Crossover matches have become increasingly popular in combat sports, with boxing leading the way. We've seen mega-fights like Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor and Tyson Fury vs. Francis Ngannou capture the imagination of fans and generate huge revenue.
However, the history of crossover events goes back much further, with notable examples such as Muhammad Ali vs. Antonio Inoki and Randy Couture vs. James Toney. One particularly intriguing potential crossover that never materialized was a bout between boxing legend Lennox Lewis and future UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar.
In 2002, Lewis was at the height of his career, holding both the WBC and IBF heavyweight titles. He just cemented his dominance with a devastating knockout of Mike Tyson. Meanwhile, Brock Lesnar has been a rising star in the world of professional wrestling, recently becoming the youngest WWE Champion in history.
Lewis and Lesnar in a fight according to the rules of MMA
Vince McMahon, the former WWE main man, saw a golden opportunity. He envisioned a fight between Lewis and Lesnar in an MMA fight, believing that Lesnar's victory over the boxing champion would catapult him to superstardom.
Serious negotiations began, involving the fighters themselves and the Nevada Athletic Commission. Lewis was reportedly offered a whopping five million pounds (roughly $8.6 million at the time) to participate. At first, Lewis seemed receptive to the idea.
However, as the details of the fight became clear, he became more and more indecisive. The one key point that ended up derailing the whole deal was the use of gloves. While Lewis was used to boxing with gloves, McMahon insisted that Lesnar would fight bare-knuckle.
This was a bridge too far for the British boxer. "I was very serious about that fight until they told me they weren't going to wear gloves," Lewis later revealed on TSN's "Off the Record." "They wanted to put me there with gloves and him without anything."
Great and successful careers
With negotiations deadlocked, Lewis turned his attention back to boxing.
He scored a memorable TKO victory over Vitali Klitschko in 2003 before announcing his retirement from the sport. Lesnar, on the other hand, continued his journey in sports entertainment. He spent time in WWE and Japanese promotions before making his MMA debut in 2007.
In 2008, he won the UFC Heavyweight Championship by defeating Randy Couture. He defended the belt twice before eventually succumbing to injuries and retiring from MMA in 2011.