This weekend former UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou (who never actually lost that belt) is in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia to box WBC heavyweight champion Tyson Fury in a fight that may or may not be an exhibition bout. Regardless of the rules and stipulations, the bout will net Ngannou one of the largest purses ever for a UFC fighter (past or present).
But despite the stage for Fury vs. Ngannou being so grand, and the earnings being so rich for all involved, seeing a UFC fighter, even a champion, don the big gloves and switch to the sweet science is nothing new. In fact, it’s pretty common.
Below are 10 UFC champions who switched over to boxing after making their name in the UFC. With Francis Ngannou joining their ranks this weekend it will be interesting to see if he can match the success of a Jose Aldo or Anthony Pettis or if he’ll embarrass himself, like Tyron Woodley and Tito Ortiz.
10 UFC champions who tried boxing
1. Conor McGregor
Up until Francis Ngannou’s exploits, Conor McGregor and his improbable bout with Floyd Mayweather Jr. was the most audacious and sensational MMA vs. boxing match-up we’d ever witnessed.
When there were rumblings that McGregor and Mayweather wanted to fight, many of us shook our heads at the ridiculousness of it all. How could they fight? Why would the UFC allow such a thing? Would this even be sanctioned? How would it work?
All those questions got ironed out (thanks to wads and wads of cash) and all us doubters were left with egg on our faces as McGregor and Mayweather embarked on a North American tour that lead-up to a fight in August, 2017.
The bout, which was a pro boxing bout, was entertaining enough and McGregor tried his best to utilize ‘MMA angles’ to surprise and stifle Mayweather. But in the end, the popular opinion that a boxer would beat an MMA fighter in boxing (as a chess player would a Go player in chess) proved true.
Mayweather calmly pecked away at McGregor, avoiding any kind of meaningful offense. Yes, McGregor landed more than Canelo, but don’t be a dweeb about it. Mayweather was comfortable the entire fight and when he put his foot on the gas he was able to put McGregor away (despite a rather quick stoppage, mind you).
The fight marks a clear transition point in the fortunes of McGregor. Leading up to that bout he was an all conquering MMA phenom, with crushing UFC title clinching wins over Jose Aldo and Eddie Alvarez.
With the Mayweather fight, McGregor’s clownish persona began to fully eat away at anything authentic left inside the Irishiman. Since then he’s been a shell of himself, competitively, and an embarrassing figure outside the cage (and on social media). He’s still rich, though, so I guess that counts for something.
2. Anderson Silva
For a certain generation of MMA fans, Anderson Silva is beyond compare. The former UFC middleweight champion was equal parts devastating and debonair during his storied championship reign. There were some incredibly frustrating (and weird) moments during that period, but much of that was overshadowed by his clinical finishes with hands, feet or knee.
The same generation who was wowed by the Silva they first saw in the Hard Rock on Spike TV was also shocked and dismayed by his losses to Chris Weidman. We were then thoroughly depressed by his lingering presence where he was overwhelmed by younger, stronger middleweights who wouldn’t hold a candle to the Spider in his prime.
His 2020 release from the UFC was met with relief from some quarters, with many believing (and hoping) the 46-year-old would ride off into the sunset and not put his body on the line anymore. However, it seems even legends can’t resist the lure of the ring.
In 2021 Silva returned to the boxing ring (he had two pro boxing bouts before he became an MMA household name). Initially, he booked some very appropriate opponents.
His first bout of this new era was against Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., who was ten years his junior with over 60 pro fights to his name. Silva won the fight by split decision, leaving his opponent’s father fuming. Next he met, and KO’d, Tito Ortiz (more on that later).
And then he took a fight with Jake Paul…
Paul vs. Silva went down in October, 2022. Silva looked fine to start with, but he couldn’t keep the pace for eight rounds. And why should he? He’s pushing fifty!
It was a crushing experience seeing a twenty-something hobbyist land a shot on, and drop, an icon like Silva. But The Problem Child’s win is just a reminder that Father Time is, and will remain, undefeated.
3. Jose Aldo
From one Brazilian MMA legend to another, Jose Aldo laced up the big gloves after getting his release from the UFC in 2022. Aldo’s career trajectory in the UFC mirrored much of what happened with Anderson Silva; a steady and impressive rise, a concussive dethroning and then an uncomfortable lingering period. However, Aldo’s latter years in the UFC were far more competitive than Silva’s, as he notched wins over Marlon Vera, Rob Font and Pedro Munhoz.
Aldo came to the UFC in 2011, via ZUFFA’s purchase of WEC. This transaction made Aldo, the WEC featherweight champ and every MMA hipster’s favourite fighter, the inaugural UFC featherweight champion. He held the belt for four years until one Conor McGregor managed to unsettle Aldo enough to fool him into a rash lunge in the opening seconds of their much anticipated title fight.
After that loss Aldo plugged away at building his MMA legacy, with fun fights, surprising wins and a positive, even goofy, attitude that seemed a polar opposite from the perturbed and severe figure he cut during the McGregor saga.
His first foray into boxing was an exhibition bout against Emmanuel Zambrano in February 2023, which he won via unanimous decision.
His pro debut came a few months later. On a Gamebred Boxing card he met former UFC opponent Jeremy Stephens. The fight ended in a majority draw.
In July 2023 Aldo defeated Esteban Gabriel Espindola via unanimous decision.
4. Cris Cyborg
Cris Cyborg Justino is one of the greatest female combat sports athletes of all time. She’s won in MMA, BJJ, Muay Thai, amateur wrestling and—since 2022—pro boxing.
Cyborg would be the unanimous choice of women’s MMA GOAT if not for Amanda Nunes, who handed Cyborg a 51-second KO loss in 2018, costing her the UFC featherweight title. That is only the second loss on Cyborg’s 30 fight record. The first was a kneebar defeat in her MMA debut in 2005.
Aside from those losses, Cyborg has been a dominant force wherever she has fought. Most recently she won the Bellator featherweight title and has held it against all comers, including Cat Zingano and Arlene Blencowe.
Strangely, Cyborg is most famous for a fight that never happened. During the heyday of Ronda Rousey, fans were clamouring to see Rousey tested against the same women who ended Gina Carano’s hype train. But the fight never happened. The UFC had no desire to risk their Golden Goose against Cyborg and, along with Rousey, demeaned her at every opportunity.
Rousey would later be found out by Holly Holm (one of the most acclaimed boxers to ever become a UFC champion).
Cyborg’s boxing career started in September 2022 with a unanimous decision win over former Brazilian national champ Simone Silva. Though, that fight came just a month after Silva was TKO’d via a body punch and while she should have been observing a medical suspension.
Cyborg’s second boxing bout was in December 2022. That’s when she beat Gabrielle Holloway by unanimous decision on the undercard of Terrance Crawford vs. David Avanesyan.
5. Tyron Woodley
Tyron Woodley won the UFC welterweight title with a KO win over Robbie Lawler at UFC 201 in 2016. He then defended the title in bouts with Stephen Thompson, Demian Maia and Darren Till. In 2019 he was dethroned by Kamaru Usman, who took a unanimous decision win over The Chosen One.
Woodley was unable to recover from that loss, losing to Gilbert Burns, Colby Covington and Vicente Luque before being released from the company in March, 2021.
Soon after his release Woodley scored the biggest pay day of his fight career. He was in the right place at the right time to capture the attention of Jake Paul, who was on his way to being one of the biggest stars of the 2020s cross-over boxing trend (fad?).
Paul was coming off a KO win over Ben Askren, which was Paul’s first headlining event. After beating a former Bellator champ, Paul saw the marketing potential of taking on a former UFC champ.
The lead-up to their bout included lots of trash talk and a silly tattoo bet. The fight itself was a tense and low action affair with both men getting their licks in. The younger and marginally more experienced Paul was able to edge it on the scorecards, though, and secure his best bragging rights at the time.
Seven months later the pair would run it back. Paul was scheduled to face Tommy Fury in December 2021, but Fury had to pull out of the fight due to injury. Woodley, who had been grumbling about the split decision loss, jumped at the chance to rematch Paul (and cash another UFC purse dwarfing cheque).
Unfortunately for Woodley the rematch ended in a devastating face-plant KO loss, generating the single greatest highlight of Paul’s career.
6. Vitor Belfort
Those years featured an incredibly jacked Belfort wrecking Rich Franklin to set up a middleweight title fight with Brazilian rival Anderson Silva. Belfort ate a foot from Silva, though, and had to go back to the drawing board. Wins over Yoshihiro Akiyama and Anthony Johnson earned him a light heavyweight title shot against Jon Jones. That ended in a slick keylock submission win for ‘Bones’.
Then the TRT Vitor era really went into hyperdrive. With the sport lax on testosterone replacement therapies, a swole Belfort pulled off a trifecta of devastating head kicks versus Michael Bisping, Luke Rockhold and Dan Henderson.
Soon after this TRT was banned by the athletic commissions and the wheels fell off, when it comes to Belfort’s violent potency in the cage. He was then TKO’d by Chris Weidman in yet another title fight. After that he went 2-3 1 NC, with all his losses being T/KOs.
Belfort then announced his retirement and left the UFC in 2018. He signed with ONE a few months later, but left that promotion without booking a fight.
With cross-over boxing all the rage, Belfort returned to the boxing ring in 2021 (his first boxing match was in 2006, a TKO win over Josemario Neves a year after he won the UFC middleweight title).
Triller (remember them?) got into the Belfort game and initially tried to match him with a YouTuber called The Real Tarzan. That fell through, though. Next up, former six division champ Oscar De La Hoya was matched with the Phenom. However, De La Hoya fell out of the bout thanks to a nasty bout with COVID-19.
This all lead to 59-year-old former undisputed heavyweight champ Evander Holyfield fighting the 44-year-old USADA-less Belfort. The bout, which featured former president Donald Trump in the commentary booth (no, really), ended in a sad first round TKO win for Belfort.
After a fight at Misfits Boxing versus Hasim Rahman Jr. fell through, Belfort fought former UFC opponent Jacare Souza at a Gamebred Boxing card. Belfort was able to avenge his Octagon TKO loss with a unanimous decision win.
7. Frank Mir
In 2021 someone convinced former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir to fight Kubrat Pulev in a triangle shaped ring. That fight ended as you’d expect, with the active Pulev (who was coming off a fight with Anthony Joshua) blasting through the retired Mir with little trouble.
Even in his prime, Mir wasn’t known for the striking side of MMA. The heavyweight grappler could end any fight and ruin anyone’s day on the ground, and he could land a heavy punch, too, but few would imagine that his game could successfully be ported over into boxing.
In the UFC Mir was a UFC heavyweight champion and interim heavyweight champion, winning belts as an underdog on both occasions. The first was back at UFC 48 in 2004, when he broke Tim Sylvia’s arm.
His interim title win was at UFC 92 in 2008. That’s when he TKO’d Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. Mir was coming off a famous kneebar win over Brock Lesnar and after taking the interim title he was matched with Lesnar again in a title unification bout at UFC 100. Lesnar learned from his mistakes, though, and took that fight via second round TKO.
Mir would hang around the top of the division for years to come and would unsuccessfully challenge for the belt again in 2012. He was eventually released from the UFC in 2016.
After that he hopped over to Bellator, where he lost to Fedor Emelianenko and Javy Ayala and beat Roy Nelson before calling it a career in 2019.
8. Anthony Pettis
Anthony Pettis’ tenure as a UFC champion was short, but not insignificant. He came over to the promotion with the rest of WEC, immediately after beating Benson Henderson in a thrilling, wall-walking, fight to win the WEC lightweight belt and drop the curtain on the popular company.
His UFC debut was a dud, spoiled by the tenacious Clay Guida. He soon got back on track, though. After a split decision over Jeremy Stephens he busted up Joe Lauzon and Donald Cerrone to earn a UFC lightweight title shot, against familiar foe Benson Henderson.
That fight, at UFC 164 in 2014, was a little weird. With Pettis getting a quick tap out on an armbar inside the first round. Pettis then went onto The Ultimate Fighter to coach opposite future opponent Gilbert Melendez on one of the last memorable TUF seasons.
After that show had wrapped, and produced Carla Esparza, Rose Namajunas, Tecia Torres and Angela Hill, Pettis beat Melendez with a guillotine at UFC 181.
Pettis lost the title in his next match, after a lopsided beating at the hands of the best Rafael dos Anjos we have ever seen. Pettis became a very inconsistent fighter after that, alternating between wins and losses as he yo-yo-ed through weight classes.
He left the UFC in 2020, off a win over Alex Morono. He signed for PFL the following year, competing in their 2021 and 2022 season. In five PFL bouts, Pettis managed a single victory (over Myles Price).
In 2023 Pettis headlined Gamebred Boxing 4 against former four-division champion Roy Jones Jr. Pettis beat the 44-year-old Hall of Famer by majority decision.
9. Tito Ortiz
Tito Ortiz’s time in boxing is brief and unremarkable. He was KO’d by Anderson Silva in 2021 on the same card that Vitor Belfort beat up Evander Holyfield.
Ortiz’s loss to Silva had former president Donald Trump in the commentary booth. Ortiz’s fondness for Trump has become both the defining aspect of his personality and lead to the most notable acts of his career in public life.
Ortiz had a dysfunctional career with the UFC which often saw him at odds with current CEO Dana White. Despite the fractious relationship between the parties, Ortiz was able to have a successful run as UFC light heavyweight champion between 2000 and 2002. He won the belt with a win over Wanderlei Silva and defended it five times, including against Evan Tanner and Ken Shamrock. He dropped the belt to Randy Couture at UFC 44 in 2003.
Three years later he was TKO’d by Chuck Liddell at UFC 66 in an unsuccessful attempt to get the belt back. A torrid spell followed with eight losses, and a draw, in ten fights.
In 2014 he left the UFC for Bellator, where he went 4-1 before moving on. In 2018 he KO’d Liddell for Golden Boy Promotions. A year later he submitted Alberto Del Rio in Combate Americas.
In 2008 he met the love of his life, Donald Trump, while appearing on The Celebrity Apprentice. That proximity lead to Ortiz becoming an ardent supporter of the 45th president and a peddler of any conspiracy theory that advances Trump’s positions, reputation and/or ego.
In 2020 Ortiz won a city council seat in Huntington Beach, CA, which included a temporary mayoral gig (HBC rotates the mayor position among councillors).
Ortiz’s tenure was marred by refusals to mask on public property, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and disagreements with fellow councillors and constituents. He quit his position after less than six months.
10. Ricco Rodriguez
Ricco Rodriguez isn’t the most well known former UFC champion, but the heavyweight should be remembered as one of the best grapplers to ever win a UFC title. The former ADCC, World and Pan American BJJ champ won the UFC title with a TKO over Randy Couture in 2002.
However, he would lose the belt to Tim Sylvia in his first defense. His only other UFC fight was a unanimous decision loss to Pedro Rizzo. Outside of the UFC, Rodriguez competed in PRIDE, KOTC, YAMMA, WEC, Bellator, IFL and dozens of other regional outfits. He retired from MMA in 2019 with a record of 54-27 (1).
Rodriguez managed to win over 50 fights despite never fully reaching his potential as an athlete. Much of that is down to his publicized problems with substance abuse and mental health; which were discussed at length during his appearance as a cast member on the first season of Dr. Drew’s Celebrity Rehab in 2008.
Rodriguez dabbled in boxing in 2006 and 2008, appearing in two bouts. His first was a KO win over Brandon Baker. His second was a split decision loss to Chad Davies.
Two other former UFC champions have quasi-competed in quasi-boxing. One time interim heavyweight champ Shane Carwin once fought former pro skateboarder Jason Ellis in 2016 with one arm (the other was duct taped across his chest). He won the fight by second round KO. You can see that below:
More recently, former light heavyweight champ Quinton Jackson teamed with former K-1 staple Bob Sapp in a ‘Siamese boxing’ bout at Fight Circus 6: The Rise or Fall of Sloppy Balboa, where he took on Fight Circus owner Jon Nutt and someone called Woody.
Jackson and Sapp won by third round TKO. See that below.
You know you can count on us for quick, consistent quality UFC, MMA and boxing coverage. Bloody Elbow is an independent, reader supported publication. Please subscribe to our newsletter to keep up with our best work and learn how you can support the site.
Join the new Bloody Elbow
Our Substack is where we feature the work of writers like Zach Arnold, John Nash and Connor Reubusch. We’re fighting for the sport, the fighters and the fans. Please help us by subscribing today.
About the author