Walker: The Foolishness of Crossover Talk

By Anthony Walker Mar 14, 2018


Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed below are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Sherdog.com, its affiliates and sponsors or its parent company, Evolve Media.

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Former IBF super featherweight champion Gervonta Davis whipped the fight world into a frenzy a few days ago when he took to Twitter to announce his desire to compete in mixed martial arts. Some of the best and brightest members of the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s lighter weight classes took the bait and volunteered themselves as tribute. It was not an unusual occurrence.

Floyd Mayweather Jr. weeks ago had social media and the sports-talk-show circuit going crazy after a brief video featuring the retired undefeated boxing great stepping in a cage shirtless and barefoot made its way on his Instagram. Notable fighters were asked what they thought about “Money” Mayweather attempting to continue his winning ways with a less-restrictive rule set. The usual talking head pundits managed to bring it up in one way or another. Of course, when absentee UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor gave Mayweather his 50th official win in the squared circle, the entire world tuned in and had more than enough to say about the fight and everything leading up to it. When boxing great James Toney and the legendary Randy Couture set their sights on each other at UFC 118, additional eyes and media coverage were devoted to whether or not the standup specialist would have any success against the wrestler. Tim Sylvia being knocked out by Ray Mercer is still a highly circulated gif. Just under two years ago, former Sherdog Executive Editor Josh Gross released a book about Muhammad Ali’s mixed rules bout against Antonio Inoki to critical acclaim. The elusive Roy Jones Jr.-Anderson Silva matchup remains a frequent talking point. Notice a pattern here? We seem to be hyper-focused on crossover combat events.

Why is this still an intriguing topic? Didn’t seeing Art Jimmerson use his one non-gloved hand to tap out to Royce Gracie at UFC 1 already answer the age-old debate about which martial arts discipline was most effective? In fact, wasn’t that the whole point of the UFC? Practitioners of a particular style meet practitioners of other styles to determine who has the most effective martial arts skills. The early UFC tournaments saw competitors from a wide range of the combative spectrum enter the Octagon. Of course, boxing, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, karate and wrestling were represented, but even more unusual or lesser known arts like ninjitsu, Krav Maga, Kapu Kuialua, savate and sumo had a fighter flying the flag in the early days. We learned a lot from those experiments. We learned that equal parts laughable and repulsive Joe Son Do was a complete sham and that no singular style had a stronghold on victory. As the game progressed, cross-training became the order of the day. The submissions associated with jiu-jitsu were useless if you did not have the wrestling skills to take down someone; and if you couldn’t get the fight to the ground, your standup ability had better be good enough to at the very least hang in there. Mixed martial arts became its own style.

Every high-level crossover attempt since has only reaffirmed this. Toney was the victim of a low single-leg and poorly defended Couture’s very simple ground attacks until ultimately waving instead of tapping out; Sylvia made the terrible strategic decision to engage the shorter heavy-handed boxer at close range and paid for that mistake; and McGregor learned the hard way that being a highly skilled striker in MMA doesn’t guarantee success against a boxer in his world.

The only successful crossovers have been at lower levels of competition. Silva and Nick Diaz are among the many world-class MMA fighters who have at least one professional boxing win on their record. Many others have found themselves victorious as amateur boxers, as the UFC has seen fighters like Stephan Bonnar and Brendan Schaub find their way to MMA after winning Golden Gloves titles.

Of course, the greatest crossover example would be Holly Holm, as she earned world titles in both sports. However, it’s hard to classify her as a pure boxer competing in MMA. She competed as a kickboxer before entering a cage, and her defining moment in the sport was a head kick knockout. She had years to adapt her style of boxing and make it useful with the different ranges of combat that are part of MMA. This would make her a … mixed martial artist.

Time and time again, we keep asking questions that have already been answered. Boxers are better boxers than MMA fighters. MMA fighters are better MMA fighters than boxers. It’s that simple. Whenever the lines are blurred at the highest levels, rest assured either mistakes were made or ample training and time to adapt took place before any hands were raised in victory. In all likelihood, “Tank” Davis would be cannon fodder for Jimmie Rivera, Cub Swanson or any other ranked MMA fighter that graciously accepted his broad challenge on Twitter. Save for a Sylvia-esque lapse in judgment, the outcome is all but certain. With that said, we’ll all still watch if it ever happens. Just like we did in the now infamous Money Fight. Just like we will if Stipe Miocic gets his wish to take on Anthony Joshua. However, let’s not bet the farm that it will ever happen.

It’s not a coincidence that Davis is a Mayweather protege and a member of his promotional roster. By now, we should realize that any of this talk is designed merely to get our attention. In the real world, Davis is occupied with his upcoming bout with Jesus Cuellar for the vacant WBA superweight title and needs us to pay attention to him. Nothing against the promotional tactics, but let’s recognize it for what it is.

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