This past Saturday night was perhaps the biggest night for combat sports all year. If you consider yourself any kind of fight fan, chances are you were in front of a TV that night.
So of course, I missed all of it. Live, anyways.
See, I was covering Bellator 57 at Casino Rama, so the only screen I was in front of was my laptop screen, doing live play by play. That's why I missed the big game. On the other hand, I was there to see some drunk heckler cost Ben Saunders the welterweight tournament final. (I don’t care what the official line is. I was there damn it!)
I watched both shows later on that night, staying up ’till the wee hours of the morning to get my full fix of fightin’. And as I finished, in my 3 a.m. haze, coming down from a four-beer buzz, a singular thought occurred to me.
Both shows—the UFC on FOX, and Pacquiao vs. Marquez III—were PERFECT analogies for their respective sports.
Let’s get something out of the way before we go any further: when I heard the “Monday Night Football” theme during a UFC broadcast, I just about sh*t my pants. MMA had arrived, baby! And no matter how much ink is being spilled (and will be spilled) about this event, I think it was a tremendous success overall, even with the shock (or is that disappointment?) of the main event.
I think it was a fitting “first taste” of what MMA really is, warts and all. We get tons of hype, tons of build, the crowd is amped, the cameras are rolling, the infinitely vast television audience of network TV is watching…and the much ballyhooed heavyweight title fight is over in the time it takes you to read this paragraph.
That’s why MMA is “As Real As It Gets.” Two gigantic, well-rounded athletes meet in a contest where any martial arts style is allowed, and a minute later one errant blow to the temple has decided the world’s heavyweight championship. Fairly, sportingly and without controversy. That’s MMA for you folks. I hope you didn’t blink.
It even ended with—as every UFC night at the bar ends—the obligatory angry bald guy, who feels they could have come up with a better game plan than the two guys competing for the heavyweight title with one combined loss between them going into the fight.
Now over to boxing, where Pac-man and Marquez picked up right where they left off on Saturday and tore the MGM Grand to the ground. Over the course of 12 very exciting, closely contested rounds, we got a fitting “third installment” to the trilogy—like Return of the Jedi would have been without the bear things.
When it was over, the vast majority of those watching felt that Marquez had edged Pacquiao on the judges cards by a comfortable margin.
So of course, the decision comes back for Manny! BOOOOOOOOOOOO!
And it’s not like I don’t get their point, particularly after the judges scorecards were released. The one judge who returned a 116-112 verdict for Pacquiao is particularly troubling. And by “troubling," I mean “insane."
As for me, even as a big Manny Pacquiao mark, I had Marquez ahead by a round when the final bell sounded. In all honesty, I was expecting another draw. (I love draws, for some strange reason, but that’s just me.)
On the other hand, I tend to roll my eyes whenever the word “robbery” is thrown around in a combat sports context. Meaning these days, I tend to roll my eyes about at least a week—if I’m lucky.
A close fight is not a “robbery.” It’s a close fight! Like picking between Rocky Road or Chunky Monkey ice cream, everyone’s got their own opinion and no one is more valid than another. We should try to reserve the word “robbery” for actual robbery, not any fight that’s close (and for the record, Peanut Butter Chocolate > all other flavors of ice cream).
So again, we’re left with a perfect analogy for boxing: an exciting, tactical 12-round war that ends with the loser getting their hand raised, everyone crying foul and promoters shrewdly counting their money while they plan for the inevitable rematch. Of the rematch. Of the rematch.
You couldn’t ask for two better “case studies” for their respective sports than what we got Saturday.
We have MMA, still working out the wrinkles of being a “big-time” sport (Brock Lesnar as on-air analyst? Really?) and delivering a main event that, while far too short, you really can’t complain about at the end of the day (unless you're stupid). It was the sort of “anything can happen, don’t blink, one punch can change the fight” stuff Goldy and Rogan are always going on about. It was Serra vs. GSP 1, for the 265 set. It was perfect.
And in boxing, we got a polished, by-the-numbers broadcast; analysts as old as boxing itself (sorry Larry) and a tremendous back-and-forth main event. Said main event ended in yet another head-slapping, “what has this sport come to” kind of decision. After controversial decisions had defined the first two fights. Of course it ended in a "screw job." Of course it did.
In MMA, you get sudden finishes, split-second results and disappointingly quick fights. You get absolute revolving doors at the top of divisions. You get shocking upsets on a fairly constant basis (Brenneman/Story, anyone?). You get boring fights that should have been barnburners and barnburners in sure-to-be boring fights. And you never, ever know anything for sure until the cage door closes.
In boxing, you get technical polish and proficiency second to none. The sport has been around at the professional level for over a century; the kind of boxing we see today has been distilled and distilled again into its purest form. What made Pac/Marquez exciting was that it was technical proficiency having sex with an all-out war and producing one sexy offspring.
But with boxing, you also get a sense of constancy. Marquez is ALWAYS going to get shafted against Pac. Pac is always ABOUT to face Floyd Mayweather again—soon, real soon, promise. The real “deciding fight,” the one that will clear up all this pound-for-pound fog once and for all, is ALWAYS right around the corner.
Boxing is frozen in amber, while MMA is moving at light speed. So take your pick, folks. Or better yet, don’t. If nothing else, this past Saturday proved MMA and boxing can co-exist, no problem.
For my part, I’m looking forward to 2012: more of Pac and May talking about fighting each other while doing other things, as I watch some guy I’ve probably never even heard of capture the UFC heavyweight title on FOX!