December 1, 2023
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The Joy of Six: Athletes Who Crossed Over into Combat Sports

Over the last few decades, athletes have switched sports, trying new things that have got their fans’ tongues wagging. Combat sports, in particular, have witnessed many crossovers from different quarters. In this post, we’ll consider six athletes who have crossed to combat sports and examine what motivated their decisions. But before doing so, let’s review what makes up combat sports.

What Are Combat Sports?

Combat sports are also called fighting sports. They involve contestants striving to defeat opponents by physically hitting, kicking, or rendering them unconscious (knockouts) through established rules enforced by referees. If we don’t want to sugarcoat things, combat sports are organized fighting for public admiration.

To succeed, athletes must be skillful, technical, enduring, physically strong, and have an influential promoter. That’s because the sport is risky and energy-demanding. Examples of combat sports include boxing, wrestling, karate, taekwondo, and judo, to mention just a few. That said, let’s look at six athletes who have crossed over to combat sports.

6 Athletes Who Have Crossed Over into Combat Sports

  1. Andrew Flintoff: From Cricket to Boxing

Besides being a sportsman, Flintoff is also a media personality. He became his fans’ favorite through his outstanding cricket career in which he won the Ashes with his country, England. From starring in Australian comedy shows to becoming a BBC presenter, Flintoff has had it good in his post-cricket on-screen personality roles.

Perhaps in admiration of boxing athletes or to make a statement of class, Flintoff picked up the gloves and tried his hand in the boxing ring. Andrew’s fans were in anticipation, and on the list of top box sportsbooks in the Philippines were bookmakers already rubbing their hands, making predictions for the future fight. The odds for the newcomer to win his debut fight were 4/6. And Flintoff winning the British heavyweight title was 50/1.

At the end of November 2012, the English cricketer-turned-boxer faced American Richard Dawson and was knocked out in the second round. However, thanks to his indomitable nature, he fought back and the judges declared him the winner on points. Andrew Flintoff never won another boxing title and has never fought again since and probably never will. However, many bookmakers still remember that incredible fight and the unprecedented power of the rookie boxer.

  1. Herschel Walker: From NFL to MMA

With Walker, almost anything is doable. As an NFL player, he was in a class of his own, achieving four thousand career yards on kickoff, receiving, and rushing returns. Famous for his breathtaking daily routines – 2,500 sit-ups & 1,500 push-ups – the ex-NFL running back tried out taekwondo and won a 5th-degree black belt in the 1992 Winter Olympic gold Games.

But that’s not all. Walker, in his corner, competed in the Strikeforce’s 2010 heavyweight division and also in Miami against his opponent, Greg Nagy, a 26-year-old fighter who he defeated with punches in the third round. A year later, Walker sought promotion by fighting again in the bout, making him one of the combat athletes from the NFL. While many misunderstood his decision to switch to MMA, his manager, Javier Mendez, spoke highly of Walker’s commitment, noting that he outperformed the younger folks on many occasions.

  1. Anthony Mundine: From Rugby to Boxing

Mundine left Rugby when he was 25 to embrace the ring sport. Drawing inspiration from Muhammad Ali, the Australian athlete became a Muslim in 1999 and went incognito for a year, only to return with Ali’s autobiography. His parents were boxing athletes, but Mundine chose rugby at age 18, plying his trade with the George-Illawarra Dragons. 

Known for his outspoken nature and often controversial stance on issues, Mundine nonetheless won many titles with his boxing gloves. These include the IBO Middleweight Crown, the WBA Super-Middleweight title, and the WBA Interim, among others. The Australian ex-rugby player had a record of 47 wins, 7 draws, and 27 knockouts in his boxing career.

  1. Charlie Powell: From NFL to Boxing

Baseball was the initial sport Powell embraced before becoming one of the best combat athletes in the NFL. With a weight of 230 lbs and a height of 6ft 3in, the young Powell should probably not have taken to sports like boxing; many believe he would have excelled more as a baseball, basketball, or football player.

Powell’s adventure into boxing was to enable him to pay his bills. Although he started locally by training in the neighborhood, Powell became a manager and trainer when he was to make his professional debut in 1953. That year, the athlete knocked out Nino Valdes, ranked second, to become number four in Ring Magazine’s heavyweight ranking.

  1. Curtis Woodhouse: From Soccer to Boxing

Sports like boxing continue to attract athletes outside the combat niche, with Curtis Woodhouse, a well-known footballer, one of its surprises. He was once in England’s Under 21 team, scoring from corners and made 347 appearances in 15 years. But while his body was playing football, his mind was technically boxing. His boxing idols were Nigel Benn and Mike Tyson.

Throughout his professional boxing career, he recorded 22 wins, seven draws, and 13 knockouts. He’s now Hull United manager.

  1. Akebono Taro: From Basketball to Wrestling

From a rather pathetic background, Akebono (ring name) bagged 11 championships with a 654-232 record, pitching him as one of the most successful foreign athletes in Japan. He could have won more titles if not for his back problem, but he nevertheless reached yokozuna, the highest rank in Sumo, in 1993.


People are split on their views of athletes changing their sport, but one thing is clear: more than half of those who have tried this path haven’t done well for themselves. Even with the best promoter and manager, crossing over hasn’t proven a worthy decision, regardless of the division the crosser plays.

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