James Toney and the Boxing vs. MMA Debate

When James Toney approached UFC president Dana White about fighting in

the UFC , he said that White was scared about what a boxer of Toney's calibre would do against a Mixed Martial Arts fighter.

Toney's sentiments aren't exactly anything new.

The question of boxer vs MMA fighter has been around at least since MMA started to become popular, and in fact, the idea isn't completely untested.

History of the Boxing vs. MMA Debate

UFC 1 was basically billed as such a clash of styles, that martial arts like boxing, sumo wrestling, and karate all got the short end of the stick.

However, UFC 1 didn't answer the question completely. UFC 1 was really a planned three-hour commercial of a contest stylistically stacked in favor of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Had an elite judo fighter been invited instead of Art Jimmerson, such a fighter might have easily won against Royce Gracie as Masahiko Kimura won over Helio Gracie.

In any case, since that time, it's been shown that while having defense against the submissions of BJJ is important, people from other martial arts backgrounds, who simply learn how to nullify BJJ might be able to swing the advantage in their favor.

Thus, punchers with some wrestling abilities like Chuck Liddell were able to lay out BJJ black belts, like Renato Sobral.

It almost seems like a marketing reaction to this newfound vulnerability of BJJ that the BJJ establishment might be starting to award black belts to prominent MMA fighters without the actual BJJ testing. So now, whenever fighters like Rashad Evans win, it's also a victory for Gracie Jiu Jitsu.

Regardless of whether any specific fighter actually has BJJ skills warranting a black belt, my point is that a great boxer could find success in MMA not by actually excelling in wrestling or BJJ. They just need to learn the basics to keep the fight standing long enough to land that knockout punch.

Many boxers and boxing enthusiasts have watched MMA fights, coming to the conclusion that MMA fighters just don't know how to strike. Floyd Mayweather Jr. said that any top 10 boxer would knock out a MMA fighter in a MMA fight.

There is at least some truth to what Mayweather has said about MMA. The level of striking in MMA just isn't at the same level as it is in professional boxing, and some boxers have even proved it.

KJ Noons, who is far from a world class boxer, went into MMA and was able to beat Nick Diaz with his boxing skills. He simply stuffed Diaz's takedown attempts and beat him up on the feet.

Last year, a 48-year-old Ray Mercer knocked out Tim Sylvia in an MMA fight within the first 10 seconds of the bout.

Of course, whenever fights like these occur, there is usually an accompanying excuse.

"Nick Diaz shouldn't have fought at that weight class. He's much better at 170."


"Tim Sylvia was out of shape and hadn't trained properly for his fight with Mercer."

Nevermind that Diaz had fought successfully at that weight before, or that just a year prior to the Mercer win, Fedor Emelianenko's blitzing of Sylvia was met with resounding praise, as if it proved that Emelianenko is some sort of cyborg from the future.

There is, of course, a little bit of truth in both those excuses.

Among the other criticisms from the boxing world is that if any of the MMA fighters were really good, then they would have chosen boxing instead, where there is more money for top of the food-chain fighters.

There's a bit of truth to this one as well. It's clear that some boxers have moved from boxing to MMA simply because it was an easier thing for them to do. But, I find it hard to believe that current MMA fighters like Marcus Davis would have moved from boxing to MMA if they could have been far more successful in boxing.

Some of the quick successes of upstart MMA fighters also really seems unlikely to ever happen anytime soon in boxing. At 20 years of age, both Forrest Griffin and Tito Ortiz jumped into MMA after they saw it and thought to themselves, "I could do that." Both fighters would become light-heavyweight champions.

Tito got to the title in just a few years of training.

You're unlikely to see that kind of meteoric rise happen any time soon in boxing.

On the other hand, even good boxers aren't guaranteed success in MMA, where there are so many other skills to learn.

Furthermore, while some boxers might be taking the easy way by going into MMA , it's not the case that they're running into a pool of inferior athletes.

MMA is also filled with elite athletes from different backgrounds like traditional martial arts or wrestling.

The issue of comparable money is only as valuable as one's own opinions of money. A supermodel can look down upon physicians and engineers on the basis of her income, but that says more about the supermodel than it does about modeling or engineering.

When Mayweather points out that he makes far more money in boxing than even the most famous MMA fighters, it means that he's smart to stick to what he's good at, but it doesn't mean much else.

Without going any further into the arguments, I'll state now that it's my opinion that a truly great boxer would have a much better chance of succeeding in MMA than your average MMA fighter. I would be interested to see how a fighter like Manny Pacquiao would do in MMA if he made a serious attempt to reach the pinnacle of the sport in three or four years.

However, we're never actually going to see it happen, because any truly great boxer is making far more money in boxing right now than he could possibly make in MMA. So the question then becomes: Will we ever get a truly great boxer in MMA?

James Toney ?

Even if a boxer were offered similar fight money to compete in MMA, it would be too big of a risk to put his boxing future in jeopardy if he lost in MMA, as I have no doubt Toney is doing by signing with the UFC.

The only reason Toney is willing to risk his boxing future is because at 41 years of age his boxing career is pretty much over right now anyway. The rapid rise of MMA coinciding with the slow and steady decline of Toney's boxing marketability have finally reached a point where MMA makes financial sense for him.

Make no mistake about Toney's intentions: He's in the UFC for the money, and whatever he's getting is more than he would have received in the boxing world.

Of course, Toney's arrival in the UFC won't answer the boxing vs. MMA question because Toney is too old.

Toney is no longer the world-class boxer he once was, and so even if he was taking his training for MMA 100 percent seriously, boxing would be wronged if any Toney losses in MMA are seen as proof of the superiority of MMA over boxing.

Yet despite Toney's age and declining skills, he's still got far better boxing skills than the average MMA fighter, so if some MMA fighter decides to throw down with Toney and gets knocked out, I won't be surprised in the least.

If that happens, we shouldn't take it as proof that boxing is better than MMA.

Above anything else, no single victory should say anything decisive about the comparison between sports.

Ray Mercer beat former UFC Champion Tim Sylvia, but lost to Kimbo Slice in an MMA fight. We would be horribly and tragically mistaken to conclude that the best MMA credentials belong to those who are "street certified."

Ultimately, because of his age and the huge holes that Toney will currently have in his MMA game, he won't ever be a true contender.

Even on his feet, the addition of clinches, kicks, and the threat of takedowns are going to make Toney's striking less-effective, so that while Toney might even be able to win a few fights, somebody will eventually capitalize on Toney's weaknesses.

The boxing vs. MMA debate won't be settled to the satisfaction of many any time soon, and the only way I could see great boxers going into MMA in their primes is if MMA eventually becomes more lucrative than boxing.

There are, however, some interesting and reasonable questions to put forth concerning Toney's foray into MMA .

Reasonable Questions About James Toney's Future in MMA

1. Will the media still see Toney's MMA career as important in the boxing vs. MMA debate?

In reality, Toney's foray into MMA will prove nothing, but it wouldn't surprise me if some guys in the mainstream media go out and make some ridiculous statements like "boxing is dead" or "MMA loses to boxing" depending on the outcome of Toney fights.

2. Will Toney's move into MMA help draw Pay Per View buys?

Ultimately, Toney isn't going to be either the savior or the destroyer of MMA, but I'm interested in seeing if he can bring in any boxing fans, or if they will ignore him now that he's no longer a relevant boxer and is competing in a different sport.

3. Will Toney take his MMA training seriously?

Maybe Toney really wants to try to go on a bit of a run, but maybe he's just in the UFC to cash in a quick paycheck.

Furthermore, while Juanito Ibarra is credited with helping Quinton Jackson, I can't help feeling that he's absolutely the wrong trainer to be preparing Toney for the kicks, wrestling, and submissions that he's likely to endure in MMA.

4. Who will the UFC put against James Toney ?

If the UFC wants to keep Toney around, there are guys in the world who are willing to go in there and get knocked out, or in the case of Greg Nagy, get mauled around for 12 minutes by a superior athlete.

I'm interested in seeing what kind of opponent the UFC will put against Toney , and whether the UFC would rather put Toney in against a contender, or if they think it's a better move to give him an easier initial opponent.

5. At what weight will Toney be fighting?

Toney once fought at a bloated 237 lbs, but it might be wise for him to drop some weight and fight at 205 lbs, or possibly even 185 lbs.

by Darren Wong

Post a Comment

Previous Post Next Post