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The old boxing versus MMA thing (again)

11/16/2011

Like fixated rants?

You might want to check out the one that literary boxing writer Gary Andrew Poole came up with that loosely held the UFC’s debut on Fox up to the Juan Manuel Marquez/Manny Pacquiao fight he attended on the same night. The article appeared on Esquire.com, a sort of companion piece to his more focused coverage of the boxing match for The Atlantic. Poole wrote a book about Pacquiao -- PacMan: Behind the Scenes with Manny Pacquiao -- so you can guess going in to which side his biases tend.

Next to Pacquiao/Marquez and all the historical context that he’s accrued over years of observing, he hikes a leg to the 64-second spectacle of Junior dos Santos and Cain Velasquez and the $100 million a year Fox deal. For measure, Poole condenses the entirety of what he knows of MMA into a generality -- “badass jujitsu” -- for his readers. It’s just a hoax next to the fine-tuned, forever in the making aesthetics of boxing. (Never mind that the fight he drew these conclusions from hadn’t an ounce of jiu-jitsu in it). He talks about Marquez’s jab being of a fine vintage, next to Jon Jones’ “badass jujitsu” which he did for four months. That was, of course, before Jones joined Dana White’s “badass jujitsu” parade and became its youngest champion.

Basically, the crux is that boxing is better, based on thousands of hours of study (presumably) versus a single hour of MMA viewed only after he insisted at the Tropicana.

The boxing versus MMA battle is a long-winded, never exhausted one. Boxing has the context of more than a hundred years of history, going back to Pierce Egan’s day. MMA has Dan Severn dating back to the 1990s. Boxing has always had fantastic chroniclers, coloring in its champions through every era and lionizing its characters, while MMA is only beginning to find a voice. MMA greats are current, or in the making. Very few belong to the past. Before MMA, it was posters of Bruce Lee, old footage of Gray Simons, the Helio Gracie submission techniques from Brazil, the footwork of Sugar Ray Robinson. MMA is a lot of disparate parts that didn’t interconnect until very recently.

Every time somebody writes a flimsy piece like this, the debate boils down to old versus new (with a subtext of threat). Poole isn’t an old boxing guy, but this is codger territory.

Boxing is beautiful, he’s right -- but it takes a practiced eye to make that beauty profound. Pacquiao is a beautiful fighter, and spending time with him as Poole did to pen his book is a nice way to see it. Yet to dismiss MMA based on a single fight, to talk about the “loopy and laughably slow right” that dos Santos landed on Velasquez as a direct comparison will never work. Pacquiao, for all of his beauty, is not living in fear of a takedown. Marquez is not an All-American wrestler. He is not protecting himself from a double-leg as he puts together a combination. There are no leg kicks, front kicks, spinning backfists. His punches might be a lot loopier if those hazards existed.

The two are impossible to compare in any satisfactory way. Boxing in MMA is not boxing in boxing. You can’t dismiss one at a glance for its lack of polish based on a single area of expertise that took years to build an appreciation for. It’s foolish. And, as these skewed comparisons often do, it came across that way.