Despite being occupied contesting World Heavyweight boxing bouts over the last few years, Anthony Joshua has been regularly linked with a switch to MMA. In fact, reports have suggested that as much as £350 million has been laid on the table as a tempter for the former Olympic champion.
Joshua seems open to the idea, but the reality is still a long way off. While several MMA fighters have tried their hand in the boxing ring, switches in the opposite direction are less common.
Much of the speculation was driven by last year’s contest between MMA champ Conor McGregor and boxing legend Floyd Mayweather Jr. That fight failed to live up to the expectations of many fans but was a financial success, paving the way for future crossover battles and punters will be keeping an eye on the boxing odds if a rematch between those two is announced.
The problem lies in the lack of preparation the non-specialist fighter gets in their new discipline. It is widely accepted that a few months training is not enough to reach the level required and that a more serious approach is required if the fights are to become anything more that cash-making gimmicks. But the challenge still appeals to fans and fighters.
While McGregor/Mayweather fight was epic in scale, there have been some slightly less high profile crossover fights in combat history. In 1998 and 2005, MMA fighter Anderson ‘The Spider’ Silva stepped into the boxing ring for professional bouts. He was beaten by Osmar Teixeira in the first fight but took just two rounds to defeat Julio Cesar de Jesus via a technical knockout in the second. Further fights were discussed but never materialized.
Also in 2005, UFC champ Nick Diaz fought and beat Alfonso Rocha over four rounds following a unanimous decision in California. It was his one and only foray into the square arena so far, although there is still talk of a return.
A year later, UFC Light Heavyweight champ Vitor Belfort took just one minute to knockout inexperienced Brazilian fighter Josemario Neves in a complete mismatch of a fight. However, he declined further invitations to box.
More significantly, KJ Noons proved to be the first genuine crossover fighter completing 23 MMA fights, 13 boxing bouts and 14 professional kickboxing matches over a period of 18 years. Noons was only beaten twice in the boxing ring and is still active today.
In terms of boxers making the switch to MMA as Joshua has hinted at doing, there have been few memorable incidences over the years (Muhammad Ali vs Antonio Inoki aside). However, pro boxer Arthur Jimmerson did make the bold decision to take on Royce Gracie at the first UFC way back in 1993. There were no gloves in UFC at the time but Jimmerson wore one on his left jabbing hand to protect it for an upcoming boxing match. Grace won the fight via submission after just two minutes and went on to achieve great things in the world of MMA, while Jimmerson returned to boxing contesting another 17 fights before hanging up his glove in 2002.
Whether Joshua will be the first boxer to make a serious attempt to switch remains to be seen. But it would be an event that would bring huge focus to MMA.