It’s going to get pretty hard soon to avoid the dumb-as-rocks debate over boxing versus mixed martial arts, seeing as how on Sept. 19, the UFC and boxing each are putting on pay-per-view events. Maybe ignoring it is the right way to go.
But the parade of morons
on the MMA side — and, really, in the mainstream media — is too obnoxious for me to look away forever. Let me clarify by saying that not all MMA fans, or 50 percent, or any such estimate, are morons, or anything like that. It’s just that the vocal ones who hate boxing are really intolerable.
My stance, as always, is that there is no right or wrong answer here; MMA bouts and boxing bouts are NASCAR and Formula 1, both fights the same way their equivalents are both car races. You like what you like. Both will thrive and survive. That doesn’t mean I can’t make the case for why I, personally, prefer boxing to MMA. And if your choice is between UFC 103 Sept. 19 and the stacked Floyd Mayweather-Juan Manuel Marquez card Sept. 19, maybe this will help you make up your mind.
The Best Boxing Matches Blow Away The Best MMA Matches
I have to start with the biggest reason. I’ve watched some of the best MMA has to offer. I’ve watched most of the best boxing has to offer. A lot of “best of all time” lists of MMA matches, for instance, put Forrest Griffin-Stephan Bonnar at #1 or thereabouts. And I confess — it was an entertaining scrap. But it has a mere fraction of the sustained action, or back-and-forth drama, of what I consider the best boxing match of all time, Diego Corrales-Jose Luis Castillo. In fact, I’m not sure it even comes close to rivaling any given “Fight of the Year” in boxing. Or, for that matter, any given fight that would make the top-5 in any given year in boxing.
The reasons for that sustained action and back-and-forth drama, actually, can be found in the nature of each sport, not merely because of some aesthetic preference. I’ll elaborate more on the “whys” momentarily.
Boxing has history. MMA doesn’t. It’s not MMA’s fault. It’s a relatively new sport, even if some of the fighting disciplines that comprise MMA are ancient. It’s going to take time for MMA to have the richness that comes with history. When Manny Pacquiao wins real championship belts in four different divisions, the achievement is magnified by the fact that no one, not in a hundred years, has done that before, and so many amazing fighters have populated the boxing ring. It’s the same reason so many of baseball’s records are so hallowed, especially in comparison to, say, basketball’s or football’s.
So here’s one of those “whys” I just mentioned to explain how the best boxing matches are often more dramatic than the best MMA matches: because when a boxer gets knocked down and hurt, he is given 10 seconds to recover and rally to win later. There’s hardly anything more amazing than that — for a fighter to near the edge of unconsciousness, only to summon an inner spirit the average person can’t comprehend and emerge victorious. Now, certainly, I’ve seen MMA fighters rally from being staggered. But that’s a different precipice, one boxers deal with, too. If an MMA fighter is hurt badly enough to fall down, generally he’ll be pounced upon while he’s on his back and put to sleep before he gets a chance to come back and win.
A related point here. I find MMA’s “ground and pound” tedious at best, unsportsmanlike at worst. I just don’t enjoy seeing two people wrestle around on the floor, jockeying for position, and usually doing very little. I absolutely understand that there are subtle tactics at play that could be interesting to someone. They just aren’t interesting to me. And an MMA fan can say, “What about all the holding they do in boxing?,” to which I’d answer, “I hate it. I’d like to see it penalized by referees more frequently.”
Furthermore, I’m also aware that MMA is, thus far in its history, less likely to result in loss of life for its participants than boxing. But — and this is an argument from tradition, a total logical fallacy, I recognize — but our culture has viewed it as uncivilized to “hit someone while they’re down.” I share that value. This is a side point, and not one I’d focus on, but I’m explaining my reasons, and this is one of them. Because I find the idea of jumping on someone who’s just been knocked unconscious and hitting them with an even more savage punch, as happened here
Gracefulness Versus Street Fighting
One of the arguments for MMA that I find hard to disagree with is that it more closely resembles a “real” fight than a boxing match does. (Most “real” fights are 10 times as sloppy and awful as a top MMA fight, but still.) If that’s what you’re into, I can’t win you over, probably, although I might also recommend you to videotapes of real street fights that are easily purchased over the Internet.
Me? I like to see athletic grace. I like artistry. I’d rather see a seven-punch combo — or even a fighter dodging seven straight punches — than somebody’s teeth flying out. (Again, not that such a thing happens in MMA anymore; it’s just short-hand for preferring skill to mere violence.) It’s not that I don’t have some kind of interest in violence. One of the things that makes boxing such a compelling act of athletic achievement is the pain one has to endure, and the risk thereof. But because so much of MMA ends in someone being tackled, the odds of someone pivoting his body, blocking or ducking to avoid a barrage of lightning-fast blows and then returning the favor — as happens regularly in boxing — are next to none. It’s also one of the reasons boxing can have such sustained action.
I think there’s a certain beauty in a properly-delivered punch. A good right cross is swift, straight and accurate. You won’t find many such punches in MMA. There’s a reason for this, of course, and it has something to do with the notion that when you have to watch out for kicks, knees and takedowns, you won’t always have a chance to get your body in the right position to produce a perfect punch. But sometimes when you generalize, you lose some of the excellence inherent to doing one thing repeatedly and well. MMA forces its practitioners to generalize. I’d personally rather watch something done really, really well in this case.
I don’t think that boxers are better athletes, necessarily, than mixed martial artists. I don’t know if it’s even possible to measure it. So when I say “conditioning,” I’m not saying boxers are inherently better-conditioned, even if I suspect that may be the case. But frequently a few minutes into an MMA round, especially late in a fight, its practitioners are huffing and puffing. I’m sure the difference between three and five minute rounds has something to do with it. Or maybe there’s more full-body exertion in the wrestling mixed martial artists have to do. All I know is that I tend to be unimpressed by two men, exhausted, trying to catch their breaths in the last two minutes of a five-minute round then resting instead of fighting the full three minutes then resting one.
Odds And Ends
None of this fits into any particular category: The way UFC divisions start at higher weights means fewer chances for graceful bouts and sustained action, odd though that may seem — every one of the Ring magazine Fights of the Year since 1996 has been fought between men who weighed 140 pounds or less… Fighting for a living is a hard path, and boxers on the whole, especially at the top end of the sport, are paid better. I know there’s some dispute about how much money the people at each sport’s middle class are paid and whether it’s comparable, but there’s a reason so many MMA fighters talk about moving over to boxing, and I think it’s not entirely a myth that is seducing them.
I could, and frequently have, acknowledged all the things MMA does better than boxing. The near-monopoly that allows UFC to make most of the best fights happen rather than hoping everyone will see the light, something that has happened more often in boxing in the last two years but isn’t as mandatory; the commitment to making it an “event” instead of one big-name boxing match and a bunch of mismatches, something boxing is only just now seeming to fix with Mayweather-Marquez; etc. etc. And there are things MMA reputedly does better than boxing that aren’t necessarily so — if Brock doesn’t fight Fedor because both men are signed with different organizations, doesn’t that hurt the argument for MMA’s “always delivers the best fights,” especially when boxing does
it so regularly these days?
But this is one man’s view. I fear I danced on the edge of snobbery there at points, and I have avoided writing this column for so long out of fear of coming across that way. Just know that if you’re an MMA fan and this column pisses you off, I absolutely respect your preference for MMA over boxing; there is no “truth” in which sport is better. Have at it. I’ll take my sweet science, and different strokes can rule the world.