I’ve hardly said a word about this weekend’s Roy Jones Jr. “March Badness” pay-per-view card that combines boxing and mixed martial arts bouts, because Jones isn’t terribly relevant to the sport right now, and because the boxing-oriented fights on the card aren’t very good, and from what I understand, the MMA-oriented fights on the card aren’t very good either. It’s not worth the money, if you ask me, and this comes from a man who watches boxing every chance he gets.
But everyone else is talking about it, and they’re saying some goofy things about boxing these days, and how it’s been replaced by MMA, and most of the people, frankly, are talking out of their asses. They’re people who don’t know anything about the state of the sweet science, because they transparently haven’t even read an article about boxing since the 1990s. Thus, I feel obligated to wade into the discussion and try to do my part to set the record straight.
First, allow me to revisit the reason I’m not interested in the card. Jones may be one of the most recognizable names in boxing to non-hardcore fans, but he’s far from the pound-for-pound king he once was. He’s rated #6 at light heavyweight by Ring magazine, but that’s because the division isn’t very deep and some of the younger fighters beneath him don’t have the kind of wins Jones does. He’s not terrible, but it’s a real stretch to say he’s one of the 50 best fighters in the sport, even. He’s fighting Omar Sheika, who’s fought three times since 2004 and has lost to every top-notch opponent he’s ever faced except Glen Johnson, in 2000. Sheika’s been in some fun fights, notably his bouts with Scott Pemberton, but he’s not a terribly dangerous opponent unless Jones is REALLY faded. The most significant undercard boxing match features cruiserweight B.J. Flores, who isn’t half bad but isn’t particularly exciting.
It’s not a good boxing lineup. It’s why HBO and Showtime don’t want any part of it. The MMA lineup? Here’s where I’ll do what others won’t, and admit I have no clue. I recognized some of the names in the original lineup, like Ken Shamrock, but most of the names are now off the card for one reason or the other, Shamrock because he failed a drug test. But from what I’ve read on many of the MMA sites, it’s not that good a card now if it ever was.
I’ve said before that MMA doesn’t interest me. It’s largely an aesthetic choice. I’ve given the sport a lot of tries, and it’s hardly ever entertained me. I saw an OK bout on replay the other night that featured Frank Shamrock, but most every MMA bout I watch is marked by extended sections of two men rolling around on on the ground not doing much. Again, that’s just how it looks to me. To a more attuned eye, I’m assuming that ground-and-pound stuff is appealing in some way. It just isn’t to me. I mean that as no disrespect to the sport. I know some MMA folk don’t find boxing aesthetically appealing for this reason or that.
Maybe putting a boxing match on an MMA card can convert an MMA fan into a boxing fan, and maybe putting an MMA card can convert a boxing fan into an MMA fan. But I don’t think this card is the one to do it. I know that when I daydream about boxing getting wide exposure for just one fight, Jones-Sheika ain’t it. If I, as a boxing fan, don’t even care to pay to see it, that should say something. And, again, from what I understand, the best of MMA won’t be on display Saturday, either.
There are some boxing people who are snotty about MMA, but I don’t know many. Most of them are respectful of it and see things it does well that boxing does not, such as with its typically superior undercards and savvier promotion. By contrast, is my personal experience that a good number of MMA fans are actively hostile toward boxing and want to see it go away. I’m not sure where the attitude comes from; if I don’t like a sport, I just don’t watch it.
Mix a card like “March Badness” with that attitude and it leads to articles like this one by Jake Rossen, which concludes as follows: “Once mainstays like Jones and Oscar De La Hoya retire their gloves to a box in the attic, their sport is going to be in for a struggle for attention against the more articulate, colorful personalities in martial arts. It’s not a fight boxing is likely to win.”
Rossen, to his credit, admits early on that he doesn’t know much about boxing. He should have left it there. I have no basis for comparison with the MMA, but if he thinks boxing doesn’t have a ton of “articulate, colorful personalities,” I didn’t need the disclaimer that he doesn’t follow the sport. Take just one fight coming up, the May 2 junior welterweight championship fight between Manny Pacquiao and Ricky Hatton. Pacquiao is arguably the most exciting and best fighter in the sport; but he’s also an actor/musician/college student/congressional candidate who has energized his country like hardly any athlete ever has, overcoming a horrible beginning to his life that featured him running away from home after his dad ate his dog out of hunger. Again, I have no way of knowing whether MMA has anything comparable, but I can tell you: Pacquiao’s colorful, and anyone who disagrees is color blind. Maybe he lacks in the “articulate” category, though, since he doesn’t speak English as his first language. Hatton has no such difficulties. He’s moonlighted as a stand-up comic. He oozes likability. Perhaps someone, some day, can do a scientific survey of which sport has more “articulate, colorful personalities,” but for the time being, I’ll happily match Quinton Jackson threatening his opponent with “black-on-black violence” against Jorge Barrios calling Edwin Valero “a long-haired prostitute and a communist.” I can tell you this — Kevin Iole, who covers both MMA and boxing for Yahoo!, recently made a list of the great things about boxing, and one was boxers’ back stories, and another was boxers’ outspokenness.
There’s so much more flawed about what Rossen said in those couple sentences I don’t even have time to respond to it all, because then there’s a whole other class of articles, written by generalists like John Canzano, that’s misguided in all other kinds of ways.
Canzano, you see, thinks Jones should be made the czar of boxing. That’s the same Jones who’s putting on a crappy boxing card this weekend and whose biggest previous boxing card sold terribly and featured a terrible undercard. Jones can’t put together a good boxing event yet; why should he be in charge of the sport as a whole? It’s not that some of Jones’ ideas are bad, and I’m not saying Jones won’t some day be a good boxing promoter. People doubted Golden Boy would do well under De La Hoya, and Jones, to his credit, seems to be hustling his ass off to promote this card, doing interviews everywhere and even appearing at a Hooters Tuesday night to hype the event, for crissakes. I’m just saying, putting Jones in charge of anything at this point is a dicey prospect.
Canzano writes: “Face it, boxing bled out from corruption and greed. The promoters killed the golden geese. The sport stopped giving us great bouts, and instead handed us overbilled sideshow acts.” It’s well-phrased, but totally in error. The sport, in the past couple years, has almost entirely reversed its trend of not giving us great bouts. A casual glimpse at any boxing site or publication for the past two years-plus would reveal to Canzano that boxing fans are largely very happy with the direction the sport is moving in re: great bouts. Furthermore, March Badness itself — the event Jones organized — is the very definition of an overbilled sideshow act. All this card has going for it, so far as I can tell, is the gimmick that it is the biggest split boxing/MMA card to date. And boxing hasn’t “bled out,” unless you consider a sellout crowd at Staples Center and a near-sellout crowd at the Toyota Center, both in 2009, “bleeding to death.” Again, a really casual search of any boxing site would have given Canzano the information he needs to know the sport is thriving even without informed coverage of boxing by publications like The Oregonian.
Again, I don’t have time to respond to every ridiculous thing Canzano said. (I must note that the explicit focus of his piece was not the sp
lit boxing/MMA card; but he does talk about Jones, his upcoming fight, and competition from MMA. And I also must take note that Canzano says respectful things about the “science” of boxing.)
The point is this: Boxing and MMA are different sports. Maybe they can co-exist and thrive on one card some day, and maybe they can’t. I suspect they can’t. But putting lackluster boxing matches on a card with lackluster MMA matches doesn’t help boxing. It just makes people say idiotic things about boxing. I don’t even think it’s helpful for boxing promoters like Jones and Don King to play in both sports; Gary Shaw’s boxing product suffered while he dabbled with EliteXC, in my view. “March Badness” isn’t worth taking particularly seriously as a boxing event, unless you’re a big fan of Jones, or are looking for something to do Saturday in Florida.
But boxing and MMA can coexist in the sporting world. They already are coexisting, even if MMA has surely stolen some prospective fans and prospective boxers away from my sport. In the future, maybe MMA will be more popular than boxing sometimes, and maybe boxing will be more popular than MMA sometimes. Maybe boxing will fade permanently into second place, and maybe after Dana White departs from the UFC, MMA fades away itself. Who knows? All I know is that the purported fight between boxing and MMA, and between boxing fans and MMA fans, is as tired and as boring as can be, and I’m far more interested in watching the kind of fight I like to watch and letting MMA fans watch the kind of fights they like to watch. And now that this lecture on the topic is over, I’m interested in shutting the hell up about it for as long as I can avoid talking about it.