Fightin' Words

A mixed martial arts blog about UFC, Bellator and other MMA promotions and fighters.

Boxing is fine, but MMA goes the distance

By Joe Fernandez

Newsday.com

I used to really like boxing. Actually, I still do.

Growing up, I’d watch Mike Tyson tear through opponents and I was in awe of his invincibility. I’d sit with my father and watch replays of Ali vs. Frazier and Ali vs. Foreman. Again I was in awe, but this time it was from how quick Ali’s feet and fists were in the ring and how quick his mind and mouth were out of it.My father would tell me of Joe Louis. I even caught that great HBO documentary about the former champ, and learned the significance of his fights against German Max Schmeling during a time of war.

Then in 1993, a 6-foot-1, 175-pound Brazilian man beat four professional fighters, all bigger and physically stronger than him, in the same night during a no-holds-barred fighting event.

The man – Royce Gracie. The event – the first Ultimate Fighting Championship.

It was designed to prove which style of fighting was the greatest.

Gracie, using a martial art derived in the 1920s called Brazilian jiu-jitsu, which preaches technique over size and strength, threw very few strikes but was able to get his opponents to tap out from submission holds. It was the ease of Gracie’s victories in real life hand-to-hand combat situations against other professional fighters that had many people running to their local Brazilian jiu-jitsu academies saying: “I gotta learn that.”

And on that night in the McNichols Sports Arena in Denver, Colorado, mixed martial arts was born in the United States. It also made me realize that boxing is boxing – and mixed martial arts is fighting.

The “Vale Tudo” or “anything goes” matches of Brazil were now happening on American soil and on American pay-per view. But there was still much work to be done before it would be the polished product that it is today.

After years of it being considered a bloodsport and called “human cockfighting” by Senator John McCain, mixed martial arts has been regulated with weight classes, time limits and has instituted 32 fouls, ranging from no kicking the head of a downed opponent to no groin attacks.

In fact, because of the institution of mixed martial arts’ unified rules in 2001, I feel that MMA is now safer than boxing.

During the Floyd Mayweather/Oscar De La Hoya fight on May 5, 2007, Mayweather threw 481 punches in 12 rounds at De La Hoya – He landed 207.

Imagine taking 207 punches (138 power shots) in one night from a guy who gets paid to punch for a living. I wouldn’t want to. Now imagine those punches coming from a 240-pound heavyweight.

Don’t get me wrong, mixed martial arts has its share of bloody fights and violent nights, but once you’re out – you’re out. There’s no standing-eight count, there’s no respite that allows a fighter to recover just enough to get back up and take more head trauma. In a mixed martial arts fight, there’s not really a chance to take 207 punches in the same night. The sooner non-sanctioning states realize this fact, the sooner we can see BJ Penn, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Anderson Silva and Chuck Liddell at Madison Square Garden – wouldn’t that be something. During an interview last year, UFC President Dana White personally told me if the UFC came to New York he’d stack the card. I don’t know who would be on it, but you can bet the Garden would have the same electricity as if the Rangers or the Knicks were making a championship run.

I didn’t start writing this to bash boxing. Far from it. But it’s more to provide people with a better understanding to why MMA is growing in popularity. There are many former high school and college wrestlers out there, many cops, firefighters, doctors, plumbers (and including me) writers who are getting into Brazilian jiu-jitsu and are garnering an appreciation for the ground game, not only for the self-defense aspect but the conditioning benefits as well.

There are men and women out there that were once athletes and never lost that competitive fire; a fire that a treadmill somehow can never satisfy. We appreciate how a well-rounded fighter is more than just a boxer, but also how a submission grappler has to work on his boxing to become successful. And because of the array of different backgrounds mixed martial artists come from, anyone can be a fan. There are fighters that came from rough beginnings, there are fighters that held down blue-collar jobs and there are fighters that earned college degrees.

During our video discussion below, Newsday’s Wally Matthews brings up an excellent point about mixed martial arts fragmenting league-wise the way boxing did. Right now with the exception of a handful of fighters, the UFC controls the top tier of mixed martial artists. If someone outside the UFC decides to throw a lot of dough at their elite fighters, of course that could change. This could be remedied by all the MMA leagues unifying, but I don’t see that happening without someone simply buying everyone else out. For example: The UFC’s purchase of Pride and WEC. It makes no sense for someone holding most of the playing chips to want to share with everyone else. So we can’t rule out the chance of more fragmentation.

I still enjoy boxing, but I guess I was just always more of a fight fan.

You can read Bobby Cassidy's side of the story on his boxing blog, The Neutral Corner

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