Among fans of combat sports, it's become chic to declare boxing "dead" and MMA the new sheriff in town. With UFC cards frequently selling 500,000+ pay-per-views and boxing's pulse in America only registering whenever Pacquiao or Mayweather lace up the gloves, it's easy to see why.
I deeply love both sports, so I want them both to be in good health. It seems, though, that most fight fans want to win at something (since they suck at life) and consequently draw a line in the sand and sling feces at the other side. For so long, boxing fans have held the high ground, but now MMA seems poised to secure a permanent advantage (PPV sales, media presence, merchandise, etc).
Still, there will always be debate about the intangibles of each sport: Which is more technical? Who has the greater athletes? Which has greater drama?
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.
Nate goes on to add:
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.
This got me to thinking about what I considered were the most dramatic boxing matches (of those I've seen, at least) and what would be their MMA counterparts. The result is this list, in no particular order.
As you will see, I've only added videos of the boxing matches under the assumption that since you are on this site you must've seen the MMA fights to which I'm referring. If you haven't seen all of the MMA fights listed here, then you're not a real fan and I hate your guts. I've also only added either highlights or finishes of the fights mentioned herein, but they are easy to find in their entirety on YouTube. As such, let us begin with "The War".
Hagler vs. Hearns = Liddell vs. Silva
In each instance: Three rounds. Two all-time greats. One for the ages.
Foreman vs. Moorer = Couture vs. Sylvia
Could once-great fighters take a last grasp at glory, at ages where their peers are usually deep into retirement? Granted, Sylvia was overwhelmed by great strategy and Moorer, while winning, got clipped by the hardest hitter of all-time; both these fights were still crazy and electrifying.
Conn vs. Lewis I = Silva vs. Sonnen
Everything was going marvelously until nasty old habits reasserted themselves: Sonnen went back to being stupid, Conn went back to being Irish.
Gatti vs. Ward I = Bonnar vs. Griffin I
Bonnar/Griffin might have more relative significance, but both of these are what they are: somewhat ugly fights, but the most goddamned entertaining thing you could ever want to see.
Ali vs. Frazier III = Fedor vs. Cro Cop
Both bouts hold a permanent place of honor in each sport for a litany of reasons, but most importantly the grandeur of each bout can never be understated. Both were also pretty damn brutal.
Hearns/Leonard I = Hughes vs. Trigg II
These are probably my favorite comebacks from each sport.
Chavez vs. Taylor I = Shogun vs. Nogueira
Shogun Rua is to Chute Boxe what Julio Cesar Chavez was to the "Mexican Fighter". Both fighters epitomized the fearless assault their backgrounds demanded of them and were blessed with peerless offensive dynamism. Their opponents, Nogueira and Taylor, were also quite similar: though neither was gifted with prodigious talent, they didn't lack ability or shy away from brawls. Nogueira and Taylor both take early control of their fights, only to see it wrested away as an all-out war develops. Some would still give the decision to Lil' Nog; some think Taylor should've been allowed to finish the fight.
Leonard vs. Benitez = Barnett vs. Nogueira I
Fans of technique, eat your fucking heart out.
Jones Jr. vs. Ruiz = Velasquez vs. Lesnar
I did this one just to piss people off.
Lewis vs. Klitchsko = Rampage vs. Griffin
No one considered Griffin or Klitchsko "chumps", per say. It's just that Lewis and ‘Page were the undisputable class of their divisions at the time of each fight. Whereas Griffin secured the narrow upset, Klitchsko had a slight lead in the fight before it was stopped.
Clay/Ali vs. Liston II = Rampage vs. Arona
Because I'm a huge Rampage nuthugger, I couldn't have him on this list with only a loss. But seriously, I think there's a great comparison here in providing each sport's greatest image; The Taunt and The Slam.
Robinson vs. LaMotta Series = Fedor vs. Nogueira Series
Nog never notched the win over Fedor that LaMotta did (twice) against Sugar Ray, but I think he could have if the second fight wasn't stopped. No matter what, every fight between these men was epic, with Nogueira and LaMotta's heart shining through against superior fighters.
Corrales vs. Castillo I = Frye vs. Takiyama
Both of these fights are just stupid. All of the fighters involved were good but not great (well, Takiyama wasn't really good) and seemed to have thrown all pretensions out the window to agree on one thing: pain.
Holmes vs. Michael Spinks I = Fedor vs. Werdum
Each signifying the end of a glorious reign, no one saw either of these happening.
Douglas vs. Tyson = Serra vs. St. Pierre
The Nobody beads The Young King... ‘nuff said.
Ali vs. Foreman = Bob Sapp vs. Nogueira
If you want to make someone a fan of either sport, you show him one of these matches. Nogueira hadn't had his Ken Norton moment and Sapp hadn't done half of what Foreman did (except in K-1), but both Sapp and Foreman seemed like unstoppable wrecking machines up until the referees waved off these fights.
Notable exceptions: Barrera/Morales trilogy, Robinson/Turpin, Clay/Liston I, Holyfield/Tyson, Randall/Chavez, Chavez/Whitaker, Marquez/Diaz, Toney/Jirov, Leonard/Hagler, Holyfield/Bowe, Jones Jr. vs. Tarver, Hopkins/Trinidad, Judah/Mayweather Jr., Pacquiao/ Marquez, Shogun/Machida I, Le/Smith I, Couture/Nogueira, Parisyan/Sanchez, Hughes/Penn II, Faber/Brown II, Garcia/Jung, Nogueira/Sylvia, Mir/Lesnar I, Couture/Lesnar, Rampage/Henderson, Cro Cop/Nogueira
There seems to be more on the line in most of the boxing matches here, which makes me favor the old sport as having higher drama. What's also striking is MMA's lack of one truly great trilogy.
Do you guys have any better comparisons? What are some of your favorite fights in either sport? Please share in the comments.
Also posted here.