On a New System for MMA Scoring: An Audacious Proposal

After watching the Robbie Lawler-Carlos Condit welterweight brawl at UFC 195 on January 2nd, 2016, I was left with mixed emotions. Yes, it was a great fight, with round 5 coming down as one of the most thrilling in recent memory. The round was a maelstrom of murderous intent as both guys swung for the knockout with literally every punch and kick, elbow and knee. The tide turned several times with heart-wrenching violence, and when it was over, both combatants were completely spent. They could only lean next to each other on the cage, too exhausted to celebrate the end of their riveting encounter.

conditLawlerFight

I am a big fan of the champion Robbie Lawler and was glad he defended his title by split decision. But I had scored the fight 3 rounds to 2 in favor of Condit.

LawlerCondit

According to Fightmetric.com, Condit seemed to dominate the fight. He out-landed the champion in significant strikes 176 to 92. His significant strike attempts dwarfed those of the champion as well, 495 to 177. Condit’s total strike output was similarly dominant. In average significant strike accuracy, Lawler had a less dramatic edge: 48.7% to 34.7%. He also scored the fight’s only knockdown. The fact that over 99% of the total strikes landed by both fighters were deemed “significant” by Fightmetric reveals exactly how apocalyptic this fight really was.

The decision was, however, quite controversial, with fans and fighters alike erupting over social media about how Condit deserved the nod. UFC commentator Joe Rogan and many others were calling for an “upgrade” in the current scoring system. On this account, I would like to offer a not-so-modest proposal.

After watching the Robbie Lawler-Carlos Condit welterweight brawl at UFC 195 on January 2nd, 2016, I was left with mixed emotions. Yes, it was a great fight, with round 5 coming down as one of the most thrilling in recent memory. The round was a maelstrom of murderous intent as both guys swung for the knockout with literally every punch and kick, elbow and knee. The tide turned several times with heart-wrenching violence, and when it was over, both combatants were completely spent. They could only lean next to each other on the cage, too exhausted to celebrate the end of their riveting encounter.

conditLawlerFight

I am a big fan of the champion Robbie Lawler and was glad he defended his title by split decision. But I had scored the fight 3 rounds to 2 in favor of Condit.

LawlerCondit
The champion Robbie Lawler, left, after winning by split decision against Carlos Condit, right

According to Fightmetric.com, Condit seemed to dominate the fight. He out-landed the champion in significant strikes 176 to 92. His significant strike attempts dwarfed those of the champion as well, 495 to 177. Condit’s total strike output was similarly dominant. In average significant strike accuracy, Lawler had a less dramatic edge: 48.7% to 34.7%. He also scored the fight’s only knockdown. The fact that over 99% of the total strikes landed by both fighters were deemed “significant” by Fightmetric reveals exactly how apocalyptic this fight really was.

The decision was, however, quite controversial, with fans and fighters alike erupting over social media about how Condit deserved the nod. UFC commentator Joe Rogan and many others were calling for an “upgrade” in the current scoring system. On this account, I would like to offer a not-so-modest proposal.

I will describe my new scoring system briefly in case readers wish to take the idea and bounce their own thoughts off of it. Afterwards, I will attempt to explain every decision that went into constructing this new system.

The New MMA Scoring System: The Four Rules

So, in a nutshell, MMA fight scoring should consist of the following rules:

1. Use the 10 point must system, but rounds can only be scored 10-10 or 10-9 unless the referee deducts points.
2. Make the final round worth double. So a 10-9 score for round 5 becomes 20-18.
3. Employ only 2 human judges.
4. Make the third “judge” a computerized scoring system employing a standard and public algorithm.

Rule 4 above requires that the computerized scoring system award fighters Category Points per round when they exceed their opponent in certain scoring categories. The fighter with the most Category Points for a round gets the 10 and wins the round. This, of course, will all be under the hood, with the computer rendering its decision as seamlessly as its human counterparts.

My proposal includes 12 Fight Categories (6 Primary Fight Categories, each worth 2 Category Points, and 6 Secondary Fight Categories, each worth 1 Category Point) and 1 Foul Category, worth -1 Category Point. They are:

Primary Fight Categories
1. Most Significant Strikes (+2)
2. Most Knockdowns (+2)
3. Most Submission Attempts (+2)
4. Most Slams (+2)
5. Most Mount Positions Achieved (+2)
6. Most Back-Taking Achieved (+2)
Secondary Fight Categories:
1. Most Strikes (+1)
2. Most Significant Strikes Attempted (+1)
3. Highest Significant Strike Accuracy (+1)
4. Most Takedowns (+1)
5. Longest Time in Dominant Position (+1)
6. Most Takedowns Defended (+1)
Foul Category:
1. Most Unpenalized Deliberate Fouls or Repeated Accidental Fouls (-1)

In case of a tie for any category, no Category Point is awarded or deducted. Any points deducted by a referee will be deducted after the above metric is used to award a round to a particular fighter. Note that a point deduction is not a warning and so will not count as part of the Foul Category above. Note also that Category Points are not to be confused with the points awarded in the 10-point must system. This is why, for the remainder of the post, we will refer to 10-point must points as TPM points.

In the case that a fight ends as a draw, a tie-break system will be employed. This will essentially be using the above algorithm to produce stats for the entire fight, regardless of round. So someone who wins big in two rounds while losing three close ones will likely come out on top if brought to a tie break. Note that the tie-break scoring will adhere to Rule 1 above: the only scores possible before referee deductions are 10-9 or 10-10.

The tie-break system will also subtract one TPM point for every round in which a TPM point was deducted by the referee. So if a fighter achieves a 10-9 advantage in the tie break, but was deducted points in rounds 1 and 2, then that fighter loses the tie break 8-9.

What follows is my rationale for each decision going into this new scoring system:

Rule 1: The Ten Point Must System

I included this since most people are accustomed to it through boxing. As any MMA fan will tell you, MMA inherited much from boxing in terms of terminology and culture. For example, a fighter has “corner men” even though most cages are circular and the corners in the UFC’s octagon are much more obtuse than in a boxing ring. MMA also employs rounds as in boxing (it didn’t always) and continues to have 1-minute breaks between them, just like in boxing, even though MMA rounds are longer than boxing rounds (5 minutes to 3).

Also, the 10-point must system makes sense in that any other system other than a simple round-by-round tally would be harder to add. You win 5 rounds, you get 50 TPM points. Simple. Also, the advantage over a round-by-round approach becomes apparent when TPM points are deducted for fouls. Suppose a fighter wins a fight 3 rounds to 2 but get a point taken away for fouls in two of those rounds? Clearly, we need a system that awards more than one point per round.

The decision to prohibit 10-8 or 10-7 rounds was made simply because MMA fights typically have so few rounds (3 or 5 versus 8, 10, or 12 for most nationally televised boxing matches). Losing a round by a 10-8 margin puts an MMA fighter in a much deeper point-hole than it would a boxer.

In boxing, it is customary for a judge to score a 10-8 round if the referee rules that one fighter suffered an official knockdown, regardless of whether the referee is correct. For example, if a fighter slips to the canvas but the referee incorrectly calls it a knockdown, the judges most likely will score the round 10-8. In MMA, referees are not required to make such decisions, therefore there is no official rubric for judges to follow vis-à-vis 10-8 rounds. As it stands now, an MMA judge relies on subjective criteria to do this. Banning the 10-8 and 10-7 rounds is a way to minimize this.

Also, it is a way to keep out corruption.

In the 2001 boxing fight of the year, Micky Ward defeated Emmanuel Augustus by unanimous decision. Certainly, it was a close, thrilling fight. But according to ESPN, Augustus out-landed Ward 421-320 in overall punches, 386-314 in power punches, and had a 46% to 27% edge in punch accuracy. In hindsight, Augustus deserved the W. Yet Ward got the nod, partially because he scored the fight’s only knockdown in round 9, but also because one of the judges awarded him a very competitive first round by a 10-7 margin.

10-7 margin.

Yeah, something shady was going on there, wouldn’t you say? Watch the round yourself below if you don’t agree.

Rule 2: Double-Weighted Final Rounds

This essentially gives a nod to the fighter who ends best. It’s as if to say that the fighter who wins the final round would most likely emerge victorious if the fight were to go on indefinitely, even if he lost every round up until the final round. A fighter deserves credit for that.

Take for example, the chaotic end to the Scott LeDoux-Ken Norton fight from 1979. Norton, slick and talented boxer that he was, outboxed LeDoux for most of the fight but took a nasty shellacking in the 10th and final round. In fact, the fight ended with Norton semi-conscious leaning face-first over the ropes. Yet the fight was considered a draw. It should not have been considered a draw. I say this because by ending with such dramatic and unequivocal dominance, LeDoux proved he was the better man that night. Had they gone out for round 11, he most likely would have put Norton away.

Here’s round 10 of their fight:

Here is how Norton looked immediately after the 10th round, slumped over the ropes:

LedeuxNorton

This idea also is a way to help prevent coasting. If a fighter feels he has a commanding lead going into the final round, he might be tempted to stall or adopt less risky tactics since he already has the decision in the bag. This is fighting not to lose rather than fighting to win, and often leads to anti-climactic endings. Fans hate this. Double-weighted rounds would be a great way to convince a fighter not to indulge in this sort of thing.

The inspiration for this idea first came to me when watching Sugar Ray Leonard skirt around Marvin Hagler during round 12 of their disappointing 1987 title fight. Leonard clearly threw the round and, halfway through it, after landing a flurry, danced around Hagler trying to eat up the clock. He should have been penalized for that.

In collegiate and Olympic wrestling, if referee calls you for stalling, your opponent is awarded a point. Leonard was effectively stalling in that 12th round against Hagler, but why wasn’t he penalized for it? A final round worth double the TPM points certainly would have done that, or it would have convinced Leonard that he needed to fight until the end, thereby giving the fans the fight they had paid for and Hagler more opportunity for the knockout he craved.

Rule 3: Employing Only Two Human Judges

The logic behind this is fairly straightforward. Humans can judge the intangibles of a fight better than a computer can. However, since judging intangibles often involves subjective factors such as personal preference and opinion, it is probably best to limit human scoring and have two human judges rather than three.

Intangibles are also not always so subjective but would still be very difficult for computers to evaluate. How does one program for “affective aggression” or “octagon control”? How does a computer factor in how much damage one fighter does to another? A significant strike is a significant strike for a computer, regardless if it bounces harmlessly off of one fighter’s skull and sends the other reeling across the cage. In such an instance, a computer would call the round even despite the obvious superiority of one fighter over the other. In essence, a human can tell if one fighter’s significant strikes are doing more damage than the other’s.

A human can also evaluate if a fighter is dictating the tempo of a fight. In most cases, the aggressor is the one controlling the fight, but not always. Take, for example, the Ronda Rousey-Holly Holm title fight from UFC 193 on November 12, 2015. In that fight, Rousey was clearly the aggressor, but Holm was controlling the fight by making Rousey miss and landing accurate lead lefts and counters. At one point, Holm even ducked under a Rousey punch and sent Rousey crashing into the cage.

RouseyHolm

The story of a fight can often be told between the strikes, takedowns, and other tangible moments. It takes a human observer to see that.

Rule 4: Making the Computer the Third Judge

The obvious advantage computers have over humans is the ability to process data, calculate, and mostly, to remember. If a fighter dominates the first three quarters of a round in solid if unspectacular fashion and then gets dramatically dominated for the last quarter, will the human judges, in their state of excitement, be able to remember that? Will they be able to keep track of all the blows thrown and landed? Will they keep a running tally in their heads of how many takedowns and submission attempts there were?

Where humans may get lost in the intangibles or, even worse, succumb to bias, the computer is there to remind us of what really happened. But even a computer must interpret the data it gets. Not all strikes are equal, of course, and criteria can be standardized in such a way to impartially evaluate the dominance of both fighters. Just as human judges must adhere to official judging criteria, so should the computer. And this is where the Fight Categories come into play.

Keep in mind that while the standardized algorithms going into each of these categories may not always be simple or easy to remember, they will all remain under the hood, so to speak, when the computer renders its instantaneous decisions after each round.

To see how FightMetric scored the Lawler-Condit fight, click here.

Primary Fight Categories

In all cases, a fighter is awarded two points in a Primary Fight Category if he can achieve unequivocal dominance during in the round for that particular category. This is more than a mere technical edge in striking or demonstrating more talent. Essentially, Primary Fight Categories award fighters who do more to achieve a finish.

Primary Fight Category 1: Most Significant Strikes (+2)

Obvious choice here. A fighter is awarded 2 Category Points towards his overall round count if he lands more significant strikes than his opponent. However, there is a slight wrinkle. What to do if significant strike counts in a round are very close and many significant strikes landed? For example, one fighter lands 31 significant strikes, and the other 29. Is it right to give the first fighter a 2-point advantage over the other? And who’s to say that if the round went another 5 seconds, the second fighter wouldn’t have evened or surpassed his opponent’s count?

This is why I propose, as part of the computer algorithm, to only award the 2 Category Points if a fighter lands more significant strikes than his opponent plus 5% of the total significant strikes landed from both fighters. In the case above, there were 60 significant strikes landed. 5% of 60 is 3. So neither fighter would be awarded points for this category. A fighter would have to land 32 significant strikes to his opponent’s 28 to get the 2 Category Points.

Why did I choose 5%? Because a two-strike advantage will win the round if fewer than 40 strikes land. Anything more than that, and a 2-punch edge won’t cut it, which, I think, is fair. Further, to be honest, since I am not a mathematician, 5% is an easy number to calculate. I could be persuaded to change this figure by someone who understands MMA and statistics better than I do.

Primary Fight Category 2: Most Knockdowns (+2)

Maybe this was grandfathered in from boxing where a fighter is usually deducted a point if he gets knocked down by a punch. In boxing, a knockdown temporarily takes a fighter out of the fight where he is protected by the rules (no hitting a man while he is down). This is decidedly not the case in MMA wherein a fighter can pounce on a fallen fighter with few restrictions. Therefore, in boxing a knockdown necessarily means something. Not so in MMA. By awarding a fighter 2 Category Points for a knockdown, we are making it mean something in MMA as well.

Why do this? For 2 reasons: because a knockdown is an undeniable display of dominance and because fans love it. A fighter who is bested 20 to 5 in significant strikes in a round but manages to knock his opponent down with one of those 5 strikes deserves to be even with his opponent for that round as far as the Significant Strikes and Knockdown categories are concerned. This should be the case even if the knockdown is a flash knockdown and does little to turn the tide of the round. A fighter who can knock his opponent off his feet deserves credit simply for the thrill he gives a crowd. This is what people pay to see when they watch MMA.

A case in point is the 2011 Nate Diaz-Donald Cerrone fight from UFC 141. Diaz beat Cerrone from pillar to post for 3 rounds, but Cerrone landed multiple leg kicks which put Diaz repeatedly on the seat of his pants. Diaz probably would have won the fight regardless, but Cerrone’s knockdowns should have made the fight a lot closer than it was.

cerronediaz

Of course, judging what is and isn’t a knockdown can get a little tricky, and a human being must make that decision before entering it into a computer. In boxing, a referee may mistakenly interpret a slip as a knockdown or vice versa. This can happen in MMA as well. Therefore, we will need to define what a knockdown is and isn’t.

A knockdown should simply be any time a fighter is knocked off his feet because of a strike. In boxing, a knockdown occurs when a fighter’s glove touches the canvas or if he is on his way down and falls into the ropes. But since knockdowns are less meaningful in MMA than in boxing, it makes sense not to adhere to the same definition. I say that a fighter should be given credit (i.e., not be penalized) if he can keep his balance after a blow, even if it means he has to place his hands on the canvas or the cage to do so. Therefore, only a strike which knocks a fighter to the canvas in such a way that he not supported by both feet is a knockdown.

Primary Fight Category 3: Most Submission Attempts (+2)

Just as thrilling as the knockout in MMA is the submission. When one fighter capitulates, there can be no doubt who the winner is. All MMA fans will remember a 180lb Royce Gracie locking in a triangle choke on 260lb Olympic alternate wrestler Dan Severn in 1994. After dominating Gracie the entire fight, Severn was forced to tap. This is the moment that made American wrestlers and other martial artists realize that they needed to learn some ju-jitsu if they wanted to compete in this new sport.

Just as powerful are submissions in which a fighter either passes out cold or screams in agony. Picture Josh Burkman standing over an incapacitated John Fitch after their 2013 World Series of Fighting fight…

BurkmanFitch

or Bellator bantamweight champ Joe Warren screaming as he was knee-barred by Marcos Galvao.

WarrenGalvao

Rarely does a deliberate tap out lead to a controversial ending of a fight.

(This does happen, though. In June 2007, lightweight Rob Emerson tapped out after Gray Maynard slammed him to the canvas in their UFC Ultimate Fighter 5 Finale bout. But Gray knocked himself out with the slam and was unconscious when the tap occurred. The fight was ruled a no contest.)

MMA fans crave the submission as much as they do a knockout, and a fighter who attempts submissions deserves credit for that. Of course, there are dozens of different kinds of submissions, and the data entry people must be familiar with all of them. Further, the attempt has to be a credible attempt. Often fighters will grab their opponent’s head while being taken down, and to the uninitiated, this may seem like a submission attempt, but if the angle isn’t right or if there is only one arm around the neck, then it really isn’t one. Fighters will also attempt knee bars or heel hooks without securing enough of their opponent’s extremities to offer a real submission threat. These are also not real submission attempts.

For a move to qualify as a submission attempt, it must be fully executed, held in place for at least 3 seconds and must force an opponent to defend against the submission.

Primary Fight Category 4: Most Slams (+2)

Ask any MMA fan about the greatest MMA slam of all time, and they will probably tell you about how at Pride Critical Countdown 2004 in June of that year, Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson lifted Ricardo Arona up over his head while in Arona’s guard and powerbombed him into unconsciousness. In fact, Arona’s head bounced off the canvas with such violence that it met Rampage’s as it was still coming down. It was, in effect, the brute force refutation against crafty Brazilian ju-jitsu. Arona had been attempting a fancy triangle choke, for all the good it did him. Truly, a chilling, unforgettable moment.

Where credit for the knockdown is grandfathered in from boxing, credit for the slam is grandfathered in from professional wrestling. Fans love to see combatants literally toss each other into the air, and the slam is closest thing combat sports have to that. Quite often it’s an instant fight-ender. And if not, then the fighter deserves credit for trying to end matters with a dramatic splat.

Primary Fight Category 5: Most Mount Positions Achieved (+2)

Another undeniably dominant position in MMA is called the mount. This is when a fighter has an opponent on his back and literally sits on his chest or abdomen. The mount is especially dangerous for the bottom competitor because he can’t easily use his legs for defense, he can’t threaten any submissions, and he can’t strike with any power. Further, the man on top is ideally situated to rain powerful blows down on his opponent’s head and neck. And if the bottom fighter tries to turn away from the punishment, he opens himself up to a variety of chokes. To achieve the mount is to achieve dominance, and quite often violence or submission attempts follow.

Antonio ‘Bigfoot’ Silva famously used the mount to break down and defeat Russian heavyweight great Fedor Emelianenko in their February 2011 Strikeforce fight.

BigfootFedor

As with submission attempts, a fighter must maintain the mount position for at least 3 seconds to gain credit in this category.

Primary Fight Category 6: Most Back Taking Achieved (+2)

Just as dangerous as the mount is when a fighter takes the back of his opponent. This occurs when a fighter gets behind his opponent and holds him in place by wrapping his arms and legs around him in various ways. Of course, the fighter taking the back can land blows almost at will if his hands are free. He can also threaten a number of submissions, the most common of which would be the rear naked choke. If a fighter’s back is taken, he is automatically placed in a defensive position and must maintain wrist control in order to prevent strikes or submissions. To take someone’s back is an unequivocal achievement of dominance in MMA, and it can very easily lead to fight-ending submissions.

Here Josh Koschek finishes off Anthony Johnson with a rear naked choke in their November 2009 UFC fight.

JohnsonKoschek

As with submission attempts and mount positions, a fighter must keep the back of his opponent for at least 3 seconds to gain credit in this category.

Secondary Fight Categories

A fighter is awarded a Category Point in a Secondary Fight Category if he can demonstrate some kind of superiority in the round. In general, superiority differs from dominance in that, unlike dominance, it usually does not threaten to end the fight. Judging superiority often takes into consideration more aesthetic concerns such as skill or heart. With all else being equal, the fighter with the most photogenic game will get the edge in the Secondary Fight Categories.

Secondary Fight Category 1: Most Strikes (+1)

Obvious call here. A fighter should get credit for strikes landed, regardless of whether they are significant. So, in this case, a flicking jab or leg kick counts just as much as a haymaker. This essentially rewards the busier fighter, the one most willing to fight and not bore the audience. It’s only worth 1 Category Point, of course, since landing more strikes does not necessarily translate into dominance. But it still should count for something.

The +5% edge that applies to the Significant Strike Category should apply here as well.

Secondary Fight Category 2: Most Significant Strikes Attempted (+1)

This category tallies all significant strikes that were attempted and did not land. And why should we reward fighters for not landing? Essentially because we want to encourage fighters to bring the heat. This is one of the things fans pay to see. Remember what ‘ABC’ stood for in Glengarry Glenn Ross? ‘Always Be Closing.’

abc

Well, in MMA and other combat sports, fighters should always be finishing. There’s a reason why fans loved to watch boxers like Arturo Gatti and Michael Katsidis fight. The same goes for all-action MMA brawlers like Diego Sanchez and Leonard Garcia. These guys fight with passion and they always bring it, even when they come up short. When all other factors are equal, the guys who always try to finish should always have an edge over the guys who don’t.

The +5% edge that applies to the Significant Strike Category should apply here as well.

Secondary Fight Category 3: Highest Significant Strike Accuracy (+1)

This category, quite simply, rewards skill over output. Often a fighter will exceed another in kicks and punches, but still be dominated because his opponent makes better use of the strikes he does throw. This category rewards a fighter for effective defense as well, either through blocking or evading strikes. Such displays of skill are also pleasing to watch. Take, for example, Anderson Silva with his hands down easily slipping bombs thrown by Forrest Griffin in their 2009 UFC 101 light-heavyweight encounter.

SilvaGrifin

The audience ate it up both times. Knowing when to strike and how to avoid being struck is an integral part of the fight game and is a clear sign of superiority.

The +5% edge that applies to the Significant Strike Category should apply here as well.

Secondary Fight Category 4: Most Takedowns (+1)

The same logic applying to knockdowns should apply to takedowns as well. Takedowns are most often a show of superiority and they get a crowd excited. However, a takedown itself does not necessarily benefit the fighter on top. Former NCAA All-American wrestler Cain Velasquez takes most of his opponents down. But when he took down Fabricio Verdum in their June 2015 UFC heavyweight title fight, he was immediately guillotined and forced to tap out (see bottom right, below). Sometimes fighters, especially those adept at Ju-Jitsu, want to be taken down. It’s part of their plan. This is why a takedown is worth only 1 Category Point as opposed to 2.

Takedowns work well for Cain Velasquez, except when they don't.
Take downs work well for Cain Velasquez, except when they don’t.

As with submission attempts, mount positions, and back-taking, a fighter must take his opponent down and keep him down for at least 3 seconds to gain credit in this category.

One caveat should apply, however. If the cage gets in the way of a clean takedown, then the takedown did not occur, even if the defensive fighter has a knee on the canvas.

Please note that reversals, such as when a fighter on bottom scrambles until he is on top, should also count as takedowns.

We should also note that knocking an opponent down with a strike and then achieving top position on the grounded opponent should count only as a knockdown, not a takedown. A takedown facilitated by blows which knock a fighter off his feet is not a takedown. In other words, a fighter should not simultaneously increase his count in both the Knockdown and Takedown categories. Every time a fighter hits the canvas, the data entry people should select one and go with it.

Secondary Fight Category 5: Longest Time in Dominant Position (+1)

This category goes hand-in-hand with the previous one, only it rewards a fighter who makes the most of his takedowns, regardless if he secures more of them in a round. Controlling an opponent from top position for most of a round with only 1 takedown should count the same as taking him down three times and keeping him there for all of 26 seconds. Unlike the previous category, however, this category should also apply if a fighter gains the top position as the result of a knockdown.

MMA rounds last 5 minutes, or 300 seconds. That is a lot of seconds, more than the typical number of strikes that can land in a high-action round. Do we really want to award the Category Point to a fighter who achieves top control for 131 seconds versus his opponent who keeps it for 129? This is why a +10% rule should apply for this category. To earn the Category Point, a fighter’s top position time must surpass his opponent’s plus 10% of the time the fight stays on the ground with either fighter in dominant position. So, if a fight spends 100 seconds on the ground in a round, then controlling the action for 55 of those seconds would not be enough for a Category Point, but 56 would.

Secondary Fight Category 6: Most Takedowns Defended (+1)

Nothing is more demoralizing to a fighter, especially one with a wrestling background, than having his takedown attempts continually stuffed. Fighter A wants to take the fight to the ground. Fighter A exerts tremendous energy trying the accomplish this. But Fighter B stays on his feet until Fighter A either gives up on the takedown or the referee separates them. This is a form of superiority. It undeniably thwarts the will of a fighter while wearing him down. If a fighter can get credit for taking his man down, he should also, in essence, lose credit if he tries and fails to take his man down.

Note that takedowns which last less than 3 seconds should not count in either case.

Foul Category: Most Unpenalized Deliberate Fouls or Repeated Accidental Fouls (-1)

Often a fighter will bend the rules in order to obtain an advantage. Sometimes this makes a difference in a fight’s outcome, and sometimes it does not. Sometimes it is spotted by the referee, and sometimes not. The purpose of this category is to penalize a fighter for attempting to use illegal conduct to change the outcome of the fight, which, of course, he shouldn’t do.

In this case, ‘illegal conduct’ should be defined as deliberate or accidental fouls that are not penalized by the referee but cause the referee to either issue a warning or temporarily halt the fight in order to let the fouled fighter recover.

So, a fighter will not be penalized if he simply grabs onto the cage to keep from falling and gets his hand slapped away by the referee. A fighter will be penalized however if he pokes his opponent in the eye or strikes him to the groin, forcing the referee to give his opponent time to recover.

Remember the grueling encounter between UFC light heavyweight champ Jon Jones and Glover Teixeira from April 2014. This was a one-sided and bloody, yet competitive and action-packed encounter which ended in a unanimous decision for Jones. But Jones accidentally poked Teixeira in the eye multiple times and was never penalized for it. Could this have made a difference in the fight’s outcome? Unlikely, but still possible.

Therefore, by using this system, the computer would have deducted a Category Point from Jones’ overall round count, thereby making it harder for him to win the rounds in which the eye pokes occurred.

Using the Computer

At the end of each round, the computer will do the following:

1. Tally the appropriate counts and times and make the necessary calculations
2. Award the right number of Category Points to each fighter
3. Determine who has the most Category Points.
4. Subtract 1 point per round per fighter in which the referee deducted a point.

At the end of each fight, the computer’s score will be tallied with the scores from the human judges to determine a winner. And, in the case of a draw, according to the rules of this new system, the tie-breaking decision will come from a macro-application of the above algorithm onto the fight as a whole.

An easy way to envision the difference here would be to look at the World Series as if each game were a round and there were only 5 games. If you win games 1, 3, and 5 by a score of 1-0, but lose games 2 and 4 by a score of 5-0, you still win the series, despite the fact that the opposing team outscored you by 7 runs in aggregate. The tie breaker count would essentially add up all the Category Points across the rounds to determine a winner in the same way you can add up all the runs scored in a World Series across games.

The Power of the Audit

The advantage of this system, particularly of using a computer as a third judge, is our ability to audit. Where the human judgments are final, the computer’s can not be. This is because fights can be replayed, data re-entered, and Category Points re-tallied. Therefore, computer decisions can be audited and potentially reversed.

Data entry personnel can and will make mistakes. They will misjudge takedowns and knockdowns and significant strikes. They will not see a strike land. They will not realize that a submission attempt is being made. They will get it wrong at some point. Count on it. This means that the computer may not always be correct, since it is only as good as the data humans feed it. In fights that go the distance, this won’t matter as long as the human judges, the masters of the intangibles, agree. However, when they don’t, and the computer is used to render a split decision, the losing fighter will always have the right to audit, in which case all data will be re-entered with the help of the video recording, and the round counts re-tallied by the computer.

Final Thoughts on the New Scoring System

Not Perfect, but perhaps better than what he have now. We need to introduce an element of statistical rigor into the business of fight scoring. While not enough by itself to offset human bias or error, it should make the difference if the intangibles are hard enough to grasp that the human judges disagree.

And as for how this new system would have scored the Lawler-Condit fight?

60-55 in favor of Condit. But, oddly enough, if the scoring were forced to go to tie break, the computer would have scored it a 10-10 draw, due mainly to Lawler’s takedown in round 2 and his subsequent top control. So perhaps there are some intangibles the computer can grasp after all?

ConditLawlerScoreSheet

Note that all calculations were done in Excel 2016. The Total Columns (Q and R are simple row sums, except for row 12 (Significant Strike Accuracy), which is a row average. Here are the algorithms for the Total Rows (21-23, and 27):

ComputerScoringFormula

MMA vs Boxing Part 6

In my final post on MMA vs. Boxing, we wil explore two more reasons why MMA has a greater likelihood of excitement than boxing. Please Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5 for more of this series.

Reason 3: Diversity

Well, sure. MMA is more multifaceted and has dozens of more ways to win and lose than boxing. You have kicks, knees, elbows, ground-and-pound, and precious few restrictions on how to apply these compared to what boxers are allowed to do. Of course, you also have the classic knockout.

But how many different kinds of chokes are there in MMA? Maybe a dozen or two or three depending on how broadly you want to classify them. Throw in a plethora of creative leg locks and arm bars and various miscellaneous submissions, and MMA fans have a lot more to be on the lookout for than do boxing fans, especially if at least one of the fighters is submission savvy. When one fighter slowly works an advantage into a winning choke or joint lock, it is like watching an anaconda slowly suffocating its struggling prey. It’s horrifying and fascinating at the same time. Check out Seth Dikun tapping out Rolando Perez in 2009. At the one-minute mark, Dikun executes a beautiful flying triangle choke by wrapping his legs around Perez’s neck and left arm. Perez hangs on for over a minute and a half before tapping.

dikun-perez

In my final post on MMA vs. Boxing, we wil explore two more reasons why MMA has a greater likelihood of excitement than boxing. Please Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5 for more of this series.

Reason 3: Diversity

Well, sure. MMA is more multifaceted and has dozens of more ways to win and lose than boxing. You have kicks, knees, elbows, ground-and-pound, and precious few restrictions on how to apply these compared to what boxers are allowed to do. Of course, you also have the classic knockout.

But how many different kinds of chokes are there in MMA? Maybe a dozen or two or three depending on how broadly you want to classify them. Throw in a plethora of creative leg locks and arm bars and various miscellaneous submissions, and MMA fans have a lot more to be on the lookout for than do boxing fans, especially if at least one of the fighters is submission savvy. When one fighter slowly works an advantage into a winning choke or joint lock, it is like watching an anaconda slowly suffocating its struggling prey. It’s horrifying and fascinating at the same time. Check out Seth Dikun tapping out Rolando Perez in 2009. At the one-minute mark, Dikun executes a beautiful flying triangle choke by wrapping his legs around Perez’s neck and left arm. Perez hangs on for over a minute and a half before tapping.

dikun-perez

On the other hand, a slick submission, especially one that comes out of the blue and when a fighter is behind, is breathtaking to behold. The classic example here is Ryo Chonan against the great Anderson Silva from Pride Shockwave 2004. Silva had been beating Chonan from pillar to post until Chonan executed a flying leg scissors and transposed it into a heel hook. Silva tapped instantly. This move can only be seen to believed. Further, this submission becomes even more remarkable when you consider that Anderson Silva might very well be the greatest mixed martial artist of all time.

chonan-silva

Another aspect of diversity is that sometimes you have guys forced to fight in a discipline at which they are not expert. Since there are so many aspects to MMA, it’s likely most guys will be better at one thing than another. It’s also possible that two guys will cancel each other out in one skill set and instead choose to duel in another. Matt Hughes and Josh Koschek were both champion wrestlers, but their fight in 2011 might as well have been a boxing match. Same thing with Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and Kazushi Sakurba. Two submission specialists ended up slugging it out for significant periods of their fight in 2003. Was the ‘boxing’ in either case on a particularly high level? Not really. But it was thrilling because you knew both guys were a bit out of their element and fighting regardless. That can lead to some wild, unpredictable results.

Was Brock Lesnar’s arm triangle choke submission of Shane Carwin in 2010 particularly artful? Eh. How about Mirko Cro-Cop’s rear naked choke of Pat Barry from the same year? Not bad, I guess. These were finishing moves, to be sure, but fairly ordinary as far as submissions go. What made these submissions unforgettable however was that the guys executing them hardly ever submit anybody. Lesnar was a former NCAA wrestling champion and WWE star who’s entire MMA game consisted of pulverizing his opponents with ground and pound. Cro-Cop, on the other hand, was a world-famous striker known for his potent kicks. “Left leg, hospital; right leg, cemetery,” as he always said. The very idea of these guys wrapping their arms around an opponent’s neck and squeezing their way to a win would be absurd. Yet that is exactly what happened, and it was amazing to behold. Only in MMA, thanks to its diversity, can you witness something like that.

Reason 4: The Grotesque

Since at least the 18th century (in French and German as well as English) grotesque has come to be used as a general adjective for the strange, fantastic, ugly, incongruous, unpleasant, or disgusting. In boxing you get this mostly when one or both fighters suffer from cuts. Their eyes become bloated slits; their faces become crimson smears, and that’s the cue for the crowd to start to go bananas. The truth is that most people who watch fights really like this sort of thing. World Heavyweight challenger Henry Cooper once said that “the boxing public generally are a bloodthirsty lot. They like to see a good, hard fight, and if there’s plenty of gore and snot flying around, they love it.” Seeing blood, we realize that the boxing match we have paid to see has finally degenerated into a fight. We’re not thinking about jabs and faints and hooks and other finer points of the sweet science anymore. We’re thinking about how one guy is about to take the other guy’s head off with a punch. It’s the grotesque that takes us there.

bloody_boxers

But rarely does boxing get grotesque beyond the blood and the swelling. The one exception I can think of is the Evander Holyfield-Hasim Rahman fight from 2002. Whether it was a punch or a headbutt we may never know, but midway through round 8, Rahman emerged with a gruesome hematoma over his left eye. It jutted out over his face like Frankenstein’s eyebrow and stretched almost to his temple. “That is one of the most grotesque things I have ever seen on a prizefighter,” said HBO commentator Jim Lampley. The fight was correctly and mercifully stopped despite the fact that Rahman was keeping it close, lump on his head or no. No one contested the stoppage, but certainly everyone watching has vivid memories of how horrendously disfigured Rahman became that night.

rahman_hematoma

The difference, however, between the grotesque in boxing and in MMA is twofold. It is less rare in MMA and far more varied. Sure, you still have the vivid plasma splatter like in boxing. A recent example includes Cain Velasquez’s one-sided mauling of Antonio Bigfoot Silva in 2012. What an abattoir that was.

cain-bigfoot

More classic examples are B.J. Penn-Joe Stevenson (2008) and Kazushi Sakuraba-Ricardo Arona (2005).

stevenson_sakuraba

It does not get much bloodier than this. Because MMA bouts can just as easily go to the ground where seeing punches coming from far away is less critical, MMA referees are less likely to stop fights on cuts than in boxing.

But it does not end there. In MMA, there is always the promise of seeing bones snap or go out of joint or bodies being twisted in unnatural ways. Truly, such a horrific sight can cause what Joyce Carol Oates calls “animal panic” in spectators as much as any blood-gushing boxing match.

The images below have not been doctored in any way. Not for the squeamish, they are accurate reminders of just exactly how grotesque MMA can get.

Renzo Gracie vs Kazushi Sakurabu (2000). Sakuraba dislocated Gracie’s left elbow with a kimura. Gracie never tapped.

renzo-gracie-arm-breaker

Dan Miller-Dave Phillips (2007). MMA great Bas Rutten said this was the tightest standing guillotine choke he ever saw. It’s the closest thing to a decapitation I ever saw. It’s a miracle Phillips didn’t have his neck broken.

danmillerguillotine_display_image

Rosi Sexton-Windy Tomomi (2007). Sexton took the back of her standing opponent and tried to trip her to the canvas. Tomomi’s ankle buckled and twisted at an unnatural angle. She spent four months in the hospital as a result.

sexton_480_poster

Corey Hill-Dale Hartt (2008). When hill threw a leg kick, Hartt blocked it with his leg and snapped his man’s shin bone in half. He didn’t realize what he had done until after they stopped the fight.

coreyhill_legbreak

Antonio Rodrigo Nogueria-Frank Mir (2011). Big Nog is such a tough guy that he didn’t tap until after Mir snapped his humerus in half.

BigNogArmBreak

Mark Hominick-Jose Aldo (2011). Just goes to show, these hematomas don’t just happen in boxing.

hominick_hematoma

Bryan Jones Jr.-Justin Lee Fowler (2012). Fowler picked up Jones for a slam and landed him awkwardly on his left leg, shattering his knee.

Jones-DislocatedKnee

No sport offers the grotesque in a greater and more bewildering array of forms than MMA.

Loving the grotesque is a guilty pleasure, I will admit. But I think it is also a natural one. Anyone stuck in traffic behind people rubbernecking an automobile accident can attest to this. I imagine that there are some people who are perfectly fine with the gruesome injuries one finds in boxing but balk at MMA for being too grotesque. But I cannot imagine that there are very many of these people. Once you establish that you enjoy watching one kind of regulated violence, it seems almost silly then to turn up your nose at another. I’ve gotten this impression from many boxing writers who find MMA barbaric yet wax poetic whenever two boxers spray each other’s hemoglobin all over the ring. I can’t help but think they have an axe to grind.

What I have tried to establish in this series is an objective look at both boxing and MMA. How are they similar? How are they different? How do mixed martial artists perform as boxers and vice versa? There are many reasons for the staying power of both sports, and there are many ways they can each improve. I have always maintained that both sports contain their share of beauty and are socially important given that they give a creative outlet for the violent urges of men (both as spectators as well as combatants). What I have tried to outline here however are reasons why boxers have an edge over mixed martial artists when crossing over into each other’s sports and why MMA has a edge over boxing in terms of excitement. I hope I have been persuasive.

Boxing vs MMA Part 5

In my last post on MMA vs. Boxing, we explored how having more excuses for the referee to insert himself into a fight is one reason why boxing has a disadvantage compared to MMA when it comes to overall excitement.

In this post, we explore Reason 2: The gloves.

Professional boxers use 8 to 10 oz gloves and professional mixed martial artists use 4 ounce gloves. This difference is a major reason why any single punch in MMA is more likely to produce a knockout or a knock down than in boxing.

For my explanation, I shall resort to Newtonian physics and Euclidian geometry to illustrate the basic difference between the concepts of force and pressure. Newton’s second law of motion states that the force of an object equals its mass times its acceleration. F=ma is how the law typically appears, and the unit for force is called the Newton (N). Greater mass or acceleration produces greater force. Pressure, on the other hand, is an object’s force divided by the area upon which it acts. Greater area makes for reduced pressure. Pressure is typically shown as P=F/A, and its unit is called the Pascal (Pa).

To visualize the difference (and if you will pardon the simplistic graphics), imagine a two identical knives falling the same distance onto identical pieces of paper.

As you can see, the second knife had a much more dramatic impact on the paper than the first. Why is this when, according to Newton, the knives struck the paper with equal force? The answer is that by striking a smaller area on the paper (by virtue of its sharp point), the second knife applied the greater pressure. 20 square centimeters of paper can withstand the force of a falling knife. 0.2 square centimeters cannot. F/0.2 is greater than F/20 by two orders of magnitude, which is why the paper punctures for the second knife and not for the first.

So, what does this have to do with boxing? Didn’t they ban sharp objects in boxing gloves back in the 50s?

Why, yes they did. But the gloves were known as caestÅ«s back then, and Rome hadn’t even become an empire yet.

In my last post on MMA vs. Boxing, we explored how having more excuses for the referee to insert himself into a fight is one reason why boxing has a disadvantage compared to MMA when it comes to overall excitement.

In this post, we explore Reason 2: The gloves.

Professional boxers use 8 to 10 oz gloves and professional mixed martial artists use 4 ounce gloves. This difference is a major reason why any single punch in MMA is more likely to produce a knockout or a knock down than in boxing.

For my explanation, I shall resort to Newtonian physics and Euclidian geometry to illustrate the basic difference between the concepts of force and pressure. Newton’s second law of motion states that the force of an object equals its mass times its acceleration. F=ma is how the law typically appears, and the unit for force is called the Newton (N). Greater mass or acceleration produces greater force. Pressure, on the other hand, is an object’s force divided by the area upon which it acts. Greater area makes for reduced pressure. Pressure is typically shown as P=F/A, and its unit is called the Pascal (Pa).

To visualize the difference (and if you will pardon the simplistic graphics), imagine a two identical knives falling the same distance onto identical pieces of paper.

As you can see, the second knife had a much more dramatic impact on the paper than the first. Why is this when, according to Newton, the knives struck the paper with equal force? The answer is that by striking a smaller area on the paper (by virtue of its sharp point), the second knife applied the greater pressure. 20 square centimeters of paper can withstand the force of a falling knife. 0.2 square centimeters cannot. F/0.2 is greater than F/20 by two orders of magnitude, which is why the paper punctures for the second knife and not for the first.

So, what does this have to do with boxing? Didn’t they ban sharp objects in boxing gloves back in the 50s?

Why, yes they did. But the gloves were known as caestÅ«s back then, and Rome hadn’t even become an empire yet.

More to the point, by being more massive than the MMA glove, by containing more padding, and by covering the entire hand, the boxing glove must therefore be larger. A quasi-scientific home experiment shown below shows how much larger in terms of surface area at point of contact.

Step 1: Gather materials: 10 oz boxing glove, 4 oz MMA glove, chess board, pencils, paper, 3 Bendaroos (waxy, shape-forming toy sticks, 15cm long), tape measure, ketchup (Not pictured: dinner plate and one extra Bendaroo).

Step 2: Smother the business end of the boxing glove with ketchup.

Step 3: Apply downward pressure on the paper on the flat chessboard.

Step 4: Repeat Steps 2 and 3 with the MMA glove.

Step 5: Use Bendaroos and tape measure to compare circumferences of surface areas based on stains left by the ketchup. Note that I only measured where the mark was white since this was truly the point of contact, not the ketchup stain’s perimeter.

Note also the following:

The circumference of the stain left by the boxing glove is the length of two Bendaroos minus 1 cm (29 cm). And the circumference of the stain left by the MMA glove is the length of two Bendaroos minus 9 cm (21 cm).

So, according to the data above, a solid punch from a typical 10 oz boxing glove will connect with a circumference of approximately 29 centimeters. Since circumference equals twice its radius times pi, we can derive radius from circumference by dividing the circumference by two times pi. From this we get a radius of 4.62 cm (29/2Ï€). And since area equals pi times the radius squared, we can see that the glove connects on an area of around 67.06 cm**2 (Ï€4.62**2). The same shot from a typical MMA glove will cover a 21 cm circumference. That is a radius of 3.34 cm and an contact area of 35.05 cm**2.

From this, it’s easy to conclude that a punch from an MMA glove will apply greater pressure than the same punch from a boxing glove. This may be true, but we still have to figure in the difference in mass of the glove. Boxing gloves are more massive, and while greater area reduces pressure, greater mass increases it.

Let’s say a disembodied fist (0.72 kg) in a 10 oz (0.28 kg) boxing glove accelerates at 50 m/s**2. According to the second law of motion, it generates a force of 50 N (0.72 + 0.28 Ñ… 50). Since pressure is force divided by area, it exerts 0.75 Pa of pressure per strike (50/67.06).

The same 0.72 kg fist in a 4 oz (0.11 kg) MMA glove accelerating at the same rate generates a force of 41.5 N (0.72 + 0.11 Ñ… 50). This divided by an area of 35.05 cm**2 produces 1.18 Pa of pressure, an increase of over 60% from the pressure produced by a boxing glove.

My point is that even with its smaller mass, MMA gloves allow fighters to apply more pressure than boxing gloves. Of course, for simplicity’s sake, we disregarded things like air resistance, the motion of the fighter getting hit, the softness and hardness of the gloves, how the different masses of the gloves affect their acceleration, and many other factors, I’m sure. I am aware that the stains left by the gloves in my little experiment were not perfect circles. I also had no way of making sure that the pressure I applied onto the paper was the same for both gloves. (So if anyone has the resources and wherewithal to take this experiment to the next level, have at it).

But given my limitations, my conclusion here is that all things being equal, the boxing glove has the edge in force, but the MMA glove has the greater edge in pressure.

So how does greater pressure increase the chances for knockouts and knockdowns?

I’m sure there are several reasons, but the one I believe is most important is that a blow to the jaw or chin in MMA has a greater likelihood of violently moving or snapping the skull in a certain direction. A knockout is basically a concussion caused when your brain collides with the inside of your skull when it is jerked violently in one direction.

Blogger Gajotap describes it like so:

Back to the brain… This floating organ in our head is like a rodeo cowboy and goes with flow whichever direction our head goes. A sudden powerful hit will jerk your head so violently that the floating brain will bounce around in the skull hitting the bony walls. This is what you call trauma and it will make the nerves all over your body go in an electrical haywire. In effect, your body will go limp or may sometimes do uncontrollable jerky movements and in many cases, you will be out only to wake up with a mammoth headache.

Mike Chiapetta in his essay Anatomy Of A Knockout, also describes what a blow to the chin can do to you.

Two of the most common acceleration blows are strikes to the chin or the side of the head. The former disrupts the circulation in the back of the brain and also disrupts the mechanism in the back of the brain that controls alertness. As a result, the brain temporarily switches off.

Dr. Margaret Goodman, former ringside physician in professional boxing, has her say as well:

Some fighters have a “glass jaw” and others don’t. This also relates to one’s anatomy and refers to when the boxer is hit square on the jaw. The force of the blow is transmitted to the Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) where the power temporarily disrupts cerebral circulation.

Goodman goes on to advise boxers to keep their chins down and to strengthen neck muscles to prevent this from happening:

You don’t have to have a neck like a linebacker, but alternatively develop selective muscles alongside the neck will prevent your head from moving after getting hit. Bottom line, if you head doesn’t move with a punch, you can’t get KO’d.

It stands to reason then that MMA gloves, with its smaller target area and greater pressure, will have more impact on the most movable parts of a fighter’s head, namely his chin and jaw. In comparison, a similar punch in boxing will either move the jaw less or be absorbed by a greater target area forcing a fighter’s entire head in one direction rather than jerking his jaw one way and the rest of his head the other.

Based on the information above, I would argue that a fighter runs a greater chance of a knockout or knock down in the latter circumstance than in the former. My point isn’t necessarily that there are more knockouts in MMA than in boxing. My point is that a fighter has a greater chance of being knocked down or out by a single power shot in MMA than in boxing. And that leads to greater, edge of your seat excitement in MMA.

This is why Mike Tyson was so exciting and why Manny Pacquaio still is today. You never know when a single blow from either of them will annihilate an opponent, so you cannot take your eyes off of them. But where fighters like Tyson and Pacquaio remain somewhat rare in boxing, they are somewhat less rare in MMA. Paul Daley, Josh Koscheck, Jake Ellenberger, and Jonny Hendricks, just to name a few in one weight division, are such devastating punchers that their bouts can end at any moment.

Even mid-level MMA guys have been known to bring it with one punch. The best recent example I can think of is Chan Sung “the Korean Zombie” Jung’s 7-second destruction of former featherweight world title challenger Mark-Hominick in 2011. Jung is no power puncher with only 3 of his 13 wins coming by way of knockout. Yet he rung Hominick’s bell with one punch, and the fight duly concluded.

It’s a foolish thing to blink during a top-level MMA bout. And one major reason, I believe, is the greater pressure brought to bear by the smaller size of MMA gloves.

To further support this conclusion, click here and start at the 45 second mark to watch two-time heavyweight boxing champion George Foreman describe his historic 1994 knockout of then heavyweight champion Michael Moorer. It happened in the 10th round. Foreman was trailing badly on all the judges’ cards. Then a one-two from Foreman ended the night.

The first punch I hit him with was the straight right,” Foreman said. “It was just a little too high. He didn’t move out of the way because he was kinda stunned. I expected him to fall, but he didn’t. And I said right then that I was gonna lower it just a little bit.

Foreman needed to lower his punch so that it would strike Moorer on the point of the jaw, which it did. And Moorer couldn’t recover.

Reasons 3 and 4 as well as my conclusion will appear in my next post on MMA vs. Boxing.

Boxing Vs MMA Part 4

In my last post on MMA vs. Boxing, we compared the two sports in terms of overall excitement and concluded that boxing, even when devoid of that various forms of corruption that have hounded it since its inception, has a greater potential to fail than MMA. Conversely, MMA has a greater likelihood for thrilling, competitive fights than does boxing.

In this post on MMA vs. Boxing, I explore reasons why this seems to be the case.

Reason 1: The Referee.

MMA gives referees fewer excuses to insert himself into a fight. And that, generally, is a good thing.

With boxing, the rules are far more restrictive. No hitting below the belt, no rabbit or kidney punches, no elbows, no back fists, no holding and hitting, no stomping feet, no this, no that. So with more rules, it falls upon the referee to enforce them all. Then there is the no clinching rule, which in some fights keeps the referee almost as busy as the fighters. When you have guys winging punches at each other in close quarters, it’s very natural for them to get tied up in a clinch. It’s referee’s responsibility to break them apart before continuing hostilities. Further, when adding the referee’s absolute prerogative to stop fights, penalize fouls, award knockdowns, and deliver 10-counts, you realize that a boxing referee is generally a pretty busy guy.

In my last post on MMA vs. Boxing, we compared the two sports in terms of overall excitement and concluded that boxing, even when devoid of that various forms of corruption that have hounded it homework research since its inception, has a greater potential to fail than MMA. Conversely, MMA has a greater likelihood for thrilling, competitive fights than does boxing.

In this post on MMA vs. Boxing, I explore reasons why this seems to be the case.

Reason 1: The Referee.

MMA gives referees fewer excuses to insert himself into a fight. And that, generally, is a good thing.

With boxing, the rules are far more restrictive. No hitting below the belt, no rabbit or kidney punches, no elbows, no back fists, no holding and hitting, no stomping feet, no this, no that. So with more rules, it falls upon the referee to enforce them all. Then there is the no clinching rule, which in some fights keeps the referee almost as busy as the fighters. When you have guys winging punches at each other in close quarters, it’s very natural for them to get tied up in a clinch. It’s referee’s responsibility to break them apart before continuing hostilities. Further, when adding the referee’s absolute prerogative to stop fights, penalize fouls, award knockdowns, and deliver 10-counts, you realize that a boxing referee is generally a pretty busy guy.

This produces, in my opinion, three negative results which often frustrate boxing fans.

1) Referees are often forced to make on-the-spot irreversible judgment calls of great consequence. Since referees are human and must process lightning fast action, many of these judgment calls end up being questionable to say the least.

2) Referees are given wiggle room in which to act on their prejudices against or in favor of a particular fighter. It gets worse when it’s someone else prejudices. True, one does not see much direct referee complicity these days (such as in the 1963 George Chuvalo-Mike DeJohn fight in which the referee actually helped DeJohn up from a knock down in round 6), but it can be more subtle than that.

For example, if the favored guy likes to fight on the outside, the referee will break up the fight the moment there is a clinch. Conversely, if the favored guy likes to fight on the inside, the referee will sit back and let the fighters punch their way out of a clinch. I cannot prove this, but I believe that this was a crucial factor when Ricky Hatton wrested the WBC light welterweight title in 11 rounds from Kostya Tszyu in 2005. Look at the video and see for yourself if the ref was a little slow at times to break up clnches.

3) Referees face the temptation of making the fight about them rather than the fighters. If you want your name splashed on the headlines and always popping up on the internet and immortalized in the annals of boxing, then make an outlandish call at a crucial moment in a high profile title fight. Human beings being corruptible entities, I cannot imagine referees not being at least tempted by such visions of glory (or notoriety).

Two classic examples of what I call ‘referee fail’ in boxing still leave a bitter taste in my mouth.

Richard Steele stopping the 1990 Julio Cesar Chavez-Meldrick Taylor light-welterweight title fight with 2 seconds remaining in the last round.

This had been a highly anticipated bout. Chavez was a Mexican icon at 68-0 moving up from lightweight. Taylor was the champion, also undefeated, and a 1984 Olympic gold medalist. It had been a great fight, with Taylor clearly winning the first 9 rounds or so. Chavez, who was tough as nails, started to dominate late, and arguably won the 10th and 11th rounds. With around 15 seconds left in the 12th and final round, he knocked Taylor down. Taylor beat the count at 6. But when he did not instantly respond when Steele asked him if he’s okay, Steele stopped the fight. There were 2 seconds remaining.

Chavez barely had enough time to cross the ring in 2 seconds let alone throw another punch. Many feel that Taylor deserved the victory, and Richard Steele, either for humanitarian reasons or because he wanted to be immortalized by some dramatic call, kept it from him.

Check here for more about the controversy engendered by Richard Steele.

Tony Weeks calling time twice in 10th round of the 2005 Jose Luis Castillo-Diego Corrales lightweight title fight.

It had been one of the best fights of the decade. With nonstop action, neither guy was clearly in the lead going into the 10th. Early in the round, a Castillo left hook dropped Corrales and knocked out his mouthpiece. After Corrales beat the count, Referee Tony Weeks called time to get Corrales a new mouthpiece from his corner. This gave Corrales more than the standard 10 seconds to recover. When the fight resumed, Castillo knocked Corrales down again. This time Corrales seemed to deliberately spit out his mouthpiece. After Corrales beat the count, Weeks called time again to first deduct a point from Corrales and then replace his mouthpiece again. Corrales was given an additional 17 seconds to recover, and when he did, he knocked out Castillo in perhaps the most dramatic come-from-behind KO in the last 30 years. Ironically, Weeks’ stoppage of the fight (shown above) was impeccable.

Although Weeks was not technically violating the rules, his decision to deduct the point immediately after the second knockdown directly affected the outcome of the fight. Had he not done this or had he planned on doing it between the rounds, Castillo would likely have been the victor.

Here are a few other recent examples:

In round 2 of their 2003 super-middleweight bout, Joe Calzaghe swarmed over Byron Mitchell and had him clearly hurt. But Mitchell had been trying to defend himself and was still throwing punches. Mitchell then stumbled backwards into the ropes without Calzaghe landing a punch. After barely looking at Mitchell, the referee called the fight.

In round 12 of their 2008 super-middleweight bout, Librado Andrade battered a near-helpless Lucien Bute around the ring. Meanwhile, the referee found any excuse he could to insert himself between them. When Andrade finally knocked Bute down with less than 5 seconds to go, the referee inexplicably did not start counting right away. Had the referee done his job correctly, Andrade might have won by last second KO.

In round 10 of their 2010 bout, super-middleweight Arthur Abraham knocked down Andre Dirrell, and the referee inexplicably ruled it a slip.

Bantamweight Abner Mares must have landed around 20 low blows to Joseph Agbeko in their 2011 title match. The referee either ignored them or warned Agbeko for pulling Mares’ head down (which he did not often do). In the 11th round, Mares flagrantly struck Agbeko in the cup. It fact, it was so flagrant it has to be seen to be believed.

When Agbeko fell, the referee ruled it a knockdown. Mares won a majority decision, so it is likely that this knockdown gave him the edge in the end. An utter disgrace.

In round 5 of their 2012 bout, super-middleweight Carl Froch knocked Lucien Bute into the ropes. The referee correctly ruled it a knockdown, but because he separated the fighters with his hands held high, Froch’s people assumed the fight had been stopped. They stormed into the ring to celebrate while the referee was still administering a standing 8 count.

In many ways, the MMA referee have similar functions to the boxing referee. But how are they different? Well, put simply the MMA has a whole lot less to do.

First and foremost, the MMA referee must prevent a fighter from getting killed or having a limb broken. He has little excuse to insert himself between the combatants otherwise. As such, it’s usually pretty darn clear when he should act.

His other duties include keeping fighters from gripping the fence, calling time for low blows or eye pokes, calling the doctor to look at bad cuts, and to break up stalemate positions.

Yes, sometimes it’s necessary to disqualify a fighter for breaking rules. In many cases, however, this happens after a fight has been stopped. The most high-profile examples would be Anderson Silva-Yushin Okami from 2008, Jon Jones-Matt Hamill from 2009, and Erick Silva-Carlo Prater from 2012. In each, one fighter rendered the other fighter unable to continue through illegal means and was disqualified after the fact. So in these cases, unlike the referee fails listed above, the referee had no impact on the action during the fight, only the decision after it. If you are going to have a referee determine the outcome of a fight, this is probably the way to do it.

There have been referee fails in MMA as well, but it stands to reason that with fewer reasons to get between the fighters, there are fewer fails in MMA. One major example includes the Bobby Lashley-Chad Griggs heavyweight fight from 2010. An exhausted Lashley had the mount over Griggs (an extremely advantageous position) and was staying reasonably busy. For some reason, referee Jon Schorle felt he wasn’t busy enough and called for a standup, completely erasing the work Lashley had done getting his advantage over Griggs in the first place. After the doctor checked Lashley’s eye, Griggs proceeded to beat Lashley until Lashley could not continue. And Schorle determined this a few seconds after the round had ended.

The only other major referee fail I can think of in MMA occurred with the same referee. In 2006, welterweight Rob McCollough landed a straight right to the jaw of Olaf Alonso, knocking him out and sending his mouthpiece hurtling across the cage. Referee Schorle decided that retrieving the mouthpiece was more important than protecting the helpless Alonso who was now lying prone on the canvas. The unconscious Alonso received 3 horrific shots to the head before Schorle could run across the cage and rescue him.

In general however MMA referees tend not to make their presence known until it’s absolutely critical that they act. More often than not, the outcomes of fights are determined by the fighters, not the referee, which sadly does not happen as often as it should in boxing. This is why we have fewer controversial stoppages in MMA than in boxing. Don’t believe me? Do a Google search and see for yourself. Or better yet, let me do it for you:

6.81 million versus 217,000. That about says it all, doesn’t it?

Next up: Reason 2. The Gloves.

Boxing Vs MMA Part 3

In my last post on MMA vs Boxing, we statistically analyzed the transfer of boxers into MMA and vice versa. I believe the evidence supports the hypothesis that boxers transition into high levels of MMA better than the other way around. There seems to be many reasons for this, not least of which is that a boxer can transfer close to 100% of his skill set into an MMA cage, but a mixed martial artist can only transfer something like 10%-15% of his skill set into boxing.

This post will compare the two sports in terms of overall excitement.

I will start with two premises. One, that a great boxing match is potentially every bit as exciting as a great MMA bout, although not always in the same way. In the ideal world, one sport is as good as the other. From this, I posit that in the real world, MMA has a greater likelihood for excitement for reasons that are both essential and incidental to both sports. Further, I believe that much of the disadvantages boxing has vis-à-vis MMA can be rectified.

First, a little autobiographical note. I started as a big boxing fan growing up because my dad was also a big fight fan. My earliest memory of boxing was in 1974 watching Muhammad Ali using the rope-a-dope tactic to knock out George Foreman. I was five. I also remember Ali getting knocked down by Chuck Wepner (the man who inspired all those Rocky movies), although my dad swears Wepner simply stepped on Ali’s foot and pushed him. Look at the photo and judge for yourself.

In my last post on MMA vs Boxing, we statistically analyzed the transfer of boxers into MMA and vice versa. I believe the evidence supports the hypothesis that boxers transition into high levels of MMA better than the other way around. There seems to be many reasons for this, not least of which is that a boxer can transfer close to 100% of his skill set into an MMA cage, but a mixed martial artist can only transfer something like 10%-15% of his skill set into boxing.

This post will compare the two sports in terms of overall excitement.

I will start with two premises. One, that a great boxing match is potentially every bit as exciting as a great MMA bout, although not always in the same way. In the ideal world, one sport is as good as the other. From this, I posit that in the real world, MMA has a greater likelihood for excitement for reasons that are both essential and incidental to both sports. Further, I believe that much of the disadvantages boxing has vis-à-vis MMA can be rectified.

First, a little autobiographical note. I started as a big boxing fan growing up because my dad was also a big fight fan. My earliest memory of boxing was in 1974 watching Muhammad Ali using the rope-a-dope tactic to knock out George Foreman. I was five. I also remember Ali getting knocked down by Chuck Wepner (the man who inspired all those Rocky movies), although my dad swears Wepner simply stepped on Ali’s foot and pushed him. Look at the photo and judge for yourself.

That's Chuck on the right in case you were wondering.

I remember Ali’s antics with Howard Cosell, his showing up to one interview wielding a hammer, his brawling in the studio with Joe Frazier, both Spinks fights. I also remember Mike Weaver’s incredible come-from-behind knockout of Big John Tate, Roberto Duran’s ‘no mas’ episode with Sugar Ray Leonard, Larry Holmes stopping Renaldo Snipes and Gerry Cooney, and other fights from the seventies and early eighties as well.

By the time I graduated college in 1990 I had seen hundreds of fights and remembered just about all of them. I read The Ring and other boxing magazines religiously. I made a student film about boxing. I studied any boxing history book I could find. At one point I could honestly and with some pride call myself an amateur boxing historian.

But I had always known that there was always something about boxing – or several somethings, really – that prevented it from being all that it could be. Of course, we could always point to the rampant corruption in the sport, its ties to organized crime and long history of fixed fights. This is well-documented. There’s also the horrific judging, the shameful mismatches, the dreadful officiating, the post-fight tantrums, and the , not to mention all the rioting and ear-biting that has taken place in the ring. And in case you may think that such transgressions are an artifact of a bygone age, these last seven examples all occurred since the mid-1990s. And there is many more to choose from.

But even when all is on the up-and-up with good judging, officiating, matchmaking, and talented, motivated combatants, boxing always has a real potential to fail. That is, to invite tedium or to not end conclusively, to not bring us to the state of breathtaking awareness we enter when we see a great fight or a great knockout. Mike Weaver brought us there, so did Hagler-Hearns, Pryor-Arguello I, and a young Mike Tyson against any number of opponents.

Lesser known examples from that era might also include Evander Holyfield against Michael Dokes, Michael Moorer against Bert Cooper, James Toney against Michael Nunn, Julio Cesar Chavez against Edwin Rosario, and many others. These fights were either blistering donnybrooks or stunning displays of violence and power, or both. They all contained drama, a very high-level of skill, and a brutally conclusive ending. It’s fights like these that leave one breathless and craving replays.

Only a fight fan can understand the terrible yet addictive exhilaration that comes with witnessing one man brutalize another man to a state of near-death under fair rules. Perhaps it’s the atavistic violence, the physical domination of one man over another that reminds us of our own carnal, mortal existence. Who knows? Many writers have pondered these ideas. My point however is that this is more like the holy grail of boxing rather than a common occurrence. Most top-level boxing matches don’t reach such heights and never even threaten to.

Good examples of boxing failure from the last 25 years include be Lennox Lewis against David Tua (2000), Oscar De La Hoya against Felix Sturm (2004), Floyd Mayweather against Carlos Baldomir (2006), and Pernell Whitaker against any number of guys: Greg Haugen (1989), Jose Luis Ramirez II (1989), Azumah Nelson (1990), Rafael Pineda (1992). I recognize Whitaker’s brilliance as a boxer, but to me he always seemed more of a performer than a fighter. In his matches, I always waited for a fight to break out, and instead I’d get something more like a dance, with Whitaker almost always one step ahead of his opponents.

Sweet Pea gets no love from RC.

In the cases mentioned above you have a consummately skilled fighter against a tough but less skilled opponent. The results were pure tedium since the fighter with the greater skill, despite his best efforts, could not hurt his man, and in turn was too good to get hurt by him. By the second round the outcome was a foregone conclusion: unanimous decision. Fight fans call this “pitching a shutout.” Some praise these kinds of bouts, pointing to the brilliance and artistry of the superior fighter. I point to the lack of competition and drama and feel like I’ve been ripped off.

This is why I refused to watch Andre Ward fight Carl Froch in the final round of Super-6 tournament in 2011. The fight fit this mold perfectly and as such had turkey written all over it. And I was right. Ward easily outpointed Froch and was never really in danger. Why go see a fight when you know in advance who is going to win?

Yeah, I saw that one coming.

Another example would be the fighters who fight not to lose rather than to win. Two classic examples would be Sugar Ray Leonard’s controversial points win over Marvin Hagler (1987), and Oscar De La Hoya’s controversial points loss to Felix Trinidad (1999). In both cases you had guys moving a lot (often backwards) and throwing a volume of flashy punches aimed more to impress judges rather than hurt their opponents. 25 years later, the Hagler-Leonard fight still generates controversy.

The great Roy Jones, Jr. also emulated this style against Mike McCallum in 1996. Virgil Hill, Corey Spinks, Chop-Chop Corely, Nikolai Valuev, and Chris Byrd, all world champions, have been accused of this behavior as well. They rarely go for the knockout or engage in the intense exchanges fans crave. Instead they were content to walk away with their ‘W’s at the fans’ expense.

A subset of this would be those talented fighters who do try to hurt their man, but lack real power. Winky Wright, Clarence “Bones” Adams, Paulie Malignaggi, and Yuri Foreman fit into this category quite nicely, and thus rarely are in good fights unless on they’re on the losing end.

Another subset of this group would be boxers who, knowing they are overmatched, fight simply not to get knocked out. Or, really, not fight at all. James “Bonecrusher” Smith and Jesse Ferguson famously turned in such a performance against a young Mike Tyson in the mid-1980s. Audley Harrison did the same against David Haye in 2010. Shane Mosely’s tepid effort against Manny Pacquaio in 2011 is perhaps the most high profile of the recent examples.

Another way in which boxers can stink up joints would be to emulate the “jab and grab” or “mug and maul” style of John Ruiz who left a turbid trail of flatulence through the heavyweight ranks in the late 1990s and early 2000s. His main strategy often seemed to wrangle his man onto the ropes and wing punches in the clinch. And he was good at it, which made his fights extremely hard to watch and harder to score.

Yeah, these fights were as ugly as they seem.

Naseem Hamed, an otherwise exciting fighter, laid a similar egg in 1999 during his wrestling match against Cesar Soto. He threw his man to the canvas numerous times and won a sloppy, ugly unanimous decision. You can read about his dreadful performance here.

On the other hand, sometimes two tough, talented, and motivated boxers cannot turn in an exciting scrap no matter how many kitchen sinks they throw at each other. It must be something about the styles of some boxers that sucks the air out of their matches like a bad soufflé. The first fight that comes to mind is Evander Holyfield-Lennox Lewis I from 1999, a lackluster affair best described as a waltz on four left feet. These are two hall of fame heavyweights, so it’s not so much a knock on them. But according to Wikipedia, the pair landed 478 punches over 12 less-than-scintillating rounds (130 for Holyfield, 348 for Lewis). This averages out to a dismal 40 punches landed per round for both of them, only around 10 of which coming from Holyfield. It was a forgettable night, made sadly unforgettable by the scandalous draw that was awarded afterwards. And this was no fluke since the rematch later that year wasn’t exactly a barnstormer either.

Boxing fights call such fights “snoozers”. De La Hoya-Whitaker from 1997 qualifies. Recent examples include Fres Oquendo against Elieser Castillo from 2007 and Nonito Donaire against Omar Narvaez from 2011.

Often such awkward results occur when a lefty faces a righty, and it’s hard for either fighter to establish a rhythm. The first Kostya Tszyu-Sharmba Mitchell fight from 2001 comes to mind here. How about when one fighter is dead set on fouling, such as Agapito Sanchez was in his 2001 technical draw against Manny Pacquaio? What an ugly fight that was. Then there’s the constant risk of fighters accidentally clashing heads and getting their faces cut open. Does anyone remember Vernon Forrest’s first fight against Raul Frank in 2000? Micky Ward against Jesse James Lejia in 2002? Both fights were stopped early, and fans went home disappointed. But probably not as disappointed as fans were in 2010 when they watched Kermit Cintron trip and fall out of the ring in the 4th round while wrangling with his opponent Paul Williams. It had been a pretty slow fight to begin with, and when Cintron was injured by his fall and couldn’t continue, he was inexplicably declared the loser.

Keep in mind that every fight I’ve mentioned was a high profile bout that featured at least one past or current world champion or contender still in his prime facing a legitimate world-ranked opponent. Paying customers should be treated with high theater as much as possible when seeing bouts like this. Obviously, the various forms of corruption threaten to ruin boxing for everyone. But when things fizzle even when no one is to blame, then perhaps something should be done about the sport itself.

And here is where is where we should look to MMA.

After watching MMA seriously for 8 years now, I can honestly say that that breathless elation, that intense, addictive buzz one feels after one of those great yet all-too-rare rare boxing matches happens all the time in MMA. If the list of great boxing matches I mentioned before seemed long, here is a list of truly great, truly mesmerizing MMA bouts only from the past three years. Every single one of these brings all the drama and thrill and action of the very best boxing matches (and I provide video links where I can).

Anthony Pettis-Ben Henderson, 2010 – A classic topped off by a super-human kick.

 

Melvin Manhoef-Robbie Lawlor, 2010 – A brutal, one-punch, come-from-behind KO.

 

Anderson Silva-Chael Sonnen, 2010 – Joe Louis-Billy Conn I all over again – but with twice the trash talk.

 

Brock Lesnar-Shane Carwin, 2010 – Truly from the brink of defeat.

 

Jorge Santiago-Kazuo Misaki II, 2010 – Gut-wrenching fight, exhausting, relentless.

 

Frankie Edgar-Gray Maynard II, 2011 – Sickening 1st round and an edge-of-your-seat comeback.

 

Frankie Edgar-Grey Maynard III, 2011 – Deja vu, but with a better ending.

 

Nick Diaz-Paul Daley, 2011 – Two bad dudes. You knew this wouldn’t last long.

 

Cheick Congo-Pat Barry, 2011 – Foremna-Lyle, distilled into two and a half beautiful minutes.

 

Dan Henderson-Shogun Rua, 2011 – MMA’s Thrilla in Manila.

 

Frank Mir-Antonio Rodrigo Noguiera 2, 2011 – Oh, snap!

 

Some MMA fans may quibble about fights left off this list (there are quite a few I still have not seen), but very few will deny that the fights on this list are classics. And do you clamor for jaw-dropping exhibitions of skill and brutality? The sickening submission, the highlight reel knockout? Again, from the past three years alone we have:

Paulo Thiago-Mike Swick, 2010 – There’s nothing like watching a man go to sleep.

Chris Lytle-Matt Brown, 2010 – The most artful submission I have ever seen.

(Unfortunately, I cannot find video or good photos of these matches.)

Jon Jones-Lyoto Machida, 2011 – Wicked. The fans had to tell Big John McCarthy that Machida was out.

 

Anderson Silva-Vitor Belfort, 2011 – Remember, this was Vitor Belfort this happened to.

 

Marius Zaromskis-Bruno Carvalho, 2011 – Somersalt heel kick straight from a Jackie Chan movie.

 

Cairo Rocha vs. Francisco Neves, 2011 – Where do these guys come up with these kicks?

 

Nick Diaz-Evangelista Santos, 2011 – I never considered how an armbar could be beautiful until I saw it executed here.

 

Edson Barbosa-Terry Etim, 2012 – Perfect spinning wheel kick.

 

Jose Aldo-Chad Mendes, 2012 – If a cobra had knees, he’d be Jose Aldo.

 

And there’s more. With MMA, there’s always more. Keep in mind that this is only since 2010, a small subset of the fights I could have selected. It bears repeating that these fights are every bit as good as the best boxing matches. You would just have to watch top level boxing for 5-6 years to compile an equally long list.

The best analogy I can think of is the old video game Galaga. Remember how you could get your space ship captured in a tractor beam? And if you shoot just right, you could get that ship back? Then you could fire two shots at a time and really take it to the aliens. Boxing is like that single shooter. You’re deadly, to be sure, but your kill rate is only half as good as the double shooter. MMA is like that double shooter. You get about twice as much bang from the same amount of buck.

Ever hang around old-time fight fans? You know, the guys of Bert Sugar’s generation, born before or during the Depression, who didn’t give Cassius Clay a chance against Sonny Liston and who still look to Floyd Patterson as the kind of champion to which all boxers should aspire. Don’t they get a little tiresome when they praise old fighters at expense of current ones? Ever get sick of hearing about how Sugar Ray Robinson would have knocked out Roy Jones, about how Henry Armstrong would have crushed Pernell Whitaker, and about how Joe Louis would have stopped Muhammad Ali? Don’t they realize how much they sound like stuck up blowhards when they praise to no end the Herculean toughness of Jake La Motta, the iron will of Tony Zale, the slickness of Kid Gavilan, the brilliance of Ezzard Charles, the ferocity of Jack Dempsey, the guile of Wilie Pep, the courage of Jimmy Braddock, the power of Sandy Saddler and then sneer in undisguised disdain at the modern stars? Arturo Gatti-Mickey Ward I? Feh. That’s not a fight. Carmen Basilio-Tony DeMarco II at the Boston Garden. 1955. Now there was a fight.

Bert Sugar: Sure, Primo Carnera would have licked Vladimir Klitschko! What of it?

Well, kids, listen up. You see Bert Sugar’s ugly mug up there? Don’t laugh, because that’s going to be us in forty years. You heard it here first. Today’s MMA fans are going to become the most obnoxious, insufferable, overbearing gasbags when it comes to the MMA of the future, and our grandkids are going to hate us for it. I assure you, we will not shut up for one second about what Chuck Liddell or Jon Jones would have done to some punk champion in 2052 who calls himself a mixed martial artist. Anderson Silva, Georges St. Pierre, Jose Aldo, our opinions of these and probably a dozen other fighters will swell over time until these men become ensconced in some heroic pantheon that you really have to be part of our generation to understand and appreciate.

And why? Because, like Bert Sugar and other old-time fight fans, we are extremely fortunate to live during a combat sport’s golden age. It may not seem so obvious now, but what the UFC, Strikeforce, PRIDE, and other organizations have been serving up on a regular basis for the past decade is a rare and wondrous thing. When it goes away (and one day, sadly, it will) we are going to realize that the first two or three decades of the 21st century produced some of the greatest fights and some of the greatest fighters the world has ever seen.

Bert Sugar describes today’s boxing as an “echo of years gone by.” In a sense, he’s right. Boxing 60-70 years ago did reach heights it will probably never reach again. And in some ways I wouldn’t want it to. I wouldn’t want to invite the kind of harrowing conditions that gave rise to boxing’s greatest era 60-70 years ago: grinding poverty, the Great Depression, World War II, bigotry and racism, institutionalized oppression, and other things, I’m sure. Who would want to go through all that again? But for some reason, today is different. We can achieve great MMA without paying such a price. Today’s MMA is still on the upward climb towards the same heights boxing inhabited long ago. I know this sport, and I know its value. With MMA we are living in an age from which echoes are made.

We will delve into why in my next post.

Boxing Vs. MMA Part 2

My previous post, Boxing vs. MMA, set the stage for a showdown between the two popular combat sports.

On August 28th, 2010, boxing hall of famer James “Lights Out” Toney stepped into the UFC’s Octagon to take on MMA’s aging hero Randy Couture. The two athletes could not be more dissimilar. Toney, a phenomenally talented tough guy from Grand Rapids, Michigan, won the IBF middleweight title in 1991 and, when active, dominated the light heavyweight and cruiserweight divisions for over a decade. By 2003 he was competing successfully at heavyweight. He’s a bad dude with old-school skills and uncanny power. Outside the ring however, there’s little sophistication to him other than a thuggish, warlord’s charisma that commands respect and perhaps not a small amount of fear. That’s how it seems to me in his interviews at least.

On the other hand, Couture was a college wrestling standout, army veteran, and an Olympic alternate in Greco-Roman wrestling. Nicknamed Captain America, he’s articulate, outgoing, charming and loved the world over for helping to cement wrestling as one of the cornerstones of MMA. Plus, he never grows old. By the time of the Toney fight, he was 47. Toney was no spring chicken either at 42.

Here is YouTube video of the prefight hype to give you a taste of what this altercation was all about.

So pride was on the line. And bragging rights. Boxers and boxing writers have long held MMA with disdain, claiming that a good mixed martial artist will be no match for a good boxer in any arena.

So how did the hall of fame boxer do? The fight ended in the first round when Couture took Toney down with a low single leg, mounted him, and submitted him with a textbook arm triangle choke.

So that settles the debate. In the Octagon at least, mixed martial artists are superior to boxers, right?

Well, not really. Watch this.

My previous post, Boxing vs. MMA, set the stage for a showdown between the two popular combat sports.

On August 28th, 2010, boxing hall of famer James “Lights Out” Toney stepped into the UFC’s Octagon to take on MMA’s aging hero Randy Couture. The two athletes could not be more dissimilar. Toney, a phenomenally talented tough guy from Grand Rapids, Michigan, won the IBF middleweight title in 1991 and, when active, dominated the light heavyweight and cruiserweight divisions for over a decade. By 2003 he was competing successfully at heavyweight. He’s a bad dude with old-school skills and uncanny power. Outside the ring however, there’s little sophistication to him other than a thuggish, warlord’s charisma that commands respect and perhaps not a small amount of fear. That’s how it seems to me in his interviews at least.

On the other hand, Couture was a college wrestling standout, army veteran, and an Olympic alternate in Greco-Roman wrestling. Nicknamed Captain America, he’s articulate, outgoing, charming and loved the world over for helping to cement wrestling as one of the cornerstones of MMA. Plus, he never grows old. By the time of the Toney fight, he was 47. Toney was no spring chicken either at 42.

James Toney Vs. Randy Couture

Here is YouTube video of the prefight hype to give you a taste of what this altercation was all about.

So pride was on the line. And bragging rights. Boxers and boxing writers have long held MMA with disdain, claiming that a good mixed martial artist will be no match for a good boxer in any arena.

So how did the hall of fame boxer do? The fight ended in the first round when Couture took Toney down with a low single leg, mounted him, and submitted him with a textbook arm triangle choke.

Couture Submitting Toney

So that settles the debate. In the Octagon at least, mixed martial artists are superior to boxers, right?

Well, not really. Watch this.

This is a 48-year old “Merciless” Ray Mercer, retired former WBO heavyweight boxing champion stretching 33 year-old Tim Sylvia, former UFC heavyweight champion in 9 seconds. Sylvia was a mere 6 years removed from his UFC title holding days whereas Mercer was a good 18-20 years past his prime. Recently, the writers at Sherdog.com posted Sylvia as the number 7 all-time MMA heavyweight.

So if mixed martial artists reign supreme in the cage, what is Tim Sylvia doing getting knocked cold by a retired boxer?

The answer is that a boxer can transfer 100% of his skill set into the cage whereas a mixed martial artist can only transfer 10%-15% of his skill set into a boxing ring. I like to think of MMA fighters as Swiss army knives: multifaceted, but perhaps not the very best in any one single facet (with the possible exception of Brazilian Ju-Jitsu, which is very closely tied to MMA). Boxers are more like bowie knives, long and deadly, but comparatively one dimensional. And since MMA fights start on the feet just like in boxing, this one dimension could very well be all you need. As they say, power is the great equalizer, and anyone with a good punch has a puncher’s chance, even in the cage.

A statistical analysis will show that boxers actually transition better into mixed-martial arts than the other way around. Presented here are a list of notable mixed-martial artists and professional boxers who made the switch. These athletes must either be champions, contenders, or notable in some way in either boxing or MMA, or they must compete seriously in both sports simultaneously.

Notable Boxers Who Have Fought in MMA (Click to enlarge):

Notable Mixed Martial Artists Fought as Professional Boxers (Click to enlarge):

Before we begin to analyze this data, we need to discuss briefly some important names left off these lists and why. There’s always going to be some subjectivity and exclusivity in studies like these, but I hope you find my reasons for limiting it to these 22 fighters reasonable, if not compelling.

Don Frye: Frye began his MMA career in 1996 and went on to become a two-time UFC tournament champion. His lone boxing match in 1989 cannot be considered a switch to the sweet science since he hadn’t begun his MMA career yet. And the 7-year gap prevents it from being considered a switch in the other direction.

Jerome Le Banner: Le Banner began his boxing career in 1998 and went undefeated against nondescript opposition. He began his MMA career in 2002 and went 5-2 decent opposition. However, Le Banner is first and foremost a world champion kick boxer, compiling a record of 58-20-1 since 1992. He’s excluded here because he is at heart neither a boxer nor a mixed martial artist as the term is currently defined.

Carter Williams: Another champion kick boxer who began in the 1990s, Williams had a very brief boxing career in 2002 and tallied a 4-4 record in MMA since then. He’s excluded here for the same reason Le Banner is.

Matt Skelton: Skelton was also a champion kick boxer in the 1990s and transitioned into a highly successful boxing career in 2002. He challenged for the WBA Heavyweight title in 2008. He had one MMA bout in 2001, a loss. Technically, this was a switch from kick boxing to MMA. Since he hadn’t started boxing yet the dynamics are different enough to exclude him here.

Alexander Ustinov: Like Le Banner, Williams, and Skelton, Ustinov started as a kick boxer. He fought 64 times from 2002 to 2007. He started boxing in 2006 and is currently ranked in the top 10 by the WBA, the WBO, and the IBF as a heavyweight. During his time as a kick boxer, he competed in events that may or may not be considered MMA bouts since they didn’t adhere entirely to the UFC/Pride model of fighting. For example, fighters wore boxing gloves and didn’t grapple. Thus, Ustinov is mostly a kick boxer turned boxer with dubious experience in MMA.

Art Jimmerson: Jimmerson was an accomplished boxer by the time he famously competed in the very first UFC competition in 1993. He had contended for the NABF Light-Heavyweight title in 1990 and won the IBC Americas light heavyweight title in 1991. His boxing record stood at 29-5 on the day he entered the Octagon against Royce Gracie, perhaps the greatest mixed martial artist of the day (although few outside his home country of Brazil knew it back then). Gracie mounted Jimmerson and submitted him in little over two minutes. Jimmerson is excluded here because although he was fighting in MMA, I’ll argue that he really didn’t know what he was getting into. He showed up wearing one boxing glove, an unheard of practice which put him at an absurd disadvantage, and he tapped out despite not being struck with a significant blow.

My hunch is that Jimmerson didn’t want to get injured and jeopardize his upcoming bout with WBA Cruiserweight champion Orlin Norris (which took place two months later) and decided too late that his little foray into MMA was perhaps ill-advised. Had he trained in MMA for several months and demonstrated some familiarity with it against Gracie he would be included here. But because he hadn’t, it’s hard to take his stab at MMA seriously.

Watch the video here and judge for yourself.

Perhaps we should first compare the combined records of both groups. That would be: 47-35-1 for the boxers (a winning percentage of 56.6%) and 42-5-4 for the mixed martial artists (a winning percentage of 82.4%). So this seems the support the argument that mixed martial artists have the edge over boxers. Indeed, when athletes cross over there is a statistically better chance the a mixed martial artist will be successful than a boxer.

But let’s consider two other things: 1) The age at the time of switching from one combat sport to another, and 2) the quality of opposition each group faced in their second sport.

For the first, boxers tend to transition later than mixed martial artists. On average, they make the switch at 35.0 years of age, whereas the average age for mixed martial artists is 27.6. Considering that a man is in his physical prime during his twenties and early thirties, this is a meaningful statistic. It seems that boxers tend to wait until their career is over or on the downside before trying MMA. This is certainly the case with Botha, Butterbean, Davis, Mercer, Nishijima, Nortje, Toney, Warring, and Jeremy Williams. Only Rubin Williams fought as a mixed martial artist while still in the midst of his boxing career. With the MMA group, on the other hand, you get a lot of guys who will compete in both sports simultaneously or who will dabble for a fight or two in boxing, perhaps as a way to keep their striking sharp between MMA fights. This usually happens in their twenties. Only Kimbo Slice bucks this trend, turning his back on a respectable MMA career in his late thirties to give boxing a try.

For the second, it’s nearly impossible to obtain an objective measure of the quality of opposition a fighter has faced in his second sport. The best we can do is compare the winning and losing percentages of the opposition and then look at their accomplishments. The combined record of opposition faced by boxers in MMA is 932-690-36. This is a winning percentage of 56.2% and a losing percentage of 41.6%. On the other hand, the combined record of opposition faced by mixed martial artists in the boxing ring is 417-944-51. This is a winning percentage of 29.5% and a losing percentage of 66.8%. Clearly, boxers faced the stiffer competition in their second sport, which would explain why their win-loss percentages are not as stellar as those coming from MMA.

One will quickly notice that of the 1412 bouts taken from the records of the opposition facing mixed martial artists in boxing, 1048 came from Chris Lytle, who seems to be a bit of an outlier. As a boxer, Lytle took on a bunch of guys with big losing records including Reggie Strickland, who famously lost 256 boxing matches from 1987 to 2005 while winning only 66. Another Lytle opponent tallied a dismal 13-166-6 record. So removing Lytle from the mix brings us to 151-200-13. This is still only a winning percentage of 41.4% and a losing percentage of 54.9%. Not as impressive as the competition faced by boxers in MMA.

Another way to judge quality of opposition is to determine what champions, former champions, or title challengers the fighters faced in their second sport. As of December 2011, boxers have faced 11 (or 12 since Jan Nortje faced UFC 8 Heavyweight finalist Gary Goodridge twice) whereas mixed martial artists have only faced 7:

MMA world champions or challengers faced by boxers in MMA:

Boxing world champions or challengers faced by mixed martial artists in boxing:

So, again, Chris Lytle is the outlier having faced 6 of the 7 boxing champions and challengers listed above.

Also, keep in mind that none of the boxing titles mentioned here are recognized by the Boxing Hall of Fame, and only one (the WBO title) is a true world championship belt, albeit a minor one at that. The other titles are considered minor or regional. To be fair, the titles achieved or contended for by the 11 MMA fighters listed in the previous table may claim to be a world championship, but some really aren’t. In some cases these represent tournament victories or minor belts. The Pride and UFC titles at different points in the 1990s and 2000s (and perhaps the WEC and Strikeforce titles in the last 5 or so years) are probably the most prestigious of the bunch and lay the best claim to the term “world champion”.

We should also consider that there are more boxers in the world than mixed martial artists, so the ascent to the championship level is likely to be longer in boxing.

Still, the MMA champions and challengers faced by boxers in the cage are far more elite than the boxing champions and challengers faced by mixed martial artists in the ring. Couture and Sakuraba are legendary fighters and have easy claims to greatness in MMA. Gracie is a Brazilian Ju-Jitsu black belt, who, in the 1990s, defeated two UFC champions. Nate Diaz is a highly rated and respected fighter currently competing as a lightweight in the UFC. Tim Sylvia is a former UFC champion with 2 title defenses. And both Manhoef and Akiyama hold a KO victories over Sakuraba (although Akiyama’s was changed later to a no contest). Any casual MMA fan will have heard of most of these guys.

In comparison, the boxing champions and contenders faced by Lytle and Noons wouldn’t be household names even in their own households, to borrow a quip from boxing writer Bert Sugar. In fact, of the 7 mentioned above, only 2 actually won a title. And one of these is Reggie Strickland. Yes, the same guy who went 66-256-14 in his boxing career.

This all supports the claim that boxers compete better in MMA than the other way around. Despite that MMA fighters have the better win-loss record in their second sport, boxers as a whole still have a win percentage well over 50%, are taken more seriously, and compete on a higher level in MMA despite their much more advanced age. The fact that one boxer actually holds a KO victory over a former undisputed MMA world champion seals the deal in my opinion.

But if there is still some doubt, consider this. Anderson Silva has been considered the pound for pound best MMA fighter in the world for the last 6 years at least. Here is a quote from Wikipedia attesting to his greatness.

With 14 consecutive wins and 9 title defenses, Silva holds the longest winning streak and title defense streak in UFC history. UFC president Dana White has proclaimed Silva as “the greatest mixed martial artist ever.”

Silva is ranked as the number one Middleweight in the world by multiple publications, and is the consensus #1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world according to ESPN, Sherdog, Yahoo! Sports, MMAFighting.com and other publications. Silva is also the last Cage Rage Middleweight Champion and a former Shooto Middleweight Champion.

Anderson Silva is a beautiful fighter who, now in his late thirties, is still ruling the MMA roost at 185 pounds. Here is a good YouTube collection of Anderson Silva’s greatest moments (if you don’t mind excessive profanity in the soundtrack). Really, he is breathtaking to watch.

This is the same person who in 1998 was knocked out in the second round by someone named Osmar Luiz Teixeira, an 11-2 fighter from Brazil. Silva was 23 at the time, not old, but certainly not young by boxing standards. So the Sugar Ray Robinson of MMA gets stopped in two by a boxer who as of December 2011 has compiled a record of 32-22 and never even contended for a belt, minor or otherwise. This certainly does throw a wet blanket on any argument regarding the superiority of MMA fighters over boxers.

To be fair, there is some controversy as to whether this bout even took place and whether it really was Anderson Silva who got knocked out. You can read about it here. But Silva’s demographic information on boxrec.com (a boxing reference site which lists the Teixeira fight) matches that on sherdog.com (a MMA reference site). Same nickname (“The Spider”), same birth date, same city of residence. The only difference is that Boxrec lists Silva as “Da Silva” and has him at 6′ 2.5″ whereas Sherdog drops the “Da” and has him at 6′ 2″ even. In my opinion, it’s the same guy.

Another example would be Jens Pulver. Pulver may not be considered a great MMA fighter, but he was a legitimate UFC lightweight champion in the early 2000s. In 2002 at UFC 35 he defeated the amazing BJ Penn, who is considered one of the greatest MMA fighters ever.

In 2004 at the age of 29 he embarked on a boxing career, winning 4 straight. In his second fight, he got in a kick-down drag-out war with a 3-0 fighter named Steve Vincent and won a close 4-round split decision. Vincent knocked Pulver down, got knocked down twice, and lost by a single point on two of three judges cards. Vincent ended his boxing career 2 years later with a 10-5 record. His biggest fight ended in a 5th round TKO loss to Gilbert Venegas. And who is Venegas? A 10-7 fighter who drew for the WBC Continental Americas welterweight title in 2007 and was shut out in a unanimous decision by a rising Mike Jones a year later. And who is Mike Jones? A currently undefeated welterweight contender ranked in the top 3 in the world by the WBA, the IBF, and the WBO.

This should illustrate the chasm between the level at which MMA fighters compete in boxing and the true championship level. Based on the evidence, it would be unthinkable for a top notch MMA fighter to walk in the ring and take out a champion boxer. If it is thinkable, it would have happened already. Pulver would be losing close fights against people like Mike Jones, not winning close ones against the Steve Vincents of the world. MMA fighters would be facing stiffer boxing competition in general. But they are not, probably because they, as a group, cannot. But in MMA, boxers can, and so they do. And in at least one instance, came out on top.

After his bout with James Toney, Randy Couture faced a challenge from Toney’s boxing promoter to fight Toney in the boxing ring. Couture was frank in his reply. “I would respectfully decline such an offer,” he said. Later he added, “James would probably knock me out in the first round.”

That just about settles it, doesn’t it?

See the entire clip here.

Sources for this article include Sherdog.com, boxrec.com, fightnews.com, and Wikipedia.

In part 3 of this series, I will move from comparing the fighters to comparing the sports of boxing and MMA themselves.

Boxing vs. MMA

The sudden advent of mixed martial arts as a legitimate professional sport is one of the most remarkable apsects about American cultural life in the early 21st century.

Like boxing a century and a half before it, MMA was born into obscurity and possessed with such atavistic violence and brutality that many couldn’t believe that such a thing could exist in the modern age. In fact, shortly after the Ultimate Fighting Championship debuted in the early 1990s, there were calls across the country to ban it. The UFC began as an experiment of sorts to discover which martial art was the most effective. As such, you had wrestlers, Ju-Jitsu and Muay Thai practitioners, karate black belts, boxers, kick boxers, and men from other martial disciplines all competing in a cage called the Octagon. The fighters at first were a hodgepodge, arriving in differing kinds of attire, from Speedos to full gis. Further, the rules of the sport were lax enough to allow tactics that (for people accustomed to boxing at least) seemed truly barbaric. It was perfectly legal to not just to hit a man when he was down, but also to deliver kicks to the head and groin to keep him there. Add to that witches brew elbows, knees, kidney punches, hair pulling, foot stomping, arm locks, leg locks, creative choke holds, and, in one instance at least, strangling an opponent with his T-shirt, and you had something that even the most hardened American sports fans found difficult to swallow.

The sudden advent of mixed martial arts as a legitimate professional sport is one of the most remarkable apsects about American cultural life in the early 21st century. Like boxing a century and a half before it, MMA was born into obscurity and possessed with such atavistic violence and brutality that many couldn’t believe that such a thing could exist in the modern age. In fact, shortly after the Ultimate Fighting Championship debuted in the early 1990s, there were calls across the country to ban it. The UFC began as an experiment of sorts to discover which martial art was the most effective. As such, you had wrestlers, Ju-Jitsu and Muay Thai practitioners, karate black belts, boxers, kick boxers, and men from other martial disciplines all competing in a cage called the Octagon. The fighters at first were a hodgepodge, arriving in differing kinds of attire, from Speedos to full gis. Further, the rules of the sport were lax enough to allow tactics that (for people accustomed to boxing at least) seemed truly barbaric. It was perfectly legal to not just to hit a man when he was down, but also to deliver kicks to the head and groin to keep him there. Add to that witches brew elbows, knees, kidney punches, hair pulling, foot stomping, arm locks, leg locks, creative choke holds, and, in one instance at least, strangling an opponent with his T-shirt, and you had something that even the most hardened American sports fans found difficult to swallow. Of course, amid the 400-pound freak shows, beer-gutted street brawlers, pretentious martial arts dilettantes, wannabe pro-wrestlers, and out-of-work tough guys who appeared in the early UFC tournaments, you had serious athletes dedicated to making MMA a legitimate form of competition. Royce Gracie, the Shamrock brothers, Marco Ruas, Guy Metzger, Vitor Belfort, Randy Couture were leading examples. As time went on in the 1990s, this pretty much became the norm in the UFC as it slowly shed its “bloodsport” in search of mainstream recognition. Regardless, boxing remained the premier combat sport in America, and not just because MMA took about a decade to find its legs. The 1990s and early 2000s were a golden age for boxing. Superstars such as Mike Tyson, Roy Jones, Julio Cesar Chavez, Lennox Lewis, Evander Holyfield, Marco Antonio Barerra, Felix Trinidad, Ricardo Lopez, and Oscar De La Hoya revitalized interest in the sport. Later stars like the Klitschko brothers, Ricky Hatton, Arturo Gatti, Kostya Tszu, Floyd Mayweather, and Manny Pacquaio got their start in the 1990s as well. Further, competing cable networks such as HBO, Showtime, and ESPN limited some of the corruption in boxing by pressuring promoters to put on competitive fights, not just ones that were most expedient to their profit margins. The talent level was also very, very high, and many weight divisions were loaded with great matchups just waiting to happen, especially heavyweight. As opposed to MMA, boxing around the turn of the century was considered by most Americans to be a legitimate sport. It could boast of time-honored rules, loads of tradition, Olympic pedigrees, phenomenal athletes, and bigger-than-life personalities while the UFC was still trying to convince state athletic commissions to keep MMA legal. In 2001, the very idea that MMA would eclipse boxing as America’s top combat sport was fairly ridiculous. Now, ten years later, not so much. In fact, it has pretty much already happened. The UFC changed owners and management in 2001, and as a result better regulated the rules, banned some of the more brutal fighting tactics, introduced more weight classes, earned approval from sanctioning bodies, greatly improved advertizing, made forays into reality television, and spread their appeal across the world. MMA has also developed a distinct personality with its own share of characters, heels, heroes, and rivalries that will soon be part of legend. Bottom line however is that, in the UFC at least, the matchmaking has been excellent, the fighters compete at a very high level, and the fights more often than not are exciting. By 2005, the UFC had turned a corner and has grown in popularity and stature ever since. Boxing, on the other hand, while still going strong, hasn’t exactly matched the dizzying heights it had reached 10-20 years ago when super-fights were being staged nearly every month. Many of the fighters mentioned above have retired, should retire, or will in the next year or two. And they have not exactly been replaced by athletes of equal magnitude or charisma. The Klitschkos continue to dominate a lackluster heavyweight division. Sergio Martinez, Chad Dawson and Andre Ward are excellent fighters, but Roy Jones, James Toney, and Bernard Hopkins they ain’t. There are a lot of talented guys in the lighter weights, such as Saul Alvarez, Nonito Donaire, Amir Kahn, Marcos Maidana, and Andre Berto. But none as of yet has the box office cache or charisma of a prime Julio Cesar Chavez or Oscar de la Hoya. And has anyone created a rivalry that can match Barerra-Morales, Ward-Gatti, or Corrales-Castillo? Further, the two most recognizable men in the sport, Manny Pacquaio and Floyd Mayweather, share not only the same weight division but also the number 1 and 2 spots on all pound-for-pound lists. Yet they refuse to fight each other. Of course, boxing isn’t doing badly in 2011. It’s just that compared to how things were 10-20 years ago, it’s in a bit of a slump. Also, it appears to Americans a little worse than it really is since much of boxing’s appeal has shifted overseas with its stars. If you look at the Ring or Fightnews.com rankings per weight class you will only find a smattering of American fighters in the top ten in each division above welterweight. This

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reminds me of how things were in 1975 when the only American world champion was Muhammad Ali. The talented Olympic classes of 1976 and 1984 changed all that. I have no doubt that things will improve for boxing, partly because MMA has emerged as a competitor and real threat to its business. So now that the two sports compete head-to-head we can ask the following questions: which one is better? Which is more thrilling? Who is the more dangerous combat athlete? What can one learn from the other? These questions I will tackle in an upcoming post.