Over the last few years, there have been various callouts by MMA fighters and boxers for crossover fights. Someone calls the other out to go outside their sport to put their money where their mouth is. In the rare cases when it actually happens, it can be a one-sided beatdown.
There are exceptions to this. Fighters like Clay Collard, Amanda Serrano, Holly Holm, and Fabio Maldonado successfully transitioned between MMA and boxing. Conor McGregor tried against Floyd Mayweather when the two-division UFC champion entered a boxing ring. Though it was a success money-wise, the Irishman didn’t come close to taking down the Hall of Famer. The same goes for Ben Askren, Tyron Woodley, Nate Diaz, and Anderson Silva, who failed to beat YouTuber-turned-boxer Jake Paul.
Can former UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou break through the norm of failed MMA stars in boxing when he takes on WBC heavyweight champ Tyson Fury in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on October 28? The 10-round fight airs on ESPN+ PPV in the U.S.
Punching power is an important factor in combat sports. So, which is harder, a boxing punch or an MMA punch?
WATCH: Sign up for Tyson Fury vs. Francis Ngannou live, exclusively on ESPN+
Some believe there are huge differences. However, some can see similarities between the two.
“Striking is the same in boxing and MMA,” said MMA and boxing coach Ray Velez in an interview with Boxing Insider.“ There are four punches in boxing. You have the jab, cross, hook, and uppercut. Some people will tell you there is 21 punches, but that just is not true. A hook is a hook, no matter if it’s to the body or the head. It’s the same kind of punch. When I teach people how to strike, whether it’s in a boxing gym or MMA cage, I teach them the same fundamentals.
“Boxers will always have the upper hand striking because they are more accustomed to it. They just need to understand that and play to their strengths. With boxing, they have more time to focus on striking because that is all that is allowed when they fight. With MMA, since they focus on everything, they don’t have as much time when compared to a boxer in terms of learning the intricacies of everything.”
Ngannou has won 12 MMA fights via knockout, with each blow from the Cameroonian providing significant damage. “The Predator” began training in boxing at 22, but transitioned to MMA while in Paris. He faces someone in Fury who has won 33 fights, 24 via the power punch. Fury’s defense is remarkable, and his punching power is perhaps underrated.
Does that give Fury the edge? Strike output advantage goes to boxers, while an MMA fighter is required to learn a variety of different disciplines. Equipment could also be a factor, with MMA gloves holding less weight than a boxing glove. All factors can be explained by a two-sport athlete.
MORE: Fury’s to blame for lackluster heavyweight boxing schedule
“The range (of a fighter) is different,” Clay Collard, an MMA fighter and boxer currently in the PFL, told The Sporting News. “The gloves are different. The style of punches you can get away with in mixed martial arts because there’s wrestling, clinching, holding, and grabbing. In boxing, you can’t do none of that. I think the distance is a big thing because you got kicks you gotta watch out for. You can get away with it a little more in MMA, as far as where you’re punching from and the angles you’re punching from. You get into a bad position in MMA, you can shoot a takedown. You get into a bad position in boxing, all you gotta do is back up. You back up at the wrong time, you get dropped.
“Francis has the power to knock any man on the planet out. He’s gotta land that shot, though. I think that’s where he’s going to have the problem with fighting a guy like Fury. [Fury’s] been boxing as long as he has and is as good as he is. His slipping, head movement in not letting anyone hit that big shot. I think he’s going to beat him [Ngannou] up, and not really get hit with a whole lot.”
There have been several crossover bouts that have drawn interest. Legendary pro wrestler Antonio Inoki and then-heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali fought in an exhibition that was the precursor to MMA. Inoki kicked at Ali’s legs, while “The Greatest” used punches to his advantage. The bout became a disappointment and ended in a draw.
WATCH: Tyson Fury vs. Francis Ngannou, exclusively live on DAZN
Women boxers like Serrano, Heather Hardy, and Claressa Shields have competed in both disciplines. On one of the rare occasions when a male boxer transitioned to MMA, the former three-weight world champ James Toney took on former UFC heavyweight and light heavyweight champion Randy Couture in 2010. Couture bombarded Toney with shots on the ground and ended the fight via a quick first-round submission.
“[Toney] had to have known I wasn’t going to play around with him and test his boxing skills… I told him from day one, ‘No, I’m not going to box you.’ I have no illusions about my ability as a boxer,” Couture told SN. “I learned and became proficient in boxing to be able to make people have to wrestle. That was my sole goal. I wasn’t trying to change sports, to leap into boxing, certainly not at the highest level James did when he leaped into MMA.
“I think [Ngannou’s] got to be unorthodox and do things that mixed martial artists do in boxing to throw Tyson Fury off: switch leads, throw from the other side, switch back, and throw off of that. That’s going to confuse a boxer who is used to seeing things by the number come at them from a very particular place. The more unorthodox I think we get Francis to be, the more chance he has to use that athleticism and horsepower he has and get a shot at winning that fight.
Toney had a different take on the fight.
“We don’t know if [Ngannou] could take a real punch from a real fighter,” said the Hall of Famer. “MMA punches are different. In boxing, we turn our punches over. MMA is kind of a slap. It should be a good fight, but who knows… I think Tyson Fury wins by stoppage.”
MORE: Should Tyson Fury be stripped of the heavyweight title?
MMA fighters train for three to five rounds with each round lasting five minutes, whereas championship boxers train for 12 three-minute rounds. If the fight goes long (this bout is scheduled for 10 rounds), the stamina could play a factor.
Fight night is fast approaching and one of two questions is sure to be answered on October 28. Can Ngannou take Fury’s best punches? Can Fury take Ngannou’s best?