Why do MMA fighters turn to boxing?

Via Alex Fesl: Most boxing fans will tell you that boxing is dying. The old days of Hagler, Hearns, and Leonard are long gone, you’ve often heard. Boxing fans often double down and blame this generation of boxers for the current state of boxing. They say fighters like Floyd Mayweather Jr, Oscar De La Hoya, Canelo Alvarez and Anthony Joshua are ruining boxing. I’d actually rather blame the promoters of boxing inclinations, but that’s another story. At least, we can say that boxing has had better days.

In the past, boxing was at least one of the mainstream sports in the United States. Now, boxing is just a side 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 that can rival if not completely surpass that of boxing. Take a look at any boxing forum or blog, and you’ll often find martial arts fans in the comments announcing that they’re no longer following boxing and prefer MMA.

While maintaining a defense of boxing in that silly debate with MMA fans, I acknowledge that MMA, especially the UFC organization, is winning the competition in popularity vs. with boxing. I’m frustrated when I talk to casual fans about “last weekend’s big game” and they don’t talk about sweet science.

With that said, there have been some interesting developments over the past few years in boxing. It seems that, while boxing is dying, we’ve seen quite a few MMA fighters taking their chances with boxing. Most notably, former UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou became the focus of this discussion following a very public back-and-forth with UFC president Dana White. A lot of rumors and rumors began to arise about Ngannou’s entry into boxing. We even saw Ngannou enter the ring after the Fury vs Whyte fight to hype up a potential MMA/boxing match with Fury. To no one’s surprise, Ngannou was released from his UFC contract a few weeks after that event.

In addition to Ngannou, we’ve also seen MMA fighters Conor McGregor, Tyron Woodley, Anderson Silva, Greg Hardy, Frank Mir, Uriah Hall, Vitor Belfor and Ben Askren all appear in recent boxing matches. Likewise, famous MMA fighters Nate Diaz and Jorge Masvidal also expressed an interest in boxing if given the opportunity. So why do so many MMA fighters take their chances in boxing despite the popularity of MMA? If boxing is indeed dying out as a sport, why are MMA fighters so eager to get in? Something doesn’t add up…
Here are some of the key issues that I believe are present in this discussion.

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Jake Paul
It has to be said at least that Jake Paul and his arrival in the world of boxing are very interesting. He made his mark, most notably against MMA fighters in the boxing ring. Paul fought Tyron Woodley (twice), Anderson Silva and Ben Askren. While embarrassing each of them in the ring, Paul ended up giving each of them a well-deserved payday they didn’t see in the world of MMA. It is a very interesting phenomenon that MMA fighters are often underpaid regardless of the amount of money that events earn. It’s a topic rarely mentioned by UFC’s biggest partner, ESPN.

Flexible boxing
Recently in an interview with Ariel Helwani, Ngannou repeatedly mentioned that White and the UFC would not give in to allowing him to explore his options in boxing. Ngannou wants to stay in the UFC and the box, but White doesn’t allow it 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 the title challengers Curtis Stevens and Gabriel Rosado. Both boxers participate in bare-knuckle boxing under the BKB organization. After that, both boxers made a straight return to boxing without any known problems.

White skin
Another aspect of this discussion revolves around Dana White and his stronghold over his warriors. Basically, White calls all the shots and makes the big decisions when it comes to the UFC. Interestingly enough, in 2017, we saw Floyd Mayweather Jr. confront Conor McGregor in one of the greatest boxing matches of all time. Dana White was heavily involved in driving that fight and was clearly excited by the prospect of the match. It seemed strange to me that White was so enthusiastic about that fight but wanted nothing to do with Ngannou’s boxing ambitions. If Mayweather Jr vs. McGregor can happen, why Fury vs Ngannou not?

In the end, boxing may lose to MMA in the competition for popularity. However, boxing will always represent a sport for anyone and everyone. There are very few barriers to entering the world of boxing compared to mainstream sports, including MMA. I believe that’s what makes boxing so unique and appealing, even to MMA fighters.

Let me know in the comments what you think about MMA fighters getting into boxing. Do you think MMA fighters are just looking for a paid day? Which MMA fighter would you like to see in the ring?

Follow Alex Fesl on Twitter: @AlexFesl


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