With crossovers between MMA fighters and boxers capturing attention, Sky Sports’ Ed Draper takes a look at whether stars from the different sports can meet in credible sporting contests – in the ring or the cage – through the prism of Katie Taylor’s mooted match against Cris ‘Cyborg.’
Cristiane Justino Venâncio aka ‘Cris Cyborg’ is preparing to defend her Bellator MMA featherweight world title. She has won world championships across four mixed martial arts championships, but at 35 years of age, is looking to add professional boxing to her CV – after her cage matchup with Arlene Blencowe on Thursday night.
“I like to have challenges. And I really want a boxing fight,” she told Sky Sports in the build-up to her upcoming Bellator contest.
“I really like boxing. I’ve tried wrestling, I’ve tried jiu jitsu, I’ve tried Muay Thai. Always when you compete in a separate sport like this, you learn a lot.”
She does not plan to enter boxing at the entry level though. Cyborg remains keen on two-weight world champion Katie Taylor.
“I love challenges. I’ve got Arlene Blencowe next in MMA, but if we can do the [Taylor] fight, it will be amazing.”
The reality is online attention in 2020 can be converted to sales and crossover matchups – both points proven when UFC star Conor McGregor and boxer Floyd Mayweather met in 2017.
But can elite MMA fighters and boxers realistically meet in a fair contest? They are both combat sports but are they similar enough to create a meaningful match?
MMA fighters would contend that boxing forms one part of their multi-faceted sport and Cyborg claims she has formidable elite-level sparring experience.
“Before I was doing lot of boxing sparring. I was sparring pro boxer Raquel Miller (10-0). I was thinking I was going to do boxing and then we were told it was MMA, so we went back to working on that.”
Cyborg also dismissed suggestions muscle memory may spur her into throwing a kick or shooting for a takedown in the pressure of big boxing match under the lights.
“For me it’s easy to separate. I really don’t have to think too much. When I’m boxing I’m focused on boxing and I don’t try to kick an opponent or anything.”
MMA expert, former elite referee and one of the sport’s rule-makers, ‘Big’ John McCarthy does not doubt Cyborg’s ability to focus on boxing, but questioned the realism of challenging Taylor.
“Katie Taylor is so good! Cris is no doubt one of the greatest female fighters of all time,” McCarthy told Sky Sports earlier in the year.
“She’s done the kick-boxing, she’s done the Muay Thai. She’s talked about boxing and if that’s what she wants to do I’m 100 per cent behind her.
“For Cris though to step into the realm of fighting a Katie Taylor…mmm… that’s like a Conor McGregor taking on a Floyd Mayweather. That’s usually not going to go good for you. The same as if Katie Taylor tried to step into a MMA cage, that’s not going to go good for her against a Cris Cyborg,” McCarthy added with a slight wince.
For firsthand insight, Cyborg could do worse than consult her upcoming cage opponent. Blencowe boxed and won versions of world titles before switching to MMA where she has amassed a 13-7 record en route to earning her shot at Cyborg’s title.
Someone who is living the transition regularly is Brooklyn’s Heather Hardy. She is a former featherweight WBO champion in boxing and has a 2-2 record in MMA.
Hardy currently takes whatever is offered to her first – be it a boxing match or an MMA contest, but does not necessarily recommend the alternation.
“It’s so hard,” she told Sky Sports in the summer. “And it’s the boring stuff. Your MMA stance is totally different to the boxing stance. The movement. Not being able to bounce off the ropes. You have fun over there in the boxing.
“In MMA your back hits the cage and you’re like, ‘I gotta out of here.”
Hardy also revealed if a fighter switches from their specialty to a new discipline they have to accept they no longer get to dictate.
“I notice that in boxing, I’m in charge,” she continued. “We fight when I want to fight. In MMA, it’s like ‘call 9-1-1, a dog is chasing me!’
“It’s really hard from going from MMA to boxing. You’re not conditioned to punch that much. Then in MMA, you could have all these fancy plans about doing some boxing, but then you get your legs kicked out.
Another nagging practical obstacle to a Taylor-Cyborg clash, in particular, is the issue of weight. Is there a fair limit for them to meet at or are they fundamentally different sized humans?
Cyborg is Bellator champion at 145 pounds. Taylor has won a world title at 140 pounds in boxing (super lightweight). But Taylor said 140 pounds (10 stone) was her ‘walking around weight’ while the Brazilian woman says fighting at 145 requires a significant weight cut on her part.
“I walk around at 170 [pounds] and fight at 145. I guess in boxing it would be 147 [welterweight] but I don’t know. She’s calling me out, she’ll have to pick a weight,” Cyborg reflected.
Taylor is three inches shorter than Cyborg and has a three-inch shorter reach to underscore the sense that their paths would never naturally cross in combat. Indeed, Cyborg’s boxing sparring partner, Raquel Miller is undefeated at 154 pounds (super welter or light middle).
Still maybe the size differential will offset Cyborg’s experience deficit if money talks and the boxing match with Taylor materialises.
A murmured return fight in the cage seems very unlikely though, given Cyborg’s prowess on the ground and Taylor’s inexperience in that type of combat.
Former cruiserweight world champion boxer Tony Bellew is a longtime MMA fan and had experience of kickboxing, which led to him considering a move into the UFC late in his career. He told Sky Sports, a boxer entering the cage has to be very deliberate about the type of opponent they choose.
“Anybody who wants to stand up and have a boxing match in a cage, with me, it would end pretty quickly. But if you have jiu jitsu or wrestling involved, I would think the boxer would be found out. It’s fascinating MMA, it has so many disciplines on show,” Bellew said.
Time will tell if Taylor-Cyborg comes to pass and whether it is a credible contest. Right now Cyborg has work to do and has adopted the challenger mindset for her defence in the early hours of Friday morning, which is live on Sky Sports.
“I always fight as a contender not as a champion. I think there’ll be lots of ways for me to finish the fight. Be it grappling or striking. But she’s a tough girl,” Cyborg said.
Watch Cris Cyborg defend her featherweight title against Arlene Blencowe in the main event as Bellator 249 live on Sky Sports Mix from 2am UK time in the early hours of Friday morning.