Shamik Das

Sunday, December 12, 2010

What is the point of UFC? And could it ruin boxing?


ANOTHER weekend, another Saturday night of high octane boxing on both sides of the pond, Nathan Cleverly and James DeGale topping the bill at the Echo Arena in Liverpool, and Amir Khan wowing the Yanks with a brutal points win in Vegas... but with the memory of Fraudley’s embarrasing capitulation and Antonio Margarito’s contemptible cheating still fresh in the mind, does the noble art face a further undermining of its reputation?

I speak of the phenomena that is the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), the vulgar, blood-curdling free-for-all that’s been creeping into the consciousness since its relative mainstreaming at the start of the last decade. As its popularity has grown, on tv, in arenas up and down the land and on games consoles, so too has the number of people taking it up, training in gyms and training alongside proper fighters. And therein lies the problem.

As was illustrated during Cleverly’s less-than-clever points win over unknown Marseillais Nadjib Mohammedi on Merseyside Saturday night. Repeatedly during the fight, an increasingly desperate Cleverly resorted to UFC moves, grappling, gripping blindside of the ref, and chopping down on his opponent's back while in close, with the odd rabbit punch thrown in - for which he was finally docked a point mid-match.

So why, then, is this happening, and will it spread? Well, if Cleverly is sparring with UFCers at Enzo Maccarinelli’s tin hut gym on a hill overlooking Swansea, it should come as no surprise that bad habits will eventually kick in, though thankfully, not yet literally. A gym which, according to Steve Bunce:

“... is worse than gyms I've seen in khazis in Mexico, and in slums in the States, no hot water, not even any running water!”

But if it delivers results, few will care, though many will be alarmed in the UFCisation of boxing continues unabated. Cleverly himself is far from the archetypal boxer, a maths graduate from Cardiff, who had to combine training with studying when he was setting out on the road to stardom. He stands on the brink of being crowned world champion at the age of 23; should Juergen Braehmer fail in his appeal tomorrow against a 16-month prison sentence for assault and insulting behaviour he will be crowned.

Amir Khan’s background is better known, his rise up the ranks better documented, his win overnight more impressive - see for yourself below:

Back, then, to UFC, and the reasons for my dislike of it, and not just for the effect it may have on the real sport. I had the pleasure, if pleasure’s the right word, of watching a night of UFC at Wembley Arena a few years ago, titled “Cage Rage”. It was gory, it was bloody, it was strangely exhilarating, thrilling, exciting, but also repulsive, ignoble and, well, lacked class.

It felt slightly illicit, like a sports speakeasy, like a bare-knuckle den in a Guy Ritchie film - and that, in a nutshell, is what it is, no-holds-barred brutality, anything and everything appeared to be allowed. There are rules - no head butts, no eye gouging, no biting, hair pulling or fish hooking - but it didn’t feel like it ringside. Nor was the fighting itself that enthralling if truth be told, too much grappling, not enough clean hits, no combinations to speak of, just kicks, punches, kicks, slaps, grips and blood, blood and more blood, real blood, not fake rugby blood.

Still, it could be worse I suppose. Unlike real underground fighting, and unlike WWF, the fights don’t appear to be rigged, the competitors look legit, and the crowd don’t all look like crooks. There’s organisation, licensing, and, as I said above, at least notionally there are rules, one of which, rule 29, would have come in handy in the Haye-Harrison ‘fight’:
“Timidity, including, but without limitation, avoiding contact with an opponent, intentionally or consistently dropping the mouthpiece or faking an injury [is a foul].”

UFC still, though, looks like what you get when you throw two drunks into a cage, let them go for it, and to Hell with the consequences... A bar-room brawl in all but name.

See for yourself: UFC UK official website


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