In 2006, I sat next to Dallas Cowboys running back Herschel Walker at an Ultimate Fighting Championship card in Las Vegas and listened as he spoke of his love for mixed martial arts.
Walker also spoke at length about how many football players trained in MMA and he said he was hopeful of organizing a competition between football players and MMA fighters.
As MMA becomes more of a mainstream sport, more quality athletes are going to choose to become fighters, including some of the caliber who now play in the NFL, NBA or Major League Baseball.
NBA star Shaquille O'Neal has been an avid MMA fan since long before the sport's current boom. "The Big Aristotle" would have been a formidable force had he become a fighter, but at around 320 pounds, his list of potential opponents would have been small.
No doubt, though, that O'Neal is athletic enough to have become a fighter. At a Muay Thai show in Las Vegas many years ago, O'Neal was sitting in the first row when photographers began to take pictures of him. He stood up and started throwing imaginary head kicks and he got so high with his foot, it seemed for a moment he might knock the lights from the ceiling.
So, for fun, I thought before I get to the reader questions and comments in this week's edition of the MMA mailbag that I would pick five star athletes in other sports, assess their chances if they had chosen to be MMA fighters and pick a dream match they could fight assuming they were completely trained.
LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers: Is there any reason to think that King James wouldn't dominate MMA the same way he dominates the NBA if he had begun training in the sport years ago? He's 6 feet, 8 inches and he's listed on NBA.com as weighing 250 pounds. More likely, he weighs about 275 or 280 (he refuses to disclose his weight), but is a phenomenally conditioned athlete. He'd have to cut to make the heavyweight limit of 265 pounds, but do you think there are many guys who would be eager to fight him?
He's exceedingly quick and athletic and has the explosive strength and power that would make him good on takedowns. Tim Sylvia's reach caused problems for many fighters and he isn't a 10th of the athlete that 'Bron is, so you could expect that his standup would be good, too.
The match people would want to see would be James against UFC heavyweight champ Brock Lesnar. Both are freak of nature-type athletes. That fight, though, might be the first time Lesnar met someone who was more than his physical match.
Tiger Woods, PGA Tour: Woods is clearly a strong and powerful man who would probably be a middleweight if he were to fight MMA. He has great hand-eye coordination and would undoubtedly be a hard and precise puncher.
Woods may also be the best athlete to have ever played golf and it's not a stretch to suggest he'd have been among the best athletes to have fought in MMA.
The fight I'd like to have seen Woods in would be one against Strikeforce slugger Scott Smith. We know Smith can take a shot – if you didn't before Saturday's Fight of the Year candidate with Benji Radach, you sure do now – but the question would be whether Woods would be able to stand in the face of Smith's heavy hands.
Hines Ward, Pittsburgh Steelers: Ward is the NFL's best blocking wide receiver by far and one of its most physical players. He would project in MMA as a powerful grappler who would revel in the toughest matches.
He would be an MMA light heavyweight. I'd love to see Ward in against the UFC's Chuck Liddell. Ward's phenomenal reflexes might make him elusive enough to avoid Liddell's heavy-handed strikes. Would he be able to be one of the few other than Randy Couture to consistently take Liddell down in a fight? That would be what he'd have to do in order to win.
Derek Jeter, New York Yankees: Undoubtedly, a lot of Red Sox fans wish Jeter had chosen MMA instead of baseball, but Jeter is a smart athlete who maximizes his abilities. In that way, he's a lot like UFC submission ace Dustin Hazelett, who doesn't intimidate anyone with his physical skills but knows how to maximize every asset he has. Jeter is too big to fight Hazelett, though, since he's listed at 195 pounds. I think he'd be able to cut to make 185, so the fight I'd like to see him in would be against Strikeforce champion Cung Le.
The interesting part of that equation would be how he'd deal with Le's punishing kicks. If there is an athlete in the world you'd count on being smart enough and athletic enough to come up with a plan to neutralize Le's kicks, it would be Jeter.
Georges Laraque, Montreal Canadiens: The NHL's heavyweight champion is a sturdy 6-3 and weighs 240 pounds. He has pulverizing power in the NHL, but the question is whether that would translate into the ring or the cage.
Obviously, it takes a great athlete to be able to get as much power on his punches as Laraque does while on skates, so I'd guess he could bring his power to MMA. And so I'd love to see how he'd fare against Affliction superstar Fedor Emelianenko.
Laraque could give Emelianenko trouble with his reach and his power, but whether it would be enough to bother "The Last Emperor" is clearly open for debate.
Now, after all that, let's get to your thoughts on what's going on in the MMA world. My answers to your questions are in italics.
KUDOS TO STRIKEFORCE
I'm an MMA fan, which means I like watching a good fight no matter the promotion. With that said, I hated the Elite XC brand. The shows they put on CBS were a joke, with the exception of a couple of good fights. However, I was very impressed with the show Strikeforce put on this past weekend. From the opening to closing everything was very professional and well done. The fights were excellent, especially the Scott Smith fight against Benji Radach. The only problem I had was with the announce team, with the exception of Pat Miletich. Pat was very well spoken and knowledgeable and picked up on things the other two didn't, which I didn't expect them to. How could they have used Gus Johnson as the blow-by-blow announcer, when he is the same guy who called the Kimbo Slice-Seth Petruzelli fight the biggest upset in MMA history and said it was a modern day Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed? I just think they could have done better in that department. Just wanted to get your take on it.
The problem I had with Elite XC is that they tried to promote gimmicks more than legitimate fights. I agree with your take on Saturday's Strikeforce card. There were good fights up and down the card and I'd be stunned if the Smith-Radach scrap isn't Fight of the Year. Gus is Showtime's new fight announcer; they use him on boxing, too, and got rid of an excellent play-by-play man in Steve Albert in order to install him in that chair. I gave Gus a lot of grief at the time for his call on the Slice-Petruzelli bout, so I'm not going to repeat it here. I do think he's professional and, given time, will develop into a competent MMA announcer.
BAS SAID WHAT?
Prior to the start of the Scott Smith-Benji Radach fight on the latest Strikeforce broadcast, one of the commentators said Bas Rutten, who trains Radach, believed Radach could handle anyone in the middleweight division, including Anderson Silva. I know "El Guapo" has been around MMA for years, but it makes me wonder what he was smoking when he made that statement.
I don't think it was anything more than Bas trying to build Benji's confidence, Norm. I don't think he seriously believes Radach could defeat Silva.
DISGUSTED WITH CYBORG
Strikeforce shouldn't have let the Christiane "Cyborg" Santos-Hitomi Akano fight go down on Saturday. I already had a pretty low opinion of women's MMA, but that really sealed it for me. Cyborg and Gina Carano are supposedly at the top of the 145-pound female division, yet they can't make weight and they fight against cans from smaller divisions. Meanwhile, professionals like Tara LaRosa, queen of the 125-pound division, are virtually unknown. What's worse is there is no organization with a female division with any depth. If women's MMA is to be taken seriously, then organizations and fighters need to take it seriously. A buildup to one token bout with Cyborg and Carano is not enough.
I agree, Kevin. Personally, I don't believe the California State Athletic Commission should have allowed Cyborg to fight, period, after she missed weight that badly. It was a health issue for her trying to lose so much in a short time. Having said that, the weight differential was awful and it was clear Akano was no physical match for her. This is a major stain on Cyborg, on Strikeforce and on the California commission. Kevin, I'd be careful of painting with too broad of a brush, though. Because Cyborg failed to make weight (and Carano has had trouble in the past) doesn't mean all women have the same issue. The overwhelming majority of them are professional and do their jobs by making weight. That said, I have no problem with promoters building toward a Cyborg-Carano fight, because it promises to be an entertaining battle and fans want to see it badly.
VELASQUEZ VS. CARWIN?
If Cain Velasquez can defeat Heath Herring at UFC 99 on June 13, what are the chances of a Shane Carwin vs. Velasquez bout? I personally feel this could be an awesome fight as both fighters would be undefeated, both would have wins over game opponents and both are known for finishing their fights quickly. Do you think the UFC would make this fight happen?
Salt Lake City, Utah
If Cain defeats Heath Herring at UFC 99, which I expect he will do, it's definitely a possibility. That would be a dream fight as far as I'm concerned, as I've been so impressed by both guys. I'd have to lean toward Velasquez if the fight ever occurs, because he seems more well-rounded. However, Carwin is such a powerful striker, he hasn't had a chance to show all aspects of his game because his fights have ended so quickly.
CAN SHOGUN REGAIN HIS FORM?
In your opinion, can Mauricio "Shogun" Rua regain top form against Chuck Liddell Saturday at UFC 97 in Montreal or are his previous career injuries simply too much wear and tear on his body already at 27?
I don't think Rua has lost any of his skills, which some fighters do. His conditioning hasn't been what it should be. But he should be able to improve that with time. He clearly realizes the need to come in better shape after his fight with Mark Coleman at UFC 93 in Dublin, Ireland. A fight he could have finished early dragged the full three rounds because he wasn't in good enough shape. I expect him to be markedly better against Liddell on Saturday.
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