FanPost promoted by SC
Look, I'm no numbskull. The Sylvia-Mercer fight was a wall-to-wall horrible idea that was met with about as much enthusiasm by MMA fans, by Boxing fans and by the state of New Jersey as it deserved. But, its not totally "meaningless." A Britney Spears album is meaningless. So are Ashton Kutcher "Twitters." But if the result of this fight was entirely without meaning, no one would even bother to mention it happening, let alone to go out of their way to point out and reiterate how utterly meaningless it all was.
Don't get me wrong. The imaginary sibling rivalry between MMA and Boxing is something that I don't think many hardcore fans of either sport take very seriously (and if they do, they should seriously consider getting some form of life). But the business side of prizefighting has as much, if not more, to do with the perceptions of the casual fan as it does with catering to diehards. And, like it or not, a perception exists in the MMA casual fan base that Mixed Martial Arts somehow amounts to "Boxing+". For this sort of fight fan, a Mixed Martial Artist is by definition a superior combatant; a sort of nine-headed Boxing Hydra that adds kicks, chokes and grappling to the standard boxing arsenal. This is the sort of mentality I think Sylvia was (very subtly, maybe accidentally) addressing when he described his desire to crossover to boxing and earn "the big bucks" by climbing into the top ranks of the heavyweight division. In other words, "Boxing is easier than MMA. My experiences in MMA should translate pretty well, and I could probably be a top contender in a few years."
Obviously, the smarter fans of MMA and Boxing (and both) thought this was just sheer nonsense. BLH's brother blog Bloody Elbow boasted plenty of fans who sneered at Sylvia's audacity, as well as at this shameful fight in general. But this perception hasn't been uncommon among MMA fans I've hung out with. Whenever the conversation has been steered towards Boxer vs. MMA fighter, there always seems to be this undercurrent of "but, you see, if a Boxer tried A, an MMA fighter could just do B, C, D, E and Q....." It's the sort of pointless conversation I don't enjoy having, and I've met more serious fans of mixed martial arts that agree. But I think its worth noting that this perception of superiority has always been a key part of MMA's marketing strategy and success. I vividly recall watching a tape of the first Ultimate Fighting Championship back in 1994, and I remember the sort of analogies that were being kicked around at ringside. This wasn't Boxing; it was Ultimate fighting, and these were Ultimate fighters. They were to boxers as Marine snipers were to paintball champions. This was "the future of fighting sports."
Before anyone brands me a Hater of All Things MMA, I have to say I also remember some things that I enjoyed about the sport. Royce Gracie in particular was interesting to watch, with his frustrating, octopus-like jujitsu style that made Floyd Mayweather look like Arturo Gatti in terms of pulse-pounding excitement. I've also rather enjoyed watching the sport mature and grow over the years. In general, I think its success isn't a threat to Boxing, which has survived many lapses in popularity on the strength of its long, storied history and culture. If anything, the popularity of MMA probably helps Boxing to thrive in the long run, since there are so many opportunities for crossover events and promotions. The two sports definitely can and probably should try to form a closer partnership over the coming decade. One thing I learned growing up in the 70's was that a bad economy usually ignites interest in professional fighting. Given that we are probably in for a very rough ride in the short term, this could easily become a Golden age for both sports, as long as they don't try to pick each others pockets on the way to the bank.
And, like I've said, it seems to me that the majority of MMA fans and Boxing fans looked crosseyed at Sylvia-Mercer from day one. But it's worth mentioning that the main reason everybody had been giving this fight the business was because of Mercer himself. Ray was 48 years old. He'd had 3 overseas fights in 3 years. His last championship bout was a 6th round stoppage loss to Wladimir Klitschko in 2002. His last fight with a top twenty boxer was a knockout loss to Shannon Briggs in 2005, and he'd lost to a far worse heavyweight in Derric Rossy little more than a year ago. He'd be fighting in a cage instead of a boxing ring. And, to top things off, the rules were changed from Queensberry to Mixed Martial Arts at the last minute. Sylvia would be allowed to grapple, choke, kick, elbow and generally have at his disposal the full array of weapons he'd studied over the course of his professional career. We hated this fight because Tim was going after an old boxer in a card game where he supposedly held all the Aces. We hated it because it seemed Tim was trying to sneak into a professional boxing career through a creaky, unlocked screen door.
If nothing else, the savagery and speed of the Mercer-Sylvia result might have at least put the lie to this perception that MMA and Boxing aren't merely "different" sports, but that MMA is somehow the superior animal, having evolved from Boxing's furrowed, caveman brow. This fight doesn't change my opinion about MMA one way or the other, and anyone who says "this one fight proves Boxing is better than MMA" is a knucklehead in my book. But maybe it might raise some consciousness in the ranks of MMA's casual fans that a world-class boxer possesses unique skills and experiences that can easily translate into a very short, brutal night for any fighter, fighting in any style and under any set of rules.