Saturday, April 7, 2007

Chris Cozzone: MMA is here to stay . . . but boxing is not going anywhere

By Chris Cozzone

I'm sure I'm not the only one who has noticed the growing paranoia and defensive stance those in boxing have taken when it comes to mixed martial arts.

"UFC ain't s---," Floyd Mayweather, Jr., possibly boxing's No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter, told a popular boxing Web site last week, saying the top MMA organization was nothing "but a fad" and that Chuck Liddell, the Ultimate Fighting Championship's top fighter, wouldn't be able to hang with a decent heavyweight boxer.

UFC kingpin Dana White - whose company Zuffa has bought out all the major MMA competitors, including PRIDE and World Extreme Cagefighting - retaliated, saying he'd like to see any heavyweight boxer get in the cage and fight MMA style with Liddell.

While we're at it, why don't we round up 11 heavyweights to face the reigning Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts, so we know if football is superior to boxing? Or make Serena Williams get into the ring against Laila Ali, to see if women's boxing can kick tennis' butt?

It makes as much sense to talk about MMA and boxing.

Call it a battle of popularity, this out-of-the-ring-and-cage war of words.

The reality is this:

The MMA is picking up numbers at the box offices, in venues across the nation, on pay-per-view and in the gyms.

Boxing, in the perception of many, is on a decline of sorts.

Boxing might be losing rounds in popularity, there's little reason to worry that it's going to fade away. Last time I checked, there were, on the average, somewhere between two and six televised boxing cards shown every weekend on TV.

MMA, on the other hand, has but a couple, but you can bank on that number growing.

Boxing is a cauliflower-earred, battle-scarred veteran that has survived laws banning the act, world wars, fixed fights, mafia interference, deaths in the ring and a hundred other ups-and-downs.

Every sport from baseball to wrestling has taken blows at reducing boxing's popularity, but the sport has always picked itself off the canvas and beaten the count, or, having lost a fight, returned to the arena for a rematch.

There is too much history in boxing. Watching Marco Antonio Barrera fight Juan Manuel Marquez a few weeks ago - a battle of the two best Mexicans in the world in their division, if not throughout all weights - is witnessing far more than two athletes in the ring. It was this era's version of a classic matchup, reminiscent of a Rocky Graziano-Tony Zale match from the '40s, or Carmen Basilio-Sugar Ray Robinson of the '50s, or Ad Wolgast-Joe Rivers of 1912.

MMA, on the other hand, is in its infancy. But don't make the mistake Floyd Mayweather made of calling it a fad.

Mayweather - and a great deal more of today's boxers, fans and promoters - can learn a lot from watching a UFC or PRIDE card.

Certainly there are exceptions - Barrera-Marquez and last month's superbantam match between Israel Vazquez and Rafael Marquez are two that quickly come to mind - boxing has been reduced to something less than the best fighting the best.

The MMA does not pull punches or baby its fighters when it comes to making solid matches.

That generates excitement.

Mayweather ought to consider that when on May 5 he steps into the arena against Oscar De La Hoya on a much-anticipated showdown that has the power to enhance (if it lives up to the hype) or cripple (should it bomb) boxing.

If Mayweather really wants to show MMA fans how exciting boxing can be, let's see him show his wares in the ring against De La Hoya instead of a play-it-safe approach like the one he used in his last outing.

MMA or boxing? Fight fans have a choice of three shows to watch tonight. Boxing on Showtime and HBO go head-to-head with UFC on pay-per-view. On HBO, super middleweight king Joe Calzaghe (42-0, 31 KOs) faces Peter Manfredo (26-3, 12 KOs) in his hometown of Cardiff, Wales. On Showtime, from Springfield, Mo., former lightweight champ Diego Corrales (40-4, 33 KOs) takes a risky move by leaping up to welterweight, and an even riskier move by taking on Joshua Clottey (30-2, 19 KOs). On PPV, UFC 69: Shootout, from the Toyota Center in Houston, welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre (13-1) defends his title against Matt Serra (15-4). In the co-main, New Mexico's No. 1 MMA prospect, highly-ranked welterweight fighter Diego "the Nightmare" Sanchez (19-0) goes up against Josh Koscheck (10-1). A win will nudge Sanchez one step closer to a title shot against the card's headliner, St. Pierre.

What'll I be watching? I'll be in Houston, covering UFC, but all I can say is, thank God for TiVo. While Calzaghe is a heavy favorite over Manfredo, he never fails to dazzle with his boxing skills. And Corrales-Clottey? Many in the know are expecting an upset for Clottey in a fight that should not fail to thrill.


No comments: