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THE BLOODY TRUTH: Blood in Boxing and MMA

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I became a fan of mixed martial arts, or, as it was known then, extreme fighting, back in 1996. I watched about six hours worth of the best of the Ultimate Fighting Championship on New Year’s Eve 1996 into 1997.

The sight of the blood you saw in some of the matches didn’t bother me, or affect me enough to keep me from staying a fan. No surprise, I guess, considering I’d been a boxing fan since I saw the first “Rocky” movie, in a theater, in late 1976 or early 1977. The sight of the gore onscreen when Rock implored Mick to use a blade to cut his right eyelid, to let out fluid and reduce swelling, enabling him to see, struck me, made my seven year old self squirm squeamishly..but didn’t put me off the sweet science.

The sight of blood in MMA touched me, struck me, more than it had previously, however, when I was watching some UFC PPV pre-lim action on Saturday night. Not even sure what match it was on FX, but I had a hard time taking my eyes off the stains on the floor of the Octagon.

As the fighters were circling, assessing, looking for an open striking or takedown lane, I was focused on the crimson puddles on the floor, which was soaked in. I wasn’t sure if it was from the previous fight, or the one before that, but that visual pinballed around in my brain.

It got me thinking, if this sight grabs me, someone who has been a boxing fan since the late 70s, and a fan of MMA for more than 15 years, I wonder how it strikes a newbie?

How often, I pondered, does a sports fan willing to give MMA a chance start to watch a match, and find themselves not attaching to the spectacle because they can’t get past the blood?

I recalled, as I watched, and my mind drifted, that a friend of mine, a colleague at ESPN Magazine, who’d been a boxing fan since the mid 60s, told me he gave MMA a try, but wasn’t into it. A huge part of that, he said, was that he found it “too brutal.” One fight he saw had two men bleeding badly, and they were covered in each others’ blood, and were then grappling each other, and he found the whole sight a turnoff. He also couldn’t wrap his mind around the sight of one man sitting on the others’ chest, and dropping sharp elbows down on the face of the eventual loser.

During the prelims, I also found myself wondering why the heck some removable flooring hasn’t been invented yet. Is there a reason or reasons why the top layers of the Octagon floor can’t be switched out, lickety split, after a particularly liquid-y event? Would that be too time consuming? Or is that an architectural impossibility? I’m guessing that what would be gained in appearance of cleanliness and hygiene and visual flow might be diminished in pure safety terms, because if layers of floor were removed, UFC might not be able to know beyond a shadow of doubt that the newly elevated layers were locked in, solid, and immovable.

I took to social media to process some of these thoughts and ideas and got into a spirited debate with a follower. This person didn’t at all accept much of my theorizing. He didn’t accept my loose conclusion that it stood to reason that if a seasoned fight fan like me were struck by the blood on the floor then a few or maybe more than a few potential fans were probably struck to the extent that they were lost as faithful consumers of the product.

My friend, admittedly, got off to an iffy start in our back-and-forth when he answered, “None,” after I posited that perhaps UFC loses some potential fans when they tune in for the very first time and see the buckets of blood.

“None?” Not a single, solitary one?

We engaged in debate from there. Our man said he thinks that if the sight of blood turns them off, they were “never potential fans. Just sissies who use it as an out.”

OK, I admit, the use of the absolutes “none” and “never” push my buttons. I know, social media isn’t the place for nuance, but I offer that it need not be a rarity. I reacted to my friend with a measure of “spillage emotion,” I think, latching on to him as a symbolic flag-holder for an entire movement, where a definitive declaration–not backed perhaps by anything more than a gut instinct, an inkling– has come to be viewed as fact, as Gospel.

Like when one of my relatives told me that he views the President through this lens: he told me in 2010 that he thinks that if re-elected, the President would seek to confiscate firearms held by private citizens. He pictured a door-to-door confiscation project, throughout the nation. He didn’t offer “proof” beyond his gut, and wouldn’t engage in a discussion about the feasibility of the confiscation project. I shook my head then, and now, at the slide towards a decrease in intellectual rigor, and the easy embrace of “shouter” media, opinion presented as fact, angry op eds now substituting as “news.”

Yep, the guy pushed my buttons. He really didn’t “deserve” my leap from 0 to 60 on the scorn-o-meter, though, as I reserve that for the ninnies who scream about Benghazi-gate without the self awareness to admit that if the circumstances of Benghazi trouble you, then you should be equally or more touched by the buildup to the Iraq War, and the fact that perhaps hundreds of thousands of human beings were killed stemming from that course of action.

My debate partner said that if you are turned off by the sight of blood you are not a “real” fight fan. I found that contention to be arrogant and arbitrary. Who is anyone, frankly, to judge what a “real” fight fan is? I applaud someone and embrace their freedom to choose if they tell me they think boxing or MMA is too vicious for them, I don’t dismiss them as a “sissy.”

My man then said that he thinks boxing “has been much bloodier than MMA.” I took issue with that, and drifted back to one UFC fight I watched a few years ago. I think it was on their “The Ultimate Fighter” show, and to my recollection, one fighter was cut, and blood was spilling out from his cut, onto the face of his foe, as he threw hammer fists down on the guy, who tried to turn his eyes so the blood wouldn’t go into his eyes. No, I admitted, I haven’t seen a study to prove which sport is bloodier.

My debate pal had to be grudgingly respected for his tenacity, if not the quality of his “evidence;” he said that there is “more” blood in boxing, “since the fights are longer.” I didn’t get into the fact that in championship UFC fights, a cut can open in the first seconds of a round, and flow for five minutes, as opposed to three in boxing, so that would leave me to believe that if we measured milliliters in a bloody boxing versus a blood MMA match, more blood would flow in the MMA bout. He said no study existed on which sport is bloodier, yet wouldn’t back off his assertion that boxing is bloodier. Absence of evidence be damned, my gut is all I need to inform me, he seemed to say.

I continued to object to the lack of rigorousness of the sifting of the information used to reach his conclusions, which were presented too much as unimpeachable fact, rather than opinion. I may have stepped over the line–sorry, bro–when I accused Mr X of intellectual arrogance, because time and again, he offered opinion based on nothing more than his perceptions. He didn’t widen the scope of inquiry beyond what his eyes and gut told him, in my view. And yes, I realize that I always have to battle this tendency myself, which is why I figured I should reach out to an expert.

Who, I wondered, is an expert on the subject of blood spilled in the ring AND the Octagon, who could bring some clarity to the debate.

How about “The Bangor Bleeder?”

How about Marcus Davis (pictured above), former pro boxer (1993-2000), who is currently a mixed martial artist? He just signed on with Bellator after fighting in UFC from 2006-2011. Davis has left his red blood cell on many a canvas, and is an engaging and willing interview subject.

I reached out to the fighter, who was kind enough to ponder the subject of blood in boxing and MMA. He weighed in on whether or not it is a deal-breaker turnoff to potential fans, and I hoped maybe he could help bring me and Mr. X further from personal theory based on perceptions to a viewpoint formed from life experience from one who has spent time in the arena, and whose words and views should be considered with extra respect, and gravity.

First off, to establish Davis’ cred: he told me that last Saturday marked the 101st time he’d needed to be sutured to close a cut from fighting. “I’m guessing I’ve had somewhere between six and eight hundred sutures done in my face over the course of my career,” the 39-year-old Maine native told me.

We got right to it, about which sports’ practitioners shed more blood.

“As far as milliliters go, I think there’s more in MMA,” he said. “I’m going to say for every pint of blood lost in boxing, there’s two to three in MMA.”

He agreed with me that the use of the elbow as a weapon in MMA probably opens up more cuts, and more deep gashes, than a boxing-gloved fist is typically able to activate. But, Davis said, to this point, the worst damage he’s suffered as a fighter came from his participation in a boxing match. “Both my eyes were split open, you could see the bone in my skull, my cheekbone was shattered,” he said. “It was against Lyndon Walker (in 1995), he headbutted me like five times in the first round.”

So, does Davis think the blood is a big turnoff to new potential fans who look down and see the swatches of blood on the floor, or see two men covered in fluid grappling each other?

Davis said he thinks the presence of blood in MMA isn’t the main impediment to reaching new fans; rather, he said, he thinks that fight fans, many if not most, are pretty specific in their preferences. There certainly is overlap, but many boxing fans are simply not going to take to MMA, and will find elements they don’t care for. “They are not going to like it either way, so they will point out little things,” he said.

Most fight fans, he has found, seem to be educated and realize that blood is often part of the deal. They realize that there is no recorded evidence of HIV, for example, being contracted from fighter-to-fighter contact, Davis said. Good point: you might recall the fear and speculation that arose when Tommy Morrison said he wanted to fight even though he was diagnosed HIV positive.

The majority of watchers who would even consider getting deeper into MMA, Davis said, wouldn’t be likely to be repulsed by blood-strewn spectacles, because they’ve already parsed it out in their head, that a wide gash doesn’t mean one of the fighters will bleed to death. “It takes a person who is able to think outside of moment,” he said. Davis had said he doesn’t think there is a significant segment of people who might turn into MMA converts being turned off by the occasional gore. He gave a strong hint of his political leanings when he shared that he thinks prevailing “liberal” mentalities, and liberal leanings of the mass media and liberal politicians looking to score points are more likely to drive masses of people away from fighting. Fight fans, when not influenced by a liberal media push, are open to seeing blood, Davis said.

It’s not so much that a newbie will see a bloody MMA scrap and run in the other direction, Davis said, but that the potential exists for the press to settle on the sport as a target to eradicate. The press runs in cycles, he said. They hated Dana White, the UFC honcho, and now “everybody loves Dana.” The “liberal media,” he said, was seduced by the parade of celebs who gravitated to the Octagon, and that took the target off UFC’s back. “MMA is not the target right now, owning a gun is a target,” he said.

Davis has tried remedies to keep him from cutting, and no, not to keep his visage clear and keep potential fans from taking to MMA, but to keep himself in fights.
The fighter nicknamed “The Bangor Bleeder” before he switched to “The Irish Hand Grenade” used to lose time in training camps glueing his cuts closed. (I forgot to ask if he ever reached out to Super Glue as a possible sponsor.) So he had surgery, in 2008, to have the bone over his eyebrows filed down, so the skin wouldn’t be pulled as tight over that area, making it prone to split open. “That did stop the cutting,” he said. “I went for the longest I hadn’t been cut, for about two years.” But with scar tissue building up on itself, the efficacy of the treatment wore off, he said.

As for the idea of the peel-off canvas, Davis said he hasn’t heard of anyone working on that. Cost might be an issue, he said, and inventors would have to insure the stability would be the same as the current version. A stained canvas is a given, he said, when there are upwards of 12 or so fights on an average card. He fought on one card that had 31 fights on it, he said.

My takeaways: my social media debate partner helped me, as is usually the case in situations such as these, because he forced me think longer and harder about a subject matter, and try and track down some facts to help better inform us both. I am hoping he sees this piece, and is able to allow the possibility that he might be able to become a better critical thinker by searching out more facts and evidence and not relying as much on his own opinions, and, possibly, mistaking them for “facts.” I salute his effort at conciliation and applaud his invitation to sit down and smoke a stogie with him someday.

Also, I am not sure if because I haven’t been watching as much MMA in the last couple of years, for a few reasons, including the need to spend more time to properly cover boxing, in this 24-7 news cycle-world, and the unwillingness to spend pay-per-view monies on two sports during a recession, that my tastes and perceptions didn’t change. Did I become more sensitive to the sight of blood because I wasn’t seeing those large, dark puddles so often? Is that a case of habituation wearing off, did I regain some sensitivity to what (should be?) a stark image?

I am still a stubborn mutt. I do still maintain that the presence of blood, in a different context than we see in boxing, might dissuade more potential fans from MMA than boxing. Maybe not in the younger generations, Generation Saw, whose taste for gore have increased in the last 10 years or so. But I think in older fans, that sight of those extra pints spilled in the Octagon may indeed be a more-than-occasional deal-breaker to a real relation$hip with UFC.

Finally, if my removable Octagon floor idea lit a light bulb in an inventor out there, and you get to market with the new floor plan, would you kindly cut me in? Thanks!

 

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Michael Dutchover Remains Undefeated in Ontario, Calif.

Transplanted Texan Michael Dutchover needed a little time to figure out Costa Rican Bergman Aguilar but when he did it was over quickly on Friday.

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Michael Dutchover

ONTARIO-Calif.-Transplanted Texan Michael Dutchover needed a little time to figure out Costa Rican Bergman Aguilar but when he did it was over quickly on Friday.

Lightweight prospect Dutchover (11-0, 8 KOs) knocked out southpaw Aguilera (14-4-1, 4 KOs) in the fifth round with a barrage of body blows that left the Costa Rican limp at the Doubletree Hotel.

For two rounds Aguilar used an awkward counter-punching style that had Dutchover a little tentative. But once he figured out that combination punching was the key, he opened up with barrages and floored Aguilar with body shots at the end of round four.

That signaled doom for Aguilar.

The fifth round saw Dutchover target the body with impunity as Aguilar tried holding, running and covering up with no success. Referee Wayne Hedgepeth signaled the fight over at 2:31 of the fifth round giving Dutchover the win by knockout.

In a bantamweight clash Santa Ana’s Mario Hernandez (7-0-1, 3 KOs) and Mexico City’s Ivan Gonzalez (4-1-2, 1 KO) fought to a majority draw after six back and forth rounds.

Hernandez targeted the body against the taller Gonzalez who relied on long range counters. Both found success but neither could prove superiority after six turbulent rounds.

After six rounds one judge saw it 58-56 for Gonzalez but the two other judges saw it 57-57 for a majority draw.

Other bouts

South Central L.A.’s Ruben Torres (7-0, 6 KOs) extended his undefeated streak with a knockout over Mexico’s Eder “El Koreano” Amaro (6-6, 2 KOs) in a lightweight fight. But it wasn’t easy.

Amaro switched from southpaw to orthodox and was matching Torres for two rounds until the taller local fighter began blasting away to the body and head with precision. Many in the crowd cheered “Koreano” in unison but it couldn’t help once Torres zeroed in.

At the end of the fourth round Amaro could not continue and the fight was stopped giving a knockout for Torres.

Richard Brewart Jr. (2-0) mowed through Edward Aceves (0-5) flooring him with body shots in the first round then overwhelming him in the second. After seven unanswered blows referee Eddie Hernandez stopped the fight at 1:32 of round two giving Rancho Cucamonga’s Brewart the win by knockout in the super welterweight bout.

Southpaw David Ortiz (1-0) won his pro debut by unanimous decision after four rounds in a welterweight match against San Diego’s Mario Angeles (2-11-2). Ortiz lives in Bloomington, Calif. and is trained by Henry Ramirez. No knockdowns were scored.

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Charr-Oquendo Scuttled When Charr Tests Positive; the Odious WBA Saves Face

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Manuel Charr

Manuel Charr and Fres Oquendo were scheduled to fight in Cologne, Germany, later this month (Sept. 29). Charr would be defending his WBA world heavyweight title, the “regular” version of it, not the “super” version which rests in the hands of Anthony Joshua.

The bout was quickly cancelled when it was revealed that Charr had tested positive for two banned anabolic steroids. The test was performed by VADA, the anti-doping agency identified with Las Vegas neurologist Dr. Margaret Goodman.

The 33-year-old Charr, born in Lebanon but a resident of Germany since the age of three, won the belt in his last start with a unanimous decision over 281-pound Russian behemoth Alexander Ustinov in Oberhausen, Germany. The title was vacant. Charr won the right to fight for it with a 10-round decision over Albanian slug Sefer Seferi. The victory over Ustinov elevated his record to 31-4. He has been stopped three times, by Vitali Klitschko, Alexander Povetkin, and Mairis Briedis.

If it wasn’t for bad luck, as the old saying goes, Fres Oquendo wouldn’t have any luck at all. For various reasons, his fights keep falling out. Before long he’ll be drawing social security. Well, not exactly, but he turned 45 in April and hasn’t fought in more than four years.

Oquendo has competed for this belt before. In his last ring appearance in July of 2014, he lost a majority decision to Russia’s Ruslan Chagaev in Grozny, Russia. As a concession for taking the fight on short notice, Team Oquendo negotiated a rematch clause in the contract, but a shoulder injury prevented Fres from activating it. When the injury healed, he had to go to court to compel Chagaev to fulfill his obligation. But then the Russian retired, muddling the water.

The WBA was legally bound to find Oquendo a title fight and in desperation turned to ancient Shannon Briggs. But the Oquendo-Briggs fight, scheduled for June 3 of last year in Hollywood, Florida, fell out when Briggs’ urine specimen showed an abnormally high level of testosterone.

Fres Oquendo was dogged by bad luck even before these recent developments. His professional record, 37-8, is somewhat misleading as six of his eight defeats were razor-thin including his 2003 setback to Chris Byrd and his 2006 setback to Evander Holyfield. However, Oquendo, something of a cutie, was never a crowd-pleaser and in none of his narrow defeats was there a public clamor for a rematch.

The cancellation of Charr-Oquendo cuts the World Boxing Association out of a sanctioning fee, but one would think that the WBA honchos are actually rather pleased by this turn of events. The fight, more precisely the WBA’s world title imprimatur, would have brought more unwanted publicity to the Panama-based organization.

ESPN’s Dan Rafael, who has the largest platform of any boxing writer, has been a persistent critic of the organization which once recognized 41 “champions” in 17 weight classes. In 2009, Rafael wrote, “(The WBA) has become such an absolute farce that even somebody like me, who follows boxing closely, sometimes has a hard time keeping track of all the nonsensical so-called world title belts the WBA has been doling out at an alarming rate. It almost reminds me of the ladies at Costco who hand out various samples on a busy Saturday afternoon.”

Rafael took note when WBA president Gilberto Mendoza promised to cull the herd by eliminating “regular” titles, and then became more caustic when Mendoza didn’t follow through. Recently, in one short, punchy diatribe, Rafael blistered the WBA as wretched, vile, and rancid.

Regardless of your opinion, it’s hard not to feel sorry for Fres Oquendo who keeps getting stranded at the altar. No, he’s not fun to watch and a man of his age shouldn’t be taking any more punches, but he has always been an honest workman and by all accounts he’s a very decent man. Born in Puerto Rico but raised in Chicago, Oquendo pitched right in when the island nation of his birth was ravaged by Hurricane Maria. He was personally responsible for relocating Puerto Rican boxing legend Wilfred Benitez and Benitez’s sister, his caregiver, to Chicago where their lives wouldn’t be as hard.

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Bob Arum Hails Terence Crawford (not Lomachenko) as Boxing’s Next Superstar

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Arum says Terence

Top Rank’s Bob Arum says Terence Crawford will become this generation’s Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao–elite boxers who became worldwide celebrity sensations. Arum, who promoted both Mayweather and Pacquiao on the way to their historic crossover statuses expects big things from the undefeated Crawford over the next few years.

“He’s the best fighter in the United States, and he’s so charismatic,” said Arum. “He comes from middle America, and In the next year or so, he will be huge.”

Arum’s assertion is noteworthy for two reasons. First, Arum is also the promoter for Vasyl Lomachenko. Lomachenko is ranked No. 1 pound-for-pound by The Ring, the Boxing Writers Association of America and the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. More importantly, Lomachenko seems to have a groundswell of support behind him both in the media and among fight fans.

Lomachenko has also been heavily featured through Top Rank’s television partnership with ESPN. While Crawford has achieved more in his career than Lomachenko (at least in my eyes) and, as noted by Arum, is a homegrown American talent, Lomachenko seems to be considered the more marketable commodity to that network judging by the amount of promotional materials ESPN has pumped out about the fighter over the last year.

The other reason Arum’s claim about Crawford is interesting is the performance of Canelo Alvarez over the weekend in his majority decision rematch win over Gennady Golovkin. Besides Mayweather and Pacquiao, Alvarez is the clear PPV leader among all of boxing’s current commodities, and his status as boxing’s new money fighter should only grow stronger after the best win of his career.

Still, Crawford is one of the few very elite fighters in all of boxing. He’s ranked No. 2 pound-for-pound by The Ring, the Boxing Writers Association of America and the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.

While Lomachenko and Alvarez are also candidates to become boxing’s next big thing, there’s no doubt Crawford is also one of the few boxers in the sport right now with the right things in place to become the next Mayweather or Pacquiao.

Omaha’s Crawford is in the midst of an historic run. When he stopped Jeff Horn in round 9 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas in June, Crawford captured a world title in his third different weight class, welterweight. This after Crawford had already captured two lineal boxing championships, as well as multiple alphabet titles, in both the lightweight and junior welterweight divisions.

By any measure, Crawford is truly one of the best boxers in the sport. Not only does he look the part in the ring on fight night (something more and more writers seem to value most when voting for pound-for-pound lists), but the fighter has already accomplished so much in his career that it seems Arum is doing more than the fiduciary duty of promoting his fighter when he ascribes to Crawford such lofty praise.

Crawford, still just 30 years old, is already halfway to matching Mayweather and Pacquiao’s shared record of most lineal championships. Over the course of his career, Mayweather captured lineal championships at junior lightweight, lightweight, welterweight, and junior middleweight. Pacquiao won his as a flyweight, featherweight, junior lightweight, and junior welterweight.

In order for Crawford to grab lineal championship No. 3, most believe he’ll have to go through welterweight phenom Errol Spence. While promotional entanglements might keep this superfight on the shelf for a while, Arum said he had no problem pitting Crawford against Spence in what would be one of the best matchups in recent memory.

“Absolutely,” said Arum when asked about working with Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions, who represents Spence, to make the fight. Could any response from him be more exciting? Crawford vs. Spence might be the next superfight in boxing. Both fighters are among the very elite, and unlike what ultimately happened with Mayweather vs. Pacquiao, who fought each other well past their peak years, both would be in the prime of their careers.

Winning that fight would certainly go a long way to making Arum’s vision of Crawford’s future come true. And who knows? Maybe Crawford really is the next Mayweather or Pacquiao. Heck, for all we know, he could even be on his way to doing something more.

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