Shaquille O’Neal: “MMA is the reason I became a champion” in NBA

Shaquille O'Neal, UFC, MMA
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Shaquille O’Neal, the winner of four NBA Championships, and a Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall-of-Famer, credits his success on the court to MMA.

It’s no secret that Shaq is a big fight fan, but during a recent interview with ESPN, he divulged that training in MMA on the side helped him take his fitness to the next level.

“MMA is the reason I became a champion,” Shaq said (transcript via MMA Fighting). “I always used to practice basketball. It wasn’t enough. Because when I played basketball, it was more wrestling. So when I trained MMA with Jon Burke, a friend of mine down in Orlando, I came back in the best shape of my life. That was in 2000. Won. Dominated.

“So I’m a creature of habit. Did it again, won a second championship. Did it again, won the third championship. Got cute, got away from it, lost. Got traded to Miami, did it again, won the fourth championship.”

Shaq was first introduced to MMA by former UFC champ and current ONE Championship star Vitor Belfort. He quickly grew to love the sport, and considers mixed martial artists some of the best conditioned athletes in the sporting world.

“MMA is something that always kept my heart rate up,” Shaq said. “It was something I am very interested in. I’m a physical guy. I like physicality. You talk about athletes, MMA athletes are probably the best athletes on the planet. The training that they go through, the physical stuff that they go through, I’ve been to almost all of the top UFC fights, those guys are specimens. I wish I could hit some of those NBA guys I used to play against like that. So I’ve definitely been a fan of MMA.”

Interestingly, Shaq has actually dipped his toes into combat sports competition. While he never actually fought, he did compete in a grappling match with UFC Hall-of-Famer Forrest Griffin, and was also briefly linked to a showdown with hulking Korean kickboxing Choi Hong-Man. Apparently, Shaq was serious about that call-out.

“Listen, I did call out Hong-man Choi a long time ago because I’ve never fought anyone my size,” Shaq said. “Ever since I was 10 years old I’ve heard the phrase, ‘Pick on someone your own size!’ So at the time, a couple years ago, if he was willing to fight, I would have fought him. . . I just mentioned it. I wanted somebody to come back, actually, I wanted [UFC President] Dana [White] to come back and set it up but nobody ever did. . . I definitely would have given it a try.”

What do you think of these comments from the NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal?

This article first appeared on BJPENN.com on 4/16/2020.