Saturday night's Nonito Donaire vs. Fernando Montiel fight
was a big event for boxing, and a big victory for Donaire. But it was also something else: A demonstration of why mixed martial arts is a safer sport than boxing.
One of the key differences between MMA and boxing is that when an MMA fighter gets knocked down by a punch, he has to be alert enough to protect himself, or else the fight is over. In boxing, when a fighter gets knocked down, the referee starts counting, and the fighter has until a 10 count to get back to his feet. Which means a boxer whose brain is concussed badly -- as Montiel's brain was concussed when Donaire knocked him down in the second round -- can stagger back to his feet to take more punishment.
Donaire hit Montiel with a huge left hook and then a right uppercut as Montiel was tumbling to the canvas, and when Montiel hit the floor it was frightening: Montiel's arms went straight up over his head and his legs were twitching, and it looked like he was having some kind of seizure. In MMA, a competent referee would have immediately called off the fight, and the ringside doctor would have rushed in to treat the fallen fighter.
But this is boxing, which meant the referee's job was to first direct Donaire to a neutral corner, then start counting as he stood over Montiel's fallen body. Amazingly, Montiel managed to stagger to his feet just before referee Russell Mora reached the 10 count. Even more amazingly, Mora allowed the fight to go on, even though it was clear to everyone watching that Montiel's legs were wobbly underneath him, and he wasn't all there mentally.
As soon as Mora wiped Montiel's gloves and signaled that the fight would go on, Donaire rushed toward Montiel and finished him off with a left hook to end the fight.
Said Donaire afterward of the punch that knocked Montiel down: "I hit him with the left hook and I looked down, and I saw that his legs were twitching, and I knew that the fight was over."
And yet the fight wasn't over, because in boxing, fights don't end just because someone is splayed out on the ground, twitching and unable to defend himself.
Boxer Roy Jones, who was working on the HBO broadcast, praised Mora for allowing the fight to continue.
"You got to give a champ that type of respect," Jones said. "You got to give him that much respect. ... It says a lot about Montiel, to show you how game he is. It says a lot about Montiel. He's a great fighter, a great champion."
It also says a lot about boxing that the mindset in the sport is that the way to "show respect" to a fallen fighter is to give him more opportunities to have his brain damaged by an opponent who has already knocked him down and badly hurt him.
People who like boxing and dislike MMA often point out that in boxing, it's two men standing toe-to-toe, and when one man goes down, the other man gives him a chance to get back up. MMA, those boxing supporters say, is a vulgar brawl in which a man can get punched when he's already on the ground.
But the reality is, MMA is safer than boxing exactly because the fight can continue on the ground, and a fighter who's on the ground and unable to defend himself is finished right then and there, and not given more time to get hurt. The MMA way is the safer way.