Donaire vs Montiel and the Debate Over Boxing's Safety vs MMA

LAS VEGAS NV - FEBRUARY 19: Nonito Donaire of the Philippines watches Fernando Montiel of Mexico start to fall to the canvas after he hit him in the second round of their WBC/WBO bantamweight championship bout at the Mandalay Bay Events Center February 19 2011 in Las Vegas Nevada. Donaire won by TKO in the second round. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Last night was the second big boxing event of the year with bantamweights Nonito Donaire and Fernando Montiel headlining an HBO card. Anticipation for the bout was extremely high with Bad Left Hook's Scott Christ giving the match-up a 5 star rating for relevance in a supremely stacked division. 

The bout may have disappointed some as it only took Donaire two rounds to utterly flatten Montiel. 

Here's Scott Christ describing Donaire's brutal finish of Montiel:

It didn't take long for Nonito Donaire to cement his long-questioned pound-for-pound status tonight, as the Filipino star knocked out Fernando Montiel in the second round to pick up two alphabet titles in the bantamweight division.

Donaire (26-1, 18 KO) flattened Montiel (44-3-2, 34 KO) in the second round with a monstrous left hook. Montiel somehow made it to his feet and the referee allowed him to continue, which was a bad decision, and after two more punches, the referee stepped in, seemingly knowing it was not a good decision to let Montiel continue.

But it's the end of the fight that has MMA commenters crowing that this is the perfect example of a fight that proves boxing's approach is much less safe than MMA's. Here's Micheal David Smith:

One of the key differences between MMA and boxing is that when an MMA fighter gets knocked down by a punch, he has to be alert enough to protect himself, or else the fight is over. In boxing, when a fighter gets knocked down, the referee starts counting, and the fighter has until a 10 count to get back to his feet. Which means a boxer whose brain is concussed badly -- as Montiel's brain was concussed when Donaire knocked him down in the second round -- can stagger back to his feet to take more punishment.

Donaire hit Montiel with a huge left hook and then a right uppercut as Montiel was tumbling to the canvas, and when Montiel hit the floor it was frightening: Montiel's arms went straight up over his head and his legs were twitching, and it looked like he was having some kind of seizure. In MMA, a competent referee would have immediately called off the fight, and the ringside doctor would have rushed in to treat the fallen fighter.

But this is boxing, which meant the referee's job was to first direct Donaire to a neutral corner, then start counting as he stood over Montiel's fallen body. Amazingly, Montiel managed to stagger to his feet just before referee Russell Mora reached the 10 count. Even more amazingly, Mora allowed the fight to go on, even though it was clear to everyone watching that Montiel's legs were wobbly underneath him, and he wasn't all there mentally.
People who like boxing and dislike MMA often point out that in boxing, it's two men standing toe-to-toe, and when one man goes down, the other man gives him a chance to get back up. MMA, those boxing supporters say, is a vulgar brawl in which a man can get punched when he's already on the ground.

But the reality is, MMA is safer than boxing exactly because the fight can continue on the ground, and a fighter who's on the ground and unable to defend himself is finished right then and there, and not given more time to get hurt. The MMA way is the safer way.

SBN's Luke Thomas believes it's a little too pat to say that Donaire vs Montiel is proof that boxing is less safe than MMA:

I generally agree with Smith that the rules governing fight stoppages in MMA once a fighter like Montiel crashes to the canvas are preferred, but MMA's underdeveloped architecture makes that safer preference harder to come by. There's a reason why MMA's deaths have happened in regional and amateur shows and not the UFC. Poorly trained, negligent or ignorant referees often let fights brutally continue long after fighters should be protected from further damages. Unscrupulous promoters, or simply those who operate in places where safety precautions aren't heavily enforced like West Virginia, don't properly screen fighters for HIV, steroids or other communicable diseases. Athletic commissions, underfunded and operating with minimal state oversight, allow fighters who necessitate more serious brain examination before competing to unknowingly risk their health. There isn't even federal oversight of MMA.

Boxing's amateur and regional systems aren't without fault. it's not as if undertaking a boxing career is somehow risk free. But there are more structured, regimented legal safeguards in place to protect fighters. There are also many more officials at every level of the game with the requisite skills to competently carry out the duties of their role. Boxing may be more savage than MMA generally, but modestly-regulated boxing is far safer than the uneven state of regulated professional and unregulated amateur MMA.
Montiel didn't get the best treatment from referee Russell Mora, but at least he was in Las Vegas. His fight happened in the public eye, under an athletic commission able to review Mora's decision, and I'm sure he received proper medical attention post-fight. MMA fighters in Altavista, Virginia who compete in unregulated amateur MMA aren't nearly as lucky.

Thomas raises a critically important point. The basic MMA philosophy of stopping a fight as soon as a fighter is unable to defend himself rather than counting to 10 and letting him take more punishment like boxing is a big safety advantage for MMA. But the superior overall infrastructure of boxing as a sport nationwide and at all levels makes boxing likely safer on the whole than MMA.

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