Which is better: Mixed martial arts or boxing? The young upstart, or the grizzled veteran who has been around the block a couple of times?
To settle this important debate, we're taking the fight to the streets, pitting ESPN The Magazine's Tim Struby against colleague Ryan Hockensmith. The showdown begins today at noon ET. After 12 rounds of verbal jousting, we'll put some ice on the wounds and let SportsNation determine the winner.
I wasn't born into boxing. My father never took me to the fights or sat me on his lap on a Saturday to watch Ali-Foreman or Hearns-Leonard. I doubt the guy could tell the difference between Sugar Ray Robinson and Jackie Robinson. So my love of boxing isn't some teary-eyed, Field of Dreams-esqe romanticism. It's not a yearning for the 'good old days.' My passion developed two-fold -- both parts, coincidentally, around a left hook.
Old school Sugar Ray Robinson, right, probably could have taught MMA legend Frank Shamrock a lesson in the ring.
The first? I boxed. A few years out of college, I found myself in a dingy (a kind description) boxing gym above a funeral home in the Bronx. No air conditioning. No running water. A slightly insane trainer. After a few weeks he put me in with a seasoned pro with a mean streak who, after knocking out both my contacts, floored me with a left hook to the body. But I got up. And then I was hooked. The second? I'd occasionally watched live boxing, seen old films of Ali and the greats, but it hadn't piqued my interest. Until a warm night in August 1998, when a scrapper named Arturo Gatti faced off against a Philadelphia junior welterweight named Ivan Robinson. Despite a loss, Gatti fought as valiently as any man I'd ever seen. Just when I thought he was finished, he'd fire off left hooks and find himself back in the fight (it won Fight of the Year honors). I'd seen great sporting events -- from the Dolphins-Chargers famed playoff game to my hometown Mets staving off defeat in the 1986 World Series -- but I'd never seen anything like this.
As for MMA? I understand the business savvy behind it, the buzz, and hey, look at the ratings! Spike TV never had it so good. But the product itself? The cure for insomnia. And until someone shows me the MMA equivalent of Gatti-Robinson (or something close), I'm switching the TV to something else. Maybe some boxing classics on ESPN 2 …
First of all, let me say this: I love boxing, too. I love the sport. It gets knocked as a dying sport, from people who don't really peer into the raw data on this. Come up with another sport where you could put together a big event once a month and have, say, 400,000 people pay $40 or $50 to watch it. Because that's what boxing does. Think people would pay to watch, say, the entire World Series, for $50? Or even the entire NBA playoffs? Or the NHL … Well, if I need to make the argument that nobody cares about hockey any more, then I want the man in the lab coat to first put you back in your "special jacket."
I'm a realist, too, though. Boxing will never again be what Tim remembers. And unfortunately, that makes Tim (and all those other boxing die-hards with their heads buried in the beach) exactly what he says he's not. He's clinging to the past. He's thinking of boxing as "The Sweet Science" instead of a sport where guys try to de-head each other for an hour on Saturday night. And he's overlooking the main problem with boxing: The sport itself is broken beyond repair. When Tim -- or anybody, for that matter -- rattles off great boxing matches, see how many fights they mention that have occurred, you know, RECENTLY. Corrales-Castillo maybe? And that fight perfectly summarizes how badly boxing is broken. When everybody demanded a rematch, what happened?
Tim's again clinging too hard to the past when he talks about what a bore MMA bouts are. This year, the UFC has had a rash of stunning upsets (Matt Serra over Georges St. Pierre, Rampage Jackson over Chuck Liddell, and on and on), and the numbers completely contradict that idea. The vast majority of people thinks that MMA blows away boxing. I'm one of that majority. It's just not even close. When we had Tim write something a few issues ago for The Magazine about the dream boxing matchups for the upcoming year, we came up with a list of fantastic fights that would draw major PPV buys. Except most of them will never happen because the WBC won't let the WBO champ step in the ring because the WBA commissioner's wife doesn't like the W-whatever's commissioner's wife, blah blah blah. On the other hand, ask an MMA fan to come up with a list of dream fights, and I'll send you the Web link with the date it'll happen.
Lots of points here (including the one where Ryan's insuating I'm an old man …). In the words of Mark Twain, "Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated." People have been predicting the death of boxing for 50 years. Howard Cosell did. And guess what? May set the monthly record for ALL-TIME PPV (Mayweather and Cotto bouts). Boxing goes through phases -- there's a dearth of heavyweights now, but the welterweight division might be as good as it's ever been.
Is the MMA a bore? There were a string of recent upsets. Very true. But they were boring upsets. You happen to check out Cotto-Judah last week? Was that recent enough, my young historian?
Not many points (good ones, anyway) made by my colleague.
OK, a good month. And I'm not sure how Cotto-Judah in June factors into May PPV sales, but Tim's living in Utah now. And he's sick. And he's arguing an impossible topic here. So we'll cut him some slack.
Cotto-Judah? How excited could you get? It was one guy beating the other guy up badly. True, Judah was valiant. But he took a beating, spent about five minutes whining about low blows and just doesn't matter much in the sport.
A huge upset, one with a knockout as an exclamation, is exciting. It just is.
And if you want lengthy, exciting wars, how about Forrest Griffin vs. Stephan Bonnar? Randy Couture manhandling Tim Sylvia? Liddell knocking out Tito Ortiz? Couture toppling Liddell the first time? I can keep going if you'd like.
AP Photo/Fred Beckham
How long could junior welterweight champ Paulie Malignaggi, who fights this weekend, last against MMA fighter Phil Baroni, who also fights this weekend?
One guy (Cotto) assulting the other (Judah) for 11 rounds (it was stopped -- a TKO) is a thing of beauty. Valor, heart, ebb and flow. Now, don't get me wrong. The MMA fighters are some exceptionally brave fellows. They display heart and courage (although generally not as much required of boxers -- solely because of the nature of MMA stoppages. Which make the sport SAFER than boxing). They are exceptional athletes. Nice guys, too. That's not the issue. The problem lies with the fighting itself. What's lacking is the ebb and flow. It's choppy, unruly. Tides turn in MMA matches, but the drama isn't sustained, as it is in boxing. That's what makes boxing so beautiful (at its highest level) and so brutal.
First, let me just get this out of the way, because I'm about to be thrown in a nasty rear naked choke at my desk. I sit near the hockey and college basketball departments, and nobody's happy about the shot I took at the NHL. Especially pitbulls Elena Bergeron and Sarah Turcotte. They're frothing back there, and not in hearty laughter at Tim's hollow arguments. So I apologize. Hockey is great. Sarah and Elena are great. And smart. And beautiful. And tough. Tougher even than Chuck Norris (don't mean to get off on a Chuck Norris tangent here, but MMA begins and ends with the man. And so do most things in life.) Now, back to our discussion …
Wow, I can't believe you keep climbing up off your stool, old man. No mas
, Struby! No mas
! I disagree about Cotto-Judah. One man assaulting another is great? Says who? Aren't there supposed to be two fighters in there? Why not watch Cotto pound on a punching bag, then? Also disagree with the drama point. Just watch any of those fights I mentioned. Or this weekend's UFC event. Or an IFL event, where there's the added team scoring. They're better fights.