Manny Pacquiao gave Antonio Margarito a boxing lesson on Saturday, November 13th. Also, the smaller and shorter Manny danced and weaved in and out of Margarito’s range and then delivered sets of stinging combinations from multiple angles. Manny seemed to be in a different time zone than Margarito. Margarito seemed lumbering, clumsy and weak. It was an exciting boxing contest and, in the era of the UFC, raised some interesting questions about spectator combat sports.
Boxing, as a spectator sport, has been on life support for some time. Boxing, for me at least, reached its pinnacle in the 1970’s with legends like Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Joe Frazier dominating the ring. After Ali’s retirement, there were few boxers that could make boxing look artful. He was fast and clever and danced like a deadly cobra with fists coming from all angles. There were few personalities that shined like Ali’s, whether he was making easy rhymes or dissing his partners with artful insults.
When the UFC first made its debut in the 1980’s, formal Mixed Martial Arts competition on a large scale was only a dream. The first contests were marketed as gladiator brawls, seemingly highlighting blood and guts rather than skill. Detractors, such as John McCain, criticized MMA as human cockfighting. As time evolved Mixed Martial Arts itself evolved into its own form of martial art, combining Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Boxing, Muay Thai and wrestling. Dana White, through marketing genius, brought the organization from a small risky start up to a multi billion dollar world wide industry. Imitators popped up.
Times have changed. It is now boxing as a sport on the defensive and the UFC as the shiny new kid on the block. Or is it?
As Manny Pacquiao demonstrated, boxing can be exciting or as boring as the boxer. In the recent bout with Margarito, Pacquiao bobbed and weaved maintaining a perfect distance with his opponent, just enough to stay out of reach of his opponents strikes, and then, with amazing speed and accuracy, slip through his opponents defenses with a barrage of precision crafted strikes. It was the kind of boxing artistry that reminded me of Ali.
Manny Pacquiao’s story is like so many boxers, a poor kid on the streets who dragged himself up by the bootstraps to become the best in the world in one of the only businesses that would accept a poor kid: boxing.
The heart of boxing is in its people. For audiences, boxing is easy to comprehend. The damage inflicted is visible, with facial cuts and swelling. Punching is easy to understand even if you don’t understand in depth techniques. This is the attraction of boxing compared to Mixed Martial Arts. Unless you are a practitioner and have studied grappling or jiu jitsu, MMA looks mostly like two guys rolling around on the ground. MMA, because it requires so many disciplines (wrestling, jiu jistsu, boxing, kicking) means that the best fighters may be those who are a little bit good in all areas but not that great in any particular area.
Also, Mixed Martial Arts is mostly for rich kids. To study Brazilian Jiu Jitsu often requires an investment of thousands of dollars and access to a good school. Good instructors are in major urban areas and the price is often prohibitive. Many boxers’ first experience with boxing training is at the local YMCA or other charitable organization. Boxing gyms are on the other side of the tracks than Brazilian Jiu Jitsu schools.
In recent years, Thailand has become a mecca for Martial Arts training. The original explorers who came to Thailand to learn its traditional martial art, Muay Thai (Thai boxing) opened the door to legions of martial arts tourists that would follow them. Now, throughout Thailand, there are gyms that feature Muay Thai, brazilian jiu jitsu, wrestling, boxing and other systems.