By Josh Stein on Aug 29, 2010
James Toney (0-1 MMA, 0-1 UFC) looked, last night, like he took a page out of the Gabe Ruediger (17-6 MMA, 0-2 UFC) Big Book of Diet Tips. He looked out-of-shape, but worse than that, he displayed some of the worst grappling since… well… since the last time a professional boxer stepped into the UFC.
For those who are missing my point, James Toney is the Art Jimmerson (0-1 MMA, 0-1 UFC) of this new school. Jimmerson appeared at UFC 1, taking on Royce Gracie in the first round of the tournament, was mounted and forced to tap with his lone, un-gloved hand. Toney, in the same form, did nothing to stop the takedown, to try and establish a guard or otherwise defend himself.
But Toney demonstrates a larger failing, not just on the part of his camp, but on the part of the sport that he was supposed to represent. And I’m not even talking about the failure of grappling. It’s a failure of attitude the existed both in Toney’s training (as made apparent by a performance more closely resembling Deep Water Horizon than a fight) and exists in boxing, generally.
When I listen to boxers talk about MMA, whether it was James Toney in the lead up to this fight, or Bernard Hopkins, or Jeff Lacy, or Floyd Mayweather Jr., there’s a sense of entitlement behind the words: because there’s punching involved, their knowledge becomes relevant. These guys are pugilists, they’re punchers. They’re not (as Toney so completely demonstrated) fighters. Their knowledge of fighting, writ general, is limited strictly to two weapons.
The boxers are, to embrace the old cliche, bring a knife to a gun-fight, and they think that because they brought a knife, because they’ve been training with it since they were kids, someone like Randy Couture, a world champion and athletic legend in his own right, is going to put away the arsenal he’s spent his entire adult life (and perhaps much of his adolescence) perfecting and fight you with a prison shank?
I was pretty good humored last night. I was happy to see Randy Couture (19-10 MMA, 16-7 UFC) absolutely demolish a fighter who had no place in the Octagon whatsoever. The fact that Toney threw a grand total of zero punches standing up was a wonderful if surprising statistic. But as I was going for a morning jog in the Fresno heat, today, I realized that perhaps my jubilation was not the appropriate response. Maybe it’s just the 100+ degree weather getting me hot under the collar, but as someone who studies this sport, as someone who considers it vocational, in a number of forms, I was insulted by James Toney, and by the audacity of the boxing community generally.
After all, this is a guy who made abundantly clear that he had put forth no effort whatsoever to learn the ground game. He had not in the least prepared himself to deal with the game that Randy was bringing in the cage. Either he is immensely stupid (and listening to people like Freddie Roach and Teddy Atlas commenting on MMA, he certainly wouldn’t be the only one) or he genuinely felt that the only thing he needed was a heavy right hand a big left hook.
Why is that insulting?
Because the guys who win big fights in MMA with one of those shocking punches (like Shogun Rua or Chuck Liddell) don’t do it because they spend their afternoons hitting the heavy bag. The “boxers” in MMA aren’t spending their days thinking about honing the skills that are going to win the fight. Anyone who knows anything about… well… anything knows that if you’re going to win with any sort of consistency, one of the important things to do is make sure that you’ve got your secondary skills to the point where a bad matchup doesn’t mean a definite ass-whupping.
I don’t expect Toney, or the boxing community generally, to learn much of anything from this event. I expect Bernard Hopkins to still make idiotic and homophobic comments about the grappling aspect of MMA, and the boxing community to continue to jeer the grappling game. But they’re welcome to send more boxers over, like a game of Red Rover, and we’ll be happy to introduce them to real fighters.
In the meantime, there are some great boxers who show respect for the sport, who know that they’re not cut out for learning grappling, that they don’t have the versatility of conditioning that MMA requires, or who feel that they do, and so they’ve humbled themselves and are trying to learn the skills. Those guys, Roy Jones Jr. and Ray Mercer, among others, are the guys the boxing community should look up to, not simply because they display a level of humility and an willingness to cop to limitations which has been absent in boxing for too damn long, but because they understand that boxing, MMA, and sports (generally) are about harnessing a skill set, building athleticism and stepping in to compete, regardless of who the guy at the other end of the cage or the ring is. Maybe, if the community, writ large, figures that problem out, or at least educates Floyd Mayweather Jr. enough that he decides he’d rather be an athlete than a professional heel, and lets those looking to cross over know that, if they don’t want to be at the center of a graveyard stand-up routine at Catch a Rising Star, they should spend more than five minutes a day on the mat.
About the Author: Joshua Stein is a writer and editor for MMA Opinion. He has worked as a photographer and journalist and has a number of print journalism credits. He also works as a moderator for MMAForum.com and a grappling columnist (covering judo, collegiate wrestling, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and submission grappling) for profighting-fans.com.