One of the beauties of MMA is that it has allowed fighters who haven’t been phenomenal successes in a chosen combat sport or athletic field and allowed them a measure of success. Pat Barry went from a mediocre kickboxer who hit hard to being a potential Top 10 Heavyweight fighter based on his striking power alone. You could argue the same with Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic, who turned a respectable K-1 career into legendary MMA status. Mark Coleman, Dan Severn, Brock Lesnar and plenty of others have taken first rate amateur wrestling credentials and built better rounded games along the way. MMA has long been a refuge of guys without complete fighting games; it’s the exception and not the rule that fighters can’t be masters of all tools but can be proficient enough to use anything available.
Being deficient in one or two areas isn’t as much a deterrent as it could be. You can be a first rate striker without a strong ground game and succeed by using good takedown defense to keep the fight in your wheelhouse on the feet, for example, like Chuck Liddell did. Or you could use strong boxing and a good chin to set up takedowns for a devastating ground game like Chael Sonnen, Gray Maynard, Mark Munoz, Frankie Edgar and others. MMA encompasses such a wide variety of traditions that being competent in all areas is a must but being an expert in one or two can carry one to the top of the game. Anderson Silva may not possess strong takedowns, and would be eaten up in a freestyle wrestling match by any accomplished practicioner, but his ability to keep the fight standing and use his unequaled ability to strike mask this deficiency.
Which is why this week two stories seemingly stood out: K-1 superstar Badr Hari retired from kickboxing in an attempt to transition to becoming a professional heavyweight boxer. Hari’s retirement from kickboxing was laced with all sorts of wonderful overtures about him becoming the next great boxer in the vein of Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson. Hari has always been a mercurial talent as a kickboxer, for lack of a better word, and his departure from the sport signals more about kickboxing’s future than it will for Hari. With Alistair Overeem leaving K-1 for a full time future in the UFC, and Tyrone Spong even considering a run in MMA, Hari’s defection is stunning but not overly unexpected.
Not to be outdone, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson also made overtures this week about wanting to leave MMA and go into boxing once his contract with the UFC expires.
“I’m gonna try boxing because they’ve got to stand with you. If I get knocked out I don’t care because at least it’s a fight,” Rampage told ESPN UK. “I’ve tried a lot of boxing, I’m falling in love with boxing and I know I can put butts on seats over there.”
There’s one problem with both their plans: neither Rampage nor Hari has had the years of training and experience to make it a high level in that particular sport.
One of the things that separates the top tier of MMA and the top tier of boxing is that boxers have spent significantly longer honing their singular craft than MMA fighters have honing all of their skills. It’s the difference between being a carpenter who is good at all areas of constructing a house and a carpenter who is excellent at building staircases; if one is building a house you’d ask for the former and if one needs a stairway put in you’d call the latter. And that’s what Jackson and Hari are both doing; going into a sport without the one particular skill-set needed to achieve the same level of status
That’s the thing; Jackson has good boxing for MMA but in terms of his ability to become a pro boxer one can take him about as seriously as you take Kimbo Slice and Butterbean. He’s worked to develop his hands over the past couple years but he would be fighting guys who have spent a decade plus of doing nothing but working their boxing skills. Jackson doesn’t stand out in a cage as a poor boxer because of MMA’s relatively lower level of boxing skills. It’s notable when a fighter is using good boxing technique because you see plenty of bad so often that mediocre sometimes feels like an accomplishment. Jackson jumping to boxing is equivalent to James Toney trying to step into a cage; he’d be exposed in short time by anyone with a lot of talent and perhaps humiliated as badly as Toney was against Randy Couture. It’ll happen to Kimbo again in a boxing ring and expect it to happen to Quinton Jackson, too; Jackson’s legendary punching power will also be blunted a bit with the bigger, thicker boxing gloves.
Hari isn’t in nearly as bad of a situation, as he has years of kickboxing and the transition is a lot easier than from MMA, but he’s on the other side of 25. He’s a much bigger fan of boxing than he ever was of K-1 or MMA, admittedly, but his weakness in defense as a kickboxer will be much more exposed as a boxer. Hari won’t have his amazing repertoire of leg kicks to pull from to bail himself out in a boxing match. He’ll have a lot of experience as a boxer to acquire the hard way against guys who have been doing it since they were teenagers. There are enough similarities that his transition will be significantly easier than Jackson’s but there are enough differences to make it difficult. Vitali Klitschko made the transition from world-class kickboxer to one of the great heavyweight boxers of his time, so it’s not impossible, but it won’t be easy.
In the long run, you can reasonably expect both Badr Hari and Quinton Jackson to quickly move back to their respective sports after any sort of brief flirtation with boxing (if Jackson even does so at all). It’s not the career panacea both seem to think it’ll be; it’ll just expose their deficiencies in that arena quicker than in their own respective sports.