After the so-called boxing "match" two weeks ago between Mike Tyson and Clifford Etienne, a big thanks needs to go out to Roy Jones Jr. and -- I never thought I'd be saying this -- the players in the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Between the UFC event in Atlantic City, N.J., on Friday night and Jones' history-making heavyweight bout against John Ruiz in Las Vegas Saturday, fight fans were treated to some legitimate fisticuffs that not only lived up to all the hype, but was worth the price of admission.
As a Tae Kwon Do black belt and a former wrestler and martial arts competitor, I have an affinity for a good fight. I'm not talking about barroom brawls or even the early days of the UFC, but two proficient and well-trained practitioners of sport going toe-to-toe in the ring.
Just as a Marine, Navy Seal or Army Ranger trains to be ready for a mission, serious athletes train hard to win. With that training comes a sacrifice and discipline that is rarely appreciated outside of the fight world. To the untrained eye, it's easier to see the potential danger in the competition than it is to see through to the heart of a champion. In the ring or on the mat, there is nobody to pass the ball to. There are no substitutions or strategic time-outs. There are no excuses.
That attitude carries over into the workplace, where goals are exceeded and failures are learned from and more importantly, owned up to. It also carries into private life, where true champions take pride in treating others with respect, love and generosity.
It's no coincidence that the Six Sigma corporate exec training made famous by former GE honcho Jack Welch's autobiography (Jack: Straight From the Gut) awards "black belts" to the program's graduates. In light of all the ethics-challenged CEO's that have been exposed over the past year, it is clear they should have earned their black belts the old-fashioned way.
Fight games have always been the stuff of controversy. There are legitimate pros and cons to all sports, but the harshest criticism always seems to fall on mixed martial arts competitions.
Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona led a successful crusade in the early '90s to get Ultimate Fighting banned by state athletic commissioners and by pay-per-view providers. Since then the UFC was acquired by Zuffa, a Las Vegas-based entertainment firm, which instituted rules and regulations that the senator praised in an article in NY Newsday last year.
"I am pleased that the new owners of the UFC have adopted rules to better protect the safety of its fighters," he said. "I hope that this change signals that this previously barbaric and exploitive style of fighting will evolve into a true sport."
To that point, ESPN boxing analyst and host of the cable network's Around the Horn Max Kellerman says, "It already is a legitimate sport."
The nation's evolving pre-eminent boxing authority furthered his point. "Is golf a legitimate sport? OK, if Martians come to Earth and say, 'Send us your best athlete for a competition, and if he wins we won't destroy the planet,' who would you rather send, Tiger Woods or Tito Ortiz [a UFC Champion]?" he said.
Kellerman says professional boxing's biggest problem today is it doesn't have a centralized authority -- like the UFC does in Zuffa or, say, football does in the NFL -- making future plans for the sport.
"UFC is a brand with people in charge and that has an intrinsic advantage [over boxing]," he said. "It's not a localized sport without real rules. Boxing has all these factions that care only about the short-term gains for themselves," he said.
Max came out swinging himself when I brought up the topic of Tonya Harding's pre-card fighting debut at the Tyson event.
"Here a columnist from a big news organization asks me about Tonya Harding. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy. Editorial decisions are made by news organizations like FOX or ESPN to cover boxing when something bad or out of the ordinary occurs. It becomes a sideshow," he said.
I agree with Max. The difference between professional boxing and the UFC is the UFC started out as a sideshow a decade ago. There were no holds barred and no weight classes. It was not unusual for a 140-pound man to go against a 300-pound opponent. Sen. McCain was right to come out against it. Today the sport has changed. The new owners have reinvented the UFC into fair and safe competition. Meanwhile a lot of professional boxing faces legitimacy issues.
In martial arts, there are different styles and techniques. As children we wanted to know who would win in a fight between Spiderman and Batman. The same question looms in the martial arts world, and has since the days when Bruce Lee created a mixed-bag style of martial art called Jeet Kune Do.
Who wins if a kickboxer fights a jiu-jitsu fighter? Ultimate Fighting answers that question.
Former U.S. Olympic Tae Kwon Do team member Kevin Padilla, a fifth-degree black belt who has fought and won in some of the world's biggest competitions, says the character one develops from practicing martial arts is unique among all sports.
"If you have a good instructor as a role model it can enhance anything you do in life," he says. "And if you excel at it you reach a point of self realization that you can achieve something that is extraordinary -- that's not like winning at soccer or baseball -- because so many others accomplish that. When you're a martial arts champion you have that 'I can do anything' attitude."
Words to live by.
Mike Straka is the project manager for FOX News's Internet operations and contributes as a features reporter and producer on FOX Magazine (Sundays 11 p.m. on FNC) and as a reporter and columnist for FOXnews.com.