Former heavyweight Wladimir Klitschko says UFC is far tougher than boxing and Conor McGregor deserves respect
- Mixed martial arts and the UFC in particular is a tougher sport than boxing, according to Wladimir Klitschko.
- Klitschko told Business Insider that it is harder to excel in the UFC as the competition is so fierce.
- He also said that Conor McGregor, who returns to his sport at UFC 246 in Las Vegas on January 18, "deserved respect" for fighting Floyd Mayweather the way he did.
- McGregor has fought just once in boxing but said this week that he would welcome a challenge from Manny Pacquiao so he can box a second time in his career.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Wladimir Klitschko has responded to an age-old question in combat sports - which is tougher, mixed martial arts or boxing?
For Klitschko, the man who holds the record for longest cumulative heavyweight title reign of all time in boxing, you might assume he'd stick to his sport. But you'd be wrong.
He told Business Insider that MMA and, in particular, the competition that exists within its premier fight organization the UFC, is tougher.
"I have a lot of respect for guys in the cage," he told us shortly after being honored as a legend by the Buoniconti Fund to Cure Paralysis last year.
"You need to be super agile with your abilities, capabilities, of being a wrestler and of being a boxer," the 43-year-old said. "The rounds are longer. It is much tougher sport than boxing.
"It is difficult to remain successful in the UFC and to be a champion because the sport is very competitive. I have a lot of respect for the athletes and when I see women do it, I have even more respect.
"Maybe I could have tried UFC due to my abilities," Klitschko said. "I wouldn't have been a wrestler due to some health issues in my back and stuff, so wouldn't have been capable of wrestling for long periods, though I did judo when I was younger."
Renowned around Europe as a cerebral champion who could sell out soccer stadiums in Germany, together with his dominance of heavyweight boxing in the 2000s and the first half of the 2010s, things turned out okay for Klitschko, though: "I was happy as a boxer."
He remains interested in the heavyweight landscape in boxing, has touted Anthony Joshua as the one to unify the division by winning all of the major championship belts on offer, and also told us that he plans on returning to boxing so he can break one of the toughest records in the sport by becoming the oldest heavyweight world title holder in history.
And though he admits he does not follow UFC too much, he is interested in Conor McGregor, who returns to competition on January 18 at UFC 246 after a 15-month sojourn on the sidelines.
McGregor deserves 'a lot of respect'
McGregor headlines the UFC 246 show at the T-Mobile Arena, fighting Donald Cerrone in a non-title welterweight bout, but is talking about returning to boxing as early as this year, fighting Manny Pacquiao, after losing in the 10th round to Floyd Mayweather in 2017.
Klitschko liked what he saw from McGregor in the boxing ring three years ago, particularly his discipline. He was half expecting McGregor to defy the rules of boxing and just kick Mayweather in the face.
"I'm getting to know some of the fighters like McGregor because he was getting into the boxing ring. Whatever you think of McGregor, I believe he was well behaved and disciplined which I did not expect when he fought Mayweather.
"Two athletes crossing over promotions with athletes involved from different sports, in a boxing ring in this case, acting under discipline with one rule - boxing. I thought he might kick, but he didn't.
"McGregor is a character but being so disciplined, he deserved a lot of respect."
McGregor previously said he wanted to fight three times this year, beginning with his weekend bout with Cerrone.
It is unclear whether those fights will be in a UFC Octagon or a boxing ring.