Boxing in MMA’s Shadow

By: Jake Rossen
Apr 23, 2007



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 professional bout.

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 boxing bout?

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 reality.

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 universe.

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.

In Brief

Mirko Filipovic (Pictures)'s anticipated run through the UFC heavyweight division hit a stumbling block in the form of Brazilian Gabriel 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 already.

For comments, email jrossen@sherdog.com

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