Depending on whether leather meets chin, or butt meets canvas, James 'Lights Out' Toney will either be the first of many, or the last world-class boxer attempting to cross the turbulent waters to mixed martial arts. The 41-year-old pug, a decorated middleweight, super-middleweight, cruiserweight and heavyweight belt-holder in the ring, meets mixed martial arts pioneer Randy 'The Natural' Couture on August 28 in Boston and, for perhaps the first time, the two sports, and disputing fan-bases, unite as one.
Other boxers have bridged the divide, of course, but none boasted the credentials, talents or tongue of Toney. Current UFC contenders Marcus Davis and Chris Lytle both started out as a pro boxers, before eventually carving a far superior reputation in the Octagon. There are boxers, and then there are boxers, however, and Toney didn't just punch for pay -- he did it better than pretty much anybody else has for the best part of two decades.
So, hypothetically, should Toney shock the world and defeat Couture on August 28, who else is best equipped to follow suit and throw world-class punching into the mixed martial arts smoothie? For the sake of humor and equality, here are a few possible candidates...
Who? Welterweight contender and former IBF titleholder. Most famous for being squashed twice by Antonio Margarito and more recently falling out the ring against Paul Williams, Kermit 'The Killer' has achieved 28 of his 32 professional boxing wins via knockout and is perhaps the definitive kill-or-be-killed prizefighter. As vulnerable as he is explosive, Cintron is the Drew McFedries of boxing.
Background? Here's where it gets interesting. Before discovering boxing as a full-time outlet, Cintron was an accomplished high-school wrestler at William Tennent High School in Warminster, Pennsylvania. He was even offered full wrestling scholarships at both the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Ohio State University, before an unfortunate knee injury halted his progress. In short, he's the most decorated wrestler in boxing, if that means anything at all. When Floyd Mayweather was bizarrely offered a shot at UFC lightweight champion Sean Sherk in 2007, Cintron stepped forward and declared his desire to take the challenge instead. "I can wrestle and I can box," said Cintron. "I can beat those UFC fighters at their own game. Tell Mr. (Dana) White to make me an offer and I'll take on his guy."
Outcome? Given his wrestling background and devastating punch power, Cintron would presumably fare better than most boxers. Competing as a 155-pound lightweight, Cintron would blitz his first couple of strikers and survive admirably against Sean Sherk, losing a lopsided decision, before George Sotiropoulos yanks his arm off in the first round of his fourth bout.
Who? Unbeaten WBC welterweight champion and a ball of fast-twitch muscles fibers. At 26 years of age, the undefeated Haitian sensation is one of the most exciting young talents in boxing right now.
Background? Mixed martial arts is in the Berto family, and Andre wouldn't exactly have to look far for knowledge or guidance. Father Diesuel competed at UFC 10, while brother James Edson is an active mixed martial artist with a record of 16-8-1. Not only that, sister Nana Berto also competes as a mixed martial artist for Real Fighting Championship. It's fair to say, Berto comes from good stock then. Often upright and rigid in his boxing stance, Berto resembles a hybrid fighter, someone utilizing the best of multiple disciplines and producing something all of his own. There are signs of his father's martial arts influence on his boxing style, yet Berto remains athletic enough to translate dad's knowledge into boxing success.
Outcome? A 147-pound champion in boxing, Berto is young and stocky enough to pack on the meat required to hit the 155-pound lightweight division in mixed martial arts. Once there, he'd knock out Cole Miller with an overhand right and then shock the world by submitting Melvin Guillard with a rear-naked choke. A decision win over Spencer Fisher would follow, before Nate Diaz secured a come-from-behind triangle choke victory as Berto waded in recklessly for the finish.
Who? Current WBA world heavyweight champion and former undisputed cruiserweight king. Arguably one of the heaviest punchers in boxing, with 22 of his 24 victories coming via knockout. Strengths include punch power, fast hands, athleticism and an ability to adapt.
Background? Haye's father, Deron, was a martial arts teacher and student of various types of striking disciplines. At 10 years of age, Haye was first introduced to the idea of combat through his father's collection of Bruce Lee tapes. Upon his father's instructions, Haye took karate lessons as a child, before eventually swaying towards the boxing gym. A fan of mixed martial arts and kickboxing, Haye occasionally incorporates grappling and wrestling into his boxing training program, and has been a vocal advocate of the UFC and mixed martial arts in recent years.
I wouldn't do a Ray Mercer and just turn up for a pay check. I would take the same attitude I have for boxing into the Octagon. If I were going to do this thing I'd want to do it properly and win everything in sight. It would be all about the challenge.
I'd probably even have three or four low-key MMA fights away from the public eye. That way I'd be able to discover any weaknesses in my game and make sure I was 100% ready for the bigger stage. I wouldn't go in there blind and make a fool of myself like some other boxers do. I'd only do it if I was confident of becoming the best in the world.
Outcome? Unlike other outspoken prizefighters, Haye understands the difficulties a move into mixed martial arts would entail and would, presumably, not enter competition lightly. With that said, Haye, when ready, could expect to rampage through British foes on low-key MMA shows, behind closed doors perhaps, before landing in the UFC with a head full of confidence and hands full of intent. He'd compete as a small heavyweight, somewhere in the region of 220-pounds, but would bring boundless power and athleticism to the division. 'The Hayemaker' starches Todd Duffee and Gilbert Yvel in successive first-round blow-outs, before Roy Nelson's gut traps him in a crucifix position and suffocates him into a second-round submission.
Who? A six-feet-seven-inch Ukrainian heavyweight with the WBC world title to his name. Now 39, 'Dr. Ironfist' is the elder brother of IBF/WBO champion Wladimir, and considered the tougher, both mentally and physically, of the safety-first siblings. With 40 knockouts from 42 pro wins, never before has a ring moniker been more apt.
Background? Take one look at Klitschko's stiff, upright and heavy-legged boxing style, and you'll assume he comes from a kickboxing background. You'd be right. Vitali began his fighting life as a kickboxer, compiled a record of 34-1 with 22 knockouts and took part in the 1993 World Amateur Championships of WAKO in Atlantic City. Well-versed with his feet, Klitschko later discovered he was far more dynamic with his hands and eventually made the transition to boxing and, two years later in '95, won silver at the World Amateur Championships in Berlin. Known for his thudding fists and granite jaw, Klitschko has never been floored in the boxing ring, amateur or pro.
Outcome? Tall and heavy enough to compete with most in a striking battle, Klitschko would wage a three-round 'Fight of the Year' with Cheick Kongo in his opening UFC bout. Cut to ribbons in the first round, Klitschko trudges on to outbox and punish Kongo down the stretch. He'd then do something similar to Mirko Cro Cop for two rounds, before the Croatian icon shoots for a rare takedown, gets the fight to the floor and chokes out the hapless Ukrainian.
Aggressive former IBF flyweight and super-flyweight champion. Essentially a pygmy at five-feet-five-inches and 115-pounds but, for what the Armenian-Australian lacks in dimensions, he more than makes up for in raw punch power and unapologetic manliness.
I want to prove there's more power to me that just what's in my hands. My father was a wrestling coach and I've grown up with that. I'd just have to learn a few kicks. I think three or four fights would be perfect.
Well, for starters, thimble-sized Darchinyan might have to sprout another head in order to compete in the UFC. The Armenian fireball last competed as a 118-pound bantamweight and, last time I checked, the UFC's lightest weight category only accepted applicants hovering around the 155-pound mark. At 35 years of age, Darchinyan will unlikely grow upwards and would be ill-advised shooting out widthways. With that in mind, any mixed martial arts version of Darchinyan better hope the WEC install their oft-talked about flyweight division (125-pound and under), which would seem a more likely fit should Darchinyan follow through with his plan and compete for a U.S. based organization.
John Ruiz: Pesky Ruiz made a career of hanging on to opponents' mid-sections for twelve rounds in pursuit of contentious decisions. He may have zero NCAA titles to his name, but heavyweight Ruiz wrestled with some of boxing's best for two decades. It was Ruiz who perhaps first invented the art of "dirty boxing".
Anthony Mundine: Having already crossed over from a successful rugby league career to win a WBA world super-middleweight title in boxing, Mundine is as well-equipped as anybody to up sticks for new pursuits. Athletically gifted and a rapid learner, Mundine is seemingly ballsy enough to roll the dice in unknown territory.
Manny Pacquiao: Blindingly fast feet and hands, Pacquiao is the boxing gift that never stops giving. A punching machine with the gas tank to churn out leather for every second of every round, Pacquiao would be hell for any striker, whether of boxing or mixed martial arts descent.
Floyd Mayweather: The best boxer of the modern era and one of the most perfect athletes I've ever laid eyes on. Why not? If we're going to do this MMA vs. boxing thing properly, let's shoot for the very best, right?
Follow Elliot Worsell on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@ElliotWorsell