Usman, Ngannou would suffer major punishment in a boxing ring with Canelo, Fury

Despite their eagerness to step into the squared circle, both the Nigerian and Cameroonian mixed martial arts champions would probably be beaten quite easily.

Kamaru Usman & Francis Ngannnou

Increasingly, the idea of crossover fights between boxing and MMA is one that has come into the mainstream.

Its origins are, however, not recent.

Muhammad Ali’s 1976 exhibition against professional wrestler Antonio Inoki is considered by many an early precursor, but perhaps the most high-profile cross-over of all came in 2017. Boxing great and multiple weight world champion Floyd Mayweather Jr came out of retirement to fight the then UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) lightweight champion Conor McGregor in a bout billed rather tastelessly as ‘The Money Fight’ in Nevada.

That event drew what is considered the second-biggest pay-per-view buy rate in history for a sporting event, and even though the bout itself was uneventful, it nevertheless opened the door for future cross-overs.

To no one’s great surprise, Mayweather claimed victory via technical knockout in the 10th round, but while that should have been that as far as putting a definitive seal of the prospects of MMA fighters inside the squared circle, there are some who hold the belief it is possible for mixed martial arts exponents to upset professional boxers in hand-to-hand combat.

Over the last six months, UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou has been involved in a back-and-forth with WBC heavyweight champion Tyson Fury over a potential showdown, while more recently overtures have been made by UFC welterweight Kamaru Usman toward pound-for-pound darling and undisputed super middleweight champion Canelo Alvarez.

McGregor’s subsequent demystification has no doubt fuelled this to some degree, but really too many are failing to factor in the relevant context.

There is no doubt that, as far as combat goes, boxing is significantly more limited than MMA. Boxers can only use their hands, while mixed martial artists incorporate a mix of various techniques and can use every part of the body to inflict damage.

In a fight without rules, or even in one with the rules of MMA in play, boxers would lose almost assuredly.

However, inside the boxing ring, the same applies in the opposite direction.

In the first place, MMA fighters suffer simply from being generalists. Wrestling and Brazilian jiu-jitsu are conveniently the dominant fighting styles, with boxing treated almost as an add-on. As such, their knowledge of such things as such fundamental concepts as foot positioning, fighting in the pocket, defensive techniques and combination punching is nowhere near as developed as the average boxer’s.

This would lead to a mixed martial artist being dominated, especially in the mid-to-late rounds.

There is also the fact that boxers typically fight with heavier gloves that deliver considerably more damage than MMA gloves, which typically weigh about eight ounces less. While boxers are used to taking that added impact, mixed martial artists are not. Magnifying that divergence is the fact that boxing referees are generally laxer and less keen to jump in quickly once the punishment starts being meted out than their counterparts inside the octagon.

If we know this, then surely MMA fighters must know it too. For all his big talk, Usman cannot seriously believe he stands a chance of beating Canelo in a boxing contest. Also, while Ngannou would not be completely hapless on account of his boxing background, Fury would make quite easy work of him.

The motivation is almost certainly monetary: at the top end of their respective sports, boxers are paid much better than mixed martial artists and fight a lot less frequently. However, while the Mayweather-McGregor fight raked in record numbers and revenues, it is hardly prescriptive: for all his lip, Fury has not glimpsed the popularity of ‘Money’ in his prime, and Canelo’s star power, while strong, is not quite as global and so is unlikely to cross over properly.

Usman and Ngannou would be taking on a tremendous amount of risk, and it could go very badly for them, especially considering a ‘tough guy’ image is arguably more valuable in MMA than it is in boxing.

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