It’s not often you think of a basketball player as a mixed martial artist. We have seen football players and hockey players make the transition but former NBA athletes are not the first to leap to mind. But then again, Royce White is a breed apart and one who was a pioneer of sorts in speaking openly about mental health issues during his final collegiate season when playing for the Iowa State Cyclones back in 2012.
General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) was his nemesis but it didn’t deter the Houston Rockets from selecting him with their 16th overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. But things deteriorated quickly between White and his new team. Flying was an anxiety trigger and he told the team that his mental health took precedence over his NBA career.
Shortly thereafter, Rockets general manager at the time, Daryl Morey, said in a statement, “The Houston Rockets have suspended Royce White effective immediately for refusing to provide services as required by his Uniform Player Contract. We will continue to work with Royce to hopefully come to a resolution.”
But the marriage between the two quickly dissolved and he would go on to appear in just two NBA games for a combined total of eight minutes with the Sacramento Kings. That was the length and breadth of his NBA career but since that time he has become a civil rights activist and was the first player selected in the 2019 Big3 3×3 basketball league draft and is currently still playing.
Speaking of which, the Big3 was started by hip hop artist pioneer and actor Ice Cube in conjunction with entertainment executive Jeff Kwatinetz. The league has gained popularity as it is comprised of many former NBA players, like White, and the 3 v 3 competition makes it unique. Like the NBA, there are online sportsbooks that deal odds on the Big3 games and many expert handicappers will give free sports picks on the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, and MMA.
For instance, there are odds currently via the NBA futures for teams to win the NBA title in June. That’s right, even though the season is in full swing you can continue to bet on these futures. For instance, the Brooklyn Nets are the favorites, even without Kyrie Irving, to win the championship at +260 followed by the Golden State Warriors (+600), defending champion Milwaukee Bucks (+650), Phoenix Suns (+850), and LA Lakers (+1000) to round out the top five.
And now another chapter looms, as the 30-year-old White has been training in mixed martial arts for roughly three years but his fascination goes back to the backyard brawls of Kimbo Slice he watched on YouTube many years ago. White’s athletic prowess is unquestioned but something truly unique is his enormous hands.
Consider for a moment that seven-foot All-Star center, Anthony Davis, of the LA Lakers has 9 ½ inch diameter hands compared to White’s mammoth 11 ½ inch mitts. Big hands mean big gloves and White expressed apprehension whether his gloves would fit before his MMA debut.
“I pray to God, when I get to the weigh-ins on Thursday, that we get to try out some gloves and figure that out,” White told The New York Post.
White spoke about his prodigious paws to ESPN back in 2019 when he announced he would be entering the MMA realm as a professional fighter, “I’m one of the best athletes in the world. Among the NBA community, part of my appeal as a draft prospect was my unique size, athleticism, vision, and that I probably have one of the 10 biggest set of hands in the NBA. I think all of those things will translate beautifully to the UFC.”
Asked how he compares a team sport like basketball to the one-on-one pure combat format of mixed martial arts and replied, “Coming from the sports world, the team sports world, there’s a purity to [combat sports],” said the 6’8” White. “There’s a gravity to the courage it takes to get into the ring. And then the chess match of two individuals and not being able to make any excuses, there are no teammates to blame it on.”
And on Friday, December 10th, White’s wish came true when he appeared on the undercard of LFA 120 (Legacy Fighting Alliance) and took on former Temple full-back, Daiqwon Buckley, who was also making his professional debut.
The size disparity was startling as White had a whopping nine inches over the 5’11” Buckley and when the bell sounded, White looked about as polished as one would expect from a former athlete who was using his natural ability without the decades of martial arts training many combatants have when entering the professional ranks.
And while White’s strikes were crisp and his kicks were delivered cleanly, the wrestling background Buckley boasted played a major role in the decision. On several occasions throughout the fight, Buckley would shoot for takedowns and drag White to the canvas, gaining enough mat control over significant periods of time that would ultimately win him the day.
A unanimous decision by the judges scored it, 30-27, 29-28, and 29-28. But don’t be surprised if you see White lacing up his gloves in the near future, as he has a long way to go but appears eager for the journey.
Roberto Villa is the CEO, Founder, Executive Writer, Senior Editor of FightBook MMA. Has a passion for Combat Sports and also a podcast host for Sitting Ringside. He’s also a former MMA fighter and Kickboxer.
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