As a big fan of both sports, I’ve always found the trumped up rivalry between boxing and MMA annoying. It’s always struck me as obnoxious, fanboy nonsense. They are two separate sports. For fans of one to hype a rivalry with the other makes about as much sense as hockey fans getting bent out of shape over basketball. It’s natural to prefer some sports over other sports, but to hate on a sport out of a misguided sense of loyalty to your own favorite sport is small minded. I love American football. But I can certainly appreciate soccer and rugby.
But as combat sports, boxing and MMA are closely related. Boxing is an important part of MMA’s DNA. Prior to the adoption of the Marquess of Queensberry rules, the old, bareknuckle boxing rules promoted a lot of the same clinch-work, dirty boxing and throwing that feature so prominently in modern MMA.
Since the Gracie family launched the UFC in 1993, athletes from a grappling background have dominated the sport of MMA. In part this is because the rules simply favor a grappler, so long as he or she can get past the striker’s barrage. It’s also been because the new sport allowed a venue for athletes who previously had nowhere left to go once they complete their college wrestling careers.
High leve boxers have been rare in MMA. Even today, the money paid to MMA fighters at the top level pales in comparison to boxing purses. A washed-up James Toney is the only elite boxer to test himself in the octagon. And he didn’t appear to train at all for his matchup with Randy Couture.
After Toney, Holly Holm is quite possibly the most decorated boxer to compete in MMA. She was a multiple-time world champion in boxing, prior to moving to the cage. And in her shocking knockout of Ronda Rousey on Saturday night, her boxing background was on full display.
Holm might have used a head kick to put Rousey to sleep, but she set that shot up by putting on a clinic on how to adapt boxing to the demands of a cage fight. Using absolutely stellar footwork, she was repeatedly able to sucker the aggressive Rousey forward and then stop her short with blistering, straight lefts. Rousey, who has always been totally dominant, was reduced to looking amateurish. Again and again, she attempted to force her way forward, neglecting to pay any attention to the placement of her lead left foot, allowing the southpaw Holm to slide to her right and deliver yet another stinging left hand.
Proper positioning of the lead foot is a basic aspect of fighting a southpaw that most boxers learn early in their apprenticeship as fighters. It’s a lesson that I’m sure Rousey covered in her own training camp. But it’s tough to think straight when you are getting beaten bloody. And it apparently wasn’t a lesson that Rousey had fully integrated into her spacial awareness during a fight.
I’ve seen plenty of trolls on social media today who have pointed to this great win by Holm as some sort of proof that boxing is superior to MMA. It’s a stupid assertion, of course. What we saw on Saturday night was one very good athlete sticking to a disciplined game plan and throwing her opponent into a state of desperation. It’s important to note that Holm has now spent years transitioning from boxing to MMA, and that since the very start of her fighting career, she has worked with Mike Winkeljohn, a primary striking trainer for the elite Jackson MMA camp. Holm has a great boxing background, but she’s also a well-rounded mixed martial artist. Indeed, she was forced to defend herself on the mat against Rousey.
What Holm’s victory does prove, though, is that like Wrestling, Judo, Jiu Jitsu and Muy Thai, Western Boxing is an important part of the MMA equation.