“Boxing is dead.”
“Boxing is not what it used to be.”
“There are no good fighters today.”
These are just a few of the comments thrown by fans of the sport of kings who are patiently waiting for a breath of life into the troubled lungs of boxing.
Despite a virtual plethora of organizations boasting their own version of a world title, most people would not name even one of the men at stake to claim a fragmented heavyweight championship form. WBA, WBC, IBF, WBO, IBO (quite possibly another organization emerged while this article was being written), does it matter yet?
However, with at least five world heavyweight belts, can the casual observer even name a champion? If so, rest assured that this person belongs to an unusual group. Try to name two, three, or four. I bet my eight year old niece would have a better chance of naming the four Beatles.
Raised in boxing, I was fortunate to see many of the best warriors in the sport, some in their prime. I sat paralyzed in front of a huge television that was inside a wooden cabinet. There were two round buttons for changing channels on the right side of the eyesore, one for UHF channels that regularly broadcast static.
Somewhere within the channel selection of 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11 and 13, I saw Ali regain his title from Leon Spinks; Sugar Ray Leonard Wins Welterweight Championship From Wilfred Benitez; Alexis Arguello fell to Aaron Pryor twice; I also saw some cartoons back then.
As I grew into adulthood, the archaic television was updated to one with a remote control and the addition of a cable box. Between CCTV and cable, my boxing fix was satisfied with the wars of some of the best fighters to ever put on gloves. Duran beat Leonard. Leonard beat Hagler. Hagler beat Hearns. Hearns beat Duran. All of these men fought each other, and they were so dominant that they only need to be referred to by their last names to be recognized.
Is it really necessary to say “Mike” when talking about Tyson? Nuff said.
Iron Mike was the last boxing personality that can be remembered by the average person or casual fan. Sure there were Holyfield, Big George Foreman and Lennox Lewis, all great champions, two of whom beat Tyson. Still, most people remember Iron Mike.
Tyson’s fights transcended the sport of boxing. They weren’t fights; they were great shows: events of their own. It didn’t matter who the opponent was. Mike could have faced the Pope, Elvis, or even God; and it would still have been called “The Tyson Fight”.
Today’s boxing pay-per-view numbers pale in comparison to the consistent record-breaking cards Tyson pulled even when his career was on the decline. Delahoya and Mayweather put out a record PPV number for their recent fight, but it wasn’t without spending a huge amount of money on promotion. Commercials, print media advertisements and, for the first time in boxing history, a full-length cable reality television series were filmed to promote the fight. Deduct those extra expenses and see if Iron Mike isn’t still the PPV king of boxing.
Tyson’s fights didn’t need hype, just a date and an hour. People tuned in just to see if anyone could hold out at least two minutes with the champion. The second round of a Tyson fight was weirder than an honest politician. Once, PPV providers had to promise a three-round guarantee or the fee was lowered.
With Tyson’s absence, many boxing fans have found solace in a new combat sport: MMA (mixed martial arts).
MMA combines one-dimensional combat sports, such as boxing and wrestling, and packages them, expanding the competitor’s arsenals. MMA fighting is a much more faithful representation of a real fight because the fighters are not limited to punching (above the waist) or kicking. Even when engaging in fighting skills, the goal is not to pin the opponent, but to win the fight by submission or stoppage. A judge’s decision is issued if the time limit expires in the match.
Rules are incorporated to ensure safety and eliminate the barbaric brutality of a street fight. Biting and picking at the eyes are two examples of prohibited offensive tactics.
Mixed martial artists are fighters. In comparison, boxers have been called boxers, but the claim is a bit of a misnomer. Real fights incorporate whatever offensive strategy can win the fight, not just the punches.
Although many boxers have been successful in street fighting, many factors, in addition to being a great fighter, come into play to explain the success. A boxer trains to hit faster, harder, and with greater precision. They also exercise for great endurance. When pitting a fit athlete against an average person who is not training, the endurance factor alone will influence the fight in favor of the athlete. Along with boxing skills, he has no competition in favor of the boxer.
If a fighter faces the same boxer in a street fight, the results are likely to be very different.
An MMA fighter, in theory, should be victorious over both because he trains equally in all areas of fighting. The MMA fighter strives to be complete in punches, kicks, wrestling, and submissions. They train their hands, not for a boxing match, but for a real fight where they can be knocked to the ground. Boxers do not train to defend themselves from kicks or takedowns.
A perfect example was when former street fighter Kimbo Slice destroyed former world heavyweight boxer and Olympic gold medalist Ray Mercer in less than two minutes in Slice’s MMA debut fight. Mercer racked up knockout victories over players like Tommy Morrison and had two highly controversial losses to Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis. Many feel that Mercer was robbed in these matches, and Lewis is even rumored to have admitted that to be true.
Still, the former champion’s great boxing skills were relegated to nothing when a street fighter turned mixed martial artist took him to the mat and punched him before subjecting him with a guillotine choke.
However, even as MMA seems to be the evolution of boxing, you could learn a thing or two from this successful sport. Many people may not know that Wladimir Klitschko has three of the alphabet soup of heavyweight boxing titles, but he still made more money in his unification fight with Sultan Ibragimov than all the MMA fighters on the last card. UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) combined.
Felix Trinidad came out of retirement to lose to Roy Jones Jr. and can boast that he also gained more from the losing effort than most MMA fighters, even champions, have ever won in their entire careers.
For MMA to evolve as a sport, it will have to incorporate what boxing has incorporated. PPV numbers have already dwarfed those in boxing, now is the time to reward competitors whose fighting careers will no doubt be short.
Elite XC is an MMA company with a television contract with Showtime. The company is run by Gary Shaw, who still promotes boxing events. Perhaps Shaw is the man to bring MMA to the limelight who has embraced boxing through the golden years and still seems to do so today.
Only time will tell.