Home Columns Does the UFC Really Produce Better Figthers for Street Fighting?

Does the UFC Really Produce Better Figthers for Street Fighting?


UFC Mixed Martial Arts Versus Boxing, Krav Maga and More for Real Fighting:

When James Toney became the latest high profile boxer to be humiliated in a mixed martial arts (MMA) octagon, he provided yet more ammunition for everyone from Unlimited Fighting Championship (UFC) President Dana White to the lowliest fan forum denizen to crow that the UFC’s style of mixed martial arts is “better than boxing.” The linchpin of that claim, based as it is on a UFC champion beating a boxing champion, is that the UFC’s particular style of MMA is a superior style for street fighting than boxing.

That claim has some truth to it, but only in the sense that having more training in hand to hand combat is always better than having less training. However, the claim that the UFC’s particular style of MMA (and it is just that — a particular approach to mixed martial arts suited to a particular system of rules) is better than boxing gravely misunderstands what actually transpires in the octagon. The sort of fighting seen in the UFC octagon leans heavily on  grappling, sometimes known in MMA as “the ground game,” yet many street fighters see going to the ground as something to be avoided.

Hand-to-Hand for Real

Krav Maga, the Israeli mixed martial art that has become popular in both military and law enforcement circles, takes a dim view of grappling. Although grappling techniques are studied in Krav Maga, Krav Maga DC General Manager Al Chicarella explained that “Krav Maga’s philosophy is to avoid going to the ground where possible.”

In both the UFC’s octagon and a boxing ring, fighters enter unarmed and face off in a one-on-one engagement governed by a set of rules. In real life the situation is usually more fluid, and a fighter can never know if his opponent is armed, with what, or if more opponents might be lurking in the wings. Once on the ground, a fighter is less able to defend himself from multiple attackers, less able to retreat, and less able to see whether the opponent who is on the ground with him has produced a weapon. In any situation that is not strictly one-on-one and unarmed, a fighter grappling on the ground is vulnerable, a situation amply illustrated by Krav Maga masters Ran Nakash and Avivit Oftek Cohen on the Discovery Channel program Fight Quest.

Boxing’s Virtues

Boxing is not a complete martial art, but it has many virtues, among them its grueling training regimen. Many martial arts, including Krav Maga and the UFC‘s version of MMA itself, borrow heavily from the traditional training program of professional boxing. If the work outs in jeet kune do, krav maga and MMA schools all look a lot like something out of a Rocky movie, it is because few training programs prepare a fighter for the rigors of actual hand-to-hand combat the way the boxing regimen does. This is no small complement to the old fashioned virtues of the sweet science, because as Ned Beaumont makes clear in his book Championship Streetfighting, a big part of real hand to hand combat is physical and mental toughness.

Another point that Beaumont makes in his book is that boxing becomes a viciously effective form of street combat once all of boxing’s dirty moves — fouls like thumbing the eye and following through with the elbow — are thrown in. Yet from its earliest days, when Royce Gracie was popping joints on pay-per-view, UFC rules have favored some of the more brutal, crippling aspects of grappling while banning similar striking moves from boxing.

While the UFC bans “small joint manipulation” such as breaking fingers and toes, it encourages the snapping of wrists and ankles. However, many equally brutal, yet fundamentally non-lethal boxing moves, remain fouls under the UFC’s system. Head butting is the very first foul banned under UFC rules, while certain elbow strikes used in muay thai boxing — easy strikes for western boxers to employ as well — are also banned.

Stacking the Deck

When former middleweight champion James Toney or one-time heavyweight contender Ray Mercer made forays into the world of MMA, it was rightly pointed out by boxing pundits that both men were middle-aged and well past their best, and no one in the boxing world expected them to win. In boxing parlance, Toney in particular was a shopworn, hand-picked “name” for Dana White’s UFC to feast upon. Yet beyond the question of who fights who, White stacks the deck even further in favor of the MMA vs. boxing argument, an argument only he and his most ardent boosters seem to be truly interested in. The UFC’s rules permit grapplers to engage in some truly brutal fouling, while boxers/strikers must remain squeaky clean.

No such rules apply on the street, which is truly no-holds barred. In a situation where anything goes, going to the ground to inflict those brutal, UFC-favored grappling moves effectively chokes off a fighter’s ability to respond to the unexpected. A fighter who stays on his feet and makes proper use of space and movement, on the other hand, can respond to a fluid situation as necessary. Few techniques teach a fighter how to do that as quickly or effectively as boxing.