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MMA's rise from the swamp challenges boxing : On February 22, 2007

As a lifelong boxing fan I found it easy to sneer at the world of mixed martial arts.

In fact, I almost considered it my duty to poke fun at what I considered to be a short step away from a street fight between ill-disciplined oafs.

The history, panache and skills associated with the Queensbury Rules made me view tournaments like the Ultimate Fighting Championship in the USA through cynical eyes.

But times have changed since it was created nearly 14 years ago.

Back then, it was a brutal competition to test fighting styles against each other.

For example, a boxer would take on a Muay Thai expert or a karate master would face a jiu-jitsu exponent. There were few rules and, eventually, that led to MMA being shunned by fans and the authorities.

Quite simply, it was too violent to be considered entertainment.

After a long time in the wilderness, the UFC was bought by new backers and fundamental changes were made.

Rules, timed rounds and weight classes were introduced to make the sport palatable for the athletic commissions who had previously banned it.

The competitors were forced to become highly-skilled in many disciplines to adapt to the changes, which raised the level of competition.

The whole package was tidied up and MMA is now the biggest threat to boxing in the USA since the sanctioning bodies diluted their titles to the point of irrelevancy.

More than 14,000 fans packed the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas on December 30 to watch UFC light-heavy champ Chuck Liddell stop Tito Ortiz in three rounds.

That didn't beat the 18,000 who turned out to watch Manny Pacquiao beat Erik Morales at the Thomas and Mack Centre in the same desert city in November but it trounced so-called fistic messiah Floyd Mayweather's points win over Carlos Baldomir (9,400) at the Mandalay Bay.

Bernard Hopkins v Antonio Tarver (10,200) and Jermain Taylor v Winky Wright (10,100) didn't come close. Then there are the PPV figures, with the Liddell show breaking the one million barrier for the first time.

Only Oscar de la Hoya can do that.

MMA, and the UFC in particular, has gradually gained momentum and offers a credible alternative for new fans.

Nevada State Athletic Commission figurehead Marc Ratner jumped ship to the UFC in March last year while doctor Margaret Goodman has also started working for the organisation.

Surely someone squeamish enough to stop Diego Corrales because of a cut mouth during his thriller with Joel Casamayor in October 2003 wouldn't get involved unless things had changed?

After all, this is a sport once labelled "human cockfighting" by senator John McCain.

Even MC Michael Buffer's brother Bruce got in on the action as the 'voice of the Octagon' while star referee John McCarthy pinched Mills Lanes' 'let's get it on' battle cry before a contest.

The competition also dual broadcasts in English and Spanish to cater to the bedrock of fight fans while HBO plan to screen shows this year.

Punching has been rebranded as 'striking', fingerless 4oz gloves mean stunning KOs are prevalent and back alley techniques of head-butting, groin and throat strikes have been outlawed.

Being a boxing fan has never been more frustrating as fighters avoid each other and hide behind joke belts that they should be ashamed to wear.

That has to hurt the sport and, in turn, makes something like MMA more attractive to fans who simply want to see the best fight the best.

The UFC, and rival organisations such as Pride in Japan and Cage Rage in the UK, continually has the fights people want to watch.

The sport has dragged itself out of the swamp since those dark, early days and now I would happily class myself as a new fan.

The worm turned for me, but the real worry is going to be for a missing generation of fans who didn't get a chance to love boxing first.

Muay Thai , Thai Boxing & MuayThai , Phuket , Thailand By
Suwit Gym ( Muay Thai camp ) 15 Moo 1 , Choa Fa Rd , T. Chalong , A. Muang , Phuket , Thailand , 83000   
Tel . (66) 76 381167

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