Ben Fowlkes
Friday May 8th, 2009

Upon hearing that Roy Jones Jr. had offered to step into the cage to face Anderson Silva, one of the world's best MMA fighters, under MMA rules, I had just one question: Is he serious?

I don't mean serious in the hypothetical sense, as in, he'd do it if he got paid boxing money to do one MMA fight. He knows how completely unrealistic that is. What I mean is, is he serious about actually making it happen, even if he has to take a paycut? Because if he is, if he truly wants to fight, there's no reason MMA shouldn't fling the cage door open wide for him.

Now, I know that Dana White has already ruled out this possibility. He's said that the fight would "hurt MMA." He's said it will never happen while Silva is under contract to the UFC, even suggesting that this is a spectacle fight more suited for K-1 or one of the Japanese MMA promotions that love a good freak show.

But let's not forget that this is coming from the same man who signed Brock Lesnar to a UFC contract and put him in against former heavyweight champ Frank Mir back when Lesnar had only one pro fight to his credit ... in K-1. I suppose Lesnar's college wrestling career, combined with his stint in the WWE, made him more qualified to become a pro MMA fighter than Jones, who has done nothing but spend his life becoming one of the best boxers of the last 20 years.

It's true that Jones is past his prime as a boxer. It's also true that he's probably not interested in beginning a new life as an MMA fighter. More likely he sees this as a one-and-done gig, which probably has more to do with White's objection than any supposed freak show angle. But just because the UFC doesn't see enough upside in a deal with Jones, that doesn't mean he'd be bad for the sport.

This is about more than Jones trying to keep his fighting career alive (though it is certainly also about that). This is about the raison d'être for MMA. This is a sport that sprung out of the desire to see a fighter from one traditional discipline face a fighter from a different traditional discipline. Kickboxers against sumo wrestlers, karate black belts against Greco-Roman wrestlers, jiu-jitsu practitioners against boxers -- this kind of combat curiosity is the primordial ooze from which modern MMA crawled.

Now a boxer wants to try his hand at it and we tell him he has the wrong resume? He didn't come through the right channels, so he can't even try? That doesn't sound like the MMA I used to know.

Showtime's Ken Hershman recently responded to a proposed Jones-Nick Diaz bout in Strikeforce by saying that it would be "an insult to the integrity of mixed martial arts to think Roy Jones, or any professional boxer, can just come in and fight Nick Diaz in a mixed martial arts context." I understand the sentiment Hershman is expressing, but he's got it exactly wrong.

Would Jones stand a chance against a high-level ground fighter like Diaz? Only if Diaz let himself get goaded into a stand-up battle, which, let's be honest, is more possible than Hershman is allowing himself to admit. More likely Diaz would take Jones down and submit him inside of two minutes. At least, that's what we would expect to happen. We don't know. Maybe Jones could spend six months working on his takedown defense and leave the rest to his hands. Maybe that would be enough. There's only one way to find out.

You see, just because we think Jones would probably lose an MMA fight, that's no reason to tell him he can't try it. As long as he takes it seriously and shows up prepared, it's not an insult to the sport. If anything, it might show a few of the naysayers out there that there's more to MMA than guys with tattoos brutalizing each other. It's a complex art that takes years to master. I can't think of anything that would make that point more effectively than seeing a world class boxer get dumped on his head and submitted before the fans have even gotten comfortable in their seats.

Regardless of the outcome, there's no good reason to tell Jones he can't do this. If he's serious, and if he's willing to compete in an MMA bout for MMA money, it would be unfair and downright idiotic to keep him out. Let's let MMA be the most egalitarian of the combat sports, an open door to all with the guts to enter. Let's let everyone who thinks they can do it jump right in and compete find out the hard way whether they're right. Isn't that, after all, why we started this thing? And isn't that part of why we still love it?

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