Close your eyes for a brief moment and try to picture LeBron James on the 18th hole at Augusta National, attempting to reach the green from 45 yards out. A little wild, isn’t it? Or take a moment to picture Seattle Mariners ace Felix Hernandez lining up at tight end for a NFL franchise. Looks a little ridiculous, doesn’t it? For whatever reason, that kind of ‘crossover’ doesn’t seem to have much appeal to a casual sports fan.

However, if you take someone from one form of combat sport and place him or her in another, well, that becomes a talking point in some circles. And there are those of us who are still trying to figure out why that is, exactly.

Most recently, Ricardo Mayorga was in the news for attempting an odd foray into MMA with a fight against Canadian fighter Wesley Tiffer (0-1) in Nicaragua. The 39-year-old former WBA and WBC welterweight champion (a man who twice bested the late Hall of Fame boxer Vernon Forrest) weighed in at 175.9 pounds for what was supposed to be a lightweight bout at Omega MMA’s “Battle of the Americas.” Tiffer weighed in at 153 pounds and yet, despite the weight discrepancy, the bout took place as scheduled.

During the course of the fight, Tiffer took Mayorga down repeatedly, but it was the former boxer who would land the defining blow late in the second round, connecting with a knee to the spine of his opponent to free himself from a submission attempt.

Referee Milton Rosales did not call a foul at the time of the strike and Tiffer would be unfit to continue according to a cageside physician at the end of the second round. Mayorga would initially pick up a victory in his MMA debut. However, within the last week, Nicaraguan commission chairman Zack Asagary announced that the verdict has been changed to a no-contest. Additionally, Mayorga will be suspended for three months.

Thus ends the brief sideshow that is Ricardo Mayorga as an MMA fighter, which, incidentally, started in 2010 with an alleged fight—it never took place—against Din Thomas at Shine Fights and a no-contest against a winless fighter in his home country.

It made headlines in MMA circles and prompted plenty of water-cooler talk, but is this kind of thing good for the sport as it continues to develop and gain mainstream credibility? We’ve already seen what a Kimbo Slice or James Toney sideshow can do for the UFC in terms of drawing power with casual fans who might enjoy the spectacle, but one has to wonder how all of this looks to those who don’t.

You can take a former world boxing champion (who may or may not need the payday) and provide a forum for them to showcase a skill set that made them a star, but on surface level, it seems the only way for the “cross over” to work is if the combatant decides to dedicate themselves to their new sport and not cling to the memories of their glory days in their old profession.

Holly Holm, the former professional boxer, might be a perfect example of someone who has competed at the highest levels in her combat sport who now finds herself rededicated as a mixed martial artist. The same can probably be said about high-level kickboxers along the lines of Tyrone Spong and others. Fans crave violence. They often don’t care where it comes from. And if you can prove mastery in one aspect of striking, you can get a lot of people to pay attention to you.

Unfortunately, for every Tyrone Spong, there will be another Ricardo Mayorga—a fighter looking for a payday, hoping to squeeze out the last little bits of star power that once propelled them to the top of their craft. The key to weeding out the latter and building around the former comes down to the fans as much as it does those people running the highest levels of the sport. MMA has to do a better job policing itself in the future.

It’s one thing to be using high-caliber athletes to promote your product and get eyes on television sets. But MMA, in its infancy and newfound fame—with seemingly no ceiling for how popular it can become—is far too frequently using this approach.

If enough MMA fans sit down and wonder long enough why the Mayorgas and Slices of the world are still getting opportunities to make money and the UFC is cutting successful, dedicated mixed martial artists like Jon Fitch, you run into an issue with credibility. Where that leads, no one knows just yet.

We are now midway through 2013. MMA is flourishing. The UFC is on Fox, people seem to care more and more about the sport and it’s finally getting the mainstream attention it deserves. So why does it seem like every few months, the sport tries to tap into 2002 and the days of Pride to give us a distraction along the lines of Bob Sapp?

The sport has evolved, the fighters have evolved and the fans have evolved as well. Our expectations for “freak show” fights need to evolve as well. There’s no longer any point asking Tyson Fury to give up his day job to face someone of Cain Velasquez’ stature in MMA just so we can be amused for 40 or 60 seconds. And as much as Fury might like that spotlight, it’s one he frankly has not earned. The reality is that he’s just some guy taking up card space that another professional mixed martial artist would love to have so that he can feed his family.

Photo: Ricardo Mayorga (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

About The Author

Marcus Schmidli

Marcus Schmidli has covered MMA on an international level since 2011, having been the featured English columnist for GroundandPound.de as well as their quarterly magazine. He's also been a columnist for MMAInterviews.tv, the co-host of The MMA Cutmen radio show and worked with local sports radio shows in the Seattle metro area. Marcus holds a degree in Radio Broadcasting and attended the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University. When he's not writing, doing interviews or covering live shows, Marcus is either working at his regular job as an Associate Producer/Board Operator or spending time with his daughter. Outside of MMA, he's a huge fan of horse racing, soccer and boxing.