Although everyone seems to love to do it, comparing boxing to MMA is like comparing badminton to volleyball simply because they both use a net; or checkers to chess because there are pieces that move around the same kind of board. Sure, there are similarities and common aspects, but we're talking about two distinctly different disciplines. The athletes involved in MMA and boxing possess different skill sets, they face different demands, the rules vary and the objectives of the two sports are not the same. In spite of all of this, the mainstream media and even figureheads of the respective sports continue to pit the two arts against each other and create comparisons that, beyond the surface, don't really exist. Obviously there are people in the combat sports industry that just love to see a good scrap, even if it's between two combatants that don't really have a legitimate fight to pick with each other.
If you want to really compare the two, you can begin with stand-up. It is the most similar aspect to both boxing and the Mixed Martial Arts. Aside from that, they are both sports that are fought in an enclosed arena, a boxing ring or a cage. There is a third man in the ring, a referee, and there are judges. The athletes wear padded gloves, although both are radically different. Hand-to-hand combat is involved in the two forms and the results sometimes translate into blood, one fighter “quitting” or one who is rendered unconsciousness by his opponent, but any similarities pretty much end there. Choking, wrestling, excessive holding, elbow strikes, throwing your opponent to the ground, stomping on your opponent's foot, sweeping his legs out from underneath him, knee strikes, leg kicks and a number of mixed martial arts tactics are not allowed at all in boxing and would typically result in disqualification. These same techniques are practiced and praised in the octagon. Most of what is illegal in boxing, scores points in MMA. That’s a pretty significant difference in approach. The bottom line is…the rules that are enforced and the very objectives being worked towards in the ring versus the octagon are NOT THE SAME. How is it that these two drastically different sports are constantly being compared to each other?
Boxing may have laid the groundwork and influenced some of what we see in the cage, but MMA is a hybrid of numerous combat sports, not just an off-shoot or enhancement of boxing, as it is being presented. Greco-Roman Wrestling, Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and the traditional martial arts play as much, if not more, of a role in the sport of MMA than boxing does. Unfortunately, the rivalry seems to come up between boxing and MMA and not MMA and these other sports. It’s unfortunate because the two sports could actually be helping each other more. The ongoing comparison between Boxing versus MMA by the press, politicians or promoters is pointless. Instead of working to put them at-oddswith each other, they could support one another. MMA needs boxing and it's trainers to improve their stand up and gain a greater understanding of ring generalship. On the other hand, boxing is reaping the benefits of reinvigorating interest and increasing participation in combat sports. MMA guys are pursuing boxing to improve their stand-up. They're keeping boxing trainers busy and working and they're creating a whole new legion of tough, determined athletes who are interested in the fight game. These fighters don't care if they're standing up or lying on the ground doing it. They just want to earn a living fighting and boxing is benefitting from this type of toughness, tenacity and enthusiasm.
When it gets right down to it, some of the very basic combat techniques used in boxing don’t even transfer to the cage. This topic, in particular, gets too intricate, but just one example is “infighting”. All boxers should use this part of their game, unless they are going up against someone whose build is more conducive to inside fighting or who is better at it. If you are infighting in MMA, you only want to do it in some situations and when it will work to your advantage. If you're infighting in MMA, it’s not just about having better inside fighting skills; you'd better be alright taking the fight to go to the ground. In that situation you almost have to be more concerned, when you’re on the inside, if you are fighting someone with superior wrestling skills. Even if you have superior hands, the last thing you want to do is get inside where your opponent can take you down. In boxing, you may have to worry about your inside fighting skills being superior to those of your opponent , but you don't have to think about being taken to the mat and submitted or any other myriad of scenarios that could potentially lead to. Like this, there are many of the most common boxing practices that simply don’t apply and would not be effective in the octagon.
Even beyond the ring or the cage, when it comes to the spectators, boxing fans and MMA fans are not the same. Sure, there is cross-over interest for both sides, but at the end of the day (when the fight fans lay down their pay-per-view dollars) the hardcore viewers gravitate to their respective sports. There are a few middle-of-the-roaders, but the majority of real boxing fans, love boxing and hardcore MMA fans are fanatical about MMA. They are not going to suddenly convert because one sport offers something the other doesn't. It simply doesn't, in most cases, work like that.
Most of the defensiveness is the underlying fear that there is only room for one King of the Combat Sports and that’s simply not true. MMA is not and will not "kill" boxing. Boxing has had years of prosperity and dark ages from its original introduction into the Greece Olympic Games through the fall of the Western Roman Empire (when wearing weapons became common again and the interest in fist-fighting waned). Boxing was even outlawed entirely in the late 19th Century and went underground into gambling halls and back room brawls. It experienced a huge decline in 1962 after Benny "the Kid" Paret was rendered unconscious and later died at the hands of Emile Griffith...in front of a national television audience. Boxing has been out on its feet down and hurt, but has always come back and fought back stronger than before. So, if MMA is hurting boxing in PPV numbers (which it really isn't), fan attendance or general interest, you can be assured that the sport of boxing will learn from that, adapt and fight on. That is of course, what the sport is all about.
The debate will continue and comparisons made, but boxing is not MMA and MMA is not boxing. There's room in athletics for both and each hold a distinct place in the world of combat sports. Now can we just get on with the real business of fighting and not against each other?