I was watching a recent edition of Friday Night Fights on ESPN and they aired a match between an undefeated kid with a record of 9-0 against a veteran "trial horse" type fighter that barely had a winning record. Now, for those that don't follow boxing, the first thing that you have to understand here is that it is not only acceptable, it is an integral part of the culture in boxing that if you have a talented prospect, the first 10 (sometimes more like 20) fights are going to be against professional opponents. What I mean to say is that there is a vast multitude of boxers out there that have gladly fallen into the role of "professional punching bag." They are usually guys that are void of any real boxing talent but are basically tough guys with a lot of heart that like to throw down. They know their role. They know that they're being overmatched but they truly don't care because they just like to fight and a fight against a prospect pays better than fighting a four rounder against some other professional punching bag that has three times as many losses as wins. Chances are that you've never heard of these guys, but boxing is FULL of them. Just one case study: pro boxer Reggie Strickland sports a record of 66-276-17. Yep, you read that right. This cat has taken a beatdown 276 times! Now, for every Miguel Cotto, Floyd Mayweather, Paul Williams or Wladimir Klitschko there are literally hundreds of guys that promoters use to just keep their fighters busy and get them some ring time. Guys like this are on the rolodex of every boxing promoter in the nation because they know that they can bring them in for an almost guaranteed win. Look, these aren't bad guys at all. Heck, I've known some of them. They're just doing what they can to make some money. They aren't throwing fights but promoters simply are willing to pay them to come in and be overmatched. And the "culture" in pro boxing allows it. Fans don't care, promoters don't care and the boxing media hardly seems to care. With some notable exceptions, this is basically the standard operating procedure during at least the first few years in a talented boxer's career (see the fight resume of Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. for just one prominent example. I think a few of his opponents fought Homer Simpson back during his short-lived boxing career).
More after the jump:
Bernard Hopkins was the in-studio guest and was providing commentary after this 9-0 prospect lost to the veteran gatekeeper that he was highly favored against. I'm paraphrasing but basically Hopkins (a fighter that I greatly respect) said that it was a "mistake" to have put the young fighter in with an opponent that could test him that much so early in his career. I could not disagree more. That kid should wear that 9-1 record with pride. In fact, I guarantee that he grew more as a fighter in that 18 minutes of ring time that I witnessed than he did in all of the early round blowout wins that preceded it. I immediately thought about how this boxing culture is one of the things that has made me more of a MMA fan over the years. The culture in MMA is quite different, for the most part. It's almost a stigma in MMA circles to carry around a padded record. A MMA fighter that has feasted on tomato cans to achieve a 10-0 record would quickly be hearing it not only from the fans and media but especially his peers. Put it this way, if I see a MMA fighter with a 6-3 record, that usually signifies much more than a pro boxer that is, say, 15-1. It is expected in the sport of MMA that you will test yourself. Anything to the contrary is immediately called out. In fact, perhaps sometimes we MMA fans go a little too far and could exercise a little more patience in following the progression of prospects. Anyway, I just thought that it deserved some mentioning. Just one example to end with: let's compare the resumes of two up and coming heavyweight prospects: from boxing, Olympic bronze medalist Deontay Wilder and, from MMA, heavyweight prospect Cain Velasquez. Wilder is 6-0 as a professional boxer and the combined record of the opponents he has faced thus far is 14-25-4 (35.9%). Velasquez, in comparison, is 6-0 and the combined record of his opponents is 50-23-1 (68.5%). The pugilistic landscape is littered with tons of such examples. I mention this not to beat up on boxing, a sport that I am still a big fan of. Generally, those boxers that do eventually reach world class status end up having very meaningful fights from that point on. It's the fights that they had during the first two-thirds of their career that is generally the issue. I've heard from lots of MMA fighters that would much rather have a .500 record and face quality opposition than rack up an impressive record against a bunch of bums. I just know that as a fan of this great sport, I'm proud of a lot of things that MMA represents and has accomplished. One of the biggest things that I'm proud of, though, is the "culture" that the MMA fans, media and athletes have fostered in which testing yourself is expected.