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.