When I was a young boy, my father sat me on the sofa next to him and together, we shared something magical.
We watched as Muhammad Ali battered some game yet hopelessly outclassed opponent along the ropes, knocking out his mouth piece. I remember that moment in particular: the sight of that white shape flying out of his head so fast that I had to ask my father for confirmation as to what had just happened.
It was my first exposure to the world of combative sport, and there was no doubt that for me, boxing was king.
Fast forward many years later. I sit down next to my father, pop in a UFC DVD and introduce him to the sport of MMA.
Now, he and I (and my step-mother, a shockingly astute fight fan and fight prognosticator) watch both sports with equal passion, ordering more UFC pay-per-view events than many others I know.
This story is not an uncommon one.
The president of the UFC, Dana White, came to the fight game as a fan of boxing, and a fan of boxing he remains to this day.
There are a number of MMA fans who cannot understand, or perhaps tolerate, any comparisons between boxing and MMA. They rightly feel they are two different sports, and MMA doesn’t need validation from the sport of boxing, via comparisons, to stand on its own.
This makes perfect sense. MMA fought its way onto the big stage, and in many ways it has succeeded in spite of the sport of boxing, which has given MMA some of its biggest and most vocal detractors.
But the comparisons aren’t going to end anytime soon, but for one reason: boxing is the history of combative sport, much more so than MMA and jiu-jitsu.
The sport of boxing has produced some of the most incredible, jaw-dropping, toe-to-toe fights that have ever been seen. It has also produced some of the greatest fistic talents the world has ever known.
Many new fight fans that are drawn to the combative sports due to the lure of the UFC have no use for boxing. For them boxing is stagnant and boring.
Then, of course, there are fans like myself and my father: coming from a different generation, where boxing was all that was both great and awful about the fight game. We find MMA just as new and exciting and incredible as anyone else, but we can’t help but compare these new times with the old times.
Because both put a smile on our faces.
Of course, there are technical reasons as well. MMA is about fighting, while boxing is about an aspect of fighting. Boxing is the potatoes in the potato salad of MMA, so to speak.
Some fans are always going to wonder how a fighter like Floyd Mayweather Jr. or Lennox Lewis would do in the sport of MMA, augmenting their considerable boxing skills with jiu-jitsu, grappling and so on. It’s not like the sport of MMA doesn’t have some aspects of the striking game that need improving.
But if pressed for a simple, honest answer: it’s because of the wars.
How can you, as a boxing fan, not feel for Forrest Griffin vs. Stephan Bonnar what you felt when watching Arturo Gatti vs. Micky Ward I, for example? Great wars are in a class by themselves, and for many, they share the same real estate on the top shelf, and that is exactly where they belong.
When you start trying to place one epic bout above another, you are splitting hairs plucked from the same head.
Boxing and MMA may indeed be different sports, but the epic fights they produce are all the same species of animal: fearless, noble, strong and fast, unyielding and so beautiful to watch when it runs.