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…on boxing vs. MMA and Evans vs. Ortiz

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De La Hoya's so famous he doesn't even need to win anymore, just fight other big names

With the press awash with prophecies of boxing’s demise, I look at what MMA can glean from De La Hoya/Mayweather and if the problems boxing faces now are the problems MMA will face in the future. We also have a look forward at Rashad Evans and Tito Ortiz at UFC 73 and ask “Are you alright, Tito?”

I would like to thank Stewart Allen for the inspiration to write this column.

De La Hoya/Mayweather – What MMA can learn and how boxing is missing the boat

With the growing popularity of mixed martial arts and the increasingly fractious relationship between loyalists on either side, much mud and misinformation is spread by either side. Many times Dana White has said that he uses boxing as a template for how not to run his business. However, this past weekend, Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions oversaw the biggest boxing match for eight years, dwarfing the biggest MMA card in the US. With promotion for a fight that was above and beyond anything ever attempted in mixed martial arts and boxing, there is a case to be put that there is more that could be learned from this fight than shouldn’t. What did this fight do so right that UFC should emulate?

I suppose to start, we should note the fundamental truth of this fight, which isn’t anything that Dana doesn’t already know; if you have a main event, you will sell pay-per-views. It was true of Ortiz/Liddell and it was the same here. However, we cannot ignore the great PR that took this fight around the country to the people. An eleven-city, nine-day press tour to start the hype, that was continued by great work in the press. The genius of De La Hoya is that he doesn’t need to win, he just keeps needing to fight famous fighters the public want to see him fight.

We also must mention the wonderful fly-on-the-wall documentary series, “De La Hoya/Mayweather 24/7”. While UFC has attempted this before, it has been in the form of a “UFC All Access” profile, which had none of the intrigue and depth provided by 24/7 but instead followed an “MTV Cribs”-style view of the life of a fighter. 24/7 went for insight, intrigue and a soft sell on the hype. They showed how seriously the fighters were taking it and, as a result, generated interest based on that. How can you not be sold on a fight when Floyd Mayweather is shown running at 1am on a Sunday because De La Hoya just dissed him on TV? The first three episodes, especially episodes two and three, were a masterwork. From the tone of the piece to the camerawork.

However, while this main event was superbly promoted, it will not save boxing because it did nothing for the future. You have a large number of people paying good money to see one match but there was no hype or any heat on anything else on the card. Rocky Juarez was on the undercard, less than 12 months removed from two fights with Marco Antonio Barrera, fighting back up the card at featherweight and yet he’s fighting another decent Mexican-American featherweight to absolutely no fanfare. One would ask why a two light middleweight or welterweight contenders were not paired on the undercard to give “the fight yet to come”.

The matchmakers should surely be kicking themselves for a missed opportunity. Either that or we all can see the ills of boxing is that it doesn’t care about tomorrow. Even the main eventers themselves did nothing for the future. Mayweather remained adamant he’ll retire and De La Hoya did not demand a rematch or even suggest who he will fight next. Maybe I’m entrenched in a pro wrestling mindset but I always think you have to keep making stars and, with Arum and King in their 70s right now, De La Hoya is the kingmaker and he doesn’t seem to be creating many new kings, just exploiting the old ones. There have been rumblings of discontent from their lower-level fighters, with former Contender contestant Ishe Smith breaking ranks to voice his displeasure with the lack of fights Golden Boy Promotions have provided him with.

We will likely embark on a series of superfights over the next twelve months. Fighters, many of whom are fanning the glowing embers of their talent, using their names for the last penny they’re worth. Bernard Hopkins, 42 years old, will defend his “lineal” light heavyweight title against a Ronald “Winky” Wright, a blown-up light middleweight, at a catchweight of 170lbs. If that isn’t the most post-modern example of a boxing superfight, I don’t know what is. The fight will be carefully plotted by De La Hoya, providing the best deal for both of his charges. However, where do you go from there? In this country, we’ve always been pretty useful at getting the rub passed on from generation to generation and also at trying to make matches while fighters are in their prime. Nigel Benn and Chris Eubank fought each other before offering themselves up to give Joe Calzaghe the rub. Where’s that going on now in the world of boxing? Where’s the thought of providing for the present and the future? That is why Dana White keeps talking about it as the road map not to follow, despite the success of the De La Hoya/Mayweather fight.

Are boxing’s problems MMA’s problems of the future?

In the same vein, we must look at what happens when mixed martial arts become as mainstream as boxing. In the future, the “Golden Boy” may be a freestyle wrestler. What would have happened if Kurt Angle had a popular, mainstream, legal mixed martial arts world to enter? Would he have been the De La Hoya of the amateur wrestling/MMA world? With the Beijing Olympics just around the corner, who is to say that a new Kurt Angle couldn’t come from the field?

More the case, with K-1, ProElite and the deep-pocketed bodogFIGHT all out there and competing for fighters in the US, there will come a point where UFC will not be able to hold onto fighters. Brandon Vera is just the first but there’s going to come a point where people without a sense of history or a deep-seeded sense of loyalty to UFC will go where the money is. In boxing, Ricky Hatton left the promoter that “made him”, Frank Warren, to fight for a rival promoter because he felt that Warren had underpaid him for years.

For the alphabet soup of titles in boxing, MMA has the alphabet soup of promotions. Everybody has a “world” champion and right now, MMA is very hierarchical. UFC and PRIDE titles are top of the tree, followed by high-level regional promotions and then down to local promotions. While this avoids the scam of sanctioning bodies, who will give preferential treatment to those who work with them extensively, it also creates the problem in the future where the, say, ICON Sport Middleweight champion is the main man at middleweight but will never fight in UFC because the money simply isn’t there for him or he’s previously burned his boats. A totally different problem but very possible.

This works out just as bad at lower levels because, like boxing, there is a total lack of unified secondary champions. Every promotion has a champion and so title belts, outside the big few, are utterly meaningless and not worth the leather and gold-plated steel which designate them.

With the growing number of people in MMA, there is most certainly a danger, and there is definitely a demand, to add weight classes. Already, small promotions have created a cruiserweight division at 230 lbs and, in the UK, one of the larger promotions, Cage Warriors, created a light welterweight division at 160lbs. Now, in my opinion, there is definitely a case to move the welterweight limit to 175lbs and create a new light welterweight division at 165lbs. 15lbs from 155lbs to 170lbs is a huge jump, representing nearly 9% of body weight. Similarly, the jump from 170lbs to 185lbs is huge. However, what MMA must not do is view certain limits as absolute, which leads to tiny weight divisions in boxing, such as super featherweight, which is a tiny weight division because it is stuck between two “pure” weight divisions. What we need to do is accept that there are no sacred cows in the MMA world. There is no desire to keep a weight limit because you can trace is back to the 1920s and there should be no sentiment in moving a weight limit 5lbs so you can introduce a new limit below. Currently there are nine weight divisions and UFC uses five. It would not surprise me to see two more introduced in the next three years. They just have to realise that they don’t need to squeeze them in.

I guess what I’m trying to illustrate is that everybody is so quick to scoff at boxing and its problems. They’re missing the point and the problems are there if they are allowed to develop.

Tito Ortiz vs. Rashad Evans

It has to be asked; Tito, are you alright, mate? It seems that every once in a while, Tito starts bringing life outside the cage with him to his fighting. If we look at this fight from a purely fighting point of view, it would seem a tough fight for him. On paper, Rashad is the better wrestler. Rashad has faster hands, better boxing and has acquired a kickboxing game in the last year, as evidenced by his decapitation of Sean Salmon. However, Tito has tons of experience, the more dominant top game, at least when it comes to finishing, and he may finally have to show the much-vaunted but never used submission game from the bottom. It’s a tough fight to call, though it would seem Rashad has the slight edge. However, these aren’t the factors that people seem to think will settle the fight.

Tito insisted on repeating the racist phrase that saw Don Imus fired to send a message to Rashad after they had an altercation in the front row of UFC 69. Rashad responded and went along those racial lines, claiming that Tito is lying about being Mexican. However, I suppose it is racial tit for racist tat. More worrying is the seeming hold that Jenna Jameson has over “the Huntingdon Beach Bad Boy”. Now, everytime you look at a celebrity magazine, you see Jenna looking skinnier and skinnier, with her lip and breast implants sticking out in hideous ways. She seems to drifting into the realms of anorexia and it is on public display. When fighters have had marital or domestic problems, it affects them adversely. Look no further than Randy Couture, Mark Kerr or even Mikey Burnett to see how it can mess up your career to varying degrees. Nobody will say it publicly but it has been said by journalists “in the know” that Jenna was the intermediary that messed up the White-Ortiz charity boxing match. She’s in his business, she’s certainly in his head and she seems to be going through troubles of her own.

Tito currently seems to be in a similar frame of mind as he was prior to UFC 51, where his relationship with the UFC has become antagonistic because he feels he’s being screwed and that is not good for either party. Tito is still one of their money fighters but his mind does not seem to be entirely on the fight. As a result, he looks ripe for the picking, as his opponent looks to be in better shape mentally. Tito has been somewhat protected since he returned and this is the first test he has had, other than being offered up to be beaten by Chuck. In that respect, the time of all these problems couldn’t be worse. Ultimately, Tito needs to be in the right frame of mind. He’s being paid good money, despite the fact that his days as an elite fighter look behind him. He has to be realistic now and get in his own head. Otherwise, he could be the next big free agent all over again.

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Written by Michael Farrow

May 8, 2007 at 1:00 pm

Posted in Boxing, MMA

Tagged with , , ,

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