Since its inception, the Ultimate Fighting Championship has argued that its sport is just as legitimate as boxing.
On August 28 the UFC will put its credibility on the line when former heavyweight champion Randy Couture enters the ring against former three-division boxing world champion James Toney.
How did this unique matchup come to be? Toney recently answered that very question to reporters without holding back any punches (no pun intended).
"I called Dana White out and he had to save face." Toney said.
Well, there you go.
Apparently, the fight came together after Toney grew frustrated at his own inability to land fights with the world champion Klitschko brothers, and title holder David Haye. Then, while surfing the Web one day, he landed on an Internet story where UFC President Dana White claimed MMA fighters had a huge advantage in the ring over boxers.
Toney decided to answer White’s indirect challenge to boxers.
For his part, White isn’t backing down. Never one to bite his tongue on any issue, the UFC president had this to say regarding the fight:
"Toney will get his [rear] kicked on August 28 and I'm counting the days."
Even Couture, who usually lets his fighting do the talking for him, weighed in.
"Why wouldn't I take this [bout]?" asked Couture "I heard [Toney] was talking smack about MMA fighters, and that I was on his list of guys he'd knock out. Let's do it. It's an MMA fight, and has a lot of crossover appeal — I know the boxing world will be paying attention."
Over the last eight weeks, Toney has spent the majority of his time at a Chatsworth gym doing two-a-day training sessions. The fighter, who had a reputation for being lazy and a bit uninspired in the latter portion of his career, is coming into this bout with no excuses.
MMA fighters are taking notice of Toney’s desire to prove himself in this match.
"He's a natural predator," said Trevor Sherman, an MMA who worked with Toney. "No one has ever stepped into the octagon with this type of striking prowess."
Toney knows he will have a huge advantage on his opponent if they’re standing up and boxing. Boxers traditionally have used 10-ounce gloves in their matches, but UFC fighters typically wear four-ounce gloves.
Toney was asked how he thought the difference would impact him.
"When they told me I'll be using those four-ouncers, I said, 'Oh, Lord, we're going to jail.” he said with a grin.
Still, despite his occasional jokes, Toney understands the credibility of his sport is on the line with this match.
"I'm going to be representing boxing, and I'm a boxing master. The meanness, the nastiness. I don't turn my back on anyone like [current UFC heavyweight champion] Brock Lesnar did in his last fight. I love danger. I know this fight represents some danger to me. I'm hitting it head-on."
Toney signed a three-fight deal with White and the UFC, but still has a special opt-out clause if he loses. Nevertheless, he fully expects to fulfill his UFC commitment, hoping to beat Couture and eventually land a shot at the current heavyweight champion Brock Lesner.
Couture understands his opponent’s desire to win, but he doesn’t expect to have much trouble with Toney.
"I'll stand with him as long as I can to get him where I want... on his back and me on top of him." Couture said.
Though both sides will no-doubt engage in their fair share of smack-talking, the significance of the upcoming bout is not lost on fans. While this will by no means settle the debate of what the better fighting sport is, boxing or MMA, it will give a bit of bragging rights to the winning side.
Ever since catching mainstream fire in recent years, MMA has seemingly eclipsed the other most popular pugilistic art in commercial recognition. With a victory over a former UFC heavyweight champion, however, maybe Toney can restore a bit of pride to boxing. Particularly considering that Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao don’t appear to be too concerned with doing so.
UFC 118 is scheduled for August 28 on PPV.