A 50-something year old friend of mine recently told me that he thought boxing was more “skilled” than MMA.
It’s more difficult, he said, to defeat another man using just your hands. In MMA, he said, it’s a free-for-all , and brawn usually wins over skill. While there’s a lack of understanding about MMA on his part, he hits on a real point for fans who grew up on boxing, rather than MMA: No matter how skilled the MMA athletes are, in the end, there’s a perception that MMA is just “cage fighting.”
For the older fan, boxing will always seem more legitimate for a few good reasons. In the heyday of boxing on television, when it aired on ABC’s Wide World of Sports, NBC SportsWorld, and Tuesday Night Fights, the broadcasts were always about the fighters, not the WBA, WBC, IBF or WBO. When you watched boxing, the show didn’t double as an advertisement for any brand or company, like it is with the UFC today.
Nobody cared what title Larry Holmes was defending. They didn’t care about the three letters before the word “champion.” They cared that Holmes was carrying Muhammad Ali’s title. The fighters were the brand, not the company.
Go ask an average man on the street what organization’s titles Floyd Mayweather Jr. has. They won’t know. Then ask the what organization Chuck Liddell fought for. They’ll probably say the “UFC.”
Boxing fans grew up watching fights, not being deluged by brand propaganda.
Boxing fans can also inherently relate to boxing. Everyone knows how to throw a punch, duck and fight through the pain. We’ve all seen “Rocky” and we’ve all sung “Eye of the Tiger” to ourselves at one point in our lives to motivate us. Older fans grew up wanting to punch out the bully, not grind him down over five long rounds and win a decision, or submit him with a gogoplata.
No matter how skilled Jake Shields is at submission Jiu-Jitsu, to an older boxing fan, it’s always going to be uncomfortable for them to watch a lay-and-pray fight hug another guy for several rounds. Unless you know what your watching, you just can’t appreciate the skill involved.
Older boxing fans also grew up watching three minute, 12-and 15-round fights. To them MMA fights are both too short and too long. For example, although the Mark Hunt vs. Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva fight was a classic, clearly those guys should not have been fighting 5-minute rounds. They just weren’t built for that at this stage of their careers. MMA rounds are too long, yet there are only three of them, unless it’s a championship or main event TV fight.
Older boxing fans like to settle in to a 10- or 12-round fight and watch the game of chess. It’s disappointing for many to see a fight go to the ground and end with a sudden tap-out.
MMA is clearly fully of highly skilled athletes, who are among the best fighters in the world, but for many older boxing fans, it’s still “cage fighting,” and entirely unfamiliar and uncomfortable.