The James Toney-Randy Couture fight does have significance beyond the fight itself. I am a boxing aficionado but do enjoy the Mixed Martial Arts and boxing does have quite a bit to learn from the Mixed Martial Arts.
The first lesson to be learned is that the Mixed Martial Arts are filled with good athletes who can fight. The question that many boxing pundits and fans have asked, what would happened if an elite boxer fought an elite mixed martial artist and the question have been answered in part. Toney is one of the premier boxers over the past generation and while he is 42, he is not that far removed from his active career. Randy Couture is 47 and while there was a time that Couture was one of the mixed martial art elites, he too was past his prime but still an active fighter. We saw two former elite fighters at similar point in their careers and with the boxer using 4 ounce gloves, the advantages laid with the boxer who often uses 8 and 10 ounce gloves.
What we witnessed was an easy victory for Couture and this showed that the Mixed Martial arts can stand on their own as a sporting event. The final bottom line is that while boxers are good athletes and if you put Toney in the ring with Couture using just hands, Toney wins hands down but this was not about using just hands but one’s entire arsenal. Toney showed that even an elite boxer with nine months of training may not be a match for a martial artist who has worked at his craft for a lifetime. This would be equivalent of an elite basketball player deciding in mid-career to play professional baseball. The basketball player will find himself learning a sport that many of baseball contemporaries have spent a lifetime perfecting. (In case you are wondering if an elite basketball player actually decided to attempt this, think Michael Jordan, who failed to make it to the big leagues after trying for two years. He went back to basketball and led the Bulls to three more NBA titles.)
There is more to the martial arts than just the use of hands, feet and submission holds but the ability to put all of these skills together and most boxers can’t handle the ground game. The mixed martial artists come from martial arts and wrestling background, so many MMA stars have multiple of skills to learn before becoming stars. Many wrestlers must learn to use their hands and many karate specialists and boxers must learn ground skills. Toney has the hand skills but not the ground game and that was obvious almost immediately. Toney also learned that nine months is not enough time to learn the ground game that will allow him to compete at the highest levels.
The first lesson to be learned what one learns in the square ring does not translate to the octagon. The second lesson to learn is that UFC is the master when it comes to marketing when compared to boxing. While there are many different mixed martial arts organization but in MMA; there is one organization that every Mixed Martial Artists understand is the highest levels, the UFC.
In boxing, there are way too many boxing organizations that run the sport and run it badly, so many causal sport fans are confuse, who is the true champ or what organization is the premier organization. In Mixed Martial Arts, there is no question of which division is the premier leader. While some have decided to use Ring Magazine as the official boxing ratings, this has not yet taken hold as being practical. Name me one sport in which a magazine determines the champions or the rules of the sport. Can you imagine if Sports Illustrated determine who was the NFL champion? Yet, that is what is happening in boxing where you have literally five organizations speaking for the sport and most of them not trusted by fans or even fighters themselves to be the care taker of the sport.
Until boxing decides that there is a premier division that is recognize by promoters, fans and even the athletes themselves then boxing will continue to fall behind the Mixed Martial Arts.
The Toney-Couture fight was a milestone for both boxing and Mixed Martial Arts. MMA and the UFC showed that it is the premier combat sport in both popularity and reality. For many sport fans, it is not about who is the best boxer or best karate specialist but who is the best fighter. This fight was the wake up call for boxing as far as marketing is concern. Full crowds accompany Mixed Martial Arts and popularity of the sport continues to grow. Boxing needs to learn the right lessons, including promotion. The first important step in promotion is for boxing promoters to push for one boxing division and start treating the other divisions as secondary markets or minor leagues. Until that happens, boxing will continue to decline vis a vis the Mixed