Rooney, Maradona and 5 Footballers Who’ve Tried Boxing

Rooney, Maradona and 5 Footballers Who’ve Tried Boxing

Isaac Darko
November 19, 2023 at 5:13 PM
  • It's been a mixed bag for the ex-footballers who decided to step into the ring
  • A few have won major titles, while an ex-Manchester United player couldn't even get a license
  • Sports Brief takes a look at some of the names that ventured into boxing

These players, ranging from England internationals to arguably the greatest footballer ever, each traded the pitch for the boxing ring—with results that can be described as mixed, to say the least.

Many top footballers have a passion for boxing, including Cristiano Ronaldo, who once told middleweight great Gennady Golovkin:

Rooney, Maradona and 5 footballers who’ve tried boxing
It's been a mixed bag for the ex-footballers who decided to step into the ring. Photos by Manuel Queimadelos/Mark Leech/Philippe Perusseau
Source: Getty Images
"From the beginning, I only thought about soccer... but there was a moment when Sporting was so hard that I thought I would have preferred another sport – like boxing.”

Yet Ronaldo admitted:

"I don't think I could have been a boxer, it's hard.” Then there’s Steven Gerrard, close friends with Liverpool’s boxing Smith brothers, but yet to try his hand in the ring (though Phil Collins would surely make an ideal entrance tune).

These five footballers have traded their boots for gloves at some point in their careers, and here they are ranked based on their success inside the ring as well as on the pitch.

Sports Brief takes a look at some of the names that ventured into boxing.

5. Wayne Bridge

Former England left-back Wayne Bridge showcased impressive skills during a charity boxing match for Sport Relief in 2018. Facing reality TV personality Spencer Matthews, the footballer executed a solid one-two combination with a ramrod jab and straight right hand.

Despite being nine years older than Matthews, who was 37 at the time, Bridge dominated over three rounds. Matthews received two standing eight counts and was fortunate to make it to the final bell.

4. Roy Keane

The notion of stepping into the ring against a young, untamed, unbearded Roy Keane is the stuff of childhood nightmares, yet it became a reality for a few unlucky individuals.

Roy Keane had an amateur boxing career in Ireland, starting in the sport at the age of 10. He went on to have a handful of fights, emerging victorious in all of them.

3. Ian Wright

Arsenal legend Ian Wright's in-ring career consists of just one fight—a charity exhibition in 2014. Despite facing his friend, golf pro Tony Healy, Wright approached the training and contest with seriousness.

At 51 years old during the fight, Wright made a memorable entrance in a robe with LL Cool J's 'Mama Said Knock You Out' playing. He aggressively pressed forward during the lively brawl, but the match concluded in a split-decision draw.

2. Diego Maradona

Considering football ability, Argentina's greatest player before the emergence of Leo Messi would top this list. However, his foray into boxing was brief and not particularly serious.

El Diego, promising his friend and two-weight world champion Santos Laciar a fight after retiring from football, fulfilled that promise in 1996. Maradona, still an active player with Boca Juniors, engaged in a three-round exhibition with gloves and headgear.

Despite being smaller, Maradona had a height and weight advantage over the 5ft 1in former flyweight Laciar. The two traded blows in a friendly manner for three rounds, even playfully punching the referee at one point—typical Diego.

1. Wayne Rooney

Wayne Rooney's boxing skills were evidently not at an elite level, as demonstrated by the knockout he experienced while sparring with friend Phil Bardsley in 2015. Rooney exhibited a lackadaisical jab and a notably vulnerable defense, resulting in him getting caught and being left unconscious on his own kitchen floor. Ouch.

Nevertheless, it's worth noting that Wayne, whose uncle operates a gym, underwent substantial real boxing training during his youth.

Isaac Darko photo
Isaac Darko
Isaac Darko is a La Liga, Ligue 1 and Bundesliga editor at Sports Brief with a Degree in Journalism and Communications from Ghana Institute of Journalism (2010)