Boxing is the most popular combat sport on the planet, but mixed martial arts is threatening to surpass that someday. Boxing is one of the most detailed striking arts. Its popularity – and the large purses up-and-coming boxers hope to earn – has led to its techniques being fine-tuned and perfected in ways that are unique to the sport.
Commonly referred to as the sweet science, boxing involves using only your fists to strike your opponent. While that might seem limiting compared to martial arts like Muay Thai, two fists are more than enough to end any fight.
Only attacking with your hands has some benefits in mixed martial arts. You are more balanced as you move around the cage, and there’s no chance of a kick being caught and used to take you down. While we can argue for ages if boxing is as good as Muay Thai for MMA, the reality is that fighters with superb boxing skills have enjoyed their share of success inside the cage.
Let us take a look at some of the best boxers to ever compete in the sport of mixed martial arts:
1) Jorge Masvidal
A former street boxer, Masvidal might have fallen short twice during his title matches against Kamaru Usman, but he remains one of the best boxers to ever compete in mixed martial arts. Masvidal has never competed professionally as a boxer, but years of training with Dan Lambert have turned him into a force to be reckoned with.
To start, Masvidal’s boxing defense is a thing of beauty. He rarely takes serious damage during his fights, and he’s one of the hardest guys to hit clean. His combinations are sharp and fluid, plus he’s typically pretty intelligent with his punch selection.
Masvidal has been a journeyman for most of his MMA career, and many would attribute that to his point-fighting approach during his earlier years. That led to him losing a handful of close split decisions that many knowledgeable MMA fans would argue he should have won.
Masvidal turned himself into one of the biggest superstars in the sport with a violent knockout of Darren Till, which granted him the opportunity to bless Ben Askren with a first-round knockout that remains the fastest knockout in UFC history. Masvidal continues to be one of the top fighters in the UFC’s welterweight division, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him work his way to a third title shot.
2) Holly Holm
Holm racked up 30 wins inside a boxing ring before ever stepping inside the cage. She used her boxing skills to quickly work herself up the UFC women’s bantamweight ranking and eventually earned herself a shot against then-champion Ronda Rousey.
Holm picked Rousey apart with her boxing during their title encounter, making her look like an amateur in the boxing department. There was a moment during that fight where she made Rousey miss so bad with her punches, the champ ended up losing her balance and falling to her knees. That was the moment you could see doubt start to creep into Rousey’s eyes.
Holm ended up winning the fight with a head kick, but it was her boxing that set it all up. Unfortunately for her, she lost the belt during her next outing against Miesha Tate, and she’s never been able to reclaim it. Holm remains the best boxer in women’s mixed martial arts, but she might have some competition for that title pretty soon as Claressa Shields continues her run in MMA.
3) Junior dos Santos
At his peak, JDS had some of the cleanest boxing in MMA. He consistently threw his shots effectively and precisely, and that earned him the UFC’s heavyweight title in 2011, knocking out Cain Velazquez early in the first round of their championship bout.
While his knockout of Cain Velazquez was the biggest moment of his MMA career, his wars against the likes of Mark Hunt and Stipe Miocic showcased just how good JDS’s hands were. His use of distance management and timing in those fights is not something you see regularly in mixed martial arts.
JDS has always showcased a high boxing IQ, from setting up traps and leading opponents into strikes, to reading attacks and evading them. JDS’s wrestling ended up being his Achille’s heel as Velazquez broke him down with his wrestling during the rematch and rubber match. JDS hasn’t been able to work his way to another title shot since then.
4) Nick Diaz
Nick Diaz started his MMA career as an elite Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu player, but he quickly evolved into one of the best boxers in the sport. He also happens to be one of the most entertaining boxers thanks to his fan-friendly fighting style and unpredictable antics. Diaz credits his experiences sparring world-class boxers like Andre Ward and Joe Schilling.
Diaz also happens to have one of the most entertaining boxing styles. He aggressively runs down his opponents, while peppering them with light blows. Diaz favors volume punching over power punching, and it works out well for him.
Diaz happens to be a cardio machine who regularly competes in triathlons. That allows him to break down opponents with his volume punches until they become so tired, they can barely defend themselves. Nick’s younger brother, Nate Diaz, also has a similar boxing style.
5) Conor McGregor
Conor started training boxing around the age of 12, and he’s even had a few amateur fights. Inside the cage, he seamlessly mixes up his boxing with Muay Thai and other martial arts he’s trained, which makes him one of the more unorthodox fighters in MMA.
Still, a huge portion of Conor’s success can be credited to his boxing skills. His left hand put down many of the best fighters in the UFC’s featherweight and lightweight divisions like Nate Diaz, Eddie Alvarez, and Jose Aldo.
Conor even managed to make a boxing fight with Floyd Mayweather a bit fun, even if it wasn’t a competitive affair. He remains the only MMA fighter who has stepped into a boxing ring against the best boxer of an era.
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