The Great Divide is a recurring feature here at MMA Fighting in which two of our staff debate a topic in the world of MMA – news, a fight, a crazy thing somebody did, a crazy thing somebody didn’t do, or some moral dilemma threatening the very foundation of the sport — and try to figure out a resolution. We’d love for you to join in the discussion in the comments below.
It’s been four years since Conor McGregor parlayed his massive star power into a boxing vs. MMA bout with Floyd Mayweather, manufacturing a matchup that broke box office records — and likely proved once and for all that we’re living in a simulation, but that’s another discussion altogether — and arguably cemented “The Notorious” as MMA’s preeminent pugilist even in defeat.
The main proponent for that argument is McGregor himself, while several other UFC fighters have frequently been suggested as the best boxer currently competing in four-ounce gloves including Max Holloway, Petr Yan, Dustin Poirier, Jorge Masvidal, Nate Diaz, and Sean O’Malley.
This debate shows no signs of dying down and until the door opens wider to allow more UFC fighters to compete in boxing, it will remain mostly hypothetical. However, given some of the impressive standup performances that we’ve seen in the cage over the past couple of years, MMA Fighting’s Alexander K. Lee and Jed Meshew are ready to make their case for who the UFC’s best boxer is in this edition of The Great Divide.
Lee: There’s so many directions you can go with this one.
Do you point to fan favorite Max Holloway, who is shattering striking records with every octagon outing? Or maybe Conor McGregor, the only MMA fighter who can say that they’ve taken rounds off of Floyd Mayweather while just so happening to headline the second-biggest boxing PPV of all time? Perhaps you want a deeper cut, bantamweight champion Petr Yan perhaps?
I’m going outside of the box with this one. I’m going with a man who I have dubbed “The Algorithm” for his ability to download his opponents on the fly and have them swinging at air by the time the fight is through.
I’m going with Adrian Yanez.
This comes with a healthy heap of recency bias as we all just watched Yanez go to war with Davey Grant this past Saturday in one of the few highlights of an otherwise dreary card. So if I’m hung up on the exchanges from that fight, it should be understandable. Also, it might seem odd touting Yanez’s boxing in a fight that one judge mystifyingly scored 30-27 for Grant, but hey, Yanez is already getting screwed on the cards like an elite boxer so that’s a point in his favor!
Kidding aside, watch that fight again. Credit to Grant for absolutely bringing it after getting rocked in the first, but upon closer examination you’ll notice that a lot of the bombs Grant threw turned into duds by the time they made it to Yanez’s chin. Yanez is slipping and ripping for the most part, occasionally getting hit, but otherwise in control of the fight. This is becoming his trademark.
In his thrilling scrap with Randy Costa, Yanez dropped the first round, but rallied in the second after finding Costa’s timing. He finished Gustavo Lopez in the third round of their March encounter, again after a methodical start that built to a crescendo for Yanez. In all of his outings so far, Yanez has shown the characteristics not just of a great fighter, but a great boxer: Patience, adaptability, toughness, speed, cardio, finishing ability, and defense. It’s that latter characteristic that gives him the edge over the others in my book.
Max Holloway is a brilliant boxer, but he’s also a brawler who seems to invite contact the longer a fight goes on. If you had his supernatural striking skills and durability you probably would too, it’s just not always the right approach and it may have cost him in his razor-close second fight with Alexander Volkanovski. Guys like Petr Yan, Sean O’Malley, and Nate Diaz are all superb boxers (Yan being the best of the bunch), but their excellence is also attributable to their other skills (Diaz’s jiu-jitsu, O’Malley’s kickboxing, Yan’s spinning sh*t) as much as just their boxing. Yanez is the purest puncher of the bunch.
And Conor McGregor? Fun guy to watch, popular personality, but if anyone in this discussion has shown their limitations as a boxer, it’s him. He’s out.
So I’m going with Yanez, who I admit is a bit of a futures pick as his best (and possibly worst) fights are still ahead of him. I’m not just basing it on what we’ve seen or can expect to see either, I genuinely believe that if Yanez (who turns 28 this month) were to make a career pivot to boxing right now, he’d be the most successful of all the names mentioned.
For now, we’ll have to settle with seeing him outbox everyone in the deepest division in all of MMA, which might just be all the evidence we need to anoint Yanez as the UFC’s best boxer.
THE BEST IS BLESSED
Meshew: I am of many minds on this one. First and foremost, I’m forced to acknowledge that we actually have no idea who the best boxer in the UFC is because NO ONE IN THE UFC BOXES. MMA and boxing are extremely different sports and thus we genuinely don’t have a friggin’ clue who can truly claim this title. It’s like baseball and cricket. If you’re good at one, you are probably better than the average guy off the street at the other, but by no means does that make you world class.
All that being said, Max Holloway is definitely the best boxer in the UFC. How do I draw this conclusion? Well, it’s pretty simple: Max told us himself.
In the middle of kicking seven shades a sh*t out of Calvin Kattar, Holloway stood in the center of the octagon, dropped his hands to his hips, and then turned to look at the commentators and shouted “I’m the best boxer in UFC, baby!” all while slipping shots from an attacking Kattar. We’re talking about a guy facing one of the five best fighters in the world in the weight class, a man who himself is known for his impressive boxing, and Max dunked on him like LeBron on an 8-foot rim. That’s Anderson Silva vs. Forrest Griffin levels of clowning on a dude, and again, Kattar can box!
But that’s not all, folks! Not only does Max stunt on the striking of his opponents so bad that he makes a good boxer look like a rank amateur, Holloway also has been compelled to help his opponents to even the playing field, WHILE HE’S FIGHTING THEM. When Holloway fought Brian Ortega back in 2018, he was tuning Ortega up so badly that in the fourth round, Max literally stopped hitting Ortega to try and show the man how to block punches. That’s right, in the middle of a world title fight, Holloway got so disheartened by the gulf between him and Ortega in terms of boxing that he tried to help the guy who wanted to take his belt. In the Sweet Science, people often trash talk by saying they are going to give their opponent a free boxing lesson, but Holloway is the first person I’ve seen to actually do it.
But outside of those two anecdotes (which really should be enough), there is one other major argument for Holloway as the best boxer in the UFC: the numbers. Holloway currently owns virtually all of the significant strike records in the UFC. His career total is 3,099 significant strikes. No one else has amassed 1,800. He also has the record for most significant strikes landed in a fight (445 against Kattar) and two more of the top five fights in the category (including second place). He is also sixth all-time on the significant strikes landed per minute list, despite having 25 fights in the promotion. And most importantly, a vast majority of those strikes came from boxing. Holloway is not much of a kicker (not that he can’t he just doesn’t choose to) and the overwhelming number of his attacks are with the hands and at range. When you look at elite boxing, volume is king. Boxers are constantly probing, attacking, attacking, and scoring. It’s not uncommon to see boxers throw 100 punches in a round. Holloway is basically the only person in MMA that is doing that, and he’s been doing so for years.
Look, there are a lot of guys who I think have very good boxing that currently fight in the UFC. Petr Yan has exceptional footwork, Rob Font is 10-feet tall and has a tremendous jab, and Dustin Poirier beat Holloway in a bout that was largely a boxing affair (Poirier also has a decided power advantage, hence why I still favor the overall boxing acumen of Holloway, though Poirier’s defense has become truly exceptional) but for my money, Holloway is the one guy I could see in the UFC having an Anderson Silva-esque post-MMA career run, boxing washed-up former champions and producing an entirely unexpected feel-good story for MMA. Perhaps we’ll get a Holloway vs. Gervonta Davis fight in 2035.
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