UFC Winners blend martial arts and sweet science
Before we headed to Cineplex Queensway Cinema to watch UFC 124 my good friend Andre Batson -- former Argo and Eskimo and mid-90s saviour of York University's football program -- highlighted something interesting about welterweight contender Josh Koscheck.
In my preview to the fight I mentioned that Koscheck held tight to his peroxide blond locks even even though some of the hairstyle's most famous proponents abandoned it years ago. But Batson pointed out that while Koscheck's hair isn't back to its natural colour it's darker than the platinum blond to which we'd grown accustomed, and that he looked less like Sisquo and more like Titans CB and notorious NFL instigator Cortland Finnegan.
And when the bell rang for Koscheck's title shot he fared about as well against Georges St-Pierre as Finnegan did in his punch-up with Texans receiver Andre Johnson.
Which is to say he got manhandled.
Beyond a takedown late in the first round Koscheck mustered zero offence against St-Pierre and his game plan seemed to have been crafted by Kimbo Slice:
Meanwhile St-Pierre demonstrated why he belongs at or near the top of pound-for-pound lists, controlling nearly every minute of every round with his superior size, strength, quickness and boxing skill.
St-Pierre spent part of his training camp sparring with Montreal-based pro boxers like Sebastien Demers and working with famed boxing trainer Freddie Roach -- and it showed. While Koscheck arrived in Montreal promising to score a knockout win in front of St-Pierre's hometown crowd, the champ set the pace with a stinging left jab.
With the most basic weapon in a pugilist's arsenal he blunted Koscheck's headlong rushes, raised an ugly welt over his right eye and set up the takedowns that underscored his dominance.
In jabbing his way to a lopsided decision St-Pierre didn't just prove that he's the world's best welterweight by a wide margin. He reminded us all of an important fact that's often lost in the "Boxing vs MMA" debate.
Boxing is a martial art too.
And a very effective one in the right situations.
Nobody debates whether jiu jitsu and wrestling skills are essential to an MMA fighter's arsenal -- naturally, since 80 percent of all MMA matchups go to the ground.
And muay thai's importance is a given, mainly because elbows, knees and leg kicks hurt (bad), and because the clinch allows you to combine striking and grappling to inflict some serious damage.
Yet whenever a boxer transitions to MMA it's seen as a final referendum on which sport -- and by extension fighting art -- is superior, even though boxer vs. mixed martial artist matchups prove only what we already know. Somehow we see the two disciplines as mutually exclusive simply because the two industries are going toe-to-toe over the pay-per-view dollars of mainstream sports fans.
Fighters know better.
Does that mean a background in boxing is the best foundation on which to build a mixed martial arts career?
Somebody as accomplished in jiu jitsu as James Toney is in boxing would have lasted longer than two minutes against Randy Couture and even with little specific mma training might have even forced "The Natural" to sweat.
But can an advanced education in boxing enhance a mixed martial artist's skill set?
Ask Joe (Daddy) Stephenson, who lunged chin first at Mac Danzig on the St-Pierre/Koscheck undercard and paid a painful price.
Boxing folks call that shot a check hook, and it could have come straight from Floyd Mayweather's playbook.
Or ask Koscheck, who took a thorough beating Saturday night because he had zero answers for the punch you learn on the first day of boxing class.
The left jab.
Now let's get this straight. GSP is far from a master boxer.
When baseball people talk about how fast certain baseball players are I'm always pointing out most of them aren't really fast -- they're just baseball fast. No denying guys like Ichiro and Chone Figgins are light years faster than their baseball peers but in the broader world of fast guys they're on the left end of the bell curve.
So GSP is to boxing skill what Jose Reyes is to sprinting. He'll destroy most of us and hold his own with journeyman pros (like the guy getting flattened here) but an experienced pugilist nullifies that jab and hurts him bad.
But in his world he doesn't need to be Bernard Hopkins. He simply needs to sharpen a skill -- boxing -- that many mixed martial artists neglect.
He did exactly that in training for UFC 124 and his performance Saturday night hit observers like a revelation but it shouldn't have. The UFC's welterweight champ simply understands something a lot of his competitors are learning the hard way.
Boxing may be the sweet science, but its also a hell of a martial art.
* As mentioned above, I caught Saturday's fights at a movie theatre. First time for me and thanks to the folks at Cineplex for making it happen. If you're the type who likes his fights with a lot of beer and hollering then cinema viewing isn't for you. I like O'Doul's as much as the next guy, but I also enjoyed actually hearing the commentary for once. The polite applause after each fight will jar you, (especially if you're used to war cries in the sports bar) but you adjust to decorum. Besides, everybody loves a huge screen and surround sound. Can't replicate that experience at home or in a bar. So was the UFC experience different without alcohol and a mountain of chicken wings. Of course. A little. But would I watch in a theatre again? No question.
* From the "Find a way to watch it" file: this past Saturday's boxing. Between the double header on HBO and the bantamweight tournament on Showtime/Superchannel, I can't recall a single Saturday so saturated with boxing action. So I picked wrong on the Amir Khan/Marcos Maidana fight. So what? As I told folks on twitter, each of those four fights was more exciting than anything that went down at UFC 124. Even if you say you don't like boxing, if you're reading this blog you like action. And if you like action find a way to watch those fights. And if you're still not entertained you better go check for a pulse.
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