There?s always been a sense that there?s a great rivalry between boxing and MMA, and while to some extent that may be true, that doesn?t mean that the two sides of the combat sports equation can?t get along and learn from each other.
In this article we?ll look at 10 examples of boxing greats opening their doors to UFC stars to help them sharpen their skills in the art of the ?sweet science.
Freddie Roach ? GSP
Once a boxer himself with a 40-13 record, Freddie Roach retired at only 26 years old after showing signs of Parkinson?s Disease, but has become one of the greatest boxing trainers of all-time, coaching champions like Manny Pacquiao, Miguel Cotto and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr at his famous Wild Card gym.
Though he admits to having limited interest in MMA as a sport, Roach has always had an open-door policy for MMA stars looking to improve their boxing ability, and over the years he?s worked with the likes of Anderson Silva, BJ Penn and Andrei Arlovski.
However, by far and away his strongest link to MMA has been with UFC legend Georges St-Pierre, who he has become close friends with in addition to helping train him for several fights.
Roach?s handiwork was clearly evident in St-Pierre?s win over Josh Koscheck all the way back at UFC 124 in 2010, with the Canadian superstar making excellent use of the jab to control the fight for all five rounds, breaking his opponents orbital bone along the way.
St-Pierre has continued to train with Roach in the years since and he even had him in his corner for his last fight, a middleweight title-winning victory over Michael Bisping in 2017.
Roach had been instrumental in making that fight happen, as after initial talks fell through he personally reached out to Dana White to broker the deal for GSP?s return to action.
Mike Tyson ? Francis Ngannou
Mike Tyson has been a long-time MMA fan and is frequently seen attending UFC events and hanging out with UFC president Dana White, who he?s been friends with for many years.
But now it seems that ?Iron? Mike is taking his interest one stage further by linking up with fearsome UFC heavyweight striker Francis Ngannou, after ?The Predator? was called out by current boxing star Tyson Fury.
?Spoke with Mike Tyson and he agreed to train me for when I fight Tyson Fury in the ring,? Ngannou stated recently.
?Don?t be scared Fury, you called me out and now you?ll have to live with it.?
Fury, who has recently been spotted being trained by UFC welterweight star Darren Till responded that, ?I?ll deal with you and all the other MMA heavyweights when I?m done with my boxing fights, it won?t be long to wait!?
Video footage also emerged of Tyson already giving Ngannou hands-on advice about how to defeat Fury if they do meet, while the legendary boxer also praised the former UFC heavyweight title contender?s, stating that he,??has some serious power.?
Robert Garcia / Mikey Garcia ? Jose Aldo
Already considered one of the best boxers in the UFC, former long-time featherweight champion Jose Aldo looked to sharpen his skills even further when he sought the guidance of famed boxing coach Robert Garcia.
Garcia was an IBF junior welterweight title himself in the past, but he?s better known for coaching a string of high-profile stars, incuding his younger brother, Mikey Garcia ? a four-weight world champion.
At the time Aldo was actually considering transitioning to boxing and spent six weeks working with Garcia, who was impressed with the UFC star?s humble attitude and willingness to learn, and noted a big improvement in his hands during that period.
Aldo sparring with several high-profile boxers during his stay, including Olympic boxing champion Lindolfo Delgado and also getting into the ring with Mikey Garcia, who was impressed with his power.
?He can throw,??Garcia commented after one sparring session.??He?s got heavy hands. Can feel the power in his hands because he?s just touching me but you still feel that power.?
Andre Ward ? Nick / Nate Diaz
During his undefeated 32-0 reign in the sport of boxing, two-division champion Andre Ward was named as the best active boxer in the sport and topped the pound-for-pound rankings.
At his peak, Ward frequently trained with both Nick and Nate Diaz, and he always had good things to say about the two brothers, claiming that they ?more than held there own,? when sparring with him.
?Nick is more, ?hit me with your best shot, and I?m coming with my best shot,? Ward once noted. ?Nate?s a little bit more of a skillful volume puncher, different angles and stuff like that. He was one of my main guys when I fought Chad Dawson.?
In a separate interview Ward also joked that Nate Diaz will, ?slap you to death,??and added,??he always comes in shape and he throws a million punches from a million different angles?he?s just a bad boy.?
Paulie Malignaggi ? Conor McGregor
Of all the boxers and coaches mentioned here, unquestionably the most unusual interraction came when two-weight champion Paulie Malignaggi agreed to spar with Conor McGregor ahead of his professional boxing debut against Floyd Mayweather Jr in 2017.
There was already tension between the two fighters at the time, stemming from Malignaggi?s boast a few months earlier that he could beat McGregor with one hand tied behind his back.
As such their resulting sparring sessions became heated affairs that more closely resembled an actual fight than just gym work.
There was great media interest in how the first sparring session had gone and Malignaggi spoke to ESPN and danced around the issue, while McGregor then posted pictures of him with his hands behind his back while fighting a tired looking ?Magic Man,? as rumors emerged that he?d got the better of the boxer.
Malignaggi wasn?t happy about the leak, but the following week returned to spar again, and this time UFC owners Dana White and the Fertitta brothers were in attendance along with celebrities like Gordon Ramsey to watch the spectacle unfold.
Afterwards Malignaggi was again coy with the details, only for McGregor to then show pictures of the boxer on the canvas, and later short video clips showing him eating heavy punches and being dropped during the fight.
A furious Malignaggi quit McGregor?s camp and demanded the full video of the fight be released, but others in attendance suggested that the boxer had clearly come off second-best.
Malignaggi continually called out McGregor afterwards, but eventually settled for fighting the Irishman?s sparring partner Artem Lobov instead in a bare knuckle boxing bout and lost by decision.
The Mayweather?s ? Kevin Lee
Kevin Lee has trained at the famous Mayweather Boxing Club in Las Vegas for several years and the sharing of knowledge would prove to be a two-way street as the lightweight fighter was also drafted in to help Floyd Mayweather Jr prepare for his boxing superfight with Conor McGregor in 2017.
Lee has trained under both Jeff Mayweather and Dewey Cooper at the gym and along the way has had the opportunity to spar with a number of high-level boxers.
One infamous sparring session caught on camera saw Lee going up against Christian Thomas, a cruiserweight with a current 10-0 record.
During the heated session an exchange led to Lee knocking Thomas off-balance to the floor. Thomas then did a flip to spring back to his feet and in anger immediately retaliated by landing a three-piece combo to the face, which Lee simply responded to by nodding and stretching out his arms as if he wasn?t hurt, then went back to punching.
Timothy Bradley ? Cub Swanson
It?s no chance occurrence that longtime UFC featherweight Cub Swanson has trained with two-division, multiple title winning boxing star Timothy Bradley, as the two fighters actually went to the same high school.
In fact, Swanson admits that he used to get caught bunking off school by Bradley?s own father, who was a security guard at the school.
The two friends have stayed in touch and been very supportive of each other?s career?s over the years, and have also trained and sparred with each other many times.
Swanson has admitted that Bradley?s boxing was just on another level from anyone he?s faced in MMA as you might expect from someone who was at one point ranked the No.3 pound-for-pound boxer in the world.
?I?ve done a lot better over the years, but in the very beginning I couldn?t even? I just stared at him,??Swanson once told Mike Swick.??I was trying to counter him and he?d just hit me with a jab and I?d be like,
?F**k I didn?t even see that coming. Okay this time, I?m going to be ready and when it comes, I?m going to throw right over the top of it. Then, BOOM! Damnit! I didn?t see it again!?
Roberto Duran ? Jorge Masvidal
Jorge Masvidal?s boxing idol is the legendary Roberto Duran, someone who even to this day he still watches highlight videos of and tries to imitate.
As such, for by far the biggest fight of his career against Nate Diaz in NYC in November, ?Gamebred? paid tribute to Duran by inviting the hall-of-famer to walk him out to the Octagon at Madison Square Garden.
However, the 68-year-old Duran wasn?t just coming along for the ride. Unbeknown to Masvidal, he actually spent time studying Nate Diaz as an opponent and then gave the UFC star advice on how to beat him.
Masvidal vowed that there was no way he would lose to Diaz while Duran was watching from Octagon-side, and sure enough he would go on to win by TKO at the end of the third round.
Deontay Wilder / Tyson Fury ? Walt Harris
All 13 of ?The Big Ticket? Walt Harris? career victories have come inside the distance by way of strikes and that may be partly thanks to the fact that over the years he?s been able to train with two of boxing?s best heavyweight stars.
Harris comes from the same area in Alabama as WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder and that led to the two training together.
?When I started training with Deontay I got a chance to work with Mark Breland, one of his coaches who?s a legend in amateur boxing and Olympic boxing, so he kind of showed me how to settle in and how to be patient and relaxed,? Harris told MMA Fighting. ?And when you relaxed you see things a lot better and a lot clearer, so I kind of carried that over to the MMA and I try to utilize that.?
Harris also claimed that even with 20 ounce gloves on, Wilder still hit harder than anyone he?s faced in the UFC so far.
However, Harris hasn?t rested on his laurels and has also flown out to the UK to train with another boxing star, Tyson Fury, who also helped develop his striking game further.
?Technique and setting things up,??Harris said of what he learned from his time with Fury.??Learning to be patient and allowing the strikes to come to me and not forcing things. Learning how to work behind your jab and different types of head movements and angles and how to get to where you want in the ring.?
Vasyl Lomachenko ? TJ Dillashaw
Once one of the most successful amateur boxers of all-time, with a staggering 396 wins, Vasyl Lomachenko is nowadays the unified lightweight champion of the world and is ranked No.1 on ESPN?s pound-for-pound rankings.
TJ Dillashaw had a chance to spar with Lomachenko in 2018 while he was still the UFC?s bantamweight champion and it proved to be an eye-opening experience for the talented striker to go up against a true boxing great.
?Man, I think he?s untouchable,??Dillashaw told FightHubTV, joking that Lomanchenko was living in the real-life Matrix and??could tell what I was going to throw before I even threw it.?
Dillashaw explained later that things like Lomachenko?s patience and calmness in the ring, together with the way he sometimes landed lighter punches to set up harder ones were things he was looking to incorporate into his game, though he also stated his belief that the boxer?s ability to see things in slow-motion was a natural gift rather than something that could be learned.