Five notable boxing vs MMA matchups

The news that heavyweight champion Tyson Fury is taking on former UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou in October is unlikely to down even remotely well with boxing fans who want to see him challenge himself against Oleksander Usyk. On the other hand, the novelty aspect of boxer vs MMA fighter is almost certainly guaranteed to ensure that the event will generate plenty of publicity and money – which will be music to the Gypsy King’s ears.

Cross-discipline matchups in either ring or cage remain sufficiently uncommon to be notable, for both good and bad reasons. Following the Fury-Ngannou announcement, here are five other famous (and infamous) examples:

Floyd Mayweather vs Conor McGregor, Las Vegas, August 26, 2017 (Fight took place under boxing rules)

Fueled by the two men’s reputations in their respective disciplines, and by each man’s unwillingness to find a bottom beyond which they would not sink during the pre-fight promotion, this matchup became one of the most lucrative combat sports events in history, reaching 4.3 million buys on pay-per-view in the United States. Mayweather reportedly earned $280 million, and McGregor $130 million, for the event. The bout was fought under boxing rules; after carrying McGregor for the first half of the contest, Mayweather stepped up his offense down the stretch and scored a 10th round TKO.

Muhammad Ali vs Antonio Inoki, Tokyo, June 26, 1976 (Some kind of weird, hybrid, never-specified rules)

How to characterize this disaster? On the eve of this meeting between The Greatest and Japan’s most celebrated pro wrestler, the Associated Press previewed it as “...what is called by some the world's first Martial Arts Championship — and by others a multi-million-dollar sham.” Almost 50 years later, there remains confusion and dispute about what exactly constituted the rules; what unfolded was 15 rounds of Inoki laying on his back, kicking out at Ali’s legs, as the heavyweight champion circled warily. The arena crowd threw trash in the ring and chanted “Money back! Money back!” Ali suffered blood clots in his legs that affected his mobility for the rest of his career. It was not an edifying spectacle. (The bout, for what it is worth, was declared a draw.)

James Toney vs Randy Couture, Boston, August 28, 2010 (MMA rules)

Toney was on the second downslope of his boxing career when he stepped into the Octagon to face former UFC champ Randy Couture. Known for being frequently dilettante in his application to his chosen profession, the portly “Lights Out” appeared to have undergone a similar amount of preparation for his MMA debut. Couture immediately dived for Toney’s legs, took him down, and submitted him without much resistance via arm triangle choke.

Ray Mercer vs Tim Sylvia, Birmingham, Alabama, June 13, 2009 (MMA rules)

This time it was the turn of the former UFC champ to show up out of shape. Sylvia, who had held the organization’s heavyweight crown just two years earlier (until losing it to Couture), showed up at 310 pounds – 50 over his prime fighting weight – and walked confidently toward the 48-year-old boxer, who threw one right hand that detonated on Sylvia’s chin and scored a knockout after just nine seconds. 

Holly Holm vs Ronda Rousey, Melbourne, November 14, 2015 (MMA rules)

This one is totally cheating. Although she had been a highly successful pro boxer, becoming undisputed welterweight champion, winning belts at 140 and 154, and compiling a career record of 33-2-3 (9), Holm had retired in 2013 to focus on MMA. Nonetheless, is it worth including for the immensity of the upset: Rousey was the number one star, male or female, in MMA, and seemed unstoppable. Holm, however, took her apart before dropping her with a kick to the head and stopping her to win the UFC bantamweight title in a massive shock.