24 Athletes Who Switched Sports

Brandon Aubrey

The top athletes often excel at more than one sport. Their natural talent means they can adapt between disciplines, even if focused on one main event.

A small proportion of sportsmen and women have tested that adaptability and have looked to make it to the top of two or more different sports.

1. Louis Rees-Zammit: Rugby Union to NFL

Louis Rees-Zammit
Image Credit: Stefano Delfrate – flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED/Wiki Commons.

Welsh rugby union international Louis Rees-Zammit brought this curious sporting element into the spotlight in January 2023. He is one of the most promising rugby union internationals in the game, but after 31 senior caps for Wales, he quit the sport to join the NFL’s International Player Pathway Program.

It’s a long road for the 22-year-old, but Rees-Zammit has an electrifying pace and a safe pair of hands, and many supporters are confident that he can make the switch.

2. Brandon Aubrey: Soccer to NFL

Brandon Aubrey
Image Credit: Hayden Schiff – flickr, CC BY 2.0 DEED/Wiki Commons.

If Louis Rees-Zammit needs a role model, he should look at the path of former soccer player Brandon Aubrey. After a modest career, including a spell at MLS franchise Toronto FC, Aubrey transformed into a star kicker with the Dallas Cowboys.

In his first season, he claimed a perfect 30-30 record by the end of 2023 before finishing with 36 field goals from 38 attempts. At 28, Brandon Aubrey has become an essential part of the Cowboys roster.

3. Ellyse Perry: Soccer to Cricket

Ellyse Perry
Image Credit: Camw – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0/Wiki Commons.

Several athletes have switched between soccer and cricket, but only some have represented their country in both disciplines. Ellyse Perry won 18 senior caps for Australia’s soccer team after debuting in 2007 at 16. She’s since switched to cricket, where she’s become established as one of the best players in the women’s game.

4. Sonny Bill Williams: Rugby to Boxing

Sonny Bill Williams
Image Credit: Gerard Barrau – CC BY-SA 3.0/Wiki Commons.

NFL hopeful Louis Rees-Zammit could also look to Sonny Bill Williams for inspiration. The rugby union international was a World Cup winner with New Zealand in 2015, and after calling time on that part of his career, Williams entered the boxing ring. The Kiwi won nine of his ten professional fights before a defeat to Mark Hunt in 2022 hastened his retirement.

5. Michael Jordan: Basketball to Baseball

1992 Chicago Bulls Michael Jordan
Image Credit: Unknown author – El Gráfico, Public Domain/Wiki Commons.

The great Michael Jordan admitted that his brief entry into baseball was a humbling experience. He was featured for the Chicago White Sox in 1994 and showed a level of promise. The challenge was too big for one of the NBA greats, and MJ was back with the Chicago Bulls a year later.

6. Tim Wiese: Soccer to Wrestling

Tim Wiese
Image Credit: Av Steindy – CC BY-SA 3.0/Wiki Commons.

When former soccer international Tim Wiese made his WWE debut in 2016, his former fans barely recognized him. The goalkeeper had bulked out to cope with the demands of pro wrestling and to complete one of the most unlikely sporting transformations.

Wiese had previously played for Germany’s senior side while playing for four clubs in a 15-year career. His wrestling life was much briefer, and a year on from that WWE debut, he left the organization.

7. Victoria Pendleton: Cycling to Horse Racing

Victoria Pendleton
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Victoria Pendleton was one of many athletes who helped British cycling dominate the sport from the mid-2000s. Among her many successes on the track are two Olympic gold medals, confirming her elite cycling status.

Pendleton later competed as a jockey, coming second in her first professional race. She claimed that a fifth-placed finish at the Foxhunter Chase in the prestigious Cheltenham Festival trumped her cycling achievements.

8. Rebecca Romero: Rowing to Track Cycling

Rebecca Romero
Image Credit: Official Olympics Channel.

British athlete Rebecca Romero became the second woman in history to win Olympic Medals in two different sports. She claimed silver in the quadruple sculls at Athens in 2004 before moving to track cycling. The move produced dividends as Romero landed gold in the individual pursuit at Beijing in 2008.

9. Roswitha Krause: Swimming to Handball

Roswitha Krause
Image Credit: Helmut Schaar – CC BY-SA 3.0/Wiki Commons.

While Rebecca Romero’s achievements are widely acknowledged, the sporting media has forgotten about her predecessor. East Germany’s Roswitha Krause claimed Olympic medals in swimming in Mexico City in 1968 before winning silver in 1976 and bronze in 1980 with the national handball team. The fact that these are two very different disciplines should make Krause’s efforts stand out.

10. Andrew Johns: Australian Rules Football to Rugby to Cricket

Andrew Johns
Image Credit: reepy_au – flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0/Wiki Commons.

Switching from Aussie Rules to rugby, and vice versa, is not an extreme diversion. There are similarities between the two sports. Andrew Johns was one of many who enjoyed a pro career in both.

His cricket career, however, was more remarkable, and it may have been a publicity stunt. Johns played two games for New South Wales in 2007. He was out of his depth, and some teammates seemed uncomfortable with his inclusion.

11. J.P.R. Williams: Tennis to Rugby

J. P. R. Williams
Image Credit: Mark Hodgins – flickr, CC BY 2.0 DEED/Wiki Commons.

Rugby union fans worldwide were sad to learn of the passing of Welsh international full-back J.P.R Williams in January 2004. He was part of a dominant Wales side in the 1970s, but his sporting career could have worked out differently. Williams was an accomplished tennis player, winning titles at the junior level before settling with his preferred sport.

12. Marion Jones: Athletics to Basketball

Marion Lois Jones
Image Credit: TSGT Rick Sforza – Public Domain/Wiki Commons.

Sprinter and long-jumper Marion Jones will be remembered for the wrong reasons. Stripped of her five medals at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, her admission to steroid use remains one of the significant sporting scandals. Jones couldn’t rebuild her career but later featured in the WNBA as a point guard for Tulsa Shock.

13. Petr Cech: Soccer to Ice Hockey

Petr Cech
Image Credit: John Dobson – CC BY 2.0/Wiki Commons.

If you’re a goalkeeper, could you adapt from guarding a giant soccer goal to a small set of posts on the hockey rink? Former Chelsea and Arsenal stopper Petr Cech is enjoying a second career after breaking records in the Premier League. Cech won 19 major honors on the soccer field and currently plays as a goaltender for Oxford City Stars in the UK.

14. A.J. Francis: NFL to Wrestling

Anthony Joseph Francis
Image Credit: Keith Allison – Own work, CC BY-SA 2./Wiki Commons.

Former NFL Nose Tackle A.J. Francis is enjoying success where Tim Wiese failed. This athlete played for five years in the NFL but could not settle, featuring for six different franchises. At 33, he looks set for a more productive wrestling career. After a stint with WWE, Francis is enjoying life with the TNA organization.

15. Ashleigh Barty: Tennis to Cricket to Tennis

Ashleigh Jacinta Barty
Image Credit: robbiesaurus – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.0/Wiki Commons.

Former Australian Open champion Ashleigh Barty started her career as a tennis player before taking an unexpected break from the game. Despite never playing the sport before, she switched to cricket and was so successful that she earned a contract with Big Bash side the Brisbane Heat.

A subsequent return to tennis proved more successful, as she landed that Grand Slam title in 2022, but has a further retirement opened the door to more options?

16. Clive Allen: Soccer to NFL Europe

Clive Darren Allen
Image Credit: Sicknote10 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0/Wiki Commons.

The continent established its own league when the NFL enjoyed greater TV coverage in Europe in the 1980s. NFL Europe was a short-lived project but left an interesting footnote in sporting history. Several established European sports stars, including Clive Allen, believed they could cross over. An England international soccer player and a record-breaking striker for Tottenham Hotspur, Allen kicked six out of six field goals for the London Monarchs.

17. Conor McGregor: MMA to Boxing

Conor McGregor
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Many athletes have switched between combat sports, but nobody shouted about it more than Conor McGregor. The controversial Irishman known as “Notorious” was a proven UFC champion when he challenged Floyd Mayweather’s unbeaten record. The result was predictable. Mayweather extended that winning run while McGregor swiftly returned to the Octagon.

18. Shane Warne: Australian Rules Football to Cricket

Shane Keith Warne
Image Credit: Eva Rinaldi – flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0/Wiki Commons.

He’s arguably the greatest cricketer of all time, but Shane Warne’s career could have worked out differently. As a young athlete, he split his time between cricket and Australian Rules Football and was once on the books of AFL club St Kilda. He made it to the reserve roster but was later delisted and focused on cricket instead.

19. Usain Bolt: Athletics to Soccer

Usain Bolt
Image Credit: Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil – CC BY 3.0 br/Wiki Commons.

Like many of his fellow Jamaicans, cricket was a big passion for Usain Bolt growing up. He could have channeled his athleticism into pace bowling had he not developed to become the fastest man on earth. Bolt later had soccer trials with Central Coast Mariners in Australia. It didn’t work out, but the athlete claimed he should have pursued opportunities with European clubs instead of admitting defeat.

20. Chris Hoy: Cycling to Motorsport

Chris Hoy
Image Credit: Velo Steve – flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0/Wiki Commons.

One of the UK’s most decorated athletes, Chris Hoy, switched from two wheels to four when his cycling career ended. A multiple Olympic medalist, the Scot competed in the Le Mans 24-Hour Race in 2016.

21. Everton Weekes: Cricket to Bridge

Everton Weekes
Image Credit: International Cricket Council Official Channel.

Whether bridge is a “sport” is debatable, but Everton Weekes’ journey is fascinating, so he makes it onto the list. He was a legend of West Indian cricket, scoring over 12,000 first-class runs, and he later represented Barbados at his favorite card game.

22. Greg Hardy: NFL to MMA

Greg Hardy
Image Credit: Keith Allison derivative: Diddykong1130 – CC BY-SA 2.0/Wiki Commons.

Greg Hardy, a stocky defensive end who played for two NFL franchises, used his strength and competitiveness to secure a move into mixed martial arts. He’s fought in the UFC, and Hardy has also boxed professionally.

23. Harry Mallinder: Rugby to NFL

Harry Mallinder
Image Credit: F90 Rugby Official Channel.

Louis Rees-Zammitt isn’t the only current rugby player to try their luck on the NFL pathway. Harry Mallinder played for eight years at Northampton Saints before moving to the Japanese side Black Rams Tokyo. Mallinder played as a full-back and registered on the pathway scheme as a kicker/punter.

24. Bo Jackson: Baseball to NFL

Bo Jackson
Image Credit: Robert Matthew Schalk – United States Navy, Public Domain/Wiki Commons.

Working through this list, I’ve wondered which athlete has reached the highest levels in two disciplines. The last entry, Bo Jackson, makes a big claim as he is the only man named in All-Star teams in two American sports. An outfielder for three MLB franchises, Jackson also appeared for four seasons in the NFL with the Los Angeles Raiders.

Author: Matt Harris

Title: Writer

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