James Toney walked into the TD Garden in Boston Saturday evening and believed he would knock the snot out of his opponent, UFC Hall-of-Famer Randy Couture.
Toney, a hulk of a man who made his name by being the best current heavyweight boxer, did something that no man like him has ever done.
Toney, 42, brought his 72-6-3 career boxing record, including 44 knockouts, into the Octagon and made his MMA and UFC debut.
Until Saturday, there had been no crossover between the two sports.
“I’m a huge fan of boxing, a lot of credit to James for being the first boxer to step in here,” Couture said.
What happened surprised nobody.
The 47-year-old Couture took Toney to the ground within 30 seconds of the opening bell and pummeled him on the ground until finally choking Toney out by way of an arm triangle with about 1:40 left to go in the first of three five-minute rounds.
Simply put, Couture manhandled the seemingly overweight and out-of-shape Toney.
“He just got me,” Toney said. “He’s a great fighter.”
Toney weighed in at a sloppy 237 pounds, Couture at a chiseled 220.
Boxing and MMA enthusiasts waited a long time for this day, a day that they all hoped would settle a relentless question: Does boxing or MMA reign supreme?
That question still hadn't been answered after UFC 118. We can’t base much off of two guys fighting in one event.
But we did learn something from Couture-Toney, and it is precisely this: That old debate is worthless because boxing and mixed martial arts just can’t be compared.
At the core of the two sports are too many fundamental differences.
If you listen to someone older than 35, they may give you a list of reasons why boxing is the “better” sport and why UFC fighters could never hold their own with a boxer.
If you listen to someone younger than that, they may tell you how a one-dimensional boxer could never hang with a trained MMA fighter.
Both cases are correct, but not because of a biased opinion.
The consensus opinion prior to Couture-Toney was that the advantage lies strictly within the rules.
Is it a boxing match or an MMA fight? The answer says it all.
If the fight is in a ring and is based strictly on punching power, well the boxer has the advantage there.
But if it’s in the Octagon and a fighter can use tactics other than throwing haymakers, then the MMA fighter should dominate.
The common opinion won out on Saturday night.
Toney looked like he needed an oxygen mask, and Couture looked like he didn’t even get warmed up.
And that’s not a knock on Toney. It simply underlines the differences between the sports and why we shouldn’t see more boxers try what Toney tried.
Oh, more boxers will, because it’s a nice money-grab at a time when big-dollar fights are hard to come by in boxing. Toney cashed in somewhere between $750,000 and $1 million for fighting Couture.
But it’s nothing more than a pointless activity.
A Common Misconception
The UFC is relatively new to this country’s sporting lexicon. The older generations probably will never come to respect, or even accept, the sport. They will cling to the glory days of Ali, and that’s fine.
But the reality is that today’s generation of kids train in mixed martial arts at a young age.
That’s what they grow up knowing, and by the time they become old enough to fight professionally, they are highly skilled athletes who, like any other sport, have poured an unfathomable amount of time, dedication and love into their training.
Same goes for young athletes who dream of getting into boxing. That’s what they know, that’s what they love, and that’s what they do.
A misconception that engulfs both boxing and the UFC is that these guys are reckless brawlers. And, presumably, some of them are.
But the elite guys, the Coutures, the Liddells, the Pacquiaos, the Mayweathers, the Toneys, are not the drunks you see swinging at 2 A.M. Saturday morning outside the bar.
These men are athletes and competitors just like those who compete in mainstream sports.
Kimbo Slice became famous by beating on poor folks in backyards for YouTube popularity. He’s a brawler, and you saw what happened to him when he tried to get into the UFC. It was ugly.
Guys like Slice do not represent the sport, although those are the clowns that critics latch onto because they are easy targets.
Admittedly, it’s hard to respect Toney as an athlete after what we watched last night.
But Toney was out of his element, and that’s the overriding point here.
What Toney does—that is, beat the begeezus out of people in a ring—is remarkable in its own right.
If Randy Couture, or whomever, took on a guy like Toney in a boxing match, there’d probably be no contest. It’d be Toney eight days a week.
But the same needs to be said for MMA fighters.
The skill and stamina it takes to be the best in the Octagon is stunning.
How Couture can be in the physical condition he is in at 47 years old is something most of us will never understand because very few people can endure the sheer pain it takes on a daily basis to fine-tune a human body like that.
That’s what makes him special, and that’s what makes him a Hall-of-Famer.
Toney, apparently, doesn’t need to be in that type of shape to be the alpha dog in his sport.
And that shouldn’t take away from what he has accomplished, because he is merely a byproduct of his sport and does the one inherent skill required to be a champion, punching, exceedingly well.
There are probably buddies all across America ribbing each other today because “their” sport won out last night.
Yes, Randy Couture won in convincing fashion, but the UFC, and MMA, didn’t “beat” boxing when Toney tapped out.
That’s a shortsighted opinion.
It’s like putting an all-world cricket player at the plate to face Roy Halladay and thinking he can compete.
The verdict is out on boxing versus MMA, and there’s just no way to compare the two.
Follow Teddy Mitrosilis on Twitter. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.