integrate boxing and martial arts for generations to come.

Art ‘One Glove’ Jimmerson vs Royce Gracie

In 1993, a tournament was held in which eight practitioners of different disciplines met in a competition to determine the best combat system. The event was the Ultimate Fighting Championship, the debut show from a company that would evolve into the modern UFC.

The maiden tournament featured boxer Art Jimmerson, who wore a single boxing glove into the Octagon cage to face Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu legend Royce Gracie. The 28-5 light heavyweight was a solid fighter, but not among boxing’s elite. Gracie on the other hand was from a storied family of legendary martial artists, and was taking the first step in a Hall of Fame MMA career.

Jimmerson was submitted in two minutes by the dominant Gracie, and he never got a chance to use that glove. ‘Zorro’ would never take part in MMA again, instead returning to boxing where he retired with a 33-18 record that saw him share the ring with multiple former and future world champions. To UFC die-hards though, he will always be ‘One Glove’.

James Toney vs Randy Couture

By 2010, UFC had become a phenomenon. The company’s biggest events were outdoing on pay-per-view, and the original multi-discipline tournament had birthed an entire genre of hybrid combat that combined the best of every discipline. 

While the first UFC had attracted a mid-level boxer in Jimmerson, by 2010 they had caught the attention of the elite. Three-weight world champion James Toney took up the challenge to cross-over from boxing and fight the legendary Randy ‘The Natural’ Couture. 

One of the great throwback fighters of his era, Toney fought like a man who thought his punching power would be enough. Against a former NCAA Division 1 wrestler in Couture, he never stood a chance. ‘Lights Out’ was taken down easily, exhibiting a lack of even basic wrestling defence training, and Couture easily maneuvered him into a triangle choke for the submission win.

Toney’s single-minded approach might have served him better in the prehistoric simplicity of UFC 1, but in the age of the complete combat athlete, he was a man out of time.

mcgregor fared better than expected against 'money' mayweather
mcgregor fared better than expected against 'money' mayweather

Floyd Mayweather vs Conor McGregor

The biggest meeting of boxing and martial arts since the pioneering Ali-Inoki, reigning UFC lightweight champion met the best boxer of the decade. Unlike Toney and Jimmerson’s bouts, this would be a sanctioned boxing match.

The 49-0 Mayweather meeting a McGregor making his boxing debut did not stop the fight being a financial juggernaut at the box office. The event was entertaining enough, with McGregor doing better than expected. This was helped by the fact Mayweather, who had been out of the ring for two years, employed a rope-a-dope technique and allowed the UFC star to take the initiative.

When Mayweather went up through the gears, he had little trouble stopping ‘Notorious’ in the tenth round. McGregor emerged with more credit than most other fighters crossing over into a different sport, but it remains his only boxing match to date.

pulev has carved out a niche for himself in triller's triangle ring
pulev has carved out a niche for himself in triller's triangle ring

Triller Triad Combat

Why stage one boxing vs MMA clash, when you can put on a whole card’s worth? This was certainly Triller’s attitude when they devised Triad Combat. The concept features a triangle ring, and a hybrid ruleset designed to accommodate fighters of both disciplines.

The maiden card was headlined by world-ranked boxer Kubrat Pulev’s brutal stoppage win over ex-UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir. The show, which also featured live performance from thrash legends Metallica, was successful enough that Triller have announced a sequel.

The follow-up show is scheduled to feature Pulev against another former UFC heavyweight king in Junior dos Santos, as well as a co-main event between Vitor Belfort and former world cruiserweight champion ‘Bad’ Chad Dawson.

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