Athletes in Other Sports Who Would Make Great Boxers
Unfortunately for the sport of boxing that you and I both love, typically the best athletes in America end up focusing on other sports such as football, basketball or baseball. It's hard to blame them since choosing those other sports gives them an opportunity to make more money without getting hit in the face.
The lighter divisions still receive great athletes who are too small for other sports, but cruiserweight and heavyweight could be absolutely loaded if even a small percentage of the athletes who currently play one of the other sports switched to boxing.
Think of this as kind of a "what if" article. If the NFL or NBA wasn't as popular—which was the case in the 1950s or before—which current great athletes would make fantastic boxers?
I'm going to leave off MMA fighters for this list because they'd be too obvious. Of course any good striker in the UFC would probably do pretty well as a boxer; this list needs to be about athletes without experience in a combat sport.
There are a lot of factors that go into what makes a boxer great, but I narrowed it down to three criteria when looking for other athletes who could excel inside the ring: great athleticism, good size and a competitive fire or chip on their shoulder.
Most pro athletes in the three major American sports have good size compared to boxers, so that wasn't a huge problem when trying to think of who should make this list. Mainly what I looked for was supreme athletic ability that would transfer into the ring and/or the fire or heart to survive and win a 12-round brawl.
This one should be fun to discuss in the comments section or at the sports bar with your friends; let the debate begin!
J.J. Watt, NFL, Houston Texans
What a physical beast J.J. Watt would be inside the ring. At 6'6'' and 290 pounds he would be bigger than Wladimir Klitschko or almost any other heavyweight who dared to face him.
Watch Watt for any one game and it's pretty easy to see how physically dominant he is on the football field. He's bigger, faster and stronger than the men he lines up across and finds a way to get into the backfield anytime the opposing team is foolish enough to block him with just one man.
He's unstoppable in a one-on-one situation.
In the ring Watt would have a height, reach and weight advantage on almost any boxer he faced, and he looks like he would have knockout power the way he's built.
His attitude and determination would also play in his favor as he appears to be the embodiment of giving 110 percent in film study, in the weight room and at practice. Many players say they want to be the best ever, but that desire appears to fuel and drive Watt more than anyone else I've ever seen.
Watt would be a devastating crusher inside the ring.
Steve Smith, NFL, Baltimore Ravens
In the NFL Steve Smith is a little dude with a chip on his shoulder who routinely dominates bigger players lined up across from him.
In the ring Smith would be put up against men his own size, so I see no reason why that intensity or chip on his shoulder that he plays with wouldn't lead him to great success as a boxer.
Anytime I watch him play, he always seems to be playing harder than anyone else and getting a win seems to mean more to him than most other players. He was probably a guy who was told he was too small his whole life and has been on a mission to prove everyone wrong ever since.
Just look at his game against the Carolina Panthers—his former team which let him go after last year—when he set a season high in yards and touchdowns, while tying his season high in receptions. That ability to rise to the occasion and use slights or perceived disrespect as fuel is big for a boxer; he has that ability and attitude.
Smith just scraps men, loves to get after people and loves to win. His mindset would be perfect as a boxer.
Pro-Football-Reference.com has Smith listed at 185 pounds, but at 5'9'' I imagine as boxer he would try to shed some of that weight and fight somewhere between middleweight at 160 and light heavyweight at 175 to face boxers closer to his height and reach.
Russell Westbrook, NBA, Oklahoma City Thunder
Russell Westbrook would have it all as a boxer.
He has good size, he's one of the best athletes in the NBA and he plays a very feisty style of basketball with a huge chip on his shoulder; all things that would work well in his favor as a boxer.
His attitude and aggressiveness is very similar to Steve Smith whom I discussed on the previous slide, but he's a much better athlete than Smith. At times he also seems to go a little "me first" on the court with his shot selection which is a bad thing in a team sport, but it's not necessarily a negative attribute as a boxer.
Westbrook is lightning-quick with his feet which would translate well into the ring, and I wouldn't be surprised to find out that his hand speed was equally as quick.
Can he take a punch? No way of knowing right now, but he does possess the right attitude, and he would instantly be one of the most athletic fighters in any division he competed in.
Andre Johnson, NFL, Houston Texans
Just ask Cortland Finnegan if Andre Johnson can throw a punch; I think the video above is proof that he can.
Johnson in his prime was every bit the freak combination of size and athleticism that Calvin Johnson and Dez Bryant are today, but not many people noticed because he played in Houston and the quarterbacks throwing him the ball were never better than average.
Pro-Football-Reference.com has Johnson listed at 6'3'' and 219 pounds, but as a boxer he'd be wise to cut some of the muscle and weight to get under 200 pounds; don't think his body frame could hold up against heavyweights.
As a light heavyweight or cruiserweight, however, Johnson could excel. He doesn't talk as much or outwardly show that fire to the public like some of the others on this list, but his work ethic and drive behind the scenes is on level with any other Hall of Fame athlete.
Usain Bolt, Track and Field, Jamaica
I probably wouldn't want to watch his fights, but Usain Bolt could probably win a lot of matches.
He's from a different country in the Caribbean, but if he learned to use Guillermo Rigondeaux or Erislandy Lara's Cuban style, he could be great; honestly, who could catch him?
His physical appearance suggests he doesn't have much upper-body muscle mass, so he probably wouldn't win many fights by knockout. However, as a technical fighter who jabbed and moved, he could rack up a lot of wins on points.
I know it's easy to pick out arguably the best athlete in the world and talk about how he'd do in other sports, but there would obviously be a big learning curve with Bolt. His approach to training would need tweaking and who knows if he can take a punch, but his athletic ability makes giving him a shot worth it at least.
LeBron James, NBA, Cleveland Cavaliers
LeBron James might be the best athlete in the world or at least the best athlete playing a major American sport.
I'm not convinced his competitive fire or mean streak is at the same level of the other guys on this list, but I couldn't leave him off this list because like I said he might be the most physically gifted athlete of this generation.
James is 6'8'' and 240 pounds with insane athleticism; he's one of those guys who could arguably excel at any sport he worked hard at, except maybe baseball because his strike zone would be just too big.
When James decides to impose his will physically on the defender guarding him by posting up or driving to the hoop, he's nearly unstoppable; it looks like a boy trying to guard a fully grown man.
Just think about trying to get inside on James as a shorter boxer if he used his reach with a jab and kept distance with his footwork; he'd be nearly impossible to track down, much less hit hard.
In the ring James would have an advantage in height, reach and athleticism on nearly every opponent who stepped into the ring to face him. If James had practiced and trained his whole life to be a boxer, I have little doubt that he would have become a champion.
David West, NBA, Indiana Pacers
David West would have fit perfectly into the 1980s with the rough style of basketball that was played back then with the Detroit Pistons. West is as tough as they come and secretly probably hopes someone throws a punch at him so that he gets a chance to swing back.
He's physical in the paint, doesn't back down from contact and seems to enjoy being an instigator. Maybe I'm reading him wrong, but he seems like he could be a "likes to fight guy," so boxing would be a perfect outlet for him.
At 6'9'' and 240 pounds he would also have a size advantage on most boxers he faced inside the ring. West has great size and is one of the more physical players in the NBA; hard to find a reason why he wouldn't do well as a boxer.
Other athletes considered for this include: Calvin Johnson (NFL), Delanie Walker (NFL), Patrick Willis (NFL), Adrian Peterson (NFL), Mike Trout (MLB), Kyle Lowry (NBA) and Kawhi Leonard (NBA).
This by no means is a complete and final list, so please suggest names that should have made the cut in the comments section.