Undefeated professional boxer Tyson Fury, frustrated by his inability to secure a title fight with heavyweight boxing champion Wladimir Klitschko, took to Twitter recently to call out another heavyweight champion: Cain Velasquez, who recently won the UFC title by dominating Junior Dos Santos for five brutal rounds. The only problem? Velasquez competes in mixed martial arts (MMA), while Fury is a pure boxer.
Fury is 20-0 in the ring, and has won four of his last five fights by knockout, but is it possible for that kind of success to translate into the UFC octagon, which allows strikes from not only the hands, but also the feet, knees, and elbows–not to mention take downs and submission holds? UFC 1 was designed to answer the question of how practitioners of various combat styles would fare against those from other disciplines. The event took place on November 12, 1993 in Denver, Colorado and was broadcast on pay per view. UFC 1 featured an eight-man tournament with fighters representing various disciplines.
Boxing was represented by Art Jimmerson, a 196 pound fighter with a professional record of 29-5. Jimmerson faced 176 pound Royce Gracie in the first round, and was promptly taken down and forced to tap out to a submission hold two minutes into the fight. Gracie went on to make short work of his other opponents as well, easily winning UFC 1 and introducing the world to the effectiveness of Brazillian Jiu Jitsu.
Due to the fact that Jimmerson was hardly a household name, however, many people still believed that a top level boxer would defeat a mixed martial artist in the Octagon. A few verbal jabs were sent back and forth between the two sports over the years, but–largely because UFC salaries were not nearly as high as those in boxing–fans had to wait many years before seeing a big name boxer compete in the UFC.
In 2010 the wait finally came to an end when James Toney entered the Octagon against UFC hall of famer Randy Couture. Toney entered the fight with a professional boxing record of 72-6-3, having won multiple championships and spent time in the ring with such notable boxers as Roy Jones, Jr. and Evander Holyfield–even defeating the latter. Of course, Toney was also 42 years old at the time, but his opponent was even older, at 47. Couture promptly took Toney down and submitted him three minutes into the fight, without Toney landing a single punch. This highlighted the problem with boxers trying to compete in MMA, and fans often point to this as evidence that no pure boxer could be successful in the UFC.
But many people forget, or do not know, that another famous boxer has also tried his hand at MMA. Famed boxer Ray Mercer competed in two MMA matches, but because they occurred in smaller promotions, rather than in the UFC, they did not draw the same kind of attention as Toney’s fight with Couture. In 2007, Ray Mercer climbed into the cage with Kimbo Slice, a heavily marketed YouTube sensation who never lived up to the hype and had zero wins against top level MMA opponents. Despite this, Slice made short work of Mercer, submitting him in just over a minute. Mercer redeemed himself somewhat in 2009 by taking on former UFC champion Tim Sylvia and knocking him out in just nine seconds.
And that last fight highlights the important fact that MMA fans often discount: that a skilled boxer always has a puncher’s chance, because with the lightweight gloves worn in MMA, a one punch knockout is always a possibility for a powerful striker. And that brings us back to the potential fight between Fury and Velasquez. Would Fury have any chance at all against Velasquez in the UFC Octagon? History shows that if the two of them fought ten times, there is little doubt that Velasquez would completely dominate at least nine of those fights. But history also shows that Fury would have a puncher’s chance of winning on any given night.
So as much as MMA fans would love to see this fight happen, it would be foolish of the UFC to allow their champion to go up against a boxer who–although likely to get destroyed–would have a (very tiny) chance of catching Velasquez with a knockout punch and defeating him, only to walk away without ever competing in the UFC again. A much better idea would be to try to match Fury up against another top heavyweight with good grappling, such as Daniel Cormier or Fabricio Werdum. Either one of those fighters would mostly likely completely crush the brash boxer without risking the embarrassment of having the UFC champion be caught with one lucky punch that leaves him knocked out. A puncher’s chance may be small, but it is too big a risk for the UFC to take with their champion.