The Ship Be Sinking

Mouth Almighty

Boxing’s Shadow

One of the interesting quirks you notice as a fan of both MMA and boxing is the degree to which MMA fans have never quite gotten over their fear of boxers. The fighters, yes; anyone with a wrestling background is aware of just how screwed a boxer is under rules which allow takedowns, as would have been emphatically proven if the near-miss Brock Lesnar vs. Lennox Lewis fight in 2002 had come off. Fans of MMA however still have the burden of the history of their sport, which in the early years was all about various people showing up with new styles and fighting traditions that they all claimed were the REAL unbeatable, true, best fighting style of all, from reasonable things like BJJ and wrestling to semi-reasonable things like karate to completely ludicrous things like sumo and ninjutsu to, well, SAFTA and Joe Son Do. Insofar as the UFC was established in part to promote Gracie JJ, you could almost say that was the foundational idea of the sport; and as a result, even up into this decade you’d still get the people who thought BJ Penn was a pussy and Bruce Lee would have kicked his ass, man, using secret techniques learned from 80 year old monks on mountaintops unknown to ignorant professional athletes. MMA fans still have a vague, unstated faith in the possibility of secret knowledge; It’s an idea which has since been transferred on to boxing and never seriously dispelled since boxers at the highest level make far more in boxing than they would in UFC and thus have no real incentive to try their luck under disadvantageous rules. You get the Ray Mercer crossover types, but with respect to Mercer he was far past his best when he tried MMA and was never quite a top level guy in boxing. No one considered him a definitive test, and as ridiculous as it seems his KO of Tim Sylvia actually seems to have done something to keep alive the idea that, with a bit of ground training, a top boxer would KO everyone in UFC.

As we draw closer to James Toney vs. Randy Couture, you can see this idea or fear starting to percolate up to the surface again. You have people going so far as to say that not taking Toney down instantly “is potential suicide, bad for both Couture and the UFC”, as though Randy Couture was so inept that he would be instantly KO’d if he got within 5 feet of Toney, or the UFC- fresh off of two consecutive 1,000,000+ buy PPV shows- would be somehow damaged or “exposed” by a lucky punch. This is not the sort of thing which would be written if, say, a world-class Muay Thai champion was joining the UFC, or if an Olympic wrestler was joining MMA (how many people thought King Mo couldn’t beat Mousasi? And he had experience in MMA!) or if a world-class judoka were, etc. and so on. Boxers are treated differently partially because MMA is still seen business-wise as boxing’s little brother with something to prove, and partially because world-class boxing hasn’t been seen in the octagon yet. And so, there’s worry; baseless worry, but nevertheless an undercurrent of fear about what it would “mean” or “prove” if James Toney wins and whether or not Randy Couture is so woefully outclassed on the feet that his only hope is to butt-scoot after Toney like Anonio Inoki.

Here’s the thing: the result of that fight means nothing and shows nothing other than that one of those guys was better on that night. A century of mixed matches of one kind or another have already clearly shown that, holding other things equal and providing for liberal rules, a ground fighter with takedowns almost always beat a striker without takedown defense and a well-rounded fighter more often than not beats a total specialist. That says nothing about the value of MMA or boxing as a sport; it’s just the result when you mix those two disparate disciplines. If James Toney catches Randy Couture, that doesn’t undo those 100 years of learning, doesn’t prove that Wladimir Klitschko would KO Brock Lesnar or that Floyd Mayweather would shoulder-roll his way past Frankie Edgar; it proves that Toney can punch Randy Couture in the face. The fact that this is even under discussion is a result of the fear people in the MMA world have about the perceived legitimacy of their sport and the magic powers they still seem to ascribe to boxers, ignoring in Toney’s case that A) he’s 42, B) he hasn’t been in shape for years, C) he has looked shot as hell as a fighter for a good long while, D) he’s obviously suffered neurological damage over the years and isn’t what he used to be on any level, E) the vast majority of his boxing skills don’t translate to MMA (be honest, other than Ivan Calderon could there be a safer boxing name for an MMA star to face?), F) Toney hasn’t taken his own training seriously for years and doesn’t have the athletic gifts or training habits required to pick new things up quickly anymore, and G) Randy Couture’s not fucking stupid. Toney could win this fight, sure, if he charges out and just catches Couture in the first 15-30 seconds of the fight; if it goes longer than that it’s going to go the way everyone expects it to, regardless of their half-verbalized fears. Once Couture gets under Toney’s hips, that’s it; he doesn’t have magic boxing super powers off of his back.

James Toney doesn’t have a secret weapon; he’s just an old man who got run out of his sport because he couldn’t go anymore and turned up in MMA with a big mouth, good technique on a right hand, and nothing more. He deserves a lot of respect as a promoter for talking his way into this paycheck, but as a fighter his fire burned out long ago. If he wins, it’s a hilarious and awesome upset and nothing more; if he loses, it’s an expected fun freakshow win for the legendary Randy and nothing more. MMA’s legitimacy is not on the line here any more than boxing’s is. All of the sporting questions about MMA vs. boxing were really answered a long time ago for those who look into the history, and business-wise there’s no reason the two sports can’t coexist. Sometimes a freak show is just a freak show.

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July 10, 2010 - Posted by | Boxing, MMA

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