More Brutal Than Brutal

Ask mixed martial arts fans why they prefer MMA over boxing, and one rather common answer goes something like this: “It’s how fights are out on the streets.” That makes it more authentic to them. They might add, “A UFC fighter beats a boxer in a street fight any day.”
There are lots of counter-arguments to that, but I want to make a very specific one. Via Jab And Grapple, I happened across this months-old New York Times article, ostensibly about a gay MMA practitioner, but also very much about the unsanctioned world of “Felony Fights.” In Felony Fights, anything goes. Two women fighting one man, people with weapons, anything. ‚ÄúThere is no way, no way, anyone can compete with us other than killing the dude. And you can‚Äôt,” said the organization’s founder.
Another point he made: “I hate to break it to you, but a U.F.C. fighter isn’t a guy that’s been in a million street fights, where you walk around the corner, and you’re, like, ‘Damn, these are my enemies,’ and you get stomped out for 20 minutes by 10 dudes.” And another: “A guy can train in a gym forever, but he doesn’t know what to do when a guy bites his face.”
My argument is this: If “authenticity” is what you crave, Felony Fights is for you, not UFC. If you really want to see people fight the way they would on the streets, have at it. And while you’re at it, ask yourself if it’s true that your favorite MMA fighter would know what to do when a guy bites him on the face, then answer whether you can be so sure that he wouldn’t lose a fight against an opponent with a baseball bat. You can try to one-up boxing all you want with your “an MMA fighter beats a boxer in a street fight,” but then, there might be a Felony Fights guy who gouges your MMA fighter’s eyes out.
Which is to say that even though the basic building block of a boxing match and an MMA match is, well, a fight, both are (now) well-regulated sports more than they are unmitigated street combat. That’s a good thing, primarily for moral reasons. But it makes it less “authentic.”
There are a few more moves you can do in MMA than boxing, and if that appeals to you, I don’t share your aesthetic but don’t begrudge you it, either. There are valid reasons one might prefer MMA over boxing, even if I would disagree with them. Just don’t pretend that one of them is that MMA is oh so very real.

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board ( He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.