By: Albert Miller – This week, we have mourned the loss of both “The Greatest” Muhammad Ali and Kevin “Kimbo Slice” Ferguson. We don’t mourn the loss because we knew them personally (and if you did, you have my most sincere sympathy), but because their actions and feats of combat have both moved and entertained us. We mourn their passing because they have entertained us with their fights and we now know that their lives have ceased, and that their fight careers were finite and quantifiable. For someone as seemingly immortal as Muhammad Ali and as larger than circumstance as Kimbo Slice, mortality is a hard pill to swallow.
Considering that Muhammad Ali was on one of the first televised mixed fights (a bout against catch wrestler Antonio Inoki) and that Kimbo Slice was a street fighter, turned mixed martial artist, turned boxer, turned mixed martial artist again, it seemed only fitting that we count down five boxing and MMA transplants
Note: Each fighter listed had to have had at least one MMA fight and one boxing fight; having been considered a viable name or contender in one field or the other. Ali and Slice are being excluded from this list because they are the men of honor. Of course, this list is not definitive and are only five transplants that came to mind.
No. 5: Tommy “The Duke” Morrison – Tommy Morrison was known to the public at large, at least the movie-going public at large, as Tommy “The Machine” Gunn in Rocky 5. Unfortunately, what over shadows Morrison’s successful boxing is that he was also primarily known as a boxer who was living with HIV and AIDS. Tommy “The Duke” Morrison was diagnosed with HIV in 1996; leading up to his diagnosis, Morrison had an undefeated streak that lasted from 1988 until 1991, when he dropped a Technical Knock Out loss to “Merciless” Ray Mercer. “The Duke” had wins over Joe Hipp, Dan Murphy, and even George Foreman; his last bout before his diagnosis was a loss to Lennox Lewis. In 2007, believing that his HIV had either disappeared or had never been in his body to begin with, Tommy Morrison agreed to an MMA fight in Arizona against John Stover. Despite winning, Morrison ended up getting booed. As controversy surrounding the bout surmounted, Stover went on record to say that he was not allowed to implement ground fighting or strike Morrison with his feet or knees; essentially, boxing with MMA gloves. Tommy Morrison would pass away in 2013, his body finally succumbing to the AIDS virus that had been present in his body the entire time.
No. 4: Eric “Butterbean” Esch – I’m still not entirely convinced that Eric “Butterbean” Esch isn’t my real father; compare pictures of the two of us, you’ll see what I mean. Butterbean was considered by many to be the “King of the Four Rounders,” hailing to his incredible career in the official Tough Man competitions. Butterbean had such an identifiable look and presence, even if he wasn’t headlining pay-per-views or in a high profile title match. He wore his Apollo Creed-esque American flag trunks and even knocked a WWE wrestler out cold on live TV. For all of the boxing accolades that Butterbean has amassed, he’s almost just as well-known as a Mixed Martial Artist and kickboxer. Esch had competed in bouts for K-1 kickboxing, losing to “the Neo Samurai” Genki Sudo by submission; he’s also fought for PRIDE, knocking out former WCW wrestler Sean O’Haire at PRIDE FC’s last event, PRIDE 34. Outside of combat sports, Eric Esch has appeared in professional wrestling, even having his own reality show as a deputy sheriff in Jasper, Alabama. He’s been on TV, in movies, and even in video games.
No. 3: “Merciless” Ray Mercer – Allow us to not ignore decorum: it’s “1988 Olympic Gold Medalist Heavyweight Boxer ‘Merciless’ Ray Mercer.” Mercer’s victory in the Seoul games in 1988 gave him the accomplishment that Mike Tyson never had: making it on the Olympic team, and the one accomplishment that Evander Holyfield never had: winning the gold. Mercer was the man who broke Tommy Morrison’s incredible winning streak; he would eventually capture the World Boxing Organization’s heavyweight championship (and actually vacated the title to fight a fight he wanted instead of the mandatory challenger). In his last boxing charge, he lost to current-era heavyweight phenom Vladimir Kilitschko and Shannon Briggs. What has scored Mercer so high on this list was his accolades in Mixed Martial Arts. When Kimbo Slice was making the transition from street fighter to Mixed Martial Artist, it was Ray Mercer that welcomed him to the world of cage fights. Although Mercer lost the bout with Kimbo, it was apparent that Ray Mercer was willing to fight and evolve as a prize fighter. Ray Mercer holds the distinction of knocking out former UFC Heavyweight champion Tim “The Maine-iac” Sylvia with just one punch in 2009.
No. 2: James “Lights Out” Toney – The purism of “my style is better than yours and I’ll prove it in no rules competition” has been dead for a very long time, but bless his heart, James Toney still tried to pick that scab. James “Lights Out” Toney is number two on this list because of how modern the concept of Toney believing that his boxing was superior to those of the MMA fighter of the day was. You and I may remember James Toney as a guy who showed up to UFC pressers and tried to goad the UFC president into giving him a fight. A fight, I might add, that pitted Toney against one of the best wrestlers to ever compete in the UFC. Sure, James Toney didn’t win that fight, but his heart was in the right place. When it comes down to it, fight promotion is best served with self-promotion. Toney was going around, saying he could knock any UFC fighter out, did that translate to ticket sales, if even to prove Toney wrong? Yes. Yes it did. James “Lights Out” Toney was more than a mouth, more than just a Randy Couture statistic; James Toney is a very accomplished boxer that had been voted “Fighter of the Year” by Ring Magazine in 1991 and then again in 2003. James Toney has held many titles over many organizations and even has a victory over “The Real Deal” Evander Holyfield. What’s interesting about the James Toney story was that he started out as a middleweight (think Canelo Alvarez or Triple G) and was determined to win titles at Heavyweight (think Mike Tyson or Lennox Lewis). Despite being naturally equipped for a lighter division, “Lights Out” followed his ambition, straight to victory.
No. 1: Art “One Glove” Jimmerson – Why number one? Because you dance with the one you brought to the dance. We, as fans of mixed martial arts, will always remember highlight reels of Royce Gracie fighting that guy who was wearing one glove; the sheer absurdity of it will be in every fond memory that we’ll have of the UFC, forever. When Art Jimmerson arrived for the first UFC outing, he wasn’t sure what to expect, so he was prepared to go into the Octagon in bare feet and wearing shorts. The promoters felt he was a boxer and needed to look the part, so they went and rounded him up a pair of boxing shoes and a glove to protect his jabbing hand. During the fight, Jimmerson was taken out of his element by Gracie Jiu Jitsu (and so was everyone else who fought Royce Gracie, let’s be honest) and tapped to a man who had submitted everyone else he fought; there was no shame in that defeat. Prior to UFC 1, Jimmerson had won the IBC Americas championship and was on a significant winning streak. After his boxing career, Jimmerson had laid out the challenge that he wanted to fight Kimbo Slice. The fight with Slice would never come together. Currently, Jimmerson is the head boxing coach for the UFC Gym in Torrance, California.
That does it for this week’s Friday 5ive. It was honor to honor those who have entertained me in the world of combat sports and that’s why I put the whole thing together. I may never get the chance to tell my favorite fighters that their feats of athleticism have moved me in some way, but I will be more than happy to keep putting out the positive energy into the universe.
Until next time: Fights, Cameron, Action!