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The Great Divide Roundtable: What will — and should — be the next big MMA vs. boxing crossover fight?

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MMA Fighting

The Great Divide is a recurring feature here at MMA Fighting in which 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.

Much of the MMA world breathed a sigh of relief when the legendary Anderson Silva not only made it through his return to boxing without embarrassing himself, but actually thrived and showed off the charismatic fighting style that made him a superstar in the UFC.

However, Silva “getting one back” for MMA, as it were, has kept the door wide open for more crossover boxing bouts, which isn’t exactly what a lot of hardcore fight fans have been clamoring for. If it makes dollars it makes sense though and it doesn’t look like this trend is going away anytime soon, so we figured why not try our hand at this freak show matchmaking thing?

MMA Fighting’s Shaun Al-Shatti, Steven Marrocco, and Alexander K. Lee are going full Triller in this edition of The Great Divide as we figure out what crossover boxing bout we’re most likely to see next — and also declare what matchup we’d make if we could afford to make an offer that no fighter or promotion could refuse.

Al-Shatti: Folks, I’ll be honest with you: I didn’t realize just how much I missed the sight of a happy Anderson Silva until a few weeks ago.

If the good vibes of his Tijuana romp showed me anything, it’s that we utterly wasted the last five years of Silva’s UFC career. Why exactly were we throwing one of the all-time greats up against randoms like Derek Brunson and Jared Cannonier? Who exactly were those fights for? In retrospect, don’t they all feel kind of pointless? It’s not as if Cannonier is a bigger draw today because he beat a 44-year-old Silva a few years ago in a bout no one really wanted. Some legends are above the bleed-em-til-they’re-dry treatment, and “The Spider” should’ve been one of them.

Tribute to the Kings - Chavez Sr. v Camacho Jr.
Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and Anderson Silva
Photo by Manuel Velasquez/Getty Images

That’s why the Tribute to the Kings show was so cool, because it was something different. It was a 46-year-old icon getting the chance to live out his lifelong dream rather than being treated like another faceless cog among hundreds. It bums me out to consider all of the fun we could’ve had with Silva in his waning years had we only injected a little creativity into the equation. That’s why, to me, the answer to this question is obvious: Silva vs. Roy Jones Jr.

I never expected to write this, but after watching Silva dial back the clock against Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., I’m not ready to let this ride end — and what better way to do it than by giving Silva the fight he’s coveted most since the dawn of his golden days as UFC champion? Silva and Jones Jr. are of comparable ages and sizes, and the 52-year-old boxing Hall of Famer looked capable enough in his November exhibition against Mike Tyson. They’ve been circling each other for over a decade. Even after Jones Jr. retired in 2019, he left the door ajar for Silva as the only man who could drag him back. Why not? Time is running low.

If these two are ever going to dance their long-awaited dance, it has to be now.

Marrocco: Since my esteemed colleague Mr. Al-Shatti has called for follow-through on Silva vs. Jones Jr., I’ll stick with that trend in giving another UFC vet a shot at the boxing match he’s wanted, and contracts notwithstanding, it’s an easy layup: Francis Ngannou should fight for a heavyweight boxing title. I’m not partial to which one – either will do.

Quite simply, I want to see how this terrifying fighter of our sport stacks up to the best in the squared circle, and I think the rest of the world would like that, too. I want to see if Tyson Fury is able to out-jab “The Predator” and play the ropes. I want to see how Ngannou’s inborn power stacks up against Anthony Joshua. I know who the baddest man on the planet is, and that’s Ngannou. If there are more weapons in play, it’s not even a question. I just want to see if he can hang with and maybe even beat guys who’ve mastered the angles and range needed to dominate with just fists.

Francis Ngannou
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

I think my appetite for a true crossover fight – current MMA champ vs. current boxing champ – has been whetted even more by the success of Silva, even though I think it’s far too premature to compare the ex-middleweight king’s skills with Ngannou’s. But if Dana White helped put Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather into the ring, it’s only right that he help Ngannou fulfill that dream. And if Ngannou is now looking at a potentially long layoff by booking an interim UFC heavyweight title fight between Ciryl Gane and Derrick Lewis, don’t let him sit on the shelf yet again. Cut a deal. The fight is a fantasy, but it could also very easily be a reality.

Lee: Call me a victim of the moment, but once Fedor Emelianenko announced his return to action on Friday, I found myself not only wondering what he would do with the last two fights on his Bellator contract, but what would come after.

And I can’t shake the image of “The Last Emperor” standing face-to-face with “The Spider.”

While this is one we all would have loved to see take place in MMA, that’s actually less intriguing to me now after seeing how Anderson Silva fared against Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. I wouldn’t trade Silva’s time in MMA for anything, but I’m at least curious now as to how his fighting career might have looked if he’d fully dedicated it to boxing from day one. Could he have been as big a star as his idol Roy Jones Jr. if he’d stuck with the sweet science? Even if he never reached that level, he’d have become a popular fighter, for sure.

For Fedor, as much as we all love his sambo stylings, I think he’s due for one of these absurd boxing paydays and selfishly, I’d like to see him go 12 boxing rounds with Silva at this point rather than five rounds of MMA. A master of submissions, Fedor fell in love with his striking for much of the latter half of his career anyway, so I bet even he’d be more amenable to a boxing bout at this point.

Fedor Emelianenko
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Two of the greatest and most beloved fighters of all-time, the narrative writes itself, let’s do it. So that’s the gentleman’s pick. Here’s what I think is far more likely to happen because I’ve long ago given up on the notion that we’re living in the top-1,000,000, much less the best of all possible worlds.

Conor McGregor vs. Jake Paul.

We’re at the point where I’d be more surprised if McGregor vs. Paul didn’t happen. I can’t lie. McGregor vs. Mayweather broke me. It broke me. I thought I knew what was and wasn’t permissible in combat sports, foolishly still believing in the rule of law. Then that fight happened and I can pinpoint exactly where our dimension branched off from the prime timeline into the chaos realm that we currently inhabit.

What I’m saying is that if Paul beats Tyron Woodley this August, he’ll be able to claim a victory over a former UFC champion and someone who is indisputably one of the best welterweights ever in MMA. Paul has already called McGregor out, and he’s all but guaranteed to do it again after his next fight. And you can bet McGregor is listening. Eventually, calls for the fight will be deafening, and the only way to block out the noise will be to stuff a few sizeable wads of cash into the ears.

You don’t have to watch it. Enough will. Just know that we live in a world where anything is possible, especially anything stupid.

Conor McGregor
Esther Lin, Showtime

Marrocco: If we’re gonna go stupid, I vote we dial it back — or depending on your point of view, up — a notch. Let’s make a fight that has none of the box office appeal of McGregor vs. Paul and that literally no one is calling for. Let’s do it for no other reason than to answer one of the most vexing questions of this crossover generation: Is Paulie Malignaggi really worse than Conor McGregor?

We had a little bit of sparring footage on which to base a very big judgement – a two-division UFC champion with zero professional boxing matches was no easy walkover for the greatest boxer of his generation, Floyd Mayweather. Was it a slip? Was it a knockdown? Unfortunately for Malignaggi, what it wound up being was one of the most effective promos for “The Money Fight.” If Conor could hang against a former champ, maybe he wasn’t such a long shot after all. When McGregor wasn’t blown out of the water early, it only ensured we’d see more crossovers.

I know what you’re thinking. What about the GOAT? Didn’t Artem Lobov sort of answer this question when he beat Malignaggi bare-knuckled in Tampa, Fla.? Maybe the better question is, is McGregor really better than Lobov (did you see that uppercut in that one YouTube clip)? But seriously, I just want to close a small chapter in that story. Whether or not we all got taken on a ride with that sparring video, there is now incontrovertible proof McGregor bit off more than he could chew with Mayweather. So let’s give him a smaller meal and see what really happens. Maybe that will make it all stop.

See? The more we go down the rabbit hole, the crazier it gets. There are so many MMA fighters with fantastic boxing (at least for MMA), and I’d love to see how they all stack up against their counterparts in the squared circle. I was very impressed just to see Clay Collard make a little bit of noise in that world before he met his match. But given the nature of the business these days, it feels like we have to go off the rails a bit when we dream up these things.

Al-Shatti: I’m just going to preface this upfront by saying this pick probably makes no actual sense, but just hear me out: Mike Tyson vs. Jon Jones.

Eight-round exhibition. Bare-knuckle boxing. Who says no?!

(Aside from Team Jones, Team Tyson, and every non-Texas commission on the planet.)

Jon Jones will headline the Submission Underground 2 event Sunday afternoon.
Jon Jones
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Look, the math here is simple. Jones is already a heavyweight. We’ve been waiting for him to commit to a heavyweight move seemingly forever, but now the hardest part is already done — Jones already took the chance and put in the work. Now he wants a big-boy fight that will pay him big-boy bucks? Hey, there aren’t many bigger than Tyson, who even at age 54 looked pretty damn ferocious in his November exhibition against Roy Jones Jr.

The whole thing sells itself. What does Jones look like against an actual heavyweight puncher? Could the master of the mid-fight adjustment adapt without many of his best weapons? Is Dana White going to drop a cool $1 million bet on his pal Tyson, if only to further spite ol’ Johnny Bones? And who among us wouldn’t be morbidly interested to see Iron Mike throwing vintage bungalows with bare knuckles? Are you kidding me??

In an era of circus fights, I’ve just presented you with the most circus-y fight of all.

You’re welcome. Tell me you wouldn’t watch.

Poll

What crossover boxing bout would you like to see the most?

This poll is closed

  • 16%
    Anderson Silva vs. Fedor Emelianenko
    (54 votes)
  • 26%
    Conor McGregor vs. Paulie Malignaggi
    (85 votes)
  • 34%
    Jon Jones vs. Mike Tyson
    (112 votes)
  • 22%
    Other (leave comment below)
    (73 votes)
324 votes total Vote Now