Boxing More Intuitive Than MMA?

Over at MMA Payout, Adam Swift seems to think so:

There is the uncomfortable truth that boxing must face: MMA is immediately more understandable than the sweet science. It is what boxing was, or at least what we used to think boxing was, the purest expression of the ancient truths of violence, competition, and masculinity. So while boxing may have fixed its promotional flaws, it may have revealed a deeper disconnect in the process.

I have trouble following Smith to this conclusion. Determining which is more naturally intuitive is hard to do, particularly since boxing has been around much longer and has had the opportunity to sink into the cultural consciousness. There are a host of other variables - including what constitutes "intuitive" and how personal that can be - that also make tangling with the variables a difficult task.

Personally, though, I find it hard to believe MMA is easier to understand to the average viewer. Aside from being a new sport to many, it's exceedingly complex even for veterans. There is mastery of different combat athletic endeavors required that have very little relation to one another required for performance at the highest level. When you consider the sport's top writers and commentators have never trained, you begin to realize the gaps in knowledge that exist among even the sport's hardcore fan base. While it may be tempting to say that aforementioned lack of knowledge proves the sport is easier to understand than boxing, I think that would be a tremendous mistake. We cannot confuse accessibility with intuitiveness.

In other words, MMA is in many cases more accessible than boxing because of the sometimes frenetic pace of battle. It's not the sport that's easier to understand; it's the battle itself. Let's contrast Guida vs. Huerta to Hatton vs. Mayweather, for example. Side by side, Guida vs. Huerta has a "sprint" feel whereas Hatton vs. Mayweather appears much more like a marathon. Remember, part of boxing - and what PBF is very gifted at - is being elusive, methodical and plotting. In boxing, the wild exchanges deep in the pocket generally have little to no place. Boxing involves an important but narrower skill set than MMA. It may seem boring to the uninitiated, but the poker face of boxers and their deliberate yet measured attacks are part and parcel of the elite game. Because of the nature of the fight, that type of gamesmanship isn't often allowed in MMA. It's get in, do the work and get out before your opponent does.

Rather than the sport of boxing being easier to understand, I would say that the frenetic back and forth and visceral action of MMA can be preferable to the slower, more measured paces of some boxing matches. Huerta vs. Guida also didn't involve a lot of guard play, something that would've certainly caused groans among the casual MMA fan. In either instance, what people seem to naturally respond to is the clear swing in momentum back and forth between competitors. Had Huerta vs. Guida looked like an Abu Dhabi match and Hatton vs. Mayweather had all the ups and downs one could hope for, few would be saying MMA is naturally a little easier to grasp. Remember, most people didn't even realize fighting on the ground - particularly to the extent that jiu-jitsu players do it - was even something considered "fighting" until recently. For that to be such a critical component to the MMA game makes it very hard for me to say MMA comes easier to most.

MMA is incredibly intricate and still developing, so much so that the entire fight community is still learning about the sport. Let's not forget  very few realized what a critical difference fighting in a ring versus fighting in a cage meant. There are numerous gaps in our knowledge that we must fill as the sport develops and as our understanding becomes more complete. I'm not suggesting boxing isn't also incredibly difficult to understand. It assuredly is. What I would say, however, is that boxing doesn't involve as many wide-ranging variables in terms of fight location, method of victory, or applicable tools for offense (I'm sure there are more areas of discrepancy). Everything that is allowed in boxing is allowed in MMA and then some.

The likability of certain MMA fights causes a certain gravitational pull towards the sport. That's part of the appeal and we should embrace it. However, we should not confuse interest and attention with clairvoyance. Most folks find the action easier to enjoy, but most of them have no idea how that action takes place or why it's meaningful.

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