MMA Fighters & Boxing Counterparts: Part 1


By Jason Probst Oct 8, 2008
While mixed martial arts and boxing differ in many ways, common themes resonate with fighters in both sports. In this three-part series,’s Jason Probst takes a closer look at some of MMA’s athletes and those in the Sweet Science with whom they share notable traits.

Wanderlei Silva = Sonny Liston

Liston’s pair of one-round blowouts over Floyd Patterson cemented his reputation as a stone-cold killer, but his best years were spent chasing Patterson for a title shot in the late 1950s; he did not get a crack at Patterson until 1962.

In that time frame, Liston was a terrifying force, destroying virtually every top contender. Difficult to discourage and blessed with murderous power, Liston had an aura of intimidation when he stepped in the ring. It was not until a young loudmouth named Cassius Clay caught up with him in 1964 -- when Liston may have been several years older than his listed age of 32 -- that he seemed human.

And that’s too bad, because at his peak a few years earlier, Liston was a much better fighter. The public largely remembered him for quitting against Ali on his stool in the first bout and then losing via bizarre first-round knockout against him in their 1965 rematch.

Silva still has plenty of fights left in him and got a much-needed UFC win in a one-round stoppage of Keith Jardine last May. Looking back at his impressive years in Pride, his best years may be behind him, fought on a much smaller stage. Today’s light heavyweight crop offers plenty of big fights for “The Axe Murderer,” and he’ll need to string a few big wins together to regain the aura he once exuded. At his peak, he was probably the most intimidating fighter in the sport, with every bit the killer instinct Liston had.

Urijah Faber = Michael Carbajal

When Carbajal won the silver medal at the 1988 Summer Olympics, it was assumed his professional career as a junior flyweight would be like most guys under bantamweight -- lost to the public eye. Flyweights simply were not televised. But with Carbajal’s go-for-broke style, promoter Bob Arum was able to build him into a big-money attraction, culminating in the first of his three fights with Mexican 108-pounder Humberto Gonzalez. Both made $1 million. As the legendary boxing axiom goes: “Put ’em in the ring together, and they’ll both look like giants.”

Faber’s story has followed a similar script. Just a couple years ago, before World Extreme Cagefighting became a staple on the Versus network, anything below 155 pounds in MMA barely existed outside of Web-based fight reports or someone fortunate enough to get Pride “Bushido” feeds from their cable provider. Like Carbajal, Faber is hard-charging and prone to making mistakes, only to explode back in retaliation. He’s perfect for television and sports a trademark haircut with his flop-top California ’do. Carbajal was his stylistic match here, as well, rocking the Mexi-Mullet/ponytail combo.

Another weird similarity is that Carbajal never mixed it up with Ricardo Lopez, who retired at 51-0-1 with a stunning 23 title defenses under his belt. Lopez’s career ran parallel to Carbajal’s, but it was a dream match that sadly never materialized. Faber’s version of Lopez is the potent Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto, and a bout between them would clearly establish the world’s best 145-pounder.

Frank Shamrock = Evander Holyfield

Both became pioneers in their sport by breaking barriers and defining how fighters trained. Today, most world-class boxers employ a strength and conditioning regimen, along with weightlifting and flexibility exercises. But when Evander Holyfield started this strange series of routines after moving up to heavyweight in 1988, the old school crowd in the fight game sneered. That changed when Holyfield’s masterful conditioning and fine-honed physique made him heavyweight champion.

Shamrock pioneered the concept of cross-training in MMA. It seems ages ago, but in the early days of the sport, competitors were largely bound to a single-minded approach. Wrestlers wrestled, jiu-jitsu guys had limited, if-any, stand-up, and cross-training seemed an apostasy to those steeped in one discipline. Shamrock changed all that, emerging from scratch as the first mixed martial artist who could stand, wrestle and submit with equal efficiency. His legacy continues today, constantly upgraded and refined as fighters seek out the best ways to maximize each training day.
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