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Thursday, December 29, 2005
Most boxing people know the same about Brazilian jiu-jitsu and wrestling as they do haute couture, honest finances, and getting subjects and predicates to agree.
I've been part of this debate for over a decade now, doing my part to oppose the actions of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) to close this sport down. I've done so both as a journalist embedded in the NHB/MMA world, and as one embedded in the boxing world.
Despite the growing acceptance of mixed martial arts by the American regulatory commissions such as Nevada, New Jersey, and in early 2006 California, there are still many in boxing who view these events as some type of wild battle royales involving barbarians and thugs found in some parking lot or bar. The MMA enthusiasts counter by rattling off the lengthy and growing roster in these events of Olympic champions in wrestling and judo, black belts in jiu-jitsu and judo, world and national wrestling champions, kickboxing world champions, and those with impressive credentials in more than one of these disciplines.
Yet these events still appeal to largely different audiences. The MMA audience is far less discriminating as far as striking technique is concerned than the boxing audience is. In MMA you will thus too often see two world-class specialists in one or another form of grappling engaging in what mainly becomes a boxing or kickboxing match. For a boxing aficionado, it can be as painful as any sports fan watching Michael Jordan play baseball, any country music fan enduring Willie Nelson being placed in duets with various pop mediocrities, and any writing fan having to plow through most of today's sportswriting, and especially the drivel and hack jobs which pollute the boxing and MMA "literature" if you can even call it that.
But the MMA fans can't get enough of this, and parry the boxing fans' barbs by stressing the intricate and artistic grappling techniques that lie at the core of their beloved sport. They also emphasize that many boxing people are still willfully ignorant of accepted martial arts techniques like chokes, which are legal in Olympic judo, for instance. And, the MMA folks argue, the boxing folks fail to realize that punching an opponent on the ground almost always gives the puncher far less leverage than if he were standing right in front of him and could sit down on his punches. Plus, they usually add, if one guy gets in trouble, the ref is there to stop the fight, which almost always happens far sooner in MMA than in boxing, or that the other fighter can tap out and quit honorably, whose equivalent in boxing is still taboo.
So who, if anyone, is right? This is not exactly like debating which tastes better, chocolate or vanilla, because what has thus far gone on in the exchanges between the two sides has focused more on the realm of fighter safety, level of athleticism, the comparative aesthetics of these two types of fighting, and the like.
The best way for the open-minded, intelligent, and sports-savvy boxing fans (and I hope there are billions and billions of you) to learn about an event like UFC is, like just about anything else, to investigate it. The best yardstick is to examine its best product to observe just what it has to offer in its fullest development.
That can now be done quite easily in the U.S. The cable network Spike TV is offering a free, three-hour telecast called "The Best of UFC: 2005" on New Year's Eve, this Saturday, December 31, from 9:00 PM to midnight ET/PT. It will also be repeated later that night at 12:30 AM ET. (For those ringing in the new year not in front of the TV, try recording it on the device of your choice and later watching it sober.)
The show features the rematch between Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture at UFC 52 on April 16, 2005, which got the UFC its highest number of pay-per-view buys in a decade .
Also being shown is the much-acclaimed fight between Stephan Bonnar and Forrest Griffin on the finale of the first season of UFC's reality show "The Ultimate Fighter", as well as fights involving UFC champions Andre Arlovski, Matt Hughes, and Rich Franklin.
That should provide a fair yardstick for the boxing world's skeptics to judge an event like UFC. For the rational and perceptive people on both sides of this divide, hopefully it will engender some useful dialogue. And for the idiots on both sides of this fence, just don't get drunk on New Year's Eve in the same joints I will check out.
Finally, in the what-comes-around department, the old Tapout web site, which was a combat sports news site, and was referred to in the Phoenix New Times article on me and Johnny McCain listed above, no longer exists. Its URL was taken over by the current group of people who put out the Tapout line of mixed martial arts-related gear .
In a marketing agreement announced last week with Tapout, Bodyguard Magazine will be changing its name to Tapout Magazine, and also launching a new web site. I will continue as the magazine's senior contributing editor, writing a regular "No Holds Barred" column as well as, if our plans work out, doing a lot more. And among the topics I will write about for this new Tapout Magazine will be boxing.