Head-to-Head: What is the best combat sport?

 
 

Jack Walsh and Kevin Beirne slug it out over which is the better sport: mixed martial arts or boxing

MMA, all the way

By Jack Walsh

When discussing mixed martial arts (MMA), it must be remembered that we are talking about what is conceived as the current “modern era” of the sport. Forget the stereotyped view of a pseudo gladiator fight, and embrace what the sport really is: a blend of some of the most exciting martial arts to create  a technically gorgeous sport.

Stylistically, MMA holds a severe advantage over Boxing; firstly in that your hands are not your only tools in an MMA fight. Whilst boxing is a staple in MMA training and competition, a full repertoire requires the proficiency in standard American and Dutch Kickboxing or Muay Thai Kickboxing, a sport that utilises elbows and knees along with traditional kickboxing techniques.

From this blend, the stand up faction of MMA holds a variety of interesting aspects that are not only entertaining to watch, but for the athletes provide a true challenge. With boxing, a fight really only takes on one plane, dealing only with jabs to the face and hooks to the body.

Whilst these provide a test, and for an audience are nice to watch, a mixed martial arts fighter on his feet has to contend with a variety of strikes from a variety of levels. Also, boxing is on a notable mindset of only having to deal with other boxers, you really can’t be completely original or all that creative when you’re fighting a competitor who has studied an art that has never particularly evolved.

From an audience’s point of view, it’s a sport that if you watch it, in terms of mechanics, you always know completely what’s going to happen. That’s one of the beauties of MMA; it’s unpredictable. Whether it’s the blockbuster style of Kickboxing from Anthony Pettis or the flying knees of Carlos Condit, the tempo can change in a second, the finish can come out of nowhere.

As a sport with such a short history; it means the sport is ever changing. Originally it was a case of martial art vs. martial art, then it became training originally in one art to transition to MMA. Right now, athletes like Rory MacDonald, who have trained only in MMA, have brought the sport into its third era, where it has fully become a sport in its own right.

Intelligence and originality have created this new hybrid, which over the next few years, will be completely and utterly implemented, which also includes MMA’s most decisive element compared to boxing; the ground game, and it’s no coincidence that over 70% of fighters on the UFC’s roster are college educated, as many transitioned into the sport from collegiate wrestling.

Greco-Roman wrestling provides the clinch aspect of MMA when fused with Muay Thai and Judo, whilst freestyle wrestling is utilised to form the takedown, which, once a fight reaches the ground, transitions towards using Brazillian Jiu-Jitsu to look for a submission.

Jiu Jitsu is a sport of nuance, and is widely credited as one of the greatest self defence martial arts in the world. A single mistake is the difference between success and failure. While disinterested observers bemoan grappling, savvy fans can easily witness the beauty of watching a good fight on the ground.

The idea of a good fight is something that must be discussed, as critics of boxing often look toward the structure of professional boxing as a business. In MMA, promoters such as Bellator utilise tournaments to crown champions, boxing has been noted for having a specific hierarchy by which fighters receive title shots, a boxer often fighting journeyman after journeyman.

Weight classes also offer insights into the competitive nature of each sport, with MMA having only eight weight classes, in comparison to boxing’s 17. This means MMA fighters are unable to jump divisions whenever they feel, with a far deeper talent pool evident within each class.

A notable discussion is the talent pool within each of boxing’s weight classes, and how this compares with MMA’s, in particular that of the UFC’s. Although it is not the only high profile MMA promotion, the UFC have taken a clinical approach to ensuring it is the premier organisation, and one of these has been the attraction of the best of the best.

Each weight class is filled with a myriad of talent, with the lightweight division in particular being described as a shark tank, with each of the top ten fighters having the ability to be champion on any given night.

Promotion is another aspect of each sport that often comes under scrutiny, as of course this is how the fights actually happen. The UFC for example has put on a total of 26 fight cards so far this year, each of these cards having 9-11 fights on them. The most recent of which was last Saturday with a card being held in Macao, China, and the first UFC event ever held in China.

Boxing and MMA has such a strange relationship, a relationship that within sports has never really been seen before, as although it is a rivalry, MMA owes boxing so much in return. Whilst MMA is the more dominant combat sport, boxing is as integral to MMA as wrestling is.

This cross of divisions is evident in the amount of boxing gyms that have trained MMA fighters, to trainers such as the legendary Freddie Roach crossing sides to train UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre among others.

Boxing can go the distance

By Kevin Beirne

Ali/Frazier, Sugar Ray/LaMotta, Balboa/Drago, is there any sport that throws up such incredible and ferocious rivalries as boxing does? Okay, so technically that last one never happened, but it was a part of one of the greatest movie franchises ever.

In very few sports is a rivalry guaranteed to result in a physical confrontation to determine the victor. Boxing, in its purest form, is simply just two people settling a score. Its simplicity is what makes it so beautiful, like minimalist art.

Muhammad Ali remains one of the most recognisable and widely quoted names in sport to this day. He was not only a terrific athlete, but he pushed the boundaries for social change in America in the 1960s and 70s.

He refused to fight in the Vietnam War, which resulted in him having his titles stripped from him as his boxing licence was suspended for draft-dodging, summing up the feeling of the youth of the nation.

Ali truly transcended sport, in the way only the greatest can. His famous words, “I ain’t got no quarrel with the VietCong…No VietCong ever called me nigger”, inspired even the great Dr Martin Luther King to oppose the Vietnam War.

While even the average sports fan would struggle to name even three MMA fighters, past or present, you could ask any random person, even someone who never watches sport, to name a boxer and I would guess they could name at least one.

That is because the sport of boxing is so much more than just hitting an opponent. Just think back to Ireland last August as the entire country cheered on Katie Taylor to an Olympic Gold Medal. The euphoria that swept across the nation was very much needed at the time.

It is often argued that MMA is better than boxing because it is more technical. This is to assume that to make a sport more technical is to make it more enjoyable for the viewer. There is no doubt that MMA is a more difficult sport, but one cannot assert that it is better for this reason.

For those who have watched some MMA fights, you are probably familiar with these “technical battles” between two opponents which just looks like a three minute long hug to the untrained viewer. Even if you know what is going on, it is not necessarily exciting.

For example, many of us understand the rules of cricket perfectly, but choose not to watch it because for large parts of it, it feels as if nothing is happening. The same can be said of MMA which can feel like an awful let down after you stay up until 3am, only to see two men try to bear-hug each other into submission.

Another reason boxing is better than MMA is because of safety. It sounds strange to glorify safety in a sport that is based solely on beating your opponent up, but it is true. The referee in MMA is but a glorified spectator most of the time, and is completely powerless to prevent the knockout blows that occasionally occur.

In boxing, you do not have the sense of guilt that you are watching two people destroying their lives by crippling their bodies in the future. Due to the relative newness of mainstream MMA, we don’t actually know the effects the sport will have on its competitors in the long term, although it would hardly be a stretch to say it won’t be good.

But that raises another point: the fact that MMA, as a sport, is so young compared to boxing. Boxing has been around for decades, while MMA is about as old as the Playstation. Boxing has been there, done that, while MMA is still trying to find its feet.

MMA’s youth does make it intriguing to viewers, but the boom in popularity will soon wear off just as the novelty banner does. Boxing will outlast MMA because it already has its identity. The problem for MMA is that it wants to put off having an identity for as long as it can because it knows what that identity will be: a submission game.

It’s simple; as MMA evolves, it becomes more specialised. Nobody wants to be knocked out. Not only does it hurt like hell, but it actually increases your chances of being knocked out in the future, and more and more fighters are realising this.

The risk for being knocked-out is no longer just losing one fight; it can damage your entire career. This means that fighters will begin to focus more on styles which minimise their opponent’s ability to knock them out.

You can already see this trend with the increase in the amount of submission holds being used in the sport. At first, crowds will find it entertaining to watch a giant beg for defeat, but eventually it will become deathly boring as every fight will just be a struggle to get the better hold.

That is why MMA cannot last, at least not in its current format. A sport that cannot last, while it can be entertaining, is not a good sport. Boxing has been around for so long that it has already passed through its awkward puberty phase and has come through the other side.

And also, Rocky I-IV and Raging Bull versus Here Comes the Boom? That’s not even a fair fight.

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