Boxing: The Most Underrated Discipline in Mixed Martial Arts

Whatever happened to wanting to see a guy get bashed in the face and knocked on his butt? It seems today maybe we have gone soft. More often, it may be the case that you hear someone say, “he needs a takedown to win this round, and the fight. ” Wrestling is a dominant skill, no doubt, but it seems that so many today are ignoring the art that has potential to end the fight the fastest: good old fashioned classical boxing.
Recently my boxing coach was forced to resign from my MMA gym. The politics behind it aren’t important, but this action has inspired me to write on the underutilization of this fight discipline. As a boxer, it is very frustrating to see this happen. No, this is not an article concerning MMA vs. Boxing. This isn’t about Randy Couture vs. James Toney. This is about the use, or lack thereof, of boxing skills within the sport of MMA.
Recently I attended a Muay Thai Kickboxing tournament. As an amateur boxer, with experience training in Muay Thai and Jiu-jitsu, I saw clear opportunities to score or finish the fight being missed. They were the type of opportunities that a classically trained boxer would have recognized and exploited. Want to be dominant in the ring? Learn classic boxing.
While watching these fights, I saw the participants backing up, leading to them getting caught on the ropes or in the corner. In boxing this is a cardinal sin. Your body goes backward, your punches go forward. The net force is much less when moving backward compared to the fighter stalking forward and punching forward. Great fighters do not retreat, but they circle and counter. The best opportunity you have to score points in any combat sport is while your opponent is trying to score against you. Very few fighters, outside of Chuck Liddell, have ever had much success scoring points while moving backwards in retreat.
What’s even more frustrating to watch in fights is that once caught in a corner, the opponent does not take advantage of this. Often the fighter is more concerned about swinging for the fences Hot New Business Ideas rather than securing the position, and keeping the opponent trapped in the corner or against the cage. For a stand-up fighter, this is the equivalent of the mount for a ground fighter.
Ring control is to a boxer as base is to a wrestler. Many MMA fighters pose as boxers, but in fact they have simply learned enough boxing to get by. Very few are classically trained. So, it is very common to see a fighter have his opponent reeling back into the cage and in chasing after him, out of control, the opponent simply picks a side and slides off the cage and escapes to the center of the ring. A true boxer comes in under control. He protects all angles, cutting off the opponent and eliminating every escape route.
Triangle Theory in boxing states that the boxer should cut off his or her opponents laterally. This is the key to ring control. Using angles effectively, forces the opponent to move according to what you do, rather than allowing him to move where he wants to go. This also causes the fighter to expend energy, having to constantly reset his position and stance and constantly keeping him on the defensive. A defensive fighter has a lower probability of scoring points, and knocking out his opponent. The converse is true for the fighter who uses controlled aggression.
Another underutilized boxing skill in MMA bouts is the idea of keeping your hands up, and your elbows in tight to the body. Given they are only wearing 4oz. gloves, and fighting for a maximum of 15 to 25 minutes, one would think this wouldn’t be an issue in MMA. Boxers have their hands up in 12-16oz. gloves for upwards of a half hour. The best example of proof that this skill could improve a fighter is Roy Nelson Vs. Junior Dos Santos. On paper, this is a UFC fight that I think any true fight fan would have predicted a first Dealing In Goods And Services round knock-out in favor of Dos Santos. However, “Big Country” went the distance. He didn’t do much offensively, but he used great boxing defense as a buffer to keep safe from Junior’s devastating offensive boxing skills. His hands were up the entire fight, deflecting Dos Santos’ punches. Roy probably kept his hands too high, as it left him open to kicks and punches to the body, but the point is he used classical boxing defense and managed to fend off one of the most destructive strikers in the UFC Heavyweight division.
An MMA fighter against a boxer, if all stats were the same: the MMA fighter would beat the boxer most times because he has more tools to work with. An example this article would more closely be related to would be an MMA fighter without classic boxing skills vs. an MMA fighter with classic boxing skills. The boxer will dominate the top game and the fight itself. One fighter who has the best of both worlds is Rashad Evans, a UFC fighter, and former professional boxer. Learn boxing, and you will learn to control the fight, and consequently the outcome.
Special thanks go out to my boxing coach Jamie “Boxx” Strader, a 16 year boxing veteran. He has made me the fighter I am today, and taught me many strong life lessons.

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