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Why Are MMA Fighters Crossing Over Into Boxing?

Image: Why Are MMA Fighters Crossing Over Into Boxing?

By Alex Fesl: Most boxing fans will tell you that boxing is dying. The old days of Hagler, Hearns, and Leonard are long gone, you often hear. Boxing fans usually double down and blame this generation of fighters for the current state of boxing. Fighters like Floyd Mayweather Jr, Oscar De La Hoya, Canelo Alvarez, and Anthony Joshua are ruining boxing, they say. I actually prefer to blame the promoters for boxing’s disposition, but that’s another story. At the very least, we can say that boxing has seen better days.

In the past, boxing was one of the mainstream sports in the USA at least. Now, boxing is more of a secondary sport when compared to basketball, football, and baseball. At the same time, we have seen the emergence of mixed martial arts (MMA) and its popularity rivaling if not completely outshining boxing. Take a look at any boxing forum or blog, and you will often see fight fans in the comments announcing that they no longer follow boxing and prefer MMA now.

While maintaining my position defending boxing in that silly debate against MMA fans, I do concede that MMA, in particular the UFC organization, is winning the popularity contest versus boxing. It disappoints me when I talk to casual fans about the “big fight last weekend,” and they aren’t talking about the sweet science.

With that said, there have been some interesting developments over the past few years in boxing. Seemingly, while boxing is dying, we have seen quite a few MMA fighters take their chances at boxing. Most notably, former UFC heavyweight champion, Francis Ngannou, came to the center of this discussion after a very public back and forth with UFC president Dana White. A lot of buzz and rumors began to develop regarding Ngannou taking up boxing. We even saw Ngannou step into the ring after the Fury vs. Whyte match to hype a potential hybrid MMA/boxing match with Fury. To no one’s surprise, Ngannou was released from his UFC contract several weeks after that event.

In addition to Ngannou, we have also seen MMA fighters Conor McGregor, Tyron Woodley, Anderson Silva, Greg Hardy, Frank Mir, Uriah Hall, Vitor Belfor, and Ben Askren all make boxing appearances recently. Likewise, popular MMA fighters Nate Diaz and Jorge Masvidal have also expressed interest in boxing, given the opportunity. So why are so many MMA fighters taking their chances at boxing despite MMA’s popularity? If boxing is truly dying as a sport, why are MMA fighters so eager to join? Something doesn’t add up…
Below are some of the key issues I believe are at hand in this discussion.

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Jake Paul
Jake Paul and his emergence in the boxing world has been very interesting, to say the least. He has made his mark, most notably against MMA fighters in the boxing ring. Paul has taken on Tyron Woodley (twice), Anderson Silva, and Ben Askren. While embarrassing each one of them in the ring, Paul ultimately delivered a much-deserved payday to each of them that they were not seeing in the MMA world. It’s a very interesting phenomenon that MMA fighters are often underpaid despite the money the events generate. It’s a topic seldom covered by UFC’s biggest partner, ESPN.

Boxing’s flexibility
Recently in an interview with Ariel Helwani, Ngannou mentioned several times that White and the UFC would not budge on allowing him to explore his options in boxing. Ngannou wanted to stay in the UFC and box, but White was not allowing that for some reason. It is interesting to note that boxers are not known to have these types of restrictive contracts. Boxers are free to explore other combat sports and return to boxing whenever. One example that comes to mind is former title challengers Curtis Stevens and Gabriel Rosado. Both fighters took up a stint in bare-knuckle boxing under the BKB organization. Afterwards, both fighters came right back to boxing without any known issues.

Dana White
Another aspect in this discussion revolves around Dana White and his stronghold over his fighters. White basically calls all the shots and makes the big decisions when it comes to the UFC. Quite interestingly, in 2017, we saw Floyd Mayweather Jr. take on Conor McGregor in one of the biggest boxing matches of all time. Dana White was very much involved in the promotion of that fight and visibly excited at the prospects of the match. To me, it seems very strange that White would have such enthusiasm for that fight yet wants nothing to do with Ngannou’s boxing ambitions. If Mayweather Jr vs. McGregor can happen, why not Fury vs. Ngannou?

In the end, boxing may be losing the popularity contest to MMA. Yet, boxing will always represent a sport that is open to anyone and everyone. There are far less barriers to enter the world of boxing compared to the mainstream sports, including MMA. I believe that is what makes boxing unique and intriguing, even to MMA fighters.

Let me know in the comments what you think of MMA fighters taking up boxing. Do you think MMA fighters are just looking for a payday? What MMA fighters do you want to see in the ring?

Follow Alex Fesl on Twitter: @AlexFesl

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