Sunday, June 27, 2010

‘Boxing is Dead’ and other such fallacies: A reply

Boxing is dead. Or Dying. Such is the claim from the throngs of MMA fans with skulls on their t-shirts. So widespread is this claim, in fact, that these sentiments are echoed by ESPN’s resident MMA fanboi Jake Roosen and C-List celebrity and MMA commentator Joe Rogan. Hell, UFC president Dana White went on record and declared, among other things, that the UFC was bigger than boxing and the WWE combined (Dude, one of your major drawcards came from the WWE)!

I would like to go on record to state that, although I am fanatical about my love of the sweet science, I have a very healthy respect and love for MMA. On any given Sunday, it is the better match-up that will get the pay-per-view dollars and being a reasonable and logical individual, I am prepared to be objective about both.

MMA has done a fantastic job as establishing itself as a legitimate sport. From brutish beginnings its rate of technical advancement is unparalleled in the sporting world. The same skill set that dominated in the mid-90s will get you stopped in today’s contests. Since inception, the UFC has been brilliant in promoting its product with its pay-per-view events now rivalling boxing. UFC 100 had 1.6 million ppv buys, which is an outstanding figure. However, with its rise in popularity, there seems to be a schism between the two fraternities.

The division between, and the derision from, both camps seem illogical considering their genesis. A little research shows evidence of fistic sports appear in Sumerian relief carvings that date back to 3000BC. Evidence of gloved contests appear a millennium later in the Sardinian statues in the Prama mountains. Officially installed as an Olympic sport in 688BC, Homer’s Iliad (ca 675BC) contains the first account of a match. Disappearing after the fall of the Roman Empire, it wasn’t until 1743 that Broughtan’s rules , which were aimed more at the gambling fraternity that came with this illegal sport, that a clear set of unifying rules became apparent. Though still illegal in much of the Western world, The London Prize Ring Rules (1838) went further to define the sport, which still involved elements of grappling. It wasn’t until 1867, and the introduction of The Queensberry Rules (which included the use of gloves and weight classes), that the modern, civilised sport of the boxing existed.

It is generally held that the forms of ‘pankration’, a blend of boxing and wrestling, existed as far back as the second century BC and refined and introduced as an Olympic sport in 648BC. Abolished in 393AD (along with most gladiatorial combat and pagan rituals), it wasn’t until the 1880s that no-holds-barred type events resurfaced and stylistic match-ups were popular during the early 1900s. ‘Vale Tudo’ (Portuguese for “anything goes”) events existed in Brazil during the 1920s and mixed martial arts contests were being held in Japan in the 1970s. Mixed Martial Arts, as we know it, started in 1993 with the UFC and Pride promotions.

So, as you can see, it really wasn’t until the introduction of the Queensberry Rules that there was a clear separation between the two styles.

It seems strange that two sports, which are really brothers from different mothers, would have such a rivalry. Both sides seem fairly dismissive, however, the amount of smack being talked by the MMA fraternity is, at best, misguided and, at worst, obsessive. Being that most of the opinions are based in equal parts delusion and bullshit, I have decided to shed a little light on the major claims.

I really like Dana White, for it seems like he genuinely cares about his sport and he tries to make the best match ups possible. But, in this instance, I really want whatever drug he is on.

A look at PPV buy rates for 2009 does show that UFC 100 came out on top with 1.6 million buys and that, for that year , the UFC held 6 of the top 10 PPV events. However, this event also featured two of the sports top drawcards (in the form of Brock Lesnar, and George St. Pierre) in separate bouts. Brock Lesnar was also in a rematch after being upset by Frank Mir at UFC81. If you look at this in a similar context Tyson-Holyfield II (also a rematch between heavyweights after an upset) did 1.99 million ppv buys, without any type of co-feature. UFC 100 also fell well short of the ppv record, which was set in 2007, the 2.14 million ppv buys set by Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather.

Boxing has put on 11 events with over one million ppv buys. Two bouts featuring Ricky Hatton, against Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, was the only instances where there were more ppv buys in the British market as opposed to the United States.

In comparison, the UFC has four events with over one million ppv buys (UFC 100, 66, 91, 92) since 2006. However, ALL of these events contained more than one headlining bout which is a testament to the great cards that the UFC puts on but, if the UFC was truly bigger than boxing and the WWE combined, wouldn’t they be able to get the same amount of buys with less?

Also, last September UFC103 conflicted with the Mayweather-Marquez bout. Which did better ppv numbers? The best count is Mayweather winning by 2:1.

And, after this, when UFC113 was due to conflict with the Mayweather-Mosley bout, what did Dana White do? Rescheduled it for a week later and gave some bogus excuse regarding a hand injury to Lyoto Machida. What kind of hand injury, the type that would keep you out of a major fight, would be fully healed in exactly seven days?

That’s right, bitch.

Then, instead of being graceful about it all, Dana took a cheap shot at boxing.

Whilst the UFC puts out cards with a more constant buy rate, boxing is like having a pet anaconda, it only occasionally will eat a big rat but, if you sleep on it, it may take one of your children.

And that’s not true for any other professional sport on the planet?

How about one of the most hyped bouts in UFC history in Rampage-Rashad? And, barring the Forrest Griffin fight, anything Anderson Silva has been involved in over the last few years? Isn’t he your pound for pound king, one of the top draws and, arguably, the face of the sport??

Being that performance in sporting events are not constant, as they depend wholly on the style of the competitors, it would be irresponsible to single out boxing for a variable which factors into every single sporting contest

Claim 3: There are too many sanctioning bodies and politics, you never really know who the champ is

I agree that there are too many sanctioning bodies, it is really just a way for people to charge their champions a fee to hold and compete for their belt.

At current count, there are 76 sanctioning bodies, with the four main ones (WBA, WBC, IBF, WBO) counted as legitimate whilst the rest are lightly regarded (if at all) and make up the ‘alphabet soup’

Although not a sanctioning body, The Ring magazine usually provides the best ranking system.


Hold on. Who are the two best heavyweights in MMA? General opinion points to Fedor Emelianenko and Brock Lesnar. Ok. Well, if MMA is so fair and transparent, how come these two don’t just fight each other for heavyweight supremacy? Oh, that’s right, mixed martial arts doesn’t actually have one universal sanctioning body. So Strikeforce guys can’t fight UFC guys and so forth.

In what other professional sport in the world can the two best competitors not face each other? Yes, the two generally accepted best heavyweights in boxing won’t face each other either. But, they are brothers and are purely acting on the wishes of their mother.

Boxing can be awfully political and a champion, if he manoeuvres well enough, can successfully avoid challengers but, at least, champions can face each other (as long as the money is right).

Claim 4: Boxing is all about money

Umm…yeah. It’s a professional sport. Aside from that, issues of money have plagued what could have been the biggest match ups in the game (Pacquiao-Mayweather for one). It is a really shitty thing and a problem that mixed martial arts seems to have bypassed.

However, to say that it is not all about money is wrong.

Look at every UFC event, advertising is everywhere. Everywhere. It’s just a product of professionalism. Not only that, but fighters partake in the rank consumerism by wearing the latest UFC endorsed clothing line (“bogan couture”) during every one of their ring walks. As fighters are introduced, their corners hold up massive banners complete with all of their sponsors’ names on it. For what pray tell? Money.

Given, money can get in the way of match-ups in boxing but its combatants are generally free and aren’t corporate shills for the organisation.

Claim 5: Fighters control boxing whereas the MMA controls fighters

Agreed and I don’t really have much of an argument here.

If certain match-ups need to be made in the UFC, then it is almost a certainty that they will be made. Boxing, with it’s multiple sanctioning bodies, only tends to make the match-ups that the fighters agree to (which mostly involves the right money). If Pacquiao and Mayweather were in the UFC, it would be said and done by now.

There is only one major drawback……

It is exactly this sense of anticipation that makes boxing that much more exciting! If Tyson had fought Holyfield or Lewis in his prime then there would be no way it would sell that many tickets (although the result MAY have been slightly different). Ditto Mayweather-Mosley.

Can you honestly say that the success of UFC100 wasn’t partially due to the fact the Mir had beaten Lesnar (who was now champion) before? Same thing with UFC66, Chuck stopped Tito at UFC47 and won the Light Heavyweight title two fights later. Fans will then assume one of two things;

1. One of the fighters will have improved since their first time out.
2. With a title on the line, the outcome has the possibility to be dramatically different.

So even though the politics can be prohibitive, it makes the big matchups even bigger.

Claim 6: Boxing is boring, there is too much holding

What?! The same people who think boxing is boring are the kind of people who watch rugby or rugby league (most likely rugby league) for the fights and motorsport for the crashes. Straight bogans. Some people just have a different style, which doesn’t mean that they have an inferior skill level just that certain strategies better fit their strengths or their opponent’s weaknesses.

As the old adage goes, styles make fights.

There are many ‘lay and pray’ fighters in mixed martial arts i.e. guys who work into dominant positions but do not attempt to end the fight. Their style is nowhere near aesthetically pleasing but it wins fights within the rules of their sport. Even fighters who rely on their dominant wrestling to control their opponents provide mostly boring contests. In the end, aren’t they just ‘holding’ anyways?

I hate to reiterate a point but Anderson Silva’s bouts of late have been anything but exciting. In fact, as illustrated in his last bout, he hardly even engages his opponents and throws tantrums when they won’t fight his fight.

UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar utilises his size to smother opponents and hammer people out, which is really just a show of size over skill, is not at all aesthetically pleasing and is as less as a spectacle as the Klitchkos using their size.

A very close friend of mine was watching a boxing fight when the fighters clinched. He exclaimed, “why doesn’t he just choke him out”? The very obvious answer is that IT ISNT IN THE RULES OF THE SPORT. It would be just like watching mixed martial arts and, when faced with a grappling stalemate, asked “Why doesn’t he just shoot him with a gun?”

The extra dimensions that mixed martial arts provide do open new offensive opportunities and avenues to win the contest, but there still going to be instances when a fighter is going to disrupt his opponents offence by providing no opportunity to progress.

Claim 7: MMA has made Boxing (as a skill set) obsolete

The introduction of grappling and a ground game has made MMA the only mainstream multi-dimensional combat sport there is. The proficiency in wrestling, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Muay Thai and boxing make mixed martial artists the most skilled and, probably, the most highly conditioned athletes on the face of the planet.

But to say that it has made boxing obsolete?

Then why is the corner stone of every fighter’s stand up still boxing?

Why are the pound for pound best mixed martial artists hiring boxing trainers instead of mma striking coaches? Yup, B.J. Penn, Anderson Silva, George St. Pierre (that’s the top three pound for pound fighters in the sport), Andrei Arlovski, Tito Ortiz (among others), ALL have enlisted the help of boxing trainer Freddie Roach.

And why, if their skillset is that bad, is a 48 year old boxer, with NO MMA EXPERIENCE AT ALL (whose last significant fight was in 2002) able to knock a former (as recent as 2007) UFC heavyweight champ out cold (COLD!) despite the fact they have no grappling skill whatsoever? Would that, at least, point to the fact that boxing is still a competitive form of striking….just not a multi-dimensional form of combat.

Yep, Sylvia was severely out of shape and past his used by date. But, Ray Mercer was 15 years older and had been out of the competitive fight game for a lot longer. To date, this remains the only knockout (due to strikes) on Sylvia’s ledger.

Claim 8: MMA has better cards

This is one point that I simply can not argue. The UFC puts out consistently strong cards. These are also great value for money as, although there may be 5-6 main bouts, if any of these end early the UFC places an (originally) non-televised bout to fill in the time. Compare this to boxing (with 4-5 televised bouts) whom only show the intended fights without any supplementation if one finishes early.

The major problem seems to be the money involved. The majority of the revenue generated is split between the headlining combatants with little left for the undercard fighters. The disparity between the headliners and undercard fighters revenue is far more pronounced in boxing than in MMA. But, as a sport, boxing is a lot deeper due to its history and, the more competitive something gets through increased participation, the more this disparity is going to exist.

There is certainly ignorance from both camps, from some high profile people who should really be a lot smarter. Why you can’t concurrently be pro-MMA and pro-boxing is beyond me. For, it just seems like one-eyed ignorance as most of the problems highlighted by their proponents exist in their own, if not every, sport. Both are such great sports and we must be in a unique time in history when combat sports are so available. I guess it’s easier just to hate on boxing these days, there is always generational defiance and boxing may seem like an institution of our fathers whilst MMA became professional in our generation. Like an adolescent teen, there seems to be resentment toward where things all came from. But, wearing a ‘Tapout’ shirt (or a black zip up hoodie with a skull on it) and sitting in your room listening to nu-metal doesn’t make you an expert on these things and, all I ask, is that people grow up and educate themselves to a point where they can appreciate a skill set without having to be diametrically opposed to something which is so closely related. It doesn’t make you less of an MMA fan if you appreciate boxing, it makes you more of a sports fan.

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