Frank Gore, the third-leading rusher in NFL history, set to box retired NBA All-Star Deron Williams

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Frank Gore is making the rare transition from a collision sport to a combat sport, and at 38 he said he’d be open to something even rarer, if not unprecedented.

As an NFL running back, he amassed 16,000 rushing yards, third most in league history. On Saturday night, he will make his professional boxing debut against retired NBA player Deron Williams, 37, on the undercard of the Jake Paul-Tyron Woodley fight in Tampa, Florida.

Gore also said he would be open to joining an NFL team and playing for the remainder of the 2021 season.

“If the situation’s right, playoff team, Super Bowl team, I’m definitely in,’’ Gore told USA TODAY Sports.

Frank Gore last played in the NFL in the 2020 season with the New York Jets.
Frank Gore last played in the NFL in the 2020 season with the New York Jets.

Gore played 16 seasons in the NFL, and this is the first year since 2004 he has been strictly watching games rather than playing in them. The New York Jets released Gore after the 2020 season.

While preparing for his scheduled four-round bout against Williams, Gore said, three NFL teams that he declined to name expressed interest in adding him to their roster this season. He said he turned down the offers because first he wants to test his skills in the boxing ring.

“Win, lose or draw, this is what I wanted to do,’’ he said.

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NFL players boxing professionally has been done before — among them Marcus Gastineau, a five-time Pro Bowl defensive end with the Net York Jets in the 1980s, and Alonzo Highsmith, a running back who played for three teams between 1987 and 1992.

A return to football isn’t unprecedented either. Ed “Too Tall” Jones, the former defensive end for the Dallas Cowboys, skipped the 1979 NFL season and went 6-0 in professional bouts as a heavyweight boxer. He returned to the Cowboys in 1980 and played 10 more seasons.

But Gore said his training would allow him to box and, depending on how he fares Saturday night, jump back into the NFL immediately because of his training.

“I still do my football workouts, like agilities and stuff,’’ he said. “Stay ready.’’

Frank Gore, left, works out at the Seminole Hard Rock Tampa pool prior to his against Deron William on Saturday night.
Frank Gore, left, works out at the Seminole Hard Rock Tampa pool prior to his against Deron William on Saturday night.

His primary boxing trainer is Javiel Centeno, whose stable includes Australian lightweight George Kambosos Jr., who last month upset reigning world champion Teofimo Lopez by split decision.

Centeno said Gore’s attributes as a running back serve him well as a fast-developing boxer.

“That same tenacity and that same aggressive, just that confidence he has on the field he brings it to the ring,’’ Centeno said. “And just technically he’s very sharp with all the basics.

“He’s got a lot of power and he knows how to generate power with his legs. I’ve just continued to work that, getting those fundamentals down and make sure his basics are sound. And he’s been coming along well.’’

For several years, Gore said, he has used boxing to help prepare for NFL training camps and grew increasingly interested in the sport. Gore said he was intrigued by celebrity fights involving other former professional athletes and hired fight agent Malki Kawa, who represented Woodley in securing the first fight with Paul.

Kawa secured Gore the opportunity to fight Williams, who was the No. 3 overall pick of the 2005 NBA draft and a three-time All-Star before his career ended in 2017.

Williams, who will be making his debut as a pro boxer, said he has trained in MMA “and a lot of that has been boxing.’’ At 6-3, he will have a six-inch height advantage over Gore, 5-9. But Gore withstood more than his share of hits on the football field.

“The man is tough, there’s no doubt about that,’’ Williams told reporters. “Anyone who can take that many snaps in the NFL has to be tough. It’s a good challenge for me and something that I can check off the bucket list.

“Most people are behind me. I’ve had some people say, ‘You’re fighting Frank Gore. What are you doing?’ But that’s OK. There are a lot of unknowns in this game, so it makes it exciting.’’

Deron William, left, works out at the Seminole Hard Rock Tampa pool prior to his fight against Frank Gore on Saturday night.
Deron William, left, works out at the Seminole Hard Rock Tampa pool prior to his fight against Frank Gore on Saturday night.

Gore said his toughness already has been tested. His first sparring session came against Nikoloz Sekhniashvili, a European fighter known for his power.

“The first time I got in the ring with him, I was like what the (expletive) is this?’’ Gore said.

But the running back weathered the sparring storm.

“Frank got in there with him and took some shots,’’ said Centeno, Gore’s primary trainer, “and that gave me the idea that, look, if Frank has that chin, everything else will (be OK).’’

Gore made $63 million during his NFL career, according to spotrac. These days, he’s backed by Bovada, where he is in the second year as official sports adviser with the online gambling site.

“They’ve been very good to me,’’ he said. “They’ve been behind me on everything.’’

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Frank Gore: NFL RB making boxing debut vs. ex-NBA star Deron Williams