In the young history of Mixed Martial Arts, there have been many MMA fighters who have tried their hand in professional boxing. There have also been many boxers who have fought MMA.
On Thursday, June 10, two-time Olympic gold medalist and world champion pro boxer Claressa Shields, will make her MMA debut in the PFL. On June 19, one of the all-time great MMA fighters, Anderson Silva will box Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.
In part one of this two-part series, we will take a look at boxers who have fought in MMA.
“The Preacher’s Daughter” Holly Holm is without a doubt the most successful boxer turned mixed martial artist in the sport’s young history. Holm got her start in kickboxing and turned to the more lucrative combat sport of boxing. Her boxing trainer was Mike Winkeljohn, the head striking coach for years at Jackson Wink, one of the top MMA gyms in the world.
Holm’s boxing career went from 2002 to 2013 where she amassed an outstanding pro record of 33-2-3. She won multiple world titles over three weight divisions. Holm was named The Ring female fighter of the year in 2005 and 2006. She holds victories over notable names such as Christy Martin, Mia St. John, and Mary Jo Sanders.
Holm made her MMA debut in March of 2011 while she was still a world champ in boxing. She went 7-0 to start her MMA career before making her UFC debut at UFC 184 in February of 2015 against Raquel Pennington. Holm went 2-0 in the UFC and 9-0 overall before earning a title shot against Ronda Rousey at UFC 193 in November of 2015. In one of the greatest upsets in the sports history, Holm knocked out Rousey with a head kick in front of a record breaking 56,214 fans in Melbourne, Australia.
Holm suffered her first career MMA defeat in her first title defense against Meisha Tate at UFC 196. She fought for the inaugural featherweight title against Germaine de Rrandamie at UFC 208, losing a unanimous decision. Holm fought Cris Cyborg for the featherweight title losing a unanimous decision in the fight of the night at UFC 219. She earned another shot at the bantamweight title against Amanda Nunes at UFC 239 in July of 2019 where she lost by first round TKO.
Holm is coming off two straight victories in the UFC including an impressive five round unanimous decision victory over Irene Aldana in her last fight in October of 2020. The 39-year-old currently holds an MMA record of 14-5 and is the No. 2 ranked women’s bantamweight in the UFC. She is the first and only fighter to win major world titles in the sports of boxing and MMA.
Art Jimmerson competed in UFC 1 in 1993 and was the first opponent for the inaugural UFC champion Royce Gracie. He is known as “One Glove” for infamously coming into the octagon wearing one boxing glove to fight Royce Gracie. After being taken down and mounted by Gracie, Jimmerson tapped out. This was Jimmerson’s only MMA bout.
At the time of his UFC fight, Jimmerson was 29-5 as a pro boxer. He retired from boxing in 2002 with a 33-18 career record. Jimmerson mainly fought at cruiserweight and had been in there with such names as Orlin Norris and Vassily Jirov.
Melton Bowen fought at UFC 4 in 1994 against UFC 3 champ Steve Jennum. The heavyweight boxer put up a good fight and showed lots of heart before losing by armbar at the 4:47 mark of the fight. Bowen was 32-6 as a pro boxer at the time of his UFC fight. Bowen’s highest profile boxing matches were losing efforts against Tony Tubbs and Shannon Briggs. He ended his career in 2005 with a 35-9 career record.
In 2010, five division world champion James Toney fought Randy Couture at UFC 118. Toney is one of the boxing greats of his time and was the first world champion level boxer to fight in the UFC. This left some fans wondering what would happen if a boxer of this caliber fought in the UFC. At this point, James Toney was 42 years old. However, his opponent, Randy Couture was 47 years old. The former UFC heavyweight and light heavyweight champion made short work of Toney. Couture got a quick takedown and won by arm triangle choke in the first round.
The Couture fight was Toney’s one and only MMA fight. Toney ended his boxing career in 2017 with a 77-10-3 pro record.
Marcus Davis made his pro boxing debut in 1993. He amassed a 17-1-2 pro boxing record over a seven-year career as a pro boxer.
Davis transitioned to MMA and made his pro MMA debut in 2003. The Maine native went 3-2 on the regional scene before becoming a cast member of Season 2 of The Ultimate Fighter. Davis lost in his quarterfinal bout on the show to eventual TUF Season 2 welterweight winner Joe Stevenson. Davis then lost to Melvin Guillard on the TUF 2 Finale.
“The Irish Hand Grenade” went on to win five straight fights on the regional scene before getting the call back to the big show. In his return to the UFC, Davis showed a more well-rounded MMA game and rallied off six UFC wins in a row before losing to Mike Swick at UFC 185. Davis went on to have a record of 9-6 in the Octagon. He had notable victories over Shonie Carter, Chris Lytle and Jonathan Goulet. He had notable losses against Dan Hardy, Nate Diaz and Jeremy Stephens. He earned three fight of the night bonuses and one knockout of the night. Davis retired from MMA in 2014 with a 22-11 pro record.
Laverne Clark was the first professional boxer to have success in the UFC. He started training early on at Miletich Fighting Systems, one of the top MMA gyms in the world at the time. He was 3-0 as a pro boxer before making his MMA debut against fellow future UFC vet Shonie Carter at Extreme Challenge 3 in 1997. Clark won by knockout in just 9 seconds. Also in 1997, Clark suffered his first boxing loss against Mike Winkeljohn, currently of Jackson Wink fame, who at the time was an ISKA world kickboxing champ.
Clark made his UFC debut at UFC 16 in 1998 with a TKO, just over a minute into the fight. Clark went 4-0 in the UFC including a win over Brazilian Jiu Jitsu standout Fabiano Iha. Clark boxed and fought MMA simultaneously. His win over Iha came on May 7, 1999, just 21 days before his May 28 boxing match at the Molson Centre in Montreal against hometown boxer and former WBC super middleweight champ Eric Lucas.
Clark lost to Iha by armbar submission in a rematch at UFC 27. This was Clarke’s last fight in the UFC where he had a 4-1 record. Clark continued to mix boxing matches and MMA fights until he retired from boxing in 2004 with a 14-18-1 record. Clark shared the square circle with some high level boxers in the late 90’s and early 2000’s while also fighting MMA against some of the top MMA welterweights of the time. Clark had notable losses against Dave Menne, Matt Hughes, Frank Trigg and Chris Lytle. He also fought in Japan in the Deep and Pancrase organizations. He retired from MMA in 2014 with a 27-21-1 record.
Pat Smith had a kickboxing background and was 2-2 as a pro boxer when he fought in the very first UFC. Smith lost by heel hook submission against Ken Shamrock in the quarterfinals of UFC 1 in November of 1993. After two pro boxing wins, Smith returned in March of 1994 to compete in a 16-man open weight tournament at UFC 2. Smith made quick work of his first three opponents including his legendary KO of the ninja Scott Morris, from elbows on the ground, in his quarterfinal fight. Smith faced UFC 1 champ Royce Gracie in the finals of UFC 2, submitting to punches at the 1:17 mark of the fight.
Smith lost an MMA fight against Kimo Leopoldo in Japan at a K-1 event in December of 1994. He returned at UFC 6 in July of 1995 with a rear naked choke submission over Rudyard Moncoyo. This was the last we saw of Smith in the UFC. He had notable losses outside the UFC against Kiyoshi Tamura, Dave Beneteau, Fabio Gurgel and Marco Ruas. In 2008, Smith had a TKO victory over Butterbean in the YAMMA Pit Fighting event in Atlantic City, NJ. In Smith’s second last pro fight, he had a 28 second KO over TUF 2 finalist Brad Imes at Titan FC 13 in March of 2009. Smith finished his 16-year MMA career in 2009 with a 20-15 record. Smith also finished his pro boxing career in 2009 with a 5-11-2 record.
Eric “Butterbean” Esch
Butterbean entered professional boxing as a Toughman heavyweight champion. He made his professional boxing debut in 1994 and was known as the king of the 4 rounders. Butterbean amassed a 65-2-3 pro record in all 4 round fights before fighting former undisputed heavyweight champion Larry Holmes. In his first fight scheduled for more than 4 rounds, Butterbean lost a 10 round unanimous decision to the 52-year-old Holmes in the boxing legends last fight of his career in 2002. Butterbean retired from boxing in 2013 with a 77-10-4 record.
Butterbean signed with the K-1 organization in Japan in 2003 and had a couple of kickboxing matches going 1-1 before making his MMA debut with the promotion on their New Years Eve show to end 2003. In an open weight fight, Butterbean went against one of the top MMA fighters out of Japan at the time in Genki Sudo. Despite giving up over 200 pounds, Sudo defeated Butterbean by heel hook submission early in the second round. Butterbean went on to fight three times in the Pride fighting organization in Japan. He fought MMA throughout the world including for the Cage Rage promotion in England, KSW in Poland and he ended his MMA career with three fights in Canada for three different promotions. Butterbean went 17-10-1 as an MMA fighter.
Butterbean had a few years of professional wrestling mixed into his long combat sports career. This included a legit shootfight against Brawl for All champion Bart Gunn at Wrestlemania XV in which Butterbean knocked Gunn out in just 34 seconds.
Ray Mercer was one of the best boxers to ever try MMA. Mercer was an Olympic gold medalist and WBO heavyweight champion. Mercer had been in there with some of the greatest heavyweights from his time like Larry Holmes, Lennox Lewis, Evander Holyfield and Wladimir Klitschko. Mercer retired from boxing in 2008 with a 36-7-1 pro record.
Mercer decided to give MMA a try in 2007. He signed with Cage Fury Fighting Championships and fought an exhibition match against street fighting legend Kimbo Slice, who hadn’t yet made his pro MMA debut. Mercer lost the fight to Slice by guillotine choke in the first round.
Mercer came back to MMA in 2009 to fight former UFC heavyweight champ Tim Sylvia at Adreniline MMA. Mercer knocked out Sylvia in just 9 seconds of the first round. This was Mercer’s last pro fight.
Coming from the kickboxing world, James Warring made his pro boxing debut in 1985. He won the IBF cruiserweight title in 1991. He defended the title twice before losing it to Al Cole. He retired from boxing in 1997 with a 18-4-1 record.
In 1995, Warring competed in the World Combat Championships’ one and only event. This was a unique event featuring an eight-man tournament where there were two brackets, one for the strikers and one for the grapplers. On the striker’s side, there was two minutes of ground time allowed when the fight hit the mat and there were no submissions allowed. Warring won his first two fights, including his semifinals victory over Eric Paulson who at the time was 3-0-1 for Shooto, one of the first MMA organizations in Japan. Warring came out of the striker’s bracket and faced Renzo Gracie in the finals. Gracie, who made short work of his first two opponents on the grapplers side, defeated Warring by ezekiel choke at the 2:47 mark.
The UFC Hall of Famer Don Frye is not a name you would expect to see on this list. However, this list includes fighters who started in pro boxing before MMA. The collegiate wrestler Frye, likely would have started in MMA if it were around in the late 80’s. Frye had a short pro boxing career with three fights in 1989 and four fights in 1990. Frye had a 2-5-1 pro boxing record.
Frye made his MMA debut in February of 1996 at UFC 8 where he won an eight-man tournament, defeating Gary Goodridge in the finals. Frye was one of the first fighters in the UFC to mix wrestling and boxing. He made the finals of the UFC 10 eight-man tournament losing to Mark Coleman in July of 1996. That December, he won the Ultimate Ultimate ’96, a tournament of champions and runner ups. Frye bet Tank Abbott in the finals.
There wasn’t much money in MMA in the late 90’s and so Frye turned to pro wrestling in Japan. “The Predator” returned to MMA in 2001 fighting for the Pride fighting organization in Japan where the top heavyweights in the world were fighting at the time. Frye won his first three fights in Pride including a split decision win over his rival Ken Shamrock. Frye lost his next four fights in Pride including against former UFC rivals Mark Coleman and Gary Goodridge.
Don Frye retired from MMA in 2011 with a 20-9-1, 1 NC record. Frye was inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame in the Pioneer Wing in 2016.
Rick Roufus started his pro kickboxing career in 1985. “The Jet” was a multi time, multi weight world kickboxing champion. He made his pro boxing debut in 1990 and lost a unanimous decision. He continued his successful kickboxing career and returned to boxing in 1995 and went 12-0-1 in his next thirteen fights. In his twelfth win, he won the WBC Continental Americas Cruiserweight title. He lost to “King” Arthur Williams for the USBA Cruiserweight title. He ended his pro boxing career in 2001 with a 13-5-1 record. Roufus continued to have success in his kickboxing career and is one of the best American kickboxers of all time.
Roufus made his MMA debut at 41 years old in 2008 in Strikeforce, against former kickboxing foe and former UFC heavyweight champ Maurice Smith. Roufus defeated Smith in a kickboxing match in 2003 in K-1, however, Smith’s MMA experience proved too much as he defeated Roufus by first round armbar. Roufus fought MMA nine times in 2008 including a loss against future UFC fighter Ryan Jimmo. The brother of famed MMA trainer Duke Roufus, Rick Roufus ended his short MMA career in 2009 with a 4-6 record.
Known for his illustrious kickboxing career in K-1, Ray Sefo went 5-1 as a professional boxer from 1994 to 2001.
The New Zealander went 2-2 in MMA having fought in the Hero’s, Strikeforce and World Series of Fighting promotions. Sefo is currently the president, fighter operations, for the PFL.
Yosuki Nishijima made his pro boxing debut in 1992 and became a world cruiserweight champion. He retired from boxing in 2003 with a 24-2-1 record.
The Japanese boxer made his MMA debut with the Pride fighting organization in 2006 against heavyweight kickboxing legend turned mixed martial artist Mark Hunt. In a fight where Nishijima gave up valuable MMA experience and over 80 pounds in weight, he showed tremendous heart and provided the fans with one of the most entertaining fights in Pride fighting history. Nishijima lost by third round knockout. He went on to fight three more times in Pride and once in K-1 against much more experienced MMA fighters and big names in the sport at the time including Hidehiko Yoshida, Evangelista Santos, Phil Baroni and Malvin Manhoef. He ended his short MMA career in 2007 with an 0-5 record.
Ricardo Mayorga made his pro boxing debut in 1993. The Nicaraguan reached the pinnacle of the sport becoming the unified WBA, WBC and The Ring welterweight world champion. He unified the titles and defended them in back-to-back fights against Vernon Forrest in 2003. Mayorga also holds a notable victory over Fernando Vargas. He has notable losses against some of the greats of his time including Cory Spinks, Felix Trinidad, Oscar De La Hoya, Miguel Cotto and Shane Mosely twice.
After the Cotto fight in 2011, Mayorga temporarily retired from boxing and attempted an MMA career in 2013. In Mayorga’s MMA debut, he appeared to have won by TKO. The fight however was overturned to a no contest due to an illegal knee. Mayorga lost his next three MMA fights, all coming in 2013. He had an MMA record of 0-3, 1 NC.
Mayorga returned to boxing in 2014 and last competed in 2019. His pro record stands at 32-12-1, 1 NC.
Jeremy Williams challenged for the WBO heavyweight title in a losing effort against Henry Akinwande in 1996. His boxing career spanned from 1992 to 2013 where he amassed a 43-5-1 pro record.
Willimas fought in MMA from 2005 to 2008 going 5-0 with four of his fights for the Icon Sport promotion in Hawaii.
Stephane Oullet Is a former NABF and WBC Continental Americas champion. The French Canadian was a hometown hero having boxed multiple times in the Molson Centre in Montreal. Between 1991 and 2014, he amassed a pro record of 29-6. This included a popular trilogy against former world champion and fellow Canadian Dave Hilton.
Oullet fought for the UCC promotion in Montreal in 2001 and 2002. UCC later turned into TKO and was the top MMA promotion in Canada, where Canadian MMA great Georges St Pierre had his early fights before making the UFC. Oullet won his MMA debut by first round TKO. In his second and last MMA bout in 2002, Oullet was disqualified for headbutts in the first round.
Julius Francis was a British and Commonwealth heavyweight champion boxer who is best known for his knockout loss to Mike Tyson in 2000. Francis was 21-7 at the time. He ended his boxing career in 2006 coming off 14 straight losses. Francis’ career boxing record was 23-24-1.
In 2007, Francic fought his one and only MMA fight in the Cage Rage promotion in his home country of England. He lost by submission to punches in the second round against K-1 veteran Gary Turner.
Jessica Rakoczy made her professional boxing debut in 2000. She won multiple lightweight world titles before taking a three-year break from boxing in 2009. Rackoczy holds two victories over the very popular Mia St. John.
Rakoczy made her MMA debut in 2009 and went 0-3 with one no contest during her initial time away from boxing. In her third MMA fight, she lost a split decision to current ranked UFC fighter Felice Herrig at Bellator 14 in 2010.
The Canadian returned to the squared circle with a victory in May of 2012. She won her first MMA fight in September of 2012. Then in January of 2013, she won her last boxing match of her career, winning the vacant WIBA super bantamweight title. Rakoczy ended her boxing career with a record of 33-3, 1 NC.
Later in 2013, Rakoczy was announced as a cast member of The Ultimate Fighter: Team Rousey vs. Team Tate. This was the first season of TUF to feature female fighters. There were 8 preliminary fights with the winners earning their spot in the TUF house. Rakoczy fought Revelina Berto, sister of world boxing champ Andre Berto and daughter of UFC 10 competitor Dieusel Berto. Rakoczy defeated Berto by omoplata submission in the second round. In her quarterfinal and semi-final fights, Rakoczy defeated future UFC title challengers Roxanne Modafferi and Raquel Pennington, respectively. She beat Modafferi by second round TKO and Pennington by unanimous decision.
Rakoczy fought Juliana Pena in the TUF 18 Finale losing by TKO with one second left of the first round. Rakoczy returned for her last MMA fight in 2015, dropping down to strawweight to fight fellow Canadian Valerie Letourneau at UFC 186 in Montreal. Rakoczy lost by unanimous decision, finishing her MMA career with a record of 1-5, 1 NC. Her best fights were on TUF which were considered exhibition fights and do not count towards her pro record.
Mia St. John
Mia St. John’s model looks along with her boxing skill made her one of the most popular female boxers in the history of the sport. She was a multiple time world champion.
St. John made her pro boxing debut in 1997 at 29 years old. She won her first 22 pro fights. She lost to female boxing legend Christy Martin as well as the previously mentioned Holly Holm and Jessica Rakoczy. St. John finished her career in 2016 with at 49-14-2 record.
St. John got her start in combat sports in traditional martial arts, earning her blackbelt in taekwondo. In 2008, St. John fought in her one and only MMA fight for the X-1 promotion in Hawaii. She won by KO in under a minute against a fighter making her MMA debut.
Heather Hardy had her first professional boxing match at age 30. She won world titles in the super bantamweight and featherweight divisions. As a 20-0 professional boxer, Hardy decided to fight for Bellator in their flyweight division.
Hardy’s MMA debut took place at Madison Square Garden in New York City at Bellator 180 In June of 2017. This fight had more people watching than any of her boxing matches as it aired live on Spike TV. The Brooklyn native delivered, winning her MMA debut by third round TKO. Hardy lost her second MMA bout by second round TKO to Kristina Williams in October of 2017. The Brooklyn native returned to her winning ways in February of 2018 with a unanimous decision win over fellow world champion boxer Ana Julaton. Still undefeated in boxing, Hardy returned to the squared circle to win two more boxing matches in 2018.
2019 was not a good year for Hardy in her combat sports career. In June of 2019, she lost by first round TKO at Bellator 222. In September of 2019, she lost her first boxing match and her WBO featherweight title to Amanda Serrano by unanimous decision. She has since fought one time, a recent boxing match that she lost in May of this year.
The 39-year-old Hardy holds a pro boxing record of 22-2, 1 NC and an MMA record of 2-2.
Amanda Serrano is a multiple time world champion boxer across seven different weight divisions. Serrano has been very active since making her pro debut in 2009. She currently holds a 40-1-1 professional record.
Serrano made her MMA debut in April of 2018 at Combate 20, fighting to a three-round draw. With a boxing world title fight in between, the Puerto Rican returned to MMA at Combate 26 in October of 2018 winning by first round standing rear naked choke. The 32-year-old is 1-0-1 in MMA and is currently active in her decorated boxing career.
Ava Knight has won multiple boxing title and is the current No. 3 ranked flyweight by The Ring. The 32-year-old currently holds a pro boxing record of 19-2-5 and last boxed in November of 2019.
Knight made her MMA debut with a third round TKO at Bellator 228 in September of 2019. In her second and most recent MMA fight, Knight lost by first round rear naked choke submission at Bellator 238 in January of 2020.
Elena Reid is a former flyweight world boxing champion. Her boxing career spanned from 2000 to 2010 and she retired with a 19-6-6 pro record.
Reid fought in MMA from 2007 to 2010 and had a 4-1 record. She holds a notable second round TKO victory over current ranked UFC strawweight and former Invicta atomweight champ Michelle Waterson, in 2009.
Ana Julaton is another female world boxing champion who has fought in MMA. Julaton made her pro debut in 2007. After a ten-year career in pro boxing, Julaton retired with a career record of 14-4-3.
The Filipino American made her MMA debut in 2014 at a ONE Championship event in the Philippines. She won her MMA debut by third round TKO. Julaton went 2-4 in MMA with four bouts with ONE Championship and two with Bellator including the aforementioned fight with Heather Hardy, which was Julaton’s last pro fight.
Will Claressa Shields follow in Holly Holm’s footsteps to win major world titles in boxing and MMA? She appears to be taking MMA very seriously training at Jackson Wink, one of the top MMA gyms in the world. Notably this is the gym of Holly Holm, Shields’ new teammate.
The two-time Olympic gold medalist from 2012 and 2016 boasts a perfect 11-0 professional boxing record. Shields has been collecting belts since her second pro fight. She holds multiple titles in three different weight divisions.
Shields will be making her MMA debut against Brittney Elkin on Thursday night, June 10. Interestingly, Elkin was the opponent for 2012 and 2016 Olympic judo gold medalist Kayla Harrison in her MMA debut with the PFL. Shields would like to follow her Olympic teammate Harrison by winning one million dollars in next year’s PFL season. Harrison’s PFL contract will end at the end of this year which will leave the 155-pound division open for Shields next season to take a run at the PFL prize of one million dollars. Shields’ MMA journey starts tomorrow night.
Boxing – MMA Crossover: Part 2 – Preview
There have been many boxers try their hand in MMA with mixed success. There will be many more to come starting with Clarissa Shields, who is one of the highest profile boxers to ever fight MMA.
There seems to be more MMA fighters transitioning to boxing in recent times. Next week in Part 2 of this Boxing – MMA Crossover series, we will look at MMA fighters who have boxed professionally from the 90’s, when MMA started in North America, to present day. Check back next week to read about some of the most notable MMA fighters who have tried their hand at the sweet science.