If you’re like me then you could not be more proud to be a boxing fan in 2017.
High level, exciting matches left right & center.
Titles changing hands.
Tournaments pitting the best of the 168 & 200 pound weight classes against each other is raising the profiles of both underappreciated divisions.
We’ve said Bon Voyage to future hall of fame greats like Marquez, Klitschko, Mosley & Ward.
We said goodbye to legends like The Raging Bull - Jake LaMotta who passed away at the improbable age of 95. Instead of sorrow we felt admiration and gratitude for the memories that this Warrior provided fans across the generations.
We have had our share of drama and controversy as well… I mean - c’mon it’s boxing!
As I write this with about eight weeks remaining in the year there are still a couple high profile fights to go.
However, if I were to point to the most significant development in the sport in 2017 it would be the resurgence of the sport like nothing I’ve seen in my generation.
This is largely down to social media of course. The democratization and decentralization that the medium lends itself to gives boxing fans 24-7 access to our favorite fighters.
Another reason boxing is in the throes of a resurgence is… wait for it… the crossover fight between Floyd Mayweather & Conor McGregor.
Call off the lynch mob.
My central thesis in this case is that people are taking boxing seriously again.
Boxing was literally front page news all summer. This is in spite of the fact that the larger boxing media shunned and ignored the fight treating it as a farce and a joke.
However, the attention paid made boxing... cool again...sexy…
Once again, to be a capable boxer made one Dangerous.
UNDER THE INFLUENCE
To be honest It’s a bit quiet this weekend in the boxing world.
Deontay Wilder makes his sixth defense of his WBC heavyweight belt against the man he beat for it nearly 3 years ago Bermane Stiverne. Most believe that if Wilder makes it to the ring with a pulse and boxing gloves on Stiverne won’t make it out of the third round - and they should be right.
In the wake of Badou Jack vacating the title, Monaco will host a title fight between exciting, undefeated prospect Dmitry Bivol and Trent Broadhurst who only has one blemish on his record. Bivol won the interim title in May of 2016 but this fight - essentially a defense has been elevated to the full WBA title.
If that’s not enough action for you, the discerning fight fan may want to check out UFC 217.
The card is heavily weighted with boxing influence and it’s going down at the world famous Madison Square Garden, for generations the Mecca of boxing in The States.
For all the supposed rivalry between boxing and MMA it appears MMA fighters cannot escape the reality that training the sweet science as seriously as they train their other disciplines is functional and necessary.
The co featured bout is an example. TJ Dillashaw former UFC Bantamweight (135 lbs) champion takes on Cody Garbrandt. Cody is just 26 and was born in Uhrichsville, OH. Cody was a standout all around athlete growing up and began boxing at 15 years old initially trained by his uncle. Cody entered the amateur ranks and was an Olympic alternate. Cody finished with an outstanding record of 32W-1L.
Cody is pretty sound fundamentally, in particular his right straight is compact and lethal. In MMA Cody owns a record of 11W-2L with 9 KOs. His biggest win so far was last December when he defeated then champion Dominick Cruz by unanimous decision. Cruz was known for a feverish pace, unorthodox footwork and high fight IQ.
Cody responded with accurate footwork, balance and excellent head movement. While Cruz was bouncing on his toes with frenzied exaggerated movements Cody wouldn't bite. He remained balanced in his stance and landed consistently scoring multiple knockdowns and cutting Cruz as well.
Cody leaned on his strong boxing base, using simple footwork and basic combinations to completely out strike an established, skilled “Mixed Martial Artist.” To be sure Cody also possesses a great understanding of grappling, however, once Cruz could not gain success on the feet striking he was forced to attack in a desperate and reckless manner.
In the main event UFC 217 features a middleweight title fight between Georges St. Pierre, a living legend of the sport and one whom many believe was the first true Mixed Martial Artist. He seamlessly blended elite level wrestling, karate and submissions into a complete human weapon.
He is also well known for being one of just a handful of MMA fighters to fully embrace the boxing gym.
For years now he’s been travelling to sunny California to train with the one and only Freddie Roach a the Wildcard Gym. In fact for the first time for Georges in his career Freddie will be cornering on the night. This is a first for Freddie as well!
Georges is a cerebral fighter who likes use his strikes to set up his wrestling takedowns where he can maul his opponents once on their backs and vulnerable.
Georges is arguably the best welterweight in UFC history, perhaps one of the best in MMA ever. He holds a record of 25W-2L. He held the UFC Welterweight (170 lb) title on two occasions and made nine total defenses.
Four years ago, beat up and burned out George stepped away from the sport vacating his title but left the door open for a comeback. This Saturday night he makes that return in a weight class above, against Michael Bisping, a tough rugged Brit who’s enjoyed all the highs and suffered all the lows that a combat sports athlete could possibly endure.
Born on a British army base in Nicosia Cyprus, Michael grew up in Clithroe, Lanchasire.
Michael has been a lifelong martial artist beginning with Jiu JItsu and kickboxing as a boy and eventually entering Britain’s first amateur “no holds barred” event called Knock Down Sport Budo.
Michael made his American MMA debut in 2006 on the UFC reality tv show The Ultimate Fighter - a tournament format based on weight class. All the contestants live in a house together, however are separated into two teams. The field is whittled down until two finalists from each team face each other to determine the winner.
Michael won the tournament and is still the first and only UK native to do so.
MIchael began his career at light heavyweight (205 lbs) and eventually found a home at Middleweight (185 lbs). Bisping currently holds the record for most wins in the UFC with 30 and has 16 knockouts. In June of last year Michael achieved his greatest success - the pinnacle of his career when he knocked out bitter rival Luke Rockhold for the title on on 12 days notice with a left hook-right hand combination in the very first round. Since then Michael has made two successful defenses.
Michael owes much of this success to head coach and former pro boxer Jason Parillo.
Parillo was 8-0 in the pro ring before chronic injuries closed the curtain on his own career. However, he stayed involved in helping others in the pro ranks like Johnny Tapia, Paul Spadafora and Fernando Vargas.
In the early-mid 2000s Parillo got more involved in the MMA scene as more fighters were seeking out his guidance.
Parillo has now been the key member of Michael Bisping’s team for several years and integral to his success.
Whereas Georges St. Pierre will look to vary his strikes to control distance allowing him to attempt takedowns at will Bisping is far more the conventional Boxer in this case. He will be heavy on the front foot using pressure and volume to draw Georges into a fist fight!
Because Bisping is the naturally bigger man Georges will struggle to take down Michael, much less hold him down. Once Georges has exhausted himself, Michael will press his advantage forcing Georges to fight when he doesn't want to.
These are all strategies common and well understood by boxers that more and more are being embraced by the MMA community.
The rivalry between the boxing and MMA is manufactured and pointless, they are fundamentally two different sports. As Mayweather-McGregor showed us no one can pick up boxing and expect to be successful at the highest levels. The skill timing and nuance takes years to master, just like the skills required to be successful in the octagon.
Rediscovering the Sweet Science has enormous benefit for any combat sports athlete, the understanding of range, timing, balance and effective footwork can only be learned through patient and deliberate study.
And that is one of the greatest victories for the sport we all love, the best compliment that can be paid to the discipline of boxing is studying it seriously.