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Boxing vs. MMA: Action vs. Reaction

Posted on 08/02/2012

By Barry Lindenman

One can easily make the argument that MMA & boxing are either very similar or very different. Without going into the individual characteristics that one can argue that make the two combat sports alike or dissimilar, I would argue that the primary difference between the two sports is the ultimate objective of each. The ultimate objective in boxing is a specific action: to knockout your opponent. On the other hand, the ultimate objective in MMA is a specific reaction: to get your opponent to tap out. Now granted, it is still your actions in MMA that will hopefully achieve the ultimate objective (i.e. causing your opponent to tap out) but nevertheless, it is still a reaction from your opponent that you are hoping to achieve.

The difference between an “action” objective and a “reaction” objective can best be shown by making an analogy between two different TV game shows. The goal in “The Price is Right” is to guess the correct price (or at least come as close as possible) of various items. The ultimate objective in “The Price is Right” is an action (similar to boxing). The action is to guess the correct price. On the other hand, the objective in the game “Password” is to get your partner to say the correct word by giving them clues. The ultimate objective in “Password” is therefore a reaction (similar to MMA). The reaction in MMA is to get your opponent to tap out. Now granted, combat sports really have nothing to do whatsoever to do with game shows, except perhaps to show how the different objectives of the sports can be remarkably similar to that of certain game shows. “The Price is Right” is to boxing as “Password” is to MMA.

Now for all of you die hard MMA fans who may criticize this analogy that characterizes mixed martial arts as a “reaction” sport vs. an “action” sport, let me clarify again. It is exactly because MMA has so much action that causes the reaction that is so desired in the sport. And believe me, I do realize that there are other ways to win in both boxing and mixed martial arts other than the knockout or the tap out, but as I said from the outset, these are the ultimate objectives in these sports. The knockout in boxing is the ultimate action that is sought out by each fighter. Similarly, the tap out in MMA is the ultimate reaction that is sought out by each mixed martial arts fighter.

An action is characterized by an independent conscious choice. You are responsible for the action. A reaction is a response to someone else’s action. A reaction is a response to an external stimulus. A reaction transfers the responsibility to the external stimulus and therefore leaves the reactor in a more vulnerable position. When you act, you are the puppeteer. When you react, you are the puppet. In the context of boxing and MMA, knockouts and tap outs, an action is rewarding; a reaction is frustrating. Not every action in boxing or MMA for that matter is “successful,” but nevertheless every action is still rewarding. The “reward” even in a failed action is the learning that you get from every action. Not every punch thrown by a boxer lands, but even the missed punches teach the boxer that threw the punch something.

When you react, all you get is frustration: frustration in the context that someone else’s action caused you to act or behave in a particular way. Anyone who has ever experienced or witnessed a tap out in MMA will know what I mean as that has to be the single most frustrating event in all of sports. Athletes never conceive of giving up when they start a sports contest. The tap out is the ultimate way to “give up” in sports. It’s making your opponent say “uncle.”

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