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Boxing – A History Of Sports Stars Entering The Ring

The ever-expanding trend of crossover boxing bouts continues this weekend courtesy of Jake Paul’s showdown with MMA icon Anderson Silva.

It’s YouTuber Paul’s fourth straight bout against a mixed martial artist, having beaten Ben Askren (TKO) and twice accounting for Tyron Woodley (split decision and KO) in 2021. Previously, he took on former NBA star Nate Robinson for a convincing victory.

Let’s take a journey around the sporting world to remember the athletes who stepped outside their usual disciplines to try their hand in the boxing and wrestling rings and MMA cages.

AFL

Aussie rules wild man, novelty track singer and manic Energizer battery spruiker Mark Jackson took his penchant for putting up the dukes on the oval into the ring on a couple of memorable occasions. ‘Jacko’ beat Essendon rival Ronnie Andrews on points in a ground-breaking 1984 bout but had his clock cleaned by rugby league legend Mal Meninga during the charity ‘Fight for Life’ event in 2002.

Perhaps the most noted on-field AFL pugilist of the modern era, St Kilda, Sydney and Western Bulldogs full forward Barry Hall was an accomplished junior boxing and donned the gloves post-footy for a couple of clashes with NRL royalty.

Hall slugged out a gruelling majority draw with Paul Gallen in 2019, but he went down in a first-round TKO to Sonny Bill Williams earlier this year.

Basketball

A three-time Slam Dunk Contest winner best known for his five seasons on the New York Knicks, Nate Robinson became one of Jake Paul’s victims in his sole pro boxing fight in 2020. The 36-year-old was KO’d in the second round after being savagely knocked down on multiple occasions.

More memorably, five-time NBA champion and human headline Dennis Rodman became a genuine pro wrestling star during WCW’s late-1990s explosion, joining Hollywood Hulk Hogan’s nWo stable.

Rodman and Hogan took on Utah Jazz superstar Karl Malone and Diamond Dallas Page in a tag-team match at the 1998 Bash at the Beach event – though the match was panned by wrestling aficionados.

Nevertheless, Rodman continued and even feuded with the legendary ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage.

 

Boxing

Boxers dipping their toe in other fighting disciplines holds a peculiar, largely infamous place in sports history.

Heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali’s ‘War of the Worlds’ clash with Japanese pro wrestling megastar Antonio Inoki at Budokan in 1975 was a controversial fizzer. Contested under a special set of rules, a prostrate Inoki resorted to kicking Ali’s legs for the majority of the fight, which was ultimately declared a draw.

Ali suffered blood clots as a result of Inoki’s barrage that impacted his mobility for the rest of his boxing career.

Ray Mercer, the 1988 Olympic heavyweight champ, crafted a 36-7-1 pro record with 26 knockouts, but his forays into MMA garnered swift defeats to Kimbo Slice and Tim Sylvia.

Former heavyweight champ James Toney signed on with the UFC in 2010 but it was a short-lived venture, tapping out in the first round of his debut – and only appearance – in the octagon against Randy Couture.

Cricket

High-profile cricketers stepping into the ring are thin on the field, but all-time great English all-rounder Andrew Flintoff went against the grain just three years after his highlight-laden international career wrapped up.

‘Freddie’ claimed a points decision over American Richard Dawson in a four-round affair at Manchester Arena in 2012, which would ultimately be his only pro bout.

Fellow former England captain Adam Hollioake, originally from Australia, later competed in several combat disciplines as a light heavyweight. He fought a majority draw with Joel Millar on MMA debut in 2012 under the Days of Glory promotion banner in Queensland.

Gridiron

Modern greats of the NFL running back genre, Adrian Peterson and Le’Veon Bell, caused a minor stir in July with their exhibition boxing bout. Capping an impressive all-round performance, Bell – who plans to now pursue a career in the sweet science – KO’d Peterson in the fifth and final round.

Several NFL players have dabbled in boxing, with champion DE Ed ‘Too Tall’ Jones crafting a 6-0 career in 1979-80 during a break in his long career with Dallas Cowboys. Another veteran defensive lineman of the era, Lyle Alzado, fought an exhibition match against Muhammad Ali in 1979.

A more familiar sight over the years, though, has been NFL stars venturing into the pro wrestling arena.

Chicago Bears icon William ‘The Refrigerator’ Perry is in the celebrity wing of the WWE Hall of Fame after his battle royal appearance (along with several NFL contemporaries) at Wrestlemania 2 in 1986.

Meanwhile, 1986 NFL MVP Lawrence Taylor later defeated Bam Bam Bigelow in the Wrestlemania XI main event. Two NFL stars ringside to support ‘LT’ that night – Reggie White and Steve McMichael – went on to have a bout at WCW’s Slamboree in 1997.

Several wrestling legends had their sporting starts in gridiron, including WWE Hall of Famer Bill Goldberg, who turned to the ring after his five-year NFL career was halted by injury.

Ice Hockey

It’s no secret ice hockey players like to throw down – and several NHL stars have boxing backgrounds or have dabble in the fight game.

Perhaps most notably (but least legitmately), Edmonton Oilers enforcer Dave Semenko fought Muhammad Ali in a 1983 exhibition bout. The three-rounder was declared a draw, though ‘The Greatest’ barely raised a sweat.

 

MMA

In the biggest-ever MMA-boxing crossover, UFC megastar Conor McGregor made his professional boxing debut against all-time great boxer Floyd Mayweather in 2017.

The undefeated Mayweather carved out a 10th-round TKO victory and walked away with an estimated $280 million, while ‘The Notorious’ – gallant but outclassed – collected a reported $130 million.

In a two-decade career, Brock Lesnar has switched between the WWE and UFC on multiple occasions – and became heavyweight champion in both promotions.

Ronda Rousey was the first female fighter to sign with the UFC, became its first female champion and remains the promotion’s biggest-ever female superstar.

Retiring after losing her UFC title to Holly Holm, dabbled in wrestling with sporadic appearances on WWE shows before signing with the promotion in 2017. ‘Rowdy’ Ronda Rousey – taking her moniker from the great Roddy Piper – has won multiple championships and took out the 2022 Royal Rumble.

 

Rugby League

Arguably no non-combat fighting sport has had more crossover with the squared circle than rugby league, dating back to champion Kangaroo forward Herb Narvo, who won the Australian heavyweight championship in 1945.

Rugged Queensland-bred hooker Billy Johnstone – best known for his stints at Canterbury and Gold Coast, and later as a hard-nosed team trainer – challenged for the Australian middleweight and light-middleweight belts in the 1980s.

Anthony Mundine, the son of former multi-division Australian boxing champ Tony, sensationally quit St George Illawarra in 2000 and embarked on a highly-eventful, largely successful and always controversial 59-bout pro career.

Fellow rugby league rep stars Solomon Haumono, John Hopoate and Monty Betham followed in Mundine’s footsteps without attaining the same level of success.

Sonny Bill Williams gave boxing a decent nudge during his career as an All Black and NRL superstar, fighting a string of pretenders before winning the WBA International heavyweight title from Francois Botha in controversial circumstances in 2013. SBW’s recent return to the ring and brutal defeat of Barry Hall in March leaves him with a 9-0 pro record.

A dream showdown with former NRL rival Paul Gallen appears destined to remain unfulfilled, but Gallen has overcome early derision to win the respect of the boxing fraternity in a 17-fight career.

Cronulla great ‘Gal’ beat fellow league players such as Anthony Watts, Bodene Thompson, Junior Paulo and Hopoate early in his career, but after hanging up the footy boots he began to take on more credible opponents, beating MMA icon Mark Hunt and former Australian heavyweight champ Lucas Browne, and showing plenty of heart and ability in losses to highly-rated Justis Huni and Kris Terzievski.

Daniel Vidot has taken a unique path after scoring 55 tries in 114 NRL games as a wing powerhouse for Canberra, St George Illawarra, Brisbane and Gold Coast. Billed as Xyon Quinn, Vidot debuted in the WWE in 2020 and has been a popular performer on the NXT program.

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