If a boxing and MMA know-very-little like yours truly (hey, I live in the same city as Chuck Liddell, people!) can easily find Frank Deford’s latest “viewpoint” on SI’s web site ridiculous on its basic premise alone (boxing suffers and is on the downfall because it’s not as violent as UFC/Elite XC/MMA in general), I shudder to think what people who actually observe either sport — like say, either the folks at No Mas or the Fanhouse’s Michael David Smith — could actually do to destroy this effort by the last link to the bad-old-good-old-purple-prose days. But, rather than leave it to the pros, let’s tear this bad one apart now.
I’m not going to use space blockquoting Deford, as the column is written in such a condescending manner to presume most sports fans haven’t even heard of MMA, never mind his dismissal of it as a video game made real — an absolutely ludicrous and reductive argument — because most bouts are over quickly and it’s bloodier than boxing.
Deford’s essential problem is that he is dependent upon boxing’s heavyweight division as a comparison to provide the juice. Yes, there really is no compelling interest at that level in boxing right now to captivate the masses, but I defy anyone to watch fights on either HBO or PPV — like last week’s Cotto-Gomez tilt and the undercards — and say that there’s no juice left in boxing; hell, just look at the pub Floyd Mayweather, Jr. gets and his last fight with Oscar de la Hoya making bank on pay-per view buys.
Boxing’s problem is that there are too many organizing bodies with belts to have regular unification battles, and the sport’s own legacy spawned by strings of crooked-ass promoters. That’s a completely separate issue. Mixed martial arts have the advantage of identifiable fighters (Liddell, Tito Ortiz, Matt Serra, Georges St-Pierre, and more) in the UFC. Getting the top quality under one, well, octagon helps get the best fights on a card.
This is not video game violence, Mr. Deford. This is MMA. There are rules — as helpfully explained by an Elite XC ref in the video below (thanks to the aforementioned MDS at the Fanhouse)
While it’s certainly more graphic than you may be used to, it’s not the violence that has MMA growing; it’s the better quality product. Boxing isn’t as dead as everyone likes to claim, and the two can and ought to co-exist. Basing a very short, badly thought out column on the premise is poor form — and while you can comment and ask, “Well, why bother with Deford? He’s old hat anyhow?”, you’re right. However, the old hat spouted this same load of crap to a massive radio audience on NPR yesterday morning. I love NPR, but I’m aware that many of its listeners are not exactly following sports, and this is misinformation of the worst kind.