Given the inherent danger of their sport, it’s amazing how little MMA fighters get paid.
It’s a point not lost on Francis Ngannou, the former UFC heavyweight champion who decided to walk away from the sport following his final fight with the organisation – for which he earned just £440,000.
Meanwhile, Tyson Fury earned around £26 million for defeating Dillian Whyte in April 2022 – no wonder Ngannou, known for his striking ability in the UFC, wanted a slice of the pie.
Controversially, Fury will swerve a heavyweight unification bout with Oleksandr Usyk and instead take on Ngannou in a boxing match in October – the first time that the man known as The Predator will have laced up the 16oz gloves competitively.
And Ngannou’s manager Marquel Martin has confirmed his client will earn more for that bout than he did for all of his MMA scraps combined.
But does he stand a chance of beating a boxer regarded by many as the best heavyweight on the planet? Perhaps not, judging by the records of other MMA fighters that have tried their hand at the sweet science, but his extreme punch power – the 36-year-old is credited with having the hardest-hitting right hand in the world – should certainly give him a sniff of a chance.
However, the record books show a mixed bag when MMA stars make the step into the boxing ring from the Octagon….
A Whole New World
Former TV star and YouTuber Jake Paul has built up a 6-1 winning record since turning his hand to boxing, with three former MMA stars on his CV.
Ben Askren and Tyron Woodley were both defeated by way of knockout, while Anderson Silva – who boasts a boxing win over former WBC middleweight champion Julio Cesar Chavez Jr – was bested via a unanimous points decision. Each, you suspect, felt rather humbled in losing to a non-pugilist.
Of course, that trio had seen better days as athletes when tangling with Paul – each had suffered damaging knockout losses in the UFC already, with Askren suffering the quickest KO defeat in the organisation’s history against Jorge Masvidal.
The same cannot be said for Donald Cerrone, the self-styled ‘Cowboy’ who fought for the UFC lightweight title. He was just a whippersnapper at the age of 20 when he made his sole foray into boxing – his TKO defeat to Geoffrey Spruiell in 2003 enough to convince him that maybe MMA would be a more viable career option.
Often MMA legends don’t help themselves in their choice of debut boxing opponent. Conor McGregor famously took on Floyd Mayweather, considered by many to be one of the best pound-for-pound pugilists in history, in his maiden outing. Although the Irishman hung tough for a while, he ultimately succumbed to a unsurprising stoppage defeat in the tenth round.
And UFC heavyweight legend Frank Mir has taken on not one but two outstanding boxers in the ring, losing to both Steve Cunningham and Kubrat Pulev – the latter had taken on Anthony Joshua for the WBA and WBO gold less than a year earlier.
Which MMA Fighters Have Won Boxing Matches?
That said, there are MMA specialists who have also enjoyed success in the boxing ring.
The former UFC middleweight champion Alex Pereira, who lost the belt to Israel Adesanya in April, was a noted kickboxer who made his boxing debut prior to joining the UFC – he defeated Marcelo de Souza Cruz by TKO back in 2017.
Current UFC featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski, Nick Diaz and Masvidal also boast perfect 1-0 records, while former women’s UFC flyweight strap-holder Valentina Shevchenko has won both of her boxing bouts to date.
One of the most successful MMA artists that have transitioned to boxing is Vitor Belfort, a man who won 14 of his UFC fights by knockout – still one of the best ratios in the sport. He is 2-0 in traditional boxing bouts and even defeated the legendary Evander Holyfield in devastating fashion.
And then there’s the boxers who, at one time or another, pivoted to MMA. Julius Francis fought the likes of Mike Tyson and Vitali Klitschko in a long and distinguished boxing career, but lost his sole MMA fight a year after retiring from the sweet science. Matt Skelton, who beat Francis in their boxing days and who fought for the WBA heavyweight title, also lost in his only MMA contest.
Other boxing champions, including Alexander Ustinov and James Toney, found that they couldn’t turn their hand as successfully to mixed martial arts, but LaVerne Clark did. His boxing career wasn’t all that decorated – tangling with former world champion Tomasz Adamek perhaps the highlight, but he did win four of his five outings on a UFC card.
Holly Holm and Amanda Serrano will go down as two of the best female combat fighters in history. Holm won 33 of her 38 boxing bouts before switching to MMA, where she won the UFC bantamweight title – ending Ronda Rousey’s three-year unbeaten streak.
As for Serrano, her career continues. She headlined Madison Square Garden against Katie Taylor – the first time a women’s bout had main evented at the iconic venue, and at the time of writing she’s the undisputed featherweight champion. She’s undefeated in three MMA contests, too.