THERE is a very good chance that I will upset a few purists in the next few minutes. I will not apologise in advance.
This is a brief history of boxing chaos and the men responsible for blurring the lines, adding to the mess and building a solid history of ridiculous events. Tyson Fury now has the baton.
Anybody for savate, shootfighting or a bit of kenpo? No takers, cool. Anyway, in 1993 the Ultimate Fighting Championship launched with UFC One. They came in their traditional fighting suits, their boxing boots, their taekwondo robes and they were handily beaten by the Jii Jitsu master, Royce Gracie. Eight men, seven fights, all stoppages and the rest, as they say, is history.
The man wearing the boxing boots that day in Denver was Art Jimmerson. A real fighter. He was there with a single boxing glove, and his starched boxing shorts. Just one glove on his left hand. He was beaten in 2-18 by Gracie in the quarters. That was it, boxing and MMA became official partners and rivals. The one glove, by the way, was a hindrance because he could not grab Gracie; once on the floor, Gracie butted him, and Art tapped free. Art missed with his ten jabs before being taken down. At the time, Art was 28-5 in the boxing ring and in his next fight, he was stopped by Orlin Norris. In 1997, Terry Dunstan beat Jimmerson in Sheffield.
As a guide, Muhammad Ali hit Antonio Inoki just twice in their lunatic and stupid and serious fight in 1976. It is hard to hit a man who spent 15 full rounds on his back on the canvas, lashing out with his hefty wrestling boots. Ali, by the way, had blood clots in his left leg and had to go to hospital for two weeks.
In late 1986, Leon Spinks lost in round eight to Inoki, who was a genuine mixed-martial-arts innovator, in a boxing ring; Inoki was in wrestling shorts, Spinks had on two gloves, and it finished with Leon’s head wrapped somewhere in Inoki’s damned boots. Spinks was not finished with boxing – perhaps that is the other way round, boxing was not finished with Spinks – and a year or so after the Inoki loss, Spinks went ten truly brutal rounds with Randall Tex Cobb.
Spinks drifted then and spent a lot of time going full Primo Carnera in the wrestling game, taking on men like Tarzan Goto in a new city every few weeks. Spinks was the master of many trades, and he did win the Heavyweight Brass Knuckles Championship.
So, away from Neon Leon’s tricky wrestling life, there was in 2010 another very ugly clash between the world of mixed-martial arts and boxing. This one is still hard to explain and at the same time it explains everything.
James Toney was a legend of the boxing ring when he somehow talked his way into a fight with the UFC giant, Randy Couture. Toney had fought 80 times, had won multiple world titles and believed he could beat old Randy at Randy’s game. The massacre took place in Boston on UFC 118. I still have no idea how it was sold and agreed and took place. No idea.
Couture was 47, a freak in all fairness. Toney was 42, a mess in all fairness. Toney went to work in the gym with a jiujitsu master; he worked on all the intricacies that kids learn when they start in the MMA game. Nobody doubted that Toney put in a shift preparing in the gym, and against another novice he might have nicked a win. Randy was not a novice, and he was not in the UFC for laughs and giggles.
It lasted about 10 seconds before Randy did what Randy did and took Toney to the mat. It ended officially at 3-19 when James Lights Out Toney, boxing god, tapped out just seconds before his lights went out. Toney swore there was a boxing rematch agreement, and he would take that fight tomorrow. (Note to Saudis: This is NOT a viable undercard fight).
Toney, like Spinks a few years earlier, returned to his sport and lost a hard 12-rounder for a world title to Denis Lebedev in Moscow the following year.
Apologies to any other boxers, at any level, who have tried the MMA caper and had their throats choked and have somehow not got a mention. Julius Francis, sorry, mate.
And that brings me to the saddest of the lot. In 2013, Riddick Bowe lowered his considerable bulk onto my BoxNation sofa. The real Big Daddy was in the house. He is, in my books, boxing royalty and he could have been so much more. An inspired Bowe gives any heavyweight at any time a hard, hard night.
Bowe limped through the door to the studio, smiling, laughing and in pain. His legs unsteady, his voice booming, he sat down on the sofa. He had just flown in from Thailand. He had fought a Muay Thai fight, the start of a planned MMA takeover. His face was unmarked, but his legs were stiff, sore and damaged. He was vast, out of shape at 300 pounds and a bit confused. A few days earlier, he had been kicked to the canvas five times and quit in pain in round two. “It’s hard, your legs don’t recover quickly,” he told me. He never landed a shot or kick on his young Ukrainian opponent, Levgen Golovin. It was easy for Golovin; he just kicked Bowe in the shins. And kept kicking.
Just 1,000 showed for Bowe’s fight in the red-light beach haven of Pattaya, and it was free entry, which is not something the area is famous for. I doubt he got even a fraction of the 150,000 dollars he was promised. What he got, instead, is one of fighting sport’s ancient lessons: It’s impossible to play at both.
Bowe was on my sofa, a broken man and victim of a dumb idea.