Debate: Why Boxing still reigns over MMA

By Liam McInerney

NELSON Mandela articulated in his autobiography, A Long Walk to Freedom: “I did not enjoy the violence of boxing as much as the science of it. I was intrigued by how one moved one’s body to protect oneself, how one used a strategy both to attack and retreat, how one paced oneself over a match. Boxing is egalitarian. In the ring, rank, age, colour and wealth are irrelevant.”

MMA and boxing are thriving and our island is producing quality combatants. But boxing remains the bigger sport for several reasons. If you’re a football fan consider Manchester City, they have obtained four trophies in as many years but are still a smaller club than rivals Manchester United.

What is the point of contrasting two separate disciplines I hear you say as you shake your head at your screen. Of course people can enjoy both but by examining the combat sports together they can learn from each other as is evident today. Manager Al Haymon has devised the Premier Boxing Champions which is partly inspired by the UFC. Its objective is to make boxing more mainstream by broadcasting fights on network television just like how MMA fans in America can watch some UFC contests freely on Fox network.

As well as being brutal, boxing is aesthetically artistic. The sports abounding history is rich with countless icons, relentless rivalries and indelible contests. Its presence in the Olympics has been the catalyst for illustrious careers of legends like Oscar De La Hoya, Sugar Ray Leonard, Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, and future star Anthony Joshua. The 2012 London Olympics also helped demonstrate what a phenomenal talent Ireland has in gold medallist Katie Taylor.

This country is currently captivated by MMA thanks to the charismatic Conor McGregor. But his display of excellence in the UFC is not a valid reason for it excelling over boxing. Before McGregor’s victory against Dennis Siver, American adverts promoted the bout by labeling McGregor as the “Irish Muhammad Ali”, a phrase also attributed to him by UFC chairman Lorenzo Fertitta. The UFC is evolving but I would be surprised to see, certainly in the foreseeable future, boxing applying an MMA athlete in a marketing ploy to sell an event.

Unpredictability in sport galvanises fans and produces exhilarating moments. One of the most spectacular sporting upsets of all time occurred in February 1990. Mike Tyson, the undisputed undefeated heavyweight champion, fought 42-1 underdog Buster Douglas. Tyson was bullied by Douglas and eventually got knocked out in round ten. The Guardian newspaper described it as “the most unpredictable fight in history” and “the shock of the century.” Tyson reveals in his autobiography, The Undisputed Truth, he was sleeping around a lot before the contest and was grossly out of shape. Boxing is difficult to predict which is endearing to a large audience. That is why fans want Carl Frampton and Scott Quiqq to meet in the ring. Both are top class operators and nobody knows for certain who would emerge as the better boxer.

Merely glance at boxing and UFC’s respective Halls of Fame’s and you will know which is more renowned. The boxing Hall of Fame comprises a long list sprinkled with famous names. On top of the aforementioned, consider Barry McGuigan, Roberto Duran, Lennox Lewis, Joe Calzaghe and many more. Mark Coleman is in the UFC Hall of Fame with 16 wins and 10 losses as is Randy Couture with 16 victories and 11 defeats. The records of the most prestigious UFC fighter’s fails to impress when compared to the careers of the great pugilists.

Boxing is a worldwide spectacle with peerless events across the globe which the UFC are unable to compete with. Most of the world champions in UFC are American whereas boxing’s elites are present in various countries. Examples include Gennady Golovkin, Kazakhstan, Miguel Cotto, Puerto Rica and Carl Frampton, Northern Ireland.

I’m not going to dwell on the Anderson Silva and Nick Diaz controversy in the UFC this year. But for two former world champions to test positively for drugs is evidence that the game has a long way to go to enhance its reputation. Boxing has been littered in the past with corruption but the Muhammad Ali Reform Act in 2000 has cleaned up the game.

To convince you that boxing is the greater sport we should analyse arguably the most remarkable boxer of all time, Sugar Ray Robinson. In the 1800s the term “the sweet science of bruising” was devised by journalist Pierce Egan which would later apply perfectly to the original “Sugar Ray”.

Walker Smith (later Sugar Ray Robinson) was a flawed character but inside the ring he was an incredible boxer, an artist, a genius. He was a six-time world champion. In his professional career he recorded 175 wins and 109 knock outs.

Herb Boyd wrote in his biography of Robinson: “There may have been fighters who were faster, stronger, smarter, who punched harder, were more resilient, and were perhaps even prettier. But none combined these attributes with such verve and flamboyance – and success – as Sugar Ray Robinson.” For UFC to gain a resembling reputation as boxing they will need their own Sugar Rays.

The UFC is rising rapidly and boxing is not without its problems but it remains a super attraction wherever you are based in the world. And unless that appeal deters dramatically, it will continue to be the combat sport in the ascendancy for a long time to come.


Integral part of the Irish boxing community for over 13 years