Martial Arts Mix-Up? Why boxing presents a better product than MMA

by James Harrison

Saturday, April 14, begins a three-month stretch that features bouts of boxing and mixed-martial-arts (MMA) fighters we have grown to love. Amongst the list of boxing household names are Marquez, Hopkins, Mosley, Cotto, Mayweather, Khan, Peterson, Tarver, Winky, and Pacquiao.

Recognizable MMA fighters include UFC’s John Jones, Rashad Evans, Chael Sonnen and Anderson Silva. The condensed schedule of fights pits the two sports against each other in pay-per-view (PPV) buys, and also in the discussion on which is the better product.

The UFC, who took ownership of just about every relevant form of MMA including Strikeforce, WEC, and Pride, is everywhere you look. As in the film Gladiator, Dana White plays the role of Proximo by feeding the casual fight-fan’s “Finish Him!” mentality. Many cheer for KO’s and submissions with no regards to whom or where it’s coming from.

Firstly, the gloves are a key in producing knockouts. UFC bouts feature competitors using four ounce gloves, while boxing matches usually feature gloves weighing eight-to-twelve ounces. Obviously, a lighter glove is easier to swing with force. The lack of padding, and the incentive of cash bonuses for finishes lead to the heightened chance for KOs, regardless of if the fighters are outstanding punchers or not. This creates the false illusion believed by many casual fight fans that the hand-to-hand exchanges in MMA are superior or equal to those seen in boxing.

The gloves in the UFC are constructed to increase maneuverability for grappling and submissions. White again plays on the casual fans want for a “sub” by presenting bonuses totaling over $10,000 for fighters who finish the job. Some may consider it exploitative to pay one man for potentially jeopardizing another’s career for the sake of a good show.

Boxers spar frequently in contrast to those fighting in the disciplines of jui jitsu, wrestling, and tae kwon do. Perhaps this and constant UFC knockouts has lead to the assertion that boxers have tougher chins than MMA fighters. Many fighters from these disciplines have simply not sparred enough career-wise to get used to hard head blows. The inability to withstand constant blows to the head is part of the recipe that creates frequent KO’s in the UFC.

In boxing there are less fluke victories. You know that the punches are coming from one general direction. I love a good surprise every now and again but damn. It’s disheartening to watch a guy beat the crap out another guy for 20 minutes only to lose to a knee that was misplaced by his opponent.

Fatigue is also big. Most professional boxing contest is set up for twelve three-minute rounds if needed while UFC fights consist of three-to-five five-minute rounds. Punching, kicking, and wrestling for five minutes straight creates extreme highs and lows concerning energy reserve. Many fighters can maintain a fast pace for three minutes, but once that energy is gone; the fighter must attack and defend against attacks at a lack-luster rate because of fatigue. Tired fighters that are swinging for the fences, and defending themselves poorly have been a recipe for frequent KO’s in the UFC.

On average, most successful MMA fighters have about four coaches; each specific to areas such as boxing, muay-thai, wrestling, and jiu-jitsu. Maybe two of these will be a focal point depending on the upcoming opponent, constantly prompting adjustment and the banking of new skills.

There are no kicks or take-downs in boxing, so more time can be spent honing other areas. Often in boxing, the same skills are often repeated until perfection. In the long run this creates MMA fighters who are certainly better-rounded and boxing pugilist who have a level of expertise in more areas.

Predictably, MMA has yet to slow down in gaining mainstream popularity. Its over-saturation can be compared to crack-cocaine within most major cities. It’s often inexpensive, over-hyped, of less-than-pure quality, and available non-stop. And when conversely compared, “the sweet science” is similar to pure cocaine in the sense that its participants are purist, and not as readily available for the masses.

The UFC has faithfully appeared on PPV, ESPN, Spike, MTV, and Fox. Boxing however is usually limited to ESPN, Showtime, and HBO. MMA guys you’ve never heard of are punching each other’s lights out all night long in the UFC while commentators including White tell the audience “this is the greatest fight/event I’ve ever seen” – until the next bout starts. That “next big thing” claim is immediately passed onto the next competitors on the card regardless of their skill or notoriety.

This constant promotion of mediocre fighters is part of the reason the UFC is able to churn out so many fights. In 2011, the UFC alone employed over 330 fighters according to To put that number in perspective, that is enough fighters to fill 28 NBA teams starting lineups along with seven bench positions per team.

This virtually unlimited supply of fighters allows White to pay them lower wages compared to boxing. If you decide you want to argue over increased payment, there are over 330 hungry guys willing take your place. Concerns about White’s bird-feeding have been voiced by many UFC fighters including Nick Diaz.

Last year Tito Ortiz, one of the most recognizable UFC stars had to fight three times to be the only UFC fighter to hit one million. Last year in boxing, there were over 10 fighters that aren’t named Mayweather or Pacquiao that made a million or more in one fight. No mix-up there.

Follow the author on twitter @Rob_Van_Ham

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