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Shaq Fu: Training MMA won NBA championships for Lakers, Heat

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Retired NBA star Shaquille O’Neal is making the media rounds this month to promote his new show on TNT, “Shaq Life,” and I actually caught an episode last night. “Diesel” was explaining to pizza executives how winning customers was like dating women and I couldn’t help but wonder if the strategy worked in reverse, as well.

Anyway, the reason we’re talking about O’Neal on a combat sports blog like this fine outlet is because the three-time MVP attributes his success in basketball to his training in MMA, having first been introduced to cage fighting by Vitor Belfort back in Florida.

“MMA is the reason I became a champion,” O’Neal told Ariel Helwani. “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. 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.”

O’Neal won rings with LA Lakers and Miami Heat and once called for a fight against South Korean goliath Hong-Man Choi — perhaps best know for getting subbed by Fedor Emelianenko overseas — but the bout never came to fruition.

“Listen, I did call out Hong-man Choi a long time ago because I’ve never fought anyone my size,” O’Neal 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 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.”

Sadly, the closest we ever got was Shaq Fu on the Sega Genesis.