Only a couple of months ago, Randy Couture humiliated aging boxing champ James Toney at UFC 118 and pretty much everyone concluded that was the very last nail in the coffin of the tired old MMA vs Boxing debate.
Now that Brock Lesnar has been beaten up by Cain Velasquez though, the boxing community is talking about MMA again, and this time things are looking pretty good for the sweet science. At least to hear them tell it.
While MMA fans are going to violently disagree with both of the boxing writers I'm going to quote, let's play nice in the comments. Each writer makes some strong points to counter-balance the whoppers they unload.
The important thing from my vantage point as an MMA booster is that they're talking about MMA at all. That's always a sign that we've just had a major event and are at the center of the combat sports world at the moment. Pacquaio's next fight will change that in November for a while, but we'll be back in December with Georges St. Pierre vs Josh Koscheck at UFC 124.
Let's hear from the boxing pundits in the full entry.
Here's Ryan Kennedy of Fight Hype:
If you're a fan of combat sports, Brock Lesnar's performance in UFC 121's main event last Saturday was nothing short of pathetic.
For those of us that watched the big show, we witnessed the man who many, if not most, considered to be the best heavyweight in MMA not only completely gas out two minutes into the first round, but handle taking punches the same way a girl scout would – covering up, cowering, and hoping the bad man would just go away. On that same night, we watched Brendan Schaub school another heavyweight elite, Gabriel Gonzaga, with nothing but good ring generalship and a decent jab.
It's becoming increasingly obvious that boxing fundamentals are not just winning high profile fights, but an absolute necessity to compete at the elite level. MMA isn't like it was back when Royce Gracie entered the first UFC and dominated every opponent he came across by immediately taking them to the ground and performing submissions. These days, grappling and submission defense is a standard, and fighters are usually more than equipped on preventing being taken to the ground and on what to do when it happens. So where does that leave them? Standing and striking.
It's this kind of poor establishment of boxing fundamentals which makes the still-evolving sport sometimes look cheap and amateurish, even at the highest level, and it's not simply a matter of styles making fights. There is no excuse for a UFC fighter to not know how to properly handle taking a punch, to not be prepared for more than a round of hard fighting, to not know how to approach an opponent who circles you with a flicking jab, to lack the discipline to avoid a fight regressing into a wild slugfest. Yet, still we're seeing it all the time. This isn't just stuff they shouldn't be doing in a championship fight – this is stuff that should be out of their system by the time they sign with the UFC.
It really is funny to see how full-circle boxing has become in MMA. Royce Gracie made it seem worthless at one time, but now, it seems more necessary than ever. But let's make sure that we're learning more than just how to throw a punch. Today's MMA elite need the endurance to make it through the long haul, the experience to know how to handle an opponent who decides to fire off on you, and the basic movement and ring generalship to handle a guy who just wants to stick and move on his feet. Until then, don't be surprised to see more dominant champions of MMA fall to boxing's simple one-two.
Paul Magno of Inside Fights takes that an extrapolates:
...what we learned from this fight, as it pertains to boxing, is that a quality boxer would really just need one skill, the ability to block a take down, in order to handle the best of the MMA crop. However, the MMA-fighter, in most instances, would need to learn an entire discipline in order to hang with boxing's best.
Throw out the freak show of Randy Couture vs. James Toney, as it was genetically-engineered by Dana White to make boxing look bad, Velasquez-Lesnar showed us the difference between fighting and combat. When forced to dig deep down inside and come back, the UFC's "Baddest Man on the Planet" had nothing.
Aside from the obvious and well-traveled boxer vs. MMA fighter debate, the Lesnar beating also may have further exposed some of the negative aspects of the UFC juggernaut.
The architects of the UFC brand did their best to construct a sport that would shy away from all of boxing's perceived flaws. They wanted a fast-paced whirlwind of battle to hold the interest of even casual fans. But in turning a marathon into a 100 yard dash, they also ensured that the fans would be pretty much shielded from ever seeing the heart and soul of the fighter.
UFC fans simply don't know what kind of warrior spirit most of their favorites have because the sport has been structured away from the long, grueling wars that have defined boxing over the last century or so. It's easy for a skilled athlete to be tough for a couple of minutes at a time; The real test begins after exhaustion has set in and the fighter can no longer rely on pure athleticism.
It's a sure thing that there are UFC stars just as mentally tough as Arturo Gatti or Jake LaMotta, but the fans will never be allowed to see that side of their MMA stars. The UFC bouts are designed to be short and quick, appealing to the diminishing attention span of the American public.
As a result, the fans have no idea whether a "Baddest Man on the Planet" is simply a tough-looking poser or a true warrior. In boxing, the truth always comes out and pretenders are well-exposed long before reaching superstar status.
Kennedy has some good points. It really is essential that a top MMA fighter have at least decent (kick) boxing technique to compete at the highest levels.
Magno on the other hand has one good point and one really bad one. His notion that the only skill a top boxer would need to learn is take down defense has a grain of truth. Mirko Filopovic, for example, had a pretty glorious MMA run based on adding a good sprawl to his lethal kickboxing. But Cro Cop already knew how to deal with leg kicks, a technique that is nearly as common as the jab in MMA and historically the bane of boxers who venture into kickboxing.
But what Magno is completely sleeping on is the fact that in order to avoid take downs and leg kicks, boxers have to dramatically alter their stance. Essentially they not only need to learn to sprawl and defend leg kicks, they also need to completely rebuild their boxing game from the bottom up.
That's not even mentioning the smaller gloves and the fact that many boxers rely on using the big gloves to shield their head from incoming fire. That doesn't work with four ounce gloves.
Then there are knees to the face which makes bobbing and weaving a really really risky style and dramatically changes the risk/reward ratio of punching to the body -- ask Muhammed Lawal about that.
But Magno does have one interesting point about MMA fights and boxing matches. MMA bouts tend to be shorter than boxing bouts because of the smaller number of rounds and the increased ways to finish fights. That means we see fewer of the epic battles of endurance and heart that makes boxing so great. From my point of view that is the reason I still watch boxing.
But boxing writers should realize that MMA is more like the decathlon. No one watches a decathlon and comes away going, "that's B.S., that guy is a shitty hurdler." It's clear that decathletes are the pre-eminent jack of all trades in track and field. MMA fighters are the decathletes of combat sports. If you want to see the best BJJ, go to the Mundials. If you want to see the best boxing, watch boxing. If you want the best kickboxers, watch K-1. Want to see the world's best wrestlers or judokas, stick to the Olympics.
MMA is the place fighters come to test their ability to blend skills from different disciplines. Period.