For most in the North American region watching combat sports, any sort of fighting that is done by swinging a fist is immediately labeled as boxing. If one is able to throw a decent jab or uppercut, they are known as a great "boxer". Sure we’ve come a long way from UFC 1 and can now identify when one flailing their arms about can be called out as a "brawler", but there is still so much work to be done. I see that fighters with good techniques in kickboxing, karate, muay thai, capoeira are usually given the title of a great "striker", and they are usually granted that label for good reason. What bothers me so much lately in listening to commentating from live events and statements from fellow peers watching the events is how much all of these descriptions are being lumped together. So I would like to offer (my personal) explanation of the terms and why it is infuriating to hear these terms being thrown around so loosely.
Let’s start with brawling (from an MMA viewpoint), which is the easiest to spot and describe. A fighter with a "brawler" style in MMA can be identified by having the following features. They normally throw caution to the wind and pay no attention to proper technique. They swing hooks and uppercuts from their ass, do not keep their hands up or return their hands to their chins after a punch is thrown, have terrible footwork and head movement. They do not know how to get off the "line" after throwing punches. They square up with their opponent and move in a straight line towards their opponent as opposed to using footwork and angles. Examples: Leonard Garcia, Mark Hunt, Chris Leben, Chuck Liddell, Wanderlei Silva, Diego Sanchez.
Now I’ll move on to Strikers, once again purely from an MMA stance. Strikers are a beautiful thing to behold in MMA when done correctly. They employ wonderful techniques from their respective arts that look as if they had been executing the moves since they were able to walk. These fighters do not hesitate in their strikes, and are extremely accurate regardless of the round or situation that they are in. When watched in slow motion, their technique is picture perfect in the way their placement is in their feet, hips, shoulders, head, timing and movement after the strike is thrown. They are light on their feet if the occasion calls for it, or plant their legs properly in order to throw the most devastating strikes their opponent will feel for weeks to come. Kicks, knees, elbows and punches are thrown from every which angle, and are mixed up nicely enough to keep their opponent guessing and allows them the freedom to engage in any way they see fit. Examples: Anderson Silva, Anthony Pettis, Jose Aldo, Renan Barao, Jon Jones, Cub Swanson, Carlos Condit, Lyoto Machida, Shogun.
And the toughest category for a fighter when it comes to MMA, the Boxer. I am not going to lie, as far as the UFC or any MMA promotion for that matter, I do not see any true "boxers". Often time I see analysts and commentators wetting themselves when a fighter can throw a fast hook, or has a decent jab. A boxer does much, much more than throw their fists and land powerful or quick shots. A boxer knows how to use their footwork. A boxer knows how to cut angles, and how to not trot back and forth…they know how to move side to side and not get trapped or cut off. They know how to use head movement to create a hard target and to absorb the least amount of punishment possible. They are not head hunters. They know how to hurt their opponent from using body shots, to peppering them with jabs to look for an opening to land a good combination. Oh yeah that word…combinations. A fighter with a good boxing knows how to throw more than one punch, and more importantly, knows how to tie their punches together to achieve the most damage possible to their opponent. Good boxing does not mean throwing uppercuts or hooks from the ass. Good boxing does not mean throwing lazy jabs for the sake of throwing a punch (it should be calculated). Good boxing means not getting trapped in the pocket and allowing your opponent to wail on you. Examples: No Clue.
Couldn’t figure out any good examples, but unfortunately I have a list of fighters labeled as having great boxing that I have to strongly disagree with. Here we go.
Nick and Nate Diaz: Punches in bunches and punches in high volume are not the same as having good boxing. They are flat footed, have no footwork to cut off their opponents, have terrible technique when throwing hooks, and have absolutely no head movement.
Junior Dos Santos: Very, very sorry here, but the man has fast hands and that’s about it. Once again his footwork needs a ton of work. He gets hit often because of a lack of head movement. His uppercut is horrific to me, I know it lands but my goodness no good uppercut technique should have you throwing from around your waist.
BJ Penn: This one hurts the most, seeing as I am a huge fan of Penn, but his boxing is very very overrated. Like JDS, his boxing is based off of decent hand speed and a decent jab. He is plodding going forward, and his combinations are very limited to a 1-2 combo or jab uppercut combo. His head movement is actually decent, but with a lack of footwork or knowing how to use angles, he got exposed by Edgar and other opponents that knew how to simple footwork around Penn.
Cain Velasquez and Rashad Evans: Both men are very fast and are great with their abilities to transition their punches with takedowns, but both have huge flaws as far as placing their hands where they need to be after the punch. Both are so eager to throw the punch and look for other opportunities that they have both been clipped and dropped as a result of not knowing how to place their hands by their jaws after their punch is thrown.
Gilbert Melendez and KJ Noons: From a lot of the highlights, both do the same thing with winging punches, keeping hands by the waist and relying on speed to save them. I’ll never understand the love affair with the boxing of Noons or Melendez.
That’s it from my point of view, any thoughts guys and gals?