Football and combat sports. Two of my passions, and the two things my weekend is scheduled around. Saturday and Sunday afternoons are set aside for watching as many live football matches as possible from all over the globe. And a Saturday night just isn't the same for me without a big boxing event or a UFC or Strikeforce event. If I can get both in one night, as was the case this past Saturday, then I'm a very happy man.
Football and combat sports are not things you would necessarily connect on face value, but the major link between the sports is of course their enormous popularity in the magical country of Brazil. Football is like a religion in Brazil. While England may take credit for inventing the game, the Brazilians perfected it. Pele, Jairzinho, Garrincha, Zico, Ronaldo, the list goes on and on.
While football is undoubtedly the No. 1 sport in Brazil, MMA is has established itself as No. 2. Brazil was the birthplace of Vale Tudo, from which MMA drew much of its art, and has produced so many great mixed martial arts fighters, including the family widely credited with starting the sport of Mixed Martial Arts when they issued an open challenge to fighters of all disciplines to compete with them and their family sport of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu: the Gracies.
There are also gentlemen by the name of Anderson Silva, Shogun Rua, The Nogueiras, Lyoto Machida, Wanderlei Silva, Jose Also and many others who have gone on to become world champions.
Brazil is not the only country with strong combat sport and football backgrounds and fanbases. England has produced great footballers and great boxers over the years. It's also a country with a huge MMA following. Although England is yet to produce a truly great MMA fighter, Michael Bisping, Dan Hardy and Paul Daley are all well known fighters who have fought at the pinnacle of the sport.
Russia is obviously the home of Fedor Emelianenko, widely regarded as one of the greatest MMA fighters of all time. It's also the birthplace of Lev Yashin, arguably the greatest goalkeeper football has ever seen. It's also produced other top athlete in both sports. The traditional Russian sport of Sambo is viewed by many as a precursor to MMA, as it contains both striking and grappling.
Of course the United States deserves a mention. While football has only truly attained major interest there since their hosting of the 1994 World Cup, it is a growing sport, and America has begun to produce some extremely talented young footballers and with names like Ali, Mayweather Jr, Jones Jr, Hopkins, Robinson, Leonard and De La Hoya stand amongst the greatest ever in the sport of boxing. Not that they haven't produced great MMA fighters, Couture, Liddell, Hughes and the Shamrocks are among the all time MMA greats.
I must of course give an honourable mention to Holland, which has given us some of the greatest footballers the world has seen and some of the greatest kickboxers of all time. Not many of those kickboxers have made a successful transition into MMA, but Overeem and Bas Rutten are two that have.
There are a couple of top MMA fighters that could very easily have pursued a career in football had they chosen to. Mainly Brazilians obviously!
I've been asked to compile a list of 15 football players who might have had careers in MMA or Boxing had they seen fit and here it is.
I hope you enjoy.
He's a lightning quick scrapper known to be handy with his fists when the opportunity to use them presents itself. Should the use of a golfclub ever be legalized in MMA, then Bellamy will make the switch in a heartbeat! Never backs down from a challenge and would likely delight in the prospect of an open weight tournament where he could get in the faces of men much bigger than himself, as he has many times on a football field.
A pretty obvious choice. Barton is a street fighter brought up in a tough area of Liverpool. He boxed as a child, and with his aggressive nature, fearless demeanour and love of antagonizing, he would likely hold his own in the world of combat sports.
Some people thought Anderson Silva's KO of Vitor Belfort was the greatest KO of all time. Vitor was up and moving within two minutes or so. Poor Xabi Alonso was left flat on his back for a lot longer, and Nigel De Jong connected with the pictured kick in the 2010 World Cup Final. Holland is a hotbed for producing kickboxers. DeJong is Dutch and he's one tough S.O.B., and I personally wouldn't fancy taking him on inside an Octagon
Rooney comes from a boxing family and was a promising boxer in his youth. His uncle runs a boxing club in Croxteth and taught him a thing or two about the sport. Rooney never backs down from a challenge, and at times, seems to go looking for a fight. His rather large forehead would have given him decent punch resistance as long as he kept his chin tucked low and, regardless of having been trained in boxing, being a kid from the streets of Liverpool he, like Barton, will know how to use his fists. As this video shows, he's pretty handy with his elbows as well. Perhaps a career in MMA beckons next time he decides he wants to make more money.
Adam boxed as a youth and recently spent his summer break training with professional boxers in a gym in Blackpool, were he has been a frequent visitor since moving from Rangers. By all accounts, Adam more than held his own in sparring matches with the professionals. If his left hook is as sweet as his left foot, he'd certainly pack some KO power.
He looks like a hard man, and he is a hard man. Lugano's overly physical style of play doesn't carry much favour with a lot of people, but this guy talks the talk and walks the walk. Ever seen him come off second best in an altercation? Me neither. Lugano is a street-fighter at heart.
He's a big powerful man who has shown he's handy with his fists. I can't help but think he'd be a nasty character if given the opportunity to fight without fear of retribution. He shows a nice double fisted punching technique right at the start of the video.
Also keep an eye out for the punch thrown at 4:20 of the video. Bonus points for anyone that can name the player throwing the punch.
The call him The Beast, and rightfully so. This guy is big, strong and tough. He also looks like a boxer. With his physique, his natural athletic ability and the fact that he's Brazilian, I think he'd make a pretty good fighter.
As you can see in the video, he likes to kick people in the head. He's got a reputation for on field violence, as you can see in following video. He's got a reputation as a tough guy, I think he's just a scumbag. But I still think he'd make a decent fighter. He was born in Brazil, so he's halfway there!
One of the world's greatest players, and also one of the fieriest. Totti has never thought twice about raising his hands, or his feet, to an opponent when the mood strikes. If he was half as talented a fighter as he is a footballer, he'd be a world champion. He's also got a heart the size of Rome and never backs down.
I couldn't find a decent video of him fighting, so I thought a highlight reel of his footballing ability would be nice instead. Enjoy.
The street fighter from the commune of Corigliano Calabro. Gattuso has been fighting his entire career. From bar fights in Glasgow to going nose to nose with Joe Jordan in the Champions League, Gattuso has never been sky of a ruck. Opponents, teammates, managers, officials, there's not many people that Gattuso isn't willing to fight with.
The heart of a lion, the spirit of a gladiator and the face of a boxer. Barcelona's Captain Fantastic carries himself like a man who can take care of himself. Would you bet against him if he decided to get in a fight?
Love him or hate him, you'd want Mascherano on your side if a fight broke out. Bill Shankly once said that Tommy Smith "wasn't born, he was quarried," and I think he'd have said the same about Mascherano. He backs down from nobody, never shirks a challenge and if the story is to believed, he once knocked out two teammates at Corinthians who had been overly physical with Carlos Tevez in training. For my money, the toughest player in world football, occasional theatrics not withstanding.
He made a name for himself but kicking, punching, elbowing and antagonizing opponents. Now that he's a free agent, perhaps he could put those "talents" of his to use in a ring or a cage.
Ok, OK, so he wouldn't make a good fighter. But honestly, who wouldn't pay to see him getting his face smashed in? He's about the same size as Anderson Silva. I think that'd be a fair fight, don't you?