You'll never beat the bully if you just hand over your lunch money.
Boxing is the bully. And MMA, for all its brutal skill and strength and toughness and posture—and the head tattoos, it's critical to remember those—is the victim. But enough! It's time for MMA to do the toilet head-flushing, even on the back of a defeat.
Boxing pundits were injuring each other in a desperate scramble to mount the high horse after Floyd Mayweather Jr.'s 10th-round TKO of UFC champ Conor McGregor on Saturday. No low-lying horse would do. The broad strokes of the fight were in line with expectations: McGregor was the aggressor early but tired down the stretch, then Mayweather made his move and had his way.
The boxing media was delighted, feeling vindicated against the brash upstart that is MMA, embodied by McGregor.
Eamon Lynch of Newsweek declared that "by the eighth round, the most feared man in the UFC was scuffling with all the ferocity and accuracy of a middle manager arguing with a colleague at after-work cocktails."
There was a backhanded compliment from Michael Rosenthal of Ring magazine: "I thought it would be easier for this generation's greatest boxer but ultimately he executed an intelligent game plan with only a few minor hitches, which resulted in a beatdown. I don't think anyone would argue otherwise."
Albert Burneko of Deadspin, a steadfast MMA and UFC critic, threw no such roses, backhanded or forehanded:
"Holy moly, Conor McGregor is a fucking stiff. An amateur fighter with the very least willingness to take some actual chances could have knocked him over with a sneeze by the third round. Off the top of my head, he is the single most incompetent puncher I've ever seen in a PPV boxing promotion in my whole life, and his punching wasn't even the worst of it."
Even the venerable New York Times seemed to get into the race, breathlessly declaring McGregor's face bloodied by Mayweather when no such thing happened (it subsequently corrected the article, per MMA Mania).
It wasn't all haughty. It wasn't all kicking a thing when it was down. But a lot of it was. And as fun as that stuff is to write and read, it looks right past the finger on the scale. This was essentially an exhibition match—big-money, sure, but an exhibition nonetheless.
You can judge that on its own merits, as well as the ridiculous spectacle it all created. You can evaluate Mayweather's ability to take and win a fight against someone with no experience akin to his.
But you can't state or imply that boxing "beat" MMA, or even an MMA fighter, or that MMA fighters are "bad" fighters because they lost in pro boxing. It will never be apples to apples, even more so because no boxer this side of open homelessness will ever step into an MMA cage, where they'd be churned into hamburger.
Pundits who did do this sort of thing had to ignore some facts. They ignored the fact that McGregor fared better than his critics suggested. He worked a strong jab early and did some good countering (remember that left uppercut?), even slipping a punch or two in a way that evoked Mayweather himself. His footwork wasn't terrible at all. McGregor ultimately landed more punches (111) than Manny Pacquiao (81) and only seven fewer than Canelo Alvarez (118). Afterward, with nothing left to promote, Mayweather himself said McGregor "was a lot better than I thought he was." That's not the work of a stiff, is it?
Things like that are just fun to say. But the fun ignores, even papers over the uneven playing field. And MMA fans let them do it. Often, they even join in.
Plenty of MMA fighters were proud of McGregor Saturday for the way he competed, even if he is brash and crazy and self-centered and not as good of a boxer as a pro boxer.
Unfortunately, that sort of pride is not the norm in the wider MMA community. And that's where and why the bullying problem occurs. MMA fans have an inferiority complex. The problem is not that boxing people pile on MMA. It's that MMA people react with Stockholm Syndrome. They kick dirt and behave like George McFly. "Oh, boxing, you got us again! We deserve these wedgies."
MMA people just aren't proud of their own, at least not like those in other sports. It's not cool to stand up and defend the sport if you're an MMA fan. Why? Maybe it's the dysfunctional nature of the UFC and the people who run it. Maybe it's the shocking lack of money or other support the athletes receive, particularly in relation to high-level boxing. Maybe it's because many of the fighters, often past champions in something prosaic like wrestling or grappling, don't have enough of The Sweet Science in their learning for our ever-so-discerning palates. Maybe it's the embarrassing production value of the UFC's dime-a-dozen broadcasts out there on deep cable.
For me, the most likely reason is MMA's popularity. It's growing but awkward. MMA is not underground anymore, so fans no longer feel connected to something that requires a secret handshake to access. At the same time, it's not big enough for TV ratings to outpace those of an average PGA tournament. Kind of a no-man's land.
Or maybe fans are just tired of people looking at them askance and crinkling their noses. Ew, an MMA fan! Could be a very powerful deterrent, if that kind of thing bothers you.
Bottom line: we'll never determine a winner between MMA and boxing any more than we will between ice hockey and field hockey. Boxing can do a better job of not feeling threatened by MMA, but MMA can do a better job of standing its ground in these debates. That was well demonstrated by MMA Fighting writer Mike Chiappetta today on Twitter.
There is room for both. But fans of the far older sport, with more money and more cache in their hip pockets, seem unlikely to cede any ground to the youngster. Perhaps MMA fans should just take some.