Getting to the elite level in one sport is incredibly difficult. That is why only a tiny percentage of the population manage it.
But imagine being ultra gifted and being able to compete professionally in more than one sport.
A boxing story caught my eye this week as a world title challenger revealed boxing was the sport he fell back on after he had to give up his dream of a career in professional tennis at age 18.
It got me thinking about other sports people who have managed to make it professionally in more than one sport.
For fun, some of these amazing individuals will be listed below.
Today’s column will wrap up with something of an apology from yours truly to Tyson Fury.
Time to serve up this week’s column.
Jordan Thompson's Tennis Dream Died; Along Came Boxing
An article on the BBC Sport website previewing English boxer Jordan Thompson’s challenge for Jai Opetaia’s IBF and Ring Magazine cruiserweight titles, which took place on Saturday, September 30, revealed Thompson’s history as a successful tennis player in his youth.
“I was top-10 in the under 16s and under 18s nationally,” Thompson said according to the BBC article written by Kal Sajad.
“I travelled the world, up and down the United Kingdom. I loved it.”
Talent and love of what he was doing wasn’t enough to make Thompson’s tennis dreams come true and a lack of funding resulted in him leaving the sport behind.
“A lot of sponsorship was needed and it was tough to get. That was the main reason I couldn’t fulfil my potential – a lack of funding,” the now 30-year-old professional boxer stated.
From that point, Thompson kept going to the gym to stay fit and was eventually introduced to boxing trainer Haroon Headley.
Thompson Adjusted Well To Boxing While Noting Similarities With Tennis
During a “two year apprenticeship” Thompson worked at learning his new craft and experienced some sparring sessions with professional fighters who were significantly further on in their development than he was.
Eventually the Manchester born athlete, who carries the moniker “Troublesome” with him to the ring turned professional in 2015.
A 15-0 run, with 12 wins by stoppage, led to Thompson being presented with the opportunity to face Opetaia of Australia at Wembley Arena in London last night.
Thompson’s journey from novice boxer to world title challenger has allowed him to appreciate the similarities between boxing and tennis.
“They are actually very, very similar sports. Both do end up in your head a little bit, they’re emotionally volatile,” he told BBC Sport.
Thompson added, “You may have your team, but you have to rely on yourself when you’re in a battle. The ups and downs, the twists and turns. You can be match point up, have a bad game and suddenly you’re match point down.
“Same in boxing – everything can be going right and next thing you have taken a shot and you are on your back.”
Opetaia Proved Too Good For Thompson
With his world title opportunity coming earlier than he expected – other higher ranked fighters, Mateusz Masternak and Richard Riakporhe, didn’t fancy the job and Mairis Briedis was ruled out by injury – Thompson came up short in London last night.
Opetaia (23-0, 18KOs) could very well be the cream of the current crop at cruiserweight so there is no shame in losing to him.
Having battled back from the disappointment of his tennis dream fading, hopefully Jordan Thompson can return from last night’s defeat and string together another run towards a cruiserweight world title.
Some Other Notable Dual Sport Athletes
Because it’s an interesting concept, here are three athletes who have competed professionally in more that one sport:
Bo Jackson – Jackson was so good at American football and baseball that he played in both the NFL and MLB.
The Alabama native played as a running back for the Los Angeles Raiders from 1987-90.
Jackson’s first love was baseball. He played for the Kansas City Royals, Chicago White Sox and California Angels between 1986 and 1994 as an outfielder and designated hitter.
Bo Jackson is the only professional athlete who has been named an All-Star in both American football and baseball.
Deion Sanders – another NFL and MLB crossover talent. Sanders played 14 seasons in the NFL and nine in MLB.
Starring as a cornerback in American football, Sanders earned the nickname “Primetime” during his years in the NFL.
Sanders won two Super Bowl titles – one with the San Francisco 49ers and one with the Dallas Cowboys.
Sanders also played for the Atlanta Falcons, the (then named) Washington Redskins and the Baltimore Ravens. Sanders was named an NFL All-Star eight times during his years in the league.
In baseball, Sanders played as an outfielder for the New York Yankees, Cincinnati Reds and San Francisco Giants. He hit 39 home runs during his career.
Deion Sanders, now head coach at Colorado in collegiate American football, remains the only man to play in both the Super Bowl and World Series.
Paolo Maldini – one of the greatest defenders football (soccer) has ever seen.
Once he hung up his boots, Maldini took part in a professional tennis match.
It was a one and done event for the former Milan star, but it deserves a mention, if only for the quote Maldini dropped after his tennis court humbling.
On the football field, Maldini holds legendary status. He played for Milan, his only club, for 24 years.
He won five European Cups and seven Serie A titles during this time.
He also made 126 appearances for the Italian national team, playing in four World Cups for the Azzurri.
Tennis, something he enjoyed as a hobby, provided Maldini with a second sport to take part in at the pro level.
In June 2017, at age 49, Maldini teamed up with his coach, Stefano Landonio, to play in a doubles match on the second tier Challenger Tour.
Maldini and Landonio were swept aside in 41 minutes by their opponents, which led to this memorable remark from Maldini: “It was like writing a poem after studying years of maths.”
Any Other Athletes Cross Over From/To Boxing?
Boxing has its fair share of athletes who have gravitated towards it from another sport. Here are a couple of incredible multi-sport professionals:
Katie Taylor – boxing fans are aware of Taylor’s success in the squared circle.
An Olympic gold medalist and five-time World Championship gold medal winner as an amateur, Taylor is also the current undisputed lightweight title holder in professional boxing.
You may not know that Taylor was an accomplished soccer player in her younger days.
Playing as a striker, Taylor represented her country at under-17 and under-19 level before going on to win 11 caps for the senior Republic of Ireland women’s team between 2006-09.
Sonny Bill Williams – this guy might be the best all round athlete of all time.
A successful career in both codes of rugby (league and union) wasn't enough to quench Williams' competitive thirst.
He somehow found time to become a professional heavyweight boxer in his native New Zealand.
Williams’ rugby league career saw him play for the Canterbury Bulldogs in the tough Australian NRL competition. He won 12 caps for New Zealand’s rugby league international team.
In rugby union, Williams played as a center for, among others, Toulon, Crusaders and Chiefs.
He also represented New Zealand in international rugby. He wore their famous black jersey 58 times, playing a big part in the “All Blacks” winning the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
As a boxer, Williams currently holds a 9-1 record. He boxed his first pro bout in 2009 and won the New Zealand heavyweight title in 2012.
The most recognisable name on Williams’ ledger is that of Frans Botha. Williams beat the former world title challenger in 2013.
Williams is now 38-years-old. He retired from all forms of rugby in 2020 and works as a pundit for Stan Sports in Australia.
As for boxing, who knows? Sonny Bill last gloved up in November 2022, suffering his first defeat when former MMA fighter Mark Hunt stopped him in the fourth round of an eight round contest.
Brief Apology To Tyson Fury
A sudden announcement that Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk have signed all the required contracts and their much anticipated heavyweight fight will take place in Saudi Arabia in December or January made its way into the news cycle on Friday.
This is the furthest along the protracted negotiations for the on/off blockbuster have ever been.
After one or two false starts, it feels official this time as Fury himself, promoters for both fighters and all major news outlets have confirmed it.
All we are waiting for is a date and venue.
Of course, before December/January, Tyson Fury has his date in Saudi Arabia with former MMA champion Francis Ngannou.
This money making dalliance has resulted in many boxing fans throwing in the towel with Fury.
I have also launched some criticism in Fury’s direction in previous editions of this column for what he is doing.
I guess, nothing is ever as it seems in boxing – especially with Tyson Fury – so perhaps the best policy would be to say nothing and offer no opinion on his various statements and career moves.
But where’s the fun in that?
So, Mr Fury, if you do indeed face Usyk shortly after you toy with and defeat Ngannou then I apologise unreservedly to you.
We await the finer details and of course there is a bit of cynicism around suggesting this has been announced now only to boost interest in Fury vs. Ngannou. That may well be true.
Call me a fool, but I’m going to believe that Fury-Usyk will happen within the timeframe that was presented on Friday.
I’m looking forward to moving on from slating Fury and instead pondering his chances in a proper boxing contest. An undisputed heavyweight title fight no less!