From the humble beginnings of the UFC, there have been "punchers" who come in to the Octagon thinking they can dominate with their fists and footwork.
Since then, UFC-boxing fights have seen boxers get beaten down time and time again, regardless of the greatness of either fighter.
For years, the thought was that boxing was the "sweet science," a chess match in a ring where technical skill and mental awareness were your best assets aside from the left and right hand, of course.
Then, boxing fell to the backdrop to a much more physical and new style of fighting, MMA, or mixed martial arts, in which fighters of many disciplines clashed in a metal enclosure, rather than a boxing ring.
Much like the older brother who wants to keep his younger sibling in line and under his thumb, a few boxers tried their hand at the MMA craft with mixed results to say the least.
Ray Mercer, (although VERY past his prime) at 45 years young, fought Kimbo Slice in an MMA fight. He lost, via submission, to a "fighter" with three months' MMA training.
If street fighter turned MMA fighter Kimbo Slice can beat down even a 45-year-old Mercer, it should speak volumes about what a seasoned MMA veteran can do to a pure boxer like James Toney.
However, there are two sides to every coin.
Can Toney win the fight? Sure. Will he? I'd bet my entire collection of Ty beanie babies against him. Wait. You mean Ty beanie babies aren't worth anything anymore?
Sorry, I thought we were having a discussion relevant and pertinent back in say, 1993. Boxing versus MMA hasn't been an equally-debatable topic since then.
Around 1993 or so, it was a time when basically anyone could get on the card at a house show. If you were a boxer you stood a decent chance because most fighters in the early UFC circuit had nothing to do with BJJ or other recently popular mixed styles.
If say, a Roy Jones Jr. took on a Randy Couture in 1993, he'd probably win. Boxers are elite due to their footwork, conditioning, athleticism, and mental prep. They know what you're throwing, before you throw it. It's just a matter of their ability to react and defend. Put a check mark in every one of those columns for a 1993 Roy Jones Jr.
Why do I say Jones Jr. vs. Couture?
Because it was a bare fight in the UFC back in the beginning. The original intention to start the UFC was to decide what type of fighting was the best method, and to have essentially legal street fights.
The sport has grown up, obviously, with stricter rules (no punches to the groin or pulling hair or punches to the back of the head) but is still very dangerous territory for a pure boxer.
Would a Vitali Klitschko stand a punchers' chance against a Fedor Emilianenko?
Does my grandmother bake cookies?
However, the only thing standing in the way of a boxer winning via a "punchers' chance" is the fact that in even the first 15 seconds, they could find themselves on their back, where they are not trained to defend themselves from, and could be out cold shortly thereafter.
As UFC fighter Michael Bisping put it, "I can't wait to see it, to be honest. Can Randy double-leg him inside of 10 seconds and do a number on him? Of course he can. But what if Toney lands one shot? That's what makes it interesting. What if?"
Toney seems to be the perfect opportunity for a boxing fan's validation. If he could knock out Couture, doing it through boxing, it would shock the world. However, Toney's not just going to be throwing in the ring with another boxer. He'd better be prepared, as he's facing UFC Hall of Famer, Randy "The Natural" Couture.
Again, boxing supporters would argue that no boxer would be dumb enough to enter an MMA fight in their prime without training beforehand. This is true.
Training would increase the "punchers' chance" to opportunity and strategy.
If a boxer were to train and look for tendencies in his MMA opponents, he would eventually pick up their tells and tendencies.
Just like a pitcher in baseball might tip his pitches, a fighter often has a pre-uppercut or grapple move which could be read to more easily defend the incoming attack.
An educated individual on either side of this topic couldn't possibly argue the following:
- UFC fighters have an advantage from a tactical and style standpoint.
- Boxers have (in relative terms) the better footwork, accuracy of striking, and athleticism to run circles around an aggressive grappler, waiting for the opportunity to drop a haymaker.
Now, with those things said, let's look at the pros and cons for both Couture and Toney.
- MMA background.
- UFC Champion, multiple times.
- World-class wrestler, multiple styles including Greco-Roman.
- Dirty boxing, working in clinch, submissions.
- Can't throw with the better MMA boxers in a standup.
- Speed is not an asset.
- Age. Does he have another great in-octagon exhibition of how to put away someone?
- Current IBA Heavyweight Champion.
- Best "puncher" to enter an MMA fight. Ever.
- Footwork should keep the fight in front of him.
- "Lights out" for a reason. His fists are very fast.
- Very little MMA experience/training, if any.
- Boxing is his only real attacking option.
- Not trained to fight from the ground or on his back.
So, at the end of the day, what this comes down to, is will Couture toy with Toney and drop his hands or throw a sloppy punch where Toney can slip in a right hand?
That's literally the only chance Toney has. But, as I said earlier, chance becomes opportunity if he knows when Couture will go for a grapple (in which he drops his hands from a defensive position, obviously) and if Toney can drop him in that exchange.
Let it be said that Toney's punching throughout his career has been with 10 oz. boxing gloves, and he's still been deadly powerful.
Drop his gloves down to 4 oz. MMA gloves, and this might just get ugly for Couture.
After all, the fight does start standing up.