James Toney, an MMA nation thanks you. In jumping into the UFC waters with claims of brutally knocking Randy Couture out, you caused others to take notice of something they knew was there, but didn’t really appreciate. Though everyone who’s an MMA fan knew what was the most likely outcome of your bout, others from outside the sport’s circle of fans and pundits seem to have come away a bit more accepting.
I’ve seen interesting fallout from the ashes of UFC 118. Though everyone seemed to know that a boxer didn’t belong in mixed martial Arts with only one arrow in his quiver, the statement that appears to have been made by Randy Couture is resonating with the media, and I don’t just mean the MMA websites I peruse everyday. From print to television I’ve seen positive highlights and coverage on a national level. I can’t help but feel there’s a collective nod of approval from MMA, and a general vice-versa appreciation that a pure boxer doesn’t belong in an elite MMA fight anymore than an MMA fighter belongs in a boxing match with an elite pugilist. It began even before the fight when prominent boxers were waving off any chance James Toney had of defeating Couture. Bernard Hopkins, David Haye, Chris Arreola, Jimmy Lennon Jr., and the great Freddie Roach all said before the fight that Toney was out of his element.
“I think James Toney is going to get his ass kicked. For real,” said Hopkins. “James Toney is out of his league,” Refreshing, especially coming from a boxer.
I was lucky enough to be in Boston for 118 and was pleased to see the Saturday Globe Sports page pasted with a huge picture of Frankie Edgar flexing for the TD Bank Center crowd at weigh-ins. The article (and subsequent 2 page spread inside) did not cover the sport and the UFC as a rising contender to take notice of, as so many national articles have done the past couple of years, but rather highlighted the bouts on the card and talked extensively about Frankie Edgar’s first title defense against the man he took the belt from from, B.J. Penn.
What really makes me happy about this aftermath is the division is seems to have created between boxing and MMA. Not a negative fan driven “our sport’s fighters are better than your sport” division, but a positive and necessary view that each sport is it’s own separate beast, to be respected and admired for its skill, independent of the other. Truth be told, I’ve never really understood why the argument even occurs. Both sports can coexist peacefully and fruitfully with each other, without a mention or concern for the other. The crossover predominantly occurs more for MMA fighters who may go looking for an top-level boxing coach (i.e. Freddie Roach) for the sake of sharpening their boxing skills.
MMA still has a way to go before garnering official “main stream” status, but this was another important step along the way. My guess is we won’t see another boxer with little to no grappling skills try his hand in the UFC, and furthermore that Dana White won’t let this happen again. Even those who come from backgrounds of brazilian jiu-jitsu, kickboxing, thai boxing, wrestling, Greco-roman wrestling, judo, karate, sambo, vale tudo, and (typically) boxing take the time to learn the rest of the game before jumping in.