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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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Jermell Charlo Unifies Super Welterweights Via Solar Plexus Punch

David A. Avila

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WBC super welterweight titlist Jermell Charlo knocked out IBF and WBA titlist Jeison Rosario with a knockout punch delivered to the solar plexus on Saturday to add two more belts to his collection.

“I’m definitely bringing home the straps,” said Charlo.

Shades of Bob Fitzsimmons.

Back in 1897, Fitzsimmons used the same solar plexus punch to dethrone Gentleman James Corbett for the heavyweight title in Carson City, Nevada.

In another casino city Charlo (34-1, 18 KOs) floored Dominican Republic’s Rosario (20-2-1, 14 KOs) three times at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Conn. He and his brother co-headlined a heavy duty pay-per-view card with no fans in attendance on the Premier Boxing Champions card.

Charlo jumped on Rosario quickly in the first round when he charged and clipped him with a left hook to the temple. Down went the two-belt champion for the count. But he got up seemingly unfazed.

For the next several rounds Rosario was the aggressor and put the pressure on Charlo who was content to allow the Dominican to fire away. Occasionally the Houston fighter jabbed but allowed Rosario to pound up and down with both fists.

After allowing Rosario to get comfortable with his attack, suddenly Charlo stopped moving and connected with a short crisp counter left hook and right cross in the sixth round. Down went Rosario again and he got up before the count of 10.

Charlo said it was part of the game plan.

“I’m growing and I realize that the knockout will just come,” he said.

Charlo was in control with a patient style and allowed Rosario to come forward. But the Dominican was more cautious in the seventh.

In the eighth round Charlo jabbed to the head and then jabbed hard to Rosario’s stomach. The Dominican fighter dropped down on his seat as if felled by a gun shot. He could not get up and convulsed while on the floor. The referee Harvey Dock counted him out at 21 seconds of round eight.

“That jab that got to him must have landed in a vital point,” said Charlo after the fight. “I hope he recovers and bounces back.”

Charlo now has three of the four major super welterweight world titles.

WBC Super Bantamweight Title

Luis Nery (31-0, 24 KOs) captured the WBC super bantamweight title by unanimous decision over fellow Mexican Aaron Alameda (25-1, 13 KOs) in a battle between southpaws. The war between border town fighters was intense.

Nery, a former bantamweight world titlist, moved up a weight division and found Alameda to be a slick southpaw with an outstanding jab. At first the Tijuana fighter was a little puzzled how to attack but found his groove in the fourth round.

But Alameda, who fights out of Nogales, Mexico, began using combinations and finding success.  A crafty counter left uppercut caught Nery charging in a few times, but he managed to walk through them.

In the final two rounds Nery picked up the action and increased the pressure against the slick fighting Alameda, He forced the Nogales fighter to fight defensively and that proved enough to give the last two rounds for Nery and the victory by unanimous decision. The scores were 115-113, 116-112 and 118-110 for Nery who now holds the WBC super bantamweight world title. He formerly held the WBC bantamweight title.

Roman Wins

Danny “Baby-Faced Assassin” Roman (28-3-1, 10 KOs) managed to rally from behind and defeat Juan Carlos Payano (21-4, 9 KOs) in a battle between former world champions in a nontitle super bantamweight clash. It wasn’t easy.

Once again Roman fought a talented southpaw and in this fight Payano, a former bantamweight titlist, moved up in weight and kept Roman off balance for the first half of the fight. The jab and movement by the Dominican fighter seemed to keep Roman out of sync.

Roman, who fights out of Los Angeles, used a constant body attack to wear down the 35-year-old Payano and it paid off in the second half. Then the former unified world champion Roman began to pinpoint more blows to the body and head. With seconds left in the 12th and final round, a left hook delivered Payano down and through the ropes. Sadly, the referee missed the knockdown. It didn’t matter as all three judges scored it identical at 116-112 for Roman after 12 rounds.

“I made some adjustments and picked up the pace and got the win,” said Roman who formerly held the WBA and IBF super bantamweight world titles.

Photo credit: Amanda Westcott / SHOWTIME

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Jermall Charlo UD 12 Derevyanchenko; Figueroa and Casimero Also Triumphant

Arne K. Lang

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Jermall Charlo UD 12 Derevyanchenko; Figueroa and Casimero Also Triumphant

The Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Connecticut, was the site of the first pay-per-view boxing event in the United States since the Fury-Wilder rematch on Feb. 22. There were six fights in all, five of which were title fights and the other a title-eliminator. They were divided into two tiers but bundled into a package that cost approximately a dollar a round with a facile intermission tossed in at no extra charge.

The headline attraction of the first “three-pack” – and the most anticipated fight of the evening – found WBC world middleweight champion Jermall Charlo defending his title against Sergiy Derevyanchenko. The Ukrainian gave Gennady Golovkin a hard tussle when they fought in November of last year at Madison Square Garden – GGG won a unanimous decision but the scores were tight and many thought Derevyanchenko deserved the decision – and the expectation was that tonight’s match would also be very competitive.  But it really wasn’t although the rugged Derevyanchenko rarely took a backward step.

The fight went the distance and there were no knockdowns, but Charlo buckled his knees at the end of round three and Derevyanchenko ended the fight with cuts above both eyes. The judges had it 118-110, 117-111, and 116-112.

With Canelo Alvarez apparently headed to 168 and GGG showing his age at 38, one can make a strong case that the undefeated 30-year-old Jermall Charlo (31-0, 22 KOs) is now the top middleweight in the world. Derevyanchenko, who was 23-1 in the semi-pro World Series of Boxing before turning pro, saw his pro record decline to 13-3 with all three losses in middleweight title fights.

The middle fight of the first tier was a lusty encounter between Mexican-American super bantamweights Brandon Figueroa and Damien Vazquez. Figueroa, one of two fighting brothers from the Mexican border town of Weslaco, Texas, was a huge favorite over Vazquez, a Colorado native who moved to Las Vegas as a freshman in high school and had fought extensively in Mexico where he made his pro debut at age 16. But Vazquez, the nephew of former three-time world super bantamweight title-holder Israel Vazquez, came to fight and gave a good effort until the fight turned lopsidedly against him.

In the middle rounds, Figueroa’s high-pressure attack began to wear Vazquez down. Vazquez had a few good moments in rounds six and eight, but when his right eye began swelling from the cut above it, he was fighting an uphill battle. He took a lot of punishment before referee Gary Rosato halted it at the 1:18 mark of round 10.

Figueroa, 23, successfully defended his WBA 122-pound title while improving his record to 21-0-1 with his 16th KO. Vazquez declined to 15-2-1.

The lid-lifter was a WBO bantamweight title defense by John Riel Casimero with Duke Micah in the opposite corner. Micah, from Accra, Ghana, came in undefeated at 24-0, but Casimero had faced a far stronger schedule and was a substantial favorite.

A Filipino who was been training in Las Vegas under Bones Adams, Casimero took Micah out in the third round. The Brooklyn-based Micah was somewhat busier in the opening frame, but the tide turned quickly in favor of the Filipino. Casimero hurt Micah with a left hook in round two and went for the kill. He wasn’t able to finish him, but Micah was on a short leash and referee Steve Willis was quick to step in when Casimero resumed his attack after the break. The official time was 0:54.

Casimero (30-4, 21 KOs) was defending the title he won last November with a third-round knockout of favored Zolani Tete in Birmingham, England. He was slated to fight this past April in Las Vegas against Naoya Inoue, but that fight evaporated as a result of the coronavirus. After the bout, Casimero called out Inoue (and others): “I’m the real monster,” he said. “Naoya Inoue is scared of me. You’re next. I would have knocked out anyone today. If Inoue doesn’t fight me, then I’ll fight Guillermo Rigondeaux, Luis Nery, or any of the top fighters.”

Check back shortly for David Avila’s summaries of the remaining fights.

Photo credit: Amanda Westcott / SHOWTIME

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Mairis Briedis and Josh Taylor Impress on a Busy Fight Day in Europe

Arne K. Lang

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In the busiest weekend of boxing thus far in 2020, there were fights of note all over the map in Europe. The most compelling was held at the Plazamedia Broadcasting Center in Munich where the long-delayed WBSS cruiserweight final pit IBF world cruiserweight title-holder Yuniel Dorticos against Mairis Briedis. Both had only one loss on their ledger, that coming in a semifinal of Season One of the WBSS tourney.

Heading in, Briedis was recognized as the more well-rounder boxer. Dorticos had a style somewhat similar to Deontay Wilder, meaning that he was over-dependent on his big right hand. It figured that Briedis would fight with extreme caution, using his faster hands and superior footwork to keep out of harm’s way, but to the contrary he wasn’t afraid to trade with Dorticos and actually landed the harder punches. At the end, he captured the IBF belt and the more coveted Muhammad Ali Trophy with a majority decision. The judges had it 117-111, 117-111, and a confounding 114-114.

The first fighter from Latvia to win a world title, Briedis (27-1, 19 KOs) is now a two-time world cruiserweight champion. He previously held the WBO cruiserweight belt, but vacated it rather than adhere to the organization’s mandate that he give Krzysztof Glowacki a rematch. (Their first fight, a TKO 3 for Briedis, was very messy and he was fortunate that he wasn’t disqualified.) Dorticos, the Cuban defector, returns to his adopted home in Miami with a 24-2 record.

Briedis, 35, may own only one piece of the world cruiserweight title, but at the moment he is clearly the topmost fighter in the division.

York Hall, London

Apinun Khongsong’s first engagement outside the Orient didn’t go well for him. The 24-year-old Thai boxer with an Muay Thai background was out of his element against WBA/IBF champion Josh Taylor who dismissed him in a hurry with a “solar plexus punch” that would have made Bob Fitzsimmons proud. The punch from the left-handed Scotsman sent Khongsong to the canvas writhing in pain and he was down for several minutes before he was able to stand upright. The official time was 2:41 of the opening round.

Taylor, the Tartan Tornado, was making his first start since October of last year when he won a 12-round majority decision over Regis Prograis in a Fight of the Year candidate. His next fight may be a full unification of the 140-pound belt with Jose Carlos Ramirez in the opposite corner. Both he and Khangsong entered today’s fight with 16-0 records, but Taylor, who scored his 13th knockout, was in a different league.

Undercard Bouts of Note

In a 10-round bantamweight contest, Charlie Edwards (16-1, 1 NC, 6 KOs) out-classed British countryman Kyle Williams (11-3). The referee awarded Edwards nine of the 10 rounds. Edwards, 27, previously held the WBC 112-pound title but was forced to relinquish it because he had trouble making the weight.

York Hall has been a jinx for David Oliver Joyce, the 33-year-old super bantamweight from Mullinger, Ireland, who is 0-2 in this building and 12-0 elsewhere. Joyce failed to last three rounds today in his match with Ionut Baluta. A Romanian who fights out of Bilbao, Spain, Baluta knocked Joyce down with a big left hook and then swarmed all over him when he arose, forcing the referee to intervene. The official time was 1:49 of round three.

It was the sixth straight win for Baluta (14-2, 3 KOs) and his third straight over a once-beaten opponent.

Riga, Latvia

Riga native Richard Bilotniks successfully defended his version of the European 175-pound title and advanced to the finals of the Golden Contract Light Heavyweight Tournament with a one-sided 10-round decision over Hosea Burton. A late bloomer who won only four of his first eight pro fights, Bilotnicks 30, won every round on one of the scorecards and eight rounds on the others to advance record to 17-5-1. Burton, who lost for the second time in 27 starts, let down his cousin Tyson Fury who flew to Latvia to cheer him on.

Struer, Denmark

At an arena in the city of Struer, hometown lass Dina Thorslund had a harder time than expected with Nina Radovanovic, but the Serb got no respect from the judges who didn’t see fit to award her a single round. Thorslund (15-0, 6 KOs) successfully defended her WBO world 122-pound title.

In the chief undercard bout, heavyweight Filip Hrgovic (11-0, 9 KOs) moved a step closer to a world title opportunity with a second-round blast-out of late sub Alexandre Kartozia. There was no need to count when Hrgovic leveled Kartozia with a big right hand.

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