By Johnny Walker
Much sports media and social media fuss was created over the last few days when rising UK heavyweight boxing star Tyson Fury, sensing correctly that it is a slow news period in the boxing world, decided to come out on Twitter and challenge the current heavyweight champion of the mixed martial arts organization known as the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).
The whole incident set off the type of insecure MMA fans who start foaming at the mouth the minute the sport of boxing is mentioned. Indignant MMAers were soon claiming that Fury had “no chance” against their man, Cain Velasquez, and most often cited faded American heavyweight James Toney, who lost badly in his one MMA adventure back in 2010, as “proof” that Tyson Fury would surely fall if he engaged their champ in the octagon.
Others merely bristled puritanically that boxing and MMA are “two different sports,” so we should cease and desist talking about the idea at all.
To which I say, oh please, lighten up.
For one thing, MMA itself is bunch of different combat sports mixed together, which is how the whole thing got started. So to turn around and tut tut about mixing “two different sports” when it comes to boxing and MMA is thus a bit absurd. MMA is hardly a sport for purists — its founding premise is anti-purist.
If people weren’t very interested in concepts like a top boxer taking on a premier wrestler, there wouldn’t be MMA or the UFC in the first place.
Wondering how a top boxer will do versus a upper tier MMA fighter is a natural thing to do, whether some people like it or not. It’s human nature to speculate on these things. People always want to see Hercules take on Samson.
Boxing icon Muhammad Ali, for example, couldn’t resist the idea of a champion boxer like himself taking on a top wrestler. He did so when he fought Japanese grappler Antonio Inoki in Japan in 1976 (read the Wiki account here). The bout featured rules hampering both men (there was also initial confusion over whether it was “real” or an exhibition), and was largely seen as a failure at the time, but the idea persisted, and today the event is often referred to as a precursor to mixed martial arts.
A more lively undercard to the Ali-Inoki bout was rugged boxing journeyman Chuck Wepner–who once knocked Ali down–taking on the massive pro grappler Andre The Giant, who was finally disqualified for throwing Wepner over the top rope.
Fast forward back to the present. Tyson Fury may have just been trolling MMA fans on a slow news day, or perhaps he is serious about his MMA challenge. Either way, those citing James Toney’s UFC flop as the reason things will go badly for Fury seem a bit facile; that’s like saying that all boxers will knock out MMA stars because veteran heavyweight Ray Mercer destroyed former UFC champion Tim Sylvia.
Of course the guy fighting using his own discipline will always have an advantage. But every situation is different, and it’s the specific matchup that counts the most.
James Toney was an aging, confused, broken down fighter who could no longer secure a big bout in his own sport when he took on always super-fit MMA veteran Randy Couture in Boston. He also owed the State of California over $350,000 in back taxes and had suffered the indignity of a lien being put on his property.
In other words, James Toney needed money quick and conned his way into a payday at the expense of gullible UFC fans, many of whom thought (because they were told by the advertising) that Toney was still something like the fighter he was a decade ago. Some even believed the hyperbolic Toney to be a current heavyweight champion (he had a belt that he may have well bought on Ebay), when the truth was that he was fighting several divisions above his ideal weight and had merely ate his way into the heavyweight category, where he had not done particularly well.
In constrast, the six-foot-nine Anglo-Irish giant Tyson Fury is young (24) and strong, a true heavyweight, not destitute, and would thus not be fighting out of desperation, but out of a love for fighting itself (with the side benefit of a nice payday). And he’s indicated that if an MMA bout materializes, he’s willing to train and master the basics he’d need to prevent being easily taken to the floor, the big weakness of any boxer taking on a wrestling type like Velasquez.
That would be in great contrast to Toney, who was pretty much clueless if Couture wasn’t going to just stand and trade punches with him (which he never, ever, was). Toney was only interested in Dana’s White’s money, and one look at his (to put it mildly) less than toned torso indicated that did not prepare for the greatly hyped match-up with anything like the seriousness it required.
I admit that like many people, I like seeing what happens when supposedly sacrosanct lines and boundaries are crossed. Not theories about what will happen, but what will actually happen.
And of course, I’d also like to see what happens when a top MMA fighter enters the squared circle: MMA heavyweights from Alistair Overeem to Junior Dos Santos have expressed the desire to take on one of the world champion Klitschko brothers, who themselves began as kickboxers and big martial arts fans.
So hey, Tyson Fury vs Cain Velasquez?
Never mind the whiners. Count me in.