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Will a top boxer ever take on an MMA fighter at the peak of his powers?

(Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

In 1976 Muhammad Ali met Antonio Inoki, a mixed martial artist, in Japan in a fight that was comical, repetitive and important. Ali threw just six punches and cleared $2.2 million, so it was not funny money.

The match was truly bizarre. Ali and his people thought it was a 'fixed fight' and found out on arrival in Tokyo that it was serious. Inoki, billed as the World Martial Arts Champion, threatened to break Ali's arm; new rules were hastily drawn up and Inoki was banned from kicking Ali unless he had one of his knees on the canvas. Ali wore boxing gloves, Inoki was bare-fisted and they both wore boots.

There are men in the Ali business that swear his legs were never the same after 15 rounds of Inoki's kicks; Ali was forced to spend time in hospital with massive blood clots. It was crazy, but it was not a joke and after 15 rounds it was declared a draw.

Since that fabulous fracas, many boxers have fought in kick-boxing rings or MMA rings, pits and on mats. And, hundreds of MMA fighters - including the truly elite Thai kick-boxers - have fought in boxing rings.

Some of Thailand's greatest fighters left the kick-boxing carousel to find glory and cash in the boxing ring. I never heard one person in the 1970s or '80s tell me that kick-boxing was better than boxing, at a time when Thailand's finest were winning world boxing titles after just a few fights.

The 'novice' boxers were destroying men that had been in boxing gyms since they were children and they were doing it because they were good. However, boxing was boxing, Thai kick-boxing was Thai kick-boxing.

Now that MMA, and particularly its top outfit the UFC, has found a regular, profitable and international platform for its fighters, the dumbest debate in sport has been raging: would a UFC champion beat a world boxing champion?

There are some in the tiny global orbit of the all-powerful UFC promotional company that remain convinced that any UFC fighter would beat the best boxer. It is a comical debate at the moment and about as sensible as Ali's painful Japanese fiasco. And certainly less fun.

Perhaps the best UFC fighter could use Inoki's tactics and simply stay on his bum, moving about the ring or octagon like a crab until an opportunity to kick the boxer opened up. That would have to be one of the first questions around which to draw up the rules: Does the UFC fighter have to stand for a certain amount of time in each round? Also, what gloves would they wear, the length of the round and would any of UFC's rules be disqualified?

There are a lot of valid questions that go beyond the mad claims that Floyd Mayweather would not last 60 seconds with Ronda Rousey. On their feet, let me make this clear, she would be knocked out in 20 seconds, including the count.

In 1986 Leon Spinks, who had won and lost the heavyweight world title and fallen on hard, hard times, lost in the eighth round to Inoki, who must have been close to 50 at the time, in the World Martial Arts Heavyweight Championship.

Spinks-Inoki was bad, but in 2010 there was an ugly scrap that was even harder to watch. James Toney had in the mid-Nineties been one of boxing's finest fighters, a brilliant craftsman and defensive master.

However, by 2010 he was shot to pieces and somehow fought inside the UFC against Randy Couture, who was part MMA icon and part human relic. Randy never broke a sweat forcing Toney to tap out after 3 mins and 19 seconds. It was an ethical nightmare and proved absolutely zero. The verbal exchanges were, nonethless, priceless.

The other weekend I walked innocently, deep into some ugly abuse on Twitter when I asked a simple question about when there would be a real fight between one of the UFC's top fighters and a world-class boxer. I never meant Toney v Couture II, trust me.

I was talking about the day a jiu-jitsu fighter quits his sport at 16 and boxes for six years, and a boxer quits boxing and takes up jiu-jitsu at 16 and fights on the MMA circuit. Get it? A proper, even fight without any dumb novelty flourishes.

We all know that UFC rising star Joe Duffy was unbeaten in 7 as a boxer (I saw a couple of them and he can box) and we know that established UFC fighter/talker/publicist Conor McGregor spars with a lot of boxers - Steve Collins and Barry McGuigan both vouch for his boxing ability. By the way, Duffy beat McGregor on one of the many MMA circuits before they each signed for UFC.

We know that David Haye used a lot of MMA fighters to train with - the first thing that he hit Dereck Chisora with during that infamous night in Munich, when they scrapped, was an elbow shot straight from the UFC's Octagon.

There is so much crossover that surely it is just a matter of time before somebody becomes truly proficient at boxing and MMA. So when I asked the question the other day on Twitter I was not looking for abuse or aiming to ridicule, I was simply looking for answers.

When will there be a real fight between the best in MMA and the best in boxing and what will the rules be? I think it will happen in the next five years - I'm just glad that I'm not involved in setting the rules!