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Morning Report: Shaquille O’Neal credits MMA for his numerous NBA championships

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Shaquille O’Neal celebrates in the locker room after winning the NBA Championship of Game 5 of the N Photo by Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Shaquille O’Neal is one of the most dominant and successful players in NBA history. Over the course of his 19-year career, O’Neal won four NBA titles and a host of accolades and records that ultimately led to his induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2016. And surprisingly, Shaq credits much of his success to MMA.

Speaking recently with Ariel Helwani of ESPN, O’Neal discussed his MMA fandom and said that he believes cross-training in MMA was responsible for his NBA championships.

“MMA is the reason I became a champion,” O’Neal said. “I always used to practice basketball. It wasn’t enough. Because when I played basketball, it was more wrestling. So when I trained MMA with Jon Burke, a friend of mine down in Orlando, I came back in the best shape of my life. That was in 2000. Won. Dominated.

“So I’m a creature of habit. Did it again, won a second championship. Did it again, won the third championship. Got cute, got away from it, lost. Got traded to Miami, did it again, won the fourth championship.”

O’Neal says he was introduced to MMA by former UFC light heavyweight champion Vitor Belfort and that he quickly fell in love with the sport. Since then, Shaq has become a fixture at cageside for most of the major UFC events, and with all his time near the sport, he believes MMA fighters to be among the best athletes in the world, which is one of the things he loves about the sport.

“MMA is something that always kept my heart rate up,” Shaq said. “It was something I am very interested in. I’m a physical guy. I like physicality. You talk about athletes, MMA athletes are probably the best athletes on the planet. The training that they go through, the physical stuff that they go through, I’ve been to almost all of the top UFC fights, those guys are specimens. I wish I could hit some of those NBA guys I used to play against like that. So I’ve definitely been a fan of MMA.”

He’s not just a fan though. O’Neal still trains and, at one point, was legitimately interested in competing. Back in 2010, rumors flew about O’Neal fighting professional South Korean fighter Hong-man Choi, a hulking behemoth standing 7-foot-3 and weighing 353 pounds. O’Neal said he was interested in the fight but unfortunately, nothing ever came of it.

“Listen, I did call out Hong-man Choi a long time ago because I’ve never fought anyone my size,” Shaq said. “Ever since I was 10 years old I’ve heard the phrase, ‘Pick on someone your own size!’ So at the time, a couple years ago, if he was willing to fight, I would have fought him. . . I just mentioned it. I wanted somebody to come back, actually, I wanted [UFC President] Dana [White] to come back and set it up but nobody ever did. . . I definitely would have given it a try.”

Dana White is probably kicking himself for this missed opportunity.


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FINAL THOUGHTS

There was a time, not that long ago, where Shaq saying something like this would’ve been the only talked about in MMA circles for a week. The sport has come a long way.

Thanks for reading and see y’all tomorrow.


EXIT POLL

Poll

If it had ever happened, who would have won?

This poll is closed

  • 62%
    Shaq
    (500 votes)
  • 37%
    Hong-man Choi
    (297 votes)
797 votes total Vote Now

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