The Great Divide: Should MMA welcome boxing superstars Floyd Mayweather and Tyson Fury with open arms?

The Great Divide is a recurring feature here at MMA Fighting in which two of our staff debate a topic in the world of MMA — whether it’s news, a fight, a crazy thing somebody did, a crazy thing somebody didn’t do, or some moral dilemma threatening the very foundation of the sport — and try to figure out a resolution. We’d love for you to join in the discussion in the comments below.

Once Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather broke down the barrier between the boxing and MMA worlds, it was inevitable that other fighters would try to get a piece of that highly lucrative pie. And it’s not just one-way traffic. Superstars like Mayweather and Tyson Fury have teased a move to the cage and since this discussion does not seem to be dying down anytime soon, Alexander K. Lee and Mike Chiappetta have decided to dive headfirst into it.

Should these pugilistic princes stay in their lanes or is it time for them to follow in the footsteps of the great James Toney and see what this whole MMA thing is really all about?

ROLL OUT THE WELCOME MAT

Lee: There was a time when this whole mixed martial arts experiment was about proving which—stay with me now—martial art was the best. Who could forget the first UFC poster?

SUMO VS. KICKBOXING VS. KARATE VS. JIU-JITSU VS. DRUNKEN BOXING VS. KRAV MAGA VS. HIP-HOP AIKIDO VS. BREAKDANCE FIGHTING

Now MMA has become so much more than the sum its parts and from a competitive standpoint is far superior to the days when Art “One Glove” Jimmerson was tapping out to Royce Gracie simply because he had no idea how to get the submission specialist off of him. Fighters are more well-rounded now and the world is better for it.

But isn’t it also less fun?

Wouldn’t it be cool if you still had special attraction matches in the vein of, say, boxing vs. MMA? And wouldn’t it be even cooler if the very, very, very biggest names in the boxing world were willing to gamble with their reputations and step into the cage? Because that’s what we’re talking about when we’re looking at Floyd Mayweather and Tyson Fury possibly strapping on the 4-ounce gloves.

Look, I know that this is a lot of talk, especially when it comes to Mayweather, who can’t go two months without seeing his name in the headlines. Even with his limitless confidence, he has to know that the chances of succeeding at the highest levels of MMA would be near impossible given that he turns 43 in February. But would anyone really object to putting together a rematch between him and Conor McGregor inside the Octagon?

A lot of fans are tired of McGregor’s schtick, so let the real lightweight elites like Khabib Nurmagomedov, Tony Ferguson, Justin Gaethje, and Dustin Poirier fight it out for the championship while Mayweather and McGregor continue their blockbuster sideshow act. These two deserve each other.

As for Fury, not only is he training with Darren Till and saying all the right things when it comes to dipping his toes into the shark-infested (the sharks being both the fighters and the fans, by the way) MMA waters, he’s a more believable threat to actually succeed than Mayweather. He’d be competing at heavyweight, the most unpredictable division of them all. This doesn’t have to be a James Toney situation.

Toney was almost 42 when he fought Randy Couture at UFC 118 and brought in specifically so that Dana White could use him as an example to deter boxers from thinking they can waltz into his organization all willy-nilly. White wrote Toney a six-figure check, watched as Couture embarrassed him on the ground as expected, and nothing more was said of the matter. If Fury is serious about MMA, I guarantee White will treat him a lot better. He tends to be that way with folks who make him money.

You can never have enough stars in MMA and make no mistake, Mayweather and Fury would bring a ton of eyeballs to the product. That might not matter to everyone, but anything that draws in new viewers and gives them a chance to get hooked on some of the UFC’s actual contenders can’t be a bad thing. And imagine the rub someone like Stipe Miocic or Francis Ngannou would get from standing and striking with a Tyson Fury. It’s a no-lose situation.

Part of the appeal of McGregor’s boxing match with Mayweather—beyond the sheer absurdity and spectacle of it all—was that sliver of doubt that McGregor could pull off the impossible and be the first fighter to hand Mayweather a loss. Any reasonable human being knew it wasn’t going to happen… but what if? The same principle applies to these boxers crossing over from the other side. Surely, Mayweather can’t beat McGregor in an MMA fight.

But what if?

We lose nothing from finding out and so I’m not only arguing that fans and media should welcome Mayweather and Fury if they make the jump, I’m arguing that we should be encouraging them to do so. Look, one of the most appealing aspects of MMA has always been that pretty much anyone with a modicum of athletic success or fame (ideally, a combination of the two) should be given the chance to compete. Kazushi Sakuraba! Kimbo Slice! Bob Sapp! Imagine what would have been lost if those men were denied their opportunity to shine.

Then imagine what we stand to gain by allowing this current generation of attention-seeking, money-grubbing interlopers to put it all on the line for the chance to get head-kicked or submitted with a half-assed guillotine choke in front of millions. I know I’ll be watching, possibly with a tear in my eye at the purity of it all.

SLAM THE DOOR SHUT

Chiappetta: What are we even doing with ourselves right now, Alexander K. Lee? Is this even truly a debate? Does anyone seriously think that Mayweather and/or Fury, after the piles of money they’ve made in boxing, will be able to summon the fire to start over in a new sport and reinvent themselves as mixed martial artists? And assuming we passed that hurdle, that the UFC would give in to their steep financial demands?

These are the two questions at the heart of this whole scenario, and I don’t see any way to wiggle, squirm or weave our way to yes on either of them. Literally none. Mayweather has made over $1 billion in career earnings and has been his own boss for years. There is no way he’d fit into the UFC’s pay structure, so unless the company chose to lend out one of their top fighters for a Mayweather Promotions MMA fight (similar to what they did with Conor McGregor in his Mayweather boxing match), that’s a non-starter. But even that seems a fantasy. If Mayweather wants to make another small fortune, he can simply un-retire from boxing and do that with a fight against, say, Manny Pacquiao. He may be famously diligent in his work ethic when it comes to boxing, but the incentive to start anew just isn’t there to labor through three training sessions a day of wrestling, jiu-jitsu, Muay Thai, etc.

Fury hasn’t earned as much as Mayweather, but he’s still raking in the cash, having signed a multi-year deal with ESPN in 2019 reportedly worth upwards of $100 million. With that kind of money guaranteed, why would Fury risk it for a fraction of the price, and with so much to learn. Sure, unlike Mayweather, Fury has actually been seen training in a cage recently, but even that observation needs proper context. As he recently told TalkSport, “To be honest with you, I’ve got bigger fish to fry than going in an Octagon at the moment and fighting some UFC fighters for peanuts. I’m fighting the biggest fights in the world. World boxing is the biggest fights.”

And there it is in a nutshell. These fighters correctly view MMA as a downward step for them. Not that it’s that way for everyone, but it certainly is for two truly established boxing superstars. They aren’t serious about coming to MMA. Instead, they are using the sport to inflate their brands and draw crossover interest for when they return to doing what they do best.

That’s why we should ignore them when they suggest they’re going to do this.

Even if Fury believes what he’s saying in the moment, that he may try MMA as he finishes his boxing career, what exactly will MMA be getting out of aging boxers crossing over? We’ve seen that story before. As you mentioned, we watched Toney give it a go at the tail end of his soon-to-be Hall of Fame boxing career, but aside from some hilarious promotional moments, his performance would be completely forgettable if it wasn’t so embarrassing.

Here’s the deal: what we are saying when we entertain these fantasies is that our sport is not good enough by itself; that it needs smoke and mirrors to generate maximum interest. Sure, MMA was born by crossing styles, but the last 26 years has mostly trumpeted the evolution of combat sports, and a reversion to those early days would be a repudiation of its entire history.

Look, your point is taken that MMA is supposed to be fun. It’s fun to think about the spectacles created by Toney, Slice and Sapp. (Although I’ll raise you the horror shows of Jose Canseco, Johnnie Morton and CM Punk.) It’s fun to wildly speculate about future possibilities, no matter how remote they may be. If we’re going buck wild, we can speculate who’ll be the first fighter to compete on the moon or to hold the UFC and Bellator titles simultaneously. If you’re a dreamer, I’m not here to burst your bubble. I’m here for everyone else who is just trying to parse the signal from the noise.

Floyd Mayweather isn’t coming to the UFC anytime soon. Tyson Fury isn’t coming to the UFC anytime soon. No one making a 10-figure paycheck in boxing is coming to the UFC anytime soon. They are saying things to keep their names in the news cycle, and too many people are playing along.

The harm in these daydreams is minimal. It’s just a bit of escapism, often during lulls in the fight calendar. But just remember, the only business Mayweather and Fury are propping up when they discuss MMA is their own.

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