The Sweet Science is alive and well. It's just moving to a new ring.
Junior dos Santos is a walking testament to this. Considered for some time to be the best boxer in the UFC's heavyweight division, dos Santos made a case at UFC on Fox 1 that he's one of the best boxers in the entire sport when he TKO'd champion Cain Velasquez in 64 seconds to capture the heavyweight belt.
As we all know, boxing is more than just striking. It's a discipline unto itself, and rewards hand and foot speed, technique and strategy as well as power. No one is going to confuse MMA's best boxers with Floyd Mayweather anytime soon, but they still have formidable skills in their own right, especially in the context of a more wide-ranging combat sport like MMA.
These are the 10 active MMA fighters with the best boxing skills. I'm thinking about straight boxing here, rather than kickboxing or Muay Thai, though I've included some of those guys if they have strong "traditional" boxing bona fides.
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Georges St- Pierre is not traditionally perceived as a great boxer. But ask Josh Koscheck, who just returned from a nine-month layoff after GSP broke his eye socket with jabs, whether that perception is accurate.
"Hands of Stone" attacks a variety of targets from a variety of angles, and when he connects, it hurts.
Perhaps that's why he has three Fight of the Night bonuses and one Knockout of the Night bonus—a highlight-reel gem over Yves Edwards in his last engagement—to his credit.
The hard-hitting Russian has always been vulnerable on the ground. Josh Barnett was the latest fighter to expose that, in the semifinals of the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix.
But standing up, it's another story. Once a serious contender for the Olympics, Kharitonov has nine MMA victories via a KO or TKO from punches. That's half his total wins in MMA.
Overeem is a professional kickboxer as well as MMA fighter, and he makes the boxing list because of the great technique (and success) he has in his hands.
Seven of his career wins have come as a direct results of punches. He loses points for a leaky gas tank (an important skill for any boxer), but is still razor sharp when it comes to throwing leather.
(Photo credit: ESPN)
Nevertheless, he's a great MMA boxer. He throws punches from unpredictable angles while darting in and out of the danger zone like a sandpiper.
It's the same story in the fifth round as in the first; he keeps a blistering pace throughout that almost literally makes it hard for any opponent to stand with him.
(Photo credit: ESPN)
The losses in his MMA career are more memorable than his wins, but you can't argue that he's one of the sport's best boxers. His hands are greased lightning, but he's not going in there to outpoint you, as evidenced by the fact that 14 of his 20 career wins came by way of punching.
As long as Belfort can still sling those fists, he'll continue to capture the imagination of fight fans.
(Photo credit: USA Today)
After handling Velasquez, dos Santos now has 10 of his 14 victories by TKO or other striking-related stoppage. According to CompuStrike, in his seven previous fights before facing Velasquez, 82 percent of the strikes he threw were arm strikes, and 69 percent of the arm strikes he landed were power strikes.
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His tumbling combinations and relentless pacing make him one of the most dangerous welterweights on the planet. His virtuoso performance against B.J. Penn only underscored that, considering that Penn would be a shoo-in for an all-time list of great MMA boxers.
He is sometimes dinged for sloppy technique, but what Diaz loses in quality he makes up for in quantity. The guy just stands in front of you and throws and throws and throws. He has a tough chin, but it's more than that. He's not taking one to give one; he's taking one to give, like, four.
According to CompuStrike, in his 13 fights preceding the Penn encounter, Diaz threw an average of 185 arm strikes per contest. But even that's misleading, as it includes four fights (all wins for Diaz) that ended in the first round. And lest you want to use the "pitter-patter" argument against Diaz (and, granted, he's not Shane Carwin over there), 78 percent of the arm strikes he landed were considered power strikes.
After his incredible run of late—two wins over B.J. Penn, then a draw and TKO against Gray Maynard—Edgar is No. 2 with a bullet.
He has cardio for days, outstanding footwork and head movement and crisp striking. More than anything else, though, he has tons and tons of that one characteristic that separates good boxers from great ones: heart.
Another fighter who has flirted with a crossover into boxing, Silva fights with surgical accuracy and mind-boggling evasiveness. According to CompuStrike, Silva lands 48 percent of his arm strikes. His opponents? Twenty-four percent.
He also regularly scores knockdowns using nothing more than his pinpoint jab (see Forrest Griffin and Yushin Okami), but it's the defense that is truly amazing. If you watch his head movement in the Griffin fight, it's almost like an optical illusion.
(Photo credit: Al Bello/Zuffa LLC/Getty)