As I watched the basketball playoffs swing into full gear over the past month I found myself wondering what could be if athletes like LeBron James and Derrick Rose had been raised in the Octagon rather than on a basketball court.
At some point in time every MMA fan has wondered what so-and-so athlete would be able to do inside the cage had they dedicated themselves to fighting rather than football, basketball or baseball. In this country these sports are often called “The Big Three” — the three most popular sports in the United States of America. The sports most kids grow up dreaming about playing as professionals.
What if these kids grew up dreaming about competing in the UFC?
I’ve been thinking about an answer to this question for a long time. Like I mentioned earlier, I know I’m not the only MMA fan who has probably spent far too much time contemplating it. In order to answer the question, I devised the following criteria/assumptions:
- They have to be within 20 pounds of the weight class in which they would be fighting. Therefore, a 245-pound linebacker could not be considered a light heavyweight.
- We have to assume that each of these athletes has been brought up practicing mixed martial arts their entire life.
- We have to assume that with top-notch training these athletes could conceivably become champions in their respective divisions.
- They must already have, or possess the potential for, a good fight name.
While deciding on the criteria was pretty simple, the process of deciding on only one championship-caliber athlete for each weight class was not. So, without further ado here is the definitive (OK, not definitive at all, feel free to argue with me on twitter or the Punch Drunk Radio fan page on Facebook) list of athletes from “The Big Three” sports that I believe would excel in MMA.
Heavyweight: LeBron James, Miami Heat
According to his NBA.com player profile LeBron James is 6’8’’ and 250 pounds. He is a bigger, more athletic Jon Jones. On the basketball court James is explosive and seemingly athletic enough to jump over his opponents. This has to translate to the cage.
He has long limbs like the aforementioned Jon Jones, but even more so than Jones, James’ body looks like Michelangelo chiseled it out of marble. He is a solid 250 pounds and the weight-cutting process would not hinder him.
Despite the fact that many people no longer want to back James due to the whole “decision” fiasco, it does not mean they eschew seeing him in the cage. They are still tuning in to watch him dunk on opponents and they would tune in to watch him knock out his opponents, as well. Not to mention being nicknamed the “King” means he already has a name that would look good on a gaudy Affliction shirt.
Light Heavyweight: Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh Steelers
I know what you’re thinking. Troy Polamalu is undersized to fight at light heavyweight. You are right. At 207 pounds he is undersized compared to the behemoths in this division who generally walk around between 220 and 230 pounds, but Polamalu has always been undersized. In a game ruled by giants, Polamalu is feared as a lethal hitter who ends games early for his opponents. As MMA fans we know just how important ending the night early for your opponent is inside the cage.
In addition to a penchant for putting on a violent show, Polamalu has a non-stop motor that is an important part of any fighter’s repertoire. He simply never gets tired. His cardio will allow him to outwork his opponents and break their will. He is a whirling dervish of a man who does not take his own health into consideration and plays with what far too many commentators call “reckless abandon.”
As far as fight names go, Polamalu has already adopted the “Tasmanian Devil” moniker. His hair and ferocious attitude really left no other choice. Polamalu would, no doubt, bring an exciting style to the Octagon and not too many of his fights would go to a decision. Quiet and unassuming off the field, Polamalu has the stability and dedication to improvement that separates great fighters from good ones.
Middleweight: Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans
Unlike Polamalu, who is serious and quiet, Chris Johnson is loud and bombastic. He is good, and he knows that he is good. This type of outlandish, arrogant attitude has served many fighters well in MMA. While Polamalu is more Fedor Emelianenko, Johnson is more Rashad Evans. A belief in his own ability, and the actual ability to back it up, would make Johnson a dangerous opponent inside the Octagon.
Johnson has amazing speed and agility, two traits that all fighters are constantly trying to improve and develop. Johnson was born with these traits. He would have fast hands and lightning-quick takedowns. Johnson would be a beast with the right coaching and training. His physical gifts are almost unparalleled in the NFL. Had Johnson worked his whole life developing those gifts as a fighter, he who be a handful for any middleweight. Also, his hair looks like it stinks, which could work to his advantage.
Johnson use to be part of a running back duo in Tennessee known as “Smash and Dash” — and he was not “Smash.” It may be confusing to people who are wondering why I’d choose the “Dash” to be a fighter and not the “Smash.” Confused yet? I am.
No longer part of “Smash and Dash,” Johnson’s got a new nickname, a nickname he gave himself. This is never a good sign. Are you ready for it? “Every Coach’s Dream.”
So I admit, his fight name is going to take a little bit of work. You could go with “Every Opponent’s Nightmare,” shorten it to just plain “Nightmare” or call him “Night Walker.” Either way, the potential is there and that is what is most important.
Welterweight: Shane Victorino, Philadelphia Phillies
I admit Shane Victorino’s name on this list full of naturally gifted athletes may seem a little out of place, but I had to include him for a couple of reasons.
First, he is a local boy. While I did not grow up in Hawaii, my father did, and he taught us to be proud of our Hawaiian heritage. Thus, Victorino got the nod.
Second, he could train with my personal favorite fighter and Hawaiian hero, BJ Penn. I know there are MMA fans who might suggest that this would actually hurt Victorino more than help him due to Penn’s allegedly lackadaisical work ethic. I wonder if Diego Sanchez, Jon Fitch, Sean Sherk or Matt Hughes feel like BJ wasn’t prepared to fight them. Victorino would be “BJ 2.0″ with the coaching and wealth of knowledge that “The Prodigy” could impart on him.
Third, Victorino is extremely tough. I was at a Dodgers-Phillies game in L.A. a couple of years ago where a bean-ball war broke out. Whoever was pitching for the Dodgers threw at Victorino’s head. Victorino gestured to the Dodger dugout that it was OK to throw at him, just not at his head. He literally asked to have a 90-plus MPH fastball thrown at him. I do not care how tough you think you are, to ask to have a baseball hurled at you by a major league pitcher takes some testicular fortitude.
Fourth, he plays with a chip on his shoulder. Every time Victornio takes the field it lookes like he is a little pissed off. This can be an asset to fighters who more and more these days seem to not want to fight someone they may have trained with or even spoken kindly to at a certain point in time.
Last, but not least, he already has a fantastic nickname. Two actually. “The Flying Hawaiian” or “The Pineapple Express.” Take your pick.
Lightweight: Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics
We know that Rajon Rondo is tough. No one just snaps their dislocated elbow back into place and keeps playing. No one. No one, that is, until Rajon Rondo did it against the Miami Heat. The gruesome injury looked as if it could be not only the end of the 2011 playoffs for Rondo, but possibly the end of his career. Or at least career altering.
Toughness is a trait that cannot be taught and any man that can snap a dislocated elbow back into place and keep playing in any sort of sport is Renzo Gracie-level tough. In addition to the toughness, Rondo is an athlete with a non-stop motor and he has freakishly large hands for a man of his height. The anvils at the end of his tiny arms would make Brock Lesnar and Shane Carwin take notice.
Rajon Rondo does not have a nickname, but picturing Bruce Buffer shouting out, “RAYYYYYY-Jon RONNNNNN-Do!” is nickname enough. There are times when a nickname is not needed, and this is one of those times. I know I am going against my own guidelines here, but that is what makes devising the guidelines yourself so great. I can change them whenever I want. Besides, you know a nickname would just spoil Buffer’s introduction of Rondo, anyway.
Bonus: Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers
I would not give him any training. I just want to see him get punched in his smug lip-smacking-at-the-podium-after-being-swept face.