Fueled up with all of the bravado that comes with being an
untouchable athlete, boxing royalty Floyd Mayweather Jr. announced
to the press in recent weeks that the "UFC ain't sh-t," concluding
that "anyone can get a tattoo and get into a street fight."
Mayweather's elegant, articulate overview of the sport was once
common currency among mainstream media and its athletic performers
-- now it seems almost quaint in its (alleged) ignorance.
Floyd's peers Evander Holyfield and Oscar De La Hoya have taken the
opposite tact, championing the bastard child of boxing and
imagining a world where both can peacefully co-exist.
The industry of boxing has become woefully divisive on the matter;
it's likely little coincidence that the most malevolent comments
have come from agitated promoters with future fortunes to lose,
while athletes near retirement age prefer to keep an open mind.
The exception is Mayweather, who, despite being one of the most
well compensated fighters in either game, feels the need to
choreograph unsolicited outbursts about the mixed-style
competition. (And let us not forget fellow naysayer James Toney,
who has also decreed he would clean house against the likes of
Chuck Liddell (Pictures).)
It's difficult to ascertain whether these statements are simply
part of the self-promotion game or not. Both Mayweather and Toney
generate dollars by being belligerent, brash antagonists -- a
financial lesson that extends from Ali to Tito Ortiz (Pictures). With press outlets and state
commissions shaping new attitudes about MMA, it's hard to imagine
fellow athletes not being able to discern between a bar brawl and a
Or is it?
Try playing devil's advocate and recall your first exposure to the
sport. Were you really able to appreciate the intricacies of the
mat? Did the stand-up component look as polished and sharp as a pro
Now consider your business is pugilism: it's not hard to believe a
passing glance at a bout as sloppily contested as Griffin-Bonnar
wouldn't incite some kind of acid reflux.
I sympathize with boxers like Mayweather, who have spent their
entire lives honing a specific craft until it's an elite-level
display of skill. And now they're watching as fans and media are
craning their necks over to a roughneck sport full of athletes who
wear their hands at their hips and wind up punches from other
states. It's like being Olivier and having to sit and listen to
critics praise the latest Adam Sandler vehicle. Perception is
Of course, we (the obsessive-compulsives who own third-generation
copies of World Extreme Catfighting) know it's not as simple
as that. MMA athletes aren't the strikers boxers are for the simple
reason that not enough hours in the day have been allotted to
become proficient at every aspect of the fight game. In addition to
striking, cross-style athletes have to worry about checking leg
kicks, avoiding (or initiating) takedowns, and getting acclimated
to the deep waters of jiu-jitsu.
Mayweather doesn't see that. He sees wild swings married to some
kind of bizarro wrestling match, a human pretzel of arms and legs
on the mat. Toney sees Liddell's awkward stance, a squatting
defilement of proper boxing technique, and believes he could take
his head off … not stopping to think of what happens when you try
and adopt pure boxing into MMA, not understanding what a leg kick
does to your thighs, and not cognizant of the perpetual danger of
someone trying to take your legs out from under you.
Observers would scoff at MMA's chances of succeeding boxing only a
few years ago. The masses, they said, would never tolerate the
ground game. Boxing would remain our premier combat sport, and
fighters like Toney and Mayweather would never bother to even
comment on the variation.
That scenario is changing rapidly, thanks in large part to the
free-fight industry refusing to let people wander around with
bovine complacency in the matter. National television exposure has
altered everything. At the height of the UFC's old-school
popularity, a quarter-million pay-per-views were sold; today, that
number can exceed one million, despite the increased distractions
available via the iPod, the Internet, and a 500-channel cable
It's huge business, brimming with the kind of buzz and exposure
that boxing used to enjoy. But the Tysons are gone and the De La
Hoyas are nearly out the door. There appears to be no one on the
horizon who will be boxing's great salvation, the Ali that stirs
emotional investment in middle-aged housewives.
Boxing isn't going anywhere; no obituaries are needed. But I do
wonder what happens 20 years from now, when the elder statesmen who
grew up looking to that sport as an institution are gone, and the
current generation will have been weaned on the likes of Fedor Emelianenko
(Pictures) and Matt Hughes (Pictures).
Perhaps boxing will devolve into the kind of fringe activity that
kickboxing is today, a stand-up attraction that toils in the shadow
of a more noble and respected sport.
Evolution isn't meant to be kind. Mayweather's not happy, but I
doubt the theropods were, either.
(Pictures)'s anticipated run through
the UFC heavyweight division hit a stumbling block in the form of
Gonzaga (Pictures) on Saturday. Cro Cop's
first-round knockout loss puts a serious damper on the mega-money
matches that were on the table against Randy Couture (Pictures) and Chuck Liddell (Pictures). Both Gonzaga and Matt Serra (Pictures) seem to be signaling another
change in the proverbial (perhaps literal) guard, where grapplers
are getting up to speed on the stand-up game. … If commentator Mike
Goldberg utters the exhausted phrase "meteoric rise" one more time,
I might puncture my eardrums with a toothbrush. … In a performance
that enforced his now 1-6 record in the UFC, Elvis Sinosic (Pictures) was again used and abused in an
effort to make hometown draw Michael Bisping (Pictures) look good. Sinosic is a game
fighter with a great attitude, but he's shark bait in the UFC,
easily devoured from within his own guard. Let's move on
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