Combat Nobelitis: Being High Off Your Own Supply

Gordon Ryan: Combat Nobelitis

One of the major factors to the continued mainstream relevance of combat sports is its perceived usefulness in real world physical conflicts. You can’t say the same for basketball, football, baseball, and so on (but perhaps volleyball has some crossover). However, things do get silly when you start theorycrafting about which style is best for real fighting. Gordon Ryan, the best grappler in the world right now, did just that with boxing.

Out of all the popular combat sports, boxing is perhaps the most misunderstood. Its simplicity belies its subtlety and complexity. While an obvious change in tactics can turn things around in mixed martial arts, significant adjustments in boxing can be so subtle that they’re practically invisible to casual and even fairly experienced viewers. It fixates on one aspect of physical combat so much that such hyperfocus is seen as a weakness, but it continues to be a strength despite skepticism and cynicism.

There’s truth in boxing being limited for that’s its very intent to begin with. That’s like hating on someone for quitting a job because they wanted to run a business. Even if what you say about boxing being limited or your cousin’s decision to no longer earn stable income from a day job is somewhat true, you’re missing the point and just talking shit for the sake of talking shit. The same goes for the countless dweebs who hate on taekwondo, even if there’s nothing truly wrong with throwing cool-ass kicks.

Even if paper is absorbent, you wouldn’t want to use it to clean a big spill unless you have no other choice. The same goes for punches and kicks. Most people get into boxing because it’s boxing. But if we’re talking about combat effectiveness, boxing is far from the bottom of the list. However, we should humor this guy who took comparisons between fighting styles too seriously for a moment.

Gordon Ryan’s Hot Take on Boxing

There’s some considerable truth with his controversial opinion on boxing. He called it one of the most limited martial arts out there, which is not that far from the truth. However, it’s his follow-up that may rub people the wrong way.

“Boxers are among the least prepared martial artists for a real fight.”

There’s a hint of truth to it, but also some caveats. Boxing only has you using your hands to defend yourself. However, if it was only ever about punching without thought, the sport wouldn’t have lasted this long. By limiting your weapons and offensive options, it emphasized the most important aspect of hand-to-hand fighting — footwork and mobility.

Here’s a famous example of boxing being used effectively in a real street fight against multiple attackers. (I can’t embed it because it’s age-restricted.)

To say they’re not prepared for a real fight is to ignore all the other things that go into real-life physical conflict, which includes how it starts and how it should end. While jiu jitsu does prepare you to defend yourself against the worst possibilities and positions, boxing prepares you to not get into those compromised positions in the first place. Couple it with wrestling and you have the fundamentals needed for self-defense.

I’d even say that wrestleboxers are likely at the 90th percentile of the world population in terms of hand-to-hand fighting. Many martial arts innovators worth their salt were fundamentally wrestleboxers. Fat dudes with ponytails can argue against that all they want — they likely can’t really fight anyway and get winded after climbing two flights of stairs.

In short, the best submission grappler in the world looks at what’s been going on in boxing and scoffs at the sport for showcasing a less practical way of fighting for self-defense while also not being a consummate practitioner of the striking arts (or at least what’s known of him in public).

Brief History of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu on the Internet

It’s hard to divorce the perceived practicality of martial arts from combat sports. Out of all the mainstream sports, combat sports seem to have the most application outside of competition. Basketball, baseball, football (in its various forms), tennis, and so on may be more popular, but no one can directly apply them in daily life.

But if you can fight, the application and accompanying aura are obvious. Combat sports proliferate the meta and overall zeitgeist of hand-to-hand fighting.

Before November 1993, most of the world didn’t understand how effective it was to clinch up and drag an opponent to the ground, then breaking a limb and/or rendering them unconscious. Once in extremely close quarters, unless they have a blade to eviscerate your organs, their punches won’t hurt enough and their kicks become non-existent.

Wrestlers in America, grapplers in Britain, lutadores in Brazil, nak muay in Thailand, and shoot fighters in Japan had an idea. However, a crucial part of the formula was monopolized by an affluent family in Brazil who were proud of wearing thick cotton pajamas while applying their trade. The descendants of Scottish immigrants, their forefather had been a circus promoter.

They combined the martial art they learned from a Japanese pro wrestler with marketing savvy and carnival showmanship to sell their knowledge by inviting tough guys to challenge matches and handing their asses to them. It was the greatest show on that side of the Earth, with a mustachioed samurai-wannabe barely 150 pounds soaking wet nullifying the strength of men twice his size.

He would drag them to the ground and drown them in technique. Most people in the world didn’t understand, but that was about to change at the end of the 20th century.

Mixed martial arts couldn’t have been popularized at any other time outside of the 90s. When the Berlin Wall fell, the Soviet Union dissolved, and the Cold War ended, the world came closest to the idea of true world peace and mainstream media was elevated to a state of euphoric listlessness — there was nothing more to fear but fear itself, so they put it on television.

Some of the raciest and most pearl-clutching television took place in the 90s. Extreme sports, the Attitude Era of WWE (then WWF), The Simpsons, South Park, Jackass, and mixed martial arts were all born during that decade. Media executives still held sway over whatever would show up on screens, but they were a bit more willing to broadcast during this time stuff that would’ve been rejected in previous decades.

Also, the burgeoning Internet would be a nest for communities that later became global movements. When bandwidth widened from dial-up alleys to broadband highways, online video would spread the word of “ultimate fighting,” from Usenet groups and IRC chat rooms, peer-to-peer file sharing and BitTorrent, to video streaming sites that gave rise to YouTube.

Video proof of combat effectiveness would motivate countless people to learn and train, whether it was karate in their garages or jiu jitsu classes on sweaty mats.

Out of all those, the most influential had been passing around VHS tapes of the first Ultimate Fighting Championships, put together by the older brother of the man who took center stage in the cage with his thick cotton pajamas. The older brother made the show happen and the younger brother choked out men 30-50 pounds heavier than him on film.

A few decades later, Gordon Ryan would become one of the kings of combat sports, and he decided to use his clout to diss the older combat sport of boxing.

Inverse Dunning-Kruger Effect

Nobelitis, or the Nobel Prize disease, is a phenomenon wherein a Nobel Prize winner — a globally-renowned expert in their respective field — gets too big for their own britches and starts endorsing bunk theories and beliefs outside of their specialization.

Despite the name, it’s not limited to Nobel Prize winners. Any popular or highly-respected authority in any field of knowledge may be susceptible to this affliction of ego. For instance, that’s what makes Neil deGrasse Tyson more and more grating to listen to.

I’m a fan of NDT, but even I have to admit that he can be obnoxious at times.

The basic gist of it is there’s a tendency for experts of one field to apply their intelligence to other fields with questionable results. Just because you’re incredibly knowledgeable in one thing, that doesn’t mean it carries over to knowing about other things.

I previously mentioned the concept of specificity in regards to performance in this blog post about motion controls in fighting video games. Specificity is important in getting good at specific things, whether it’s video games, sports, or so on. You can say the same thing about intelligence and expertise — knowledge in one thing doesn’t necessarily carry over to other things.

For instance, just because you’re a good track and field athlete, doesn’t mean you’ll have the endurance to last twelve rounds in a boxing match. I’m also finding out that this is applicable to knowing things as well. Physicists are not physicians, and vice versa.

We can add fighting into the mix. Just because you’re the best submission grappler in the world, it doesn’t mean you understand other forms of combat.

The Persistence of Boxing

The modern sport of boxing was created by fencers to continue practicing their craft without increasingly-illegalized swords, applying principles in a more controlled and accessible manner. This movement would grow, new techniques divorced from swordplay were then innovated, and rules were devised for arbitrating fair contests.

That would culminate in what we now know as the Marquess of Queensberry rules — the foundation of modern boxing.

You can track the history of boxing and see parallels with the history of chess. They were both age-old games that later became codified at the end of the 19th century as civilization became more modernized and globalized. Their professional ranks would become highly regarded and their champions would be revered worldwide as sportsmen of superhuman prowess.

They would then have their first world champions around the same time — John L. Sullivan for heavyweight boxing from 1882 to 1892 and Wilhelm Steinitz for chess from 1886 to 1894.

Throughout the decades, despite challenges and would-be usurpers, both boxing and chess have persisted and continued to remain relevant to public interest to this day. Some events would even bring them to mainstream consciousness every now and then — YouTuber fights and similar events for boxing and the Hans Niemann cheating scandal for chess.

Boxing went through a dark age during the transition period between the formative years of no-holds-barred fighting which would later become mixed martial arts and the first decade of the Zuffa-owned UFC. After the retirement of Lennox Lewis, heavyweight was ruled by the Klitschko brothers, who were great in their own right, but did not sell tickets in North America.

They were selling out in Germany, where the fans also liked David Hasselhoff and mullets.

Lighter-weight superstars like Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather came out of this era, but their record-breaking careers did not quell all the talk about boxing dying during the rise of the more novel and well-rounded combat sport that is mixed martial arts. But while it did have everything, that strength was also its weakness.

The complexity went over most people’s heads and the grappling slowed things down.

There was a lot of talk about boxing being the more dangerous sport, especially once CTE and the finer details of long-term brain damage became more proliferated in mainstream consciousness. However, all the fears of boxing dying were not realized as its business structure and lingering influence did little to dampen its earning potential.

While mixed martial arts has hit a glass ceiling and its fighters are now being paid just a little bit better than Amazon employees who can’t even get bathroom breaks without penalty, boxing has consistently paid its biggest stars the highest purses in history. There are also ”non-boxers” who are now making bank through boxing, reviving the concept of celebrity boxing, but with even more niche and risk-seeking figures.

Yes, the journeymen boxers get paid less than the average UFC fighter, but the counterpoint to that is MMA training is way more expensive due to the inherent diversity of the sport.

You only have to train boxing for boxing; you have to train boxing or kickboxing, wrestling and/or jiu jitsu, and more strength and conditioning for mixed martial arts.

Fifteen years ago, it looked like boxing was doomed. Fifteen years later, UFC is being dragged through the mud for joining forces with WWE and continuing to pay their fighters like they’re grocery baggers. Also, ONE Championship — UFC’s closest international rival — is bleeding cash while also creating more demand for diversity.

And throughout all that, boxing continues to persist. It’s far from perfect, but it refuses to die.


After all of that, I’m sorry to say that there’s no real conclusion to this blog post. Gordon Ryan isn’t entirely wrong to say that boxing alone isn’t that good of a martial art for self-defense, although it’s actually more effective than most people would think. Being able to hit and move on your feet with quickness and finesse is immensely important. But of course, if you can’t wrestle or defend yourself on the ground, you’re missing a big piece of the puzzle.

Perhaps it’s uncouth of me to suggest that Gordon Ryan doesn’t know what he’s talking about. After all, he’s an elite competitor on the global stage, while I’m just a crummy, washed-up, and out-of-shape blogger with more time and money than purpose and sense. However, as a martial artist and a commentator in something adjacent to combat sports, I felt that I have a right to an opinion, however little it may be worth.

There’s my out. This is my blog, so I’ll pussy out however I please.

Besides, I haven’t published a post in this blog in a long while. I might as well take this opportunity to get the ball rolling again.

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