In the lead-up to Affliction’s Andrei Arlovski-Ben Rothwell fight I’ve heard the same question from MMA fans and analysts again and again: how much of a difference will Freddie Roach make for Andrei Arlovski? For those of you unfamiliar with Roach, he’s a former pro boxer and world-renowned boxing trainer who has recently begun working with Arlovski and who will corner “The Pitbull” on Saturday night. Naturally, it’s got to be a help to have someone like that working with you on your striking, but is it really the difference-maker many people think it is?
In order to get on board with that thinking you have to go along with two basic assumptions: 1) MMA fighters are generally far behind boxers in their technical striking ability, and 2) what a boxing trainer knows about striking is relevant and translatable for an MMA fight.
The first point is mostly valid. Because boxers only use their fists and only fight using a limited array of options, they’re probably going to be better at using them, if for no other reason than the fact that they can afford to spend more time on it. Just like a decathlete can do a lot of things well, he still can’t throw a discus better than the guys who do nothing else.
But it’s the transition to the second point that gets me. Boxing is a different sport. Some of the conventional wisdom in boxing — even basic fundamentals regarding stance, hand positioning, and defense — don’t necessarily work for MMA because of the threat of takedowns, kicks and knees, and the size difference in the gloves. So why is it necessarily so great to be coached by a boxing trainer?
I’m not saying that there is no value to having someone like Freddie Roach in your training camp. The guy has plenty to teach, and it’s not as if he just discovered MMA with Arlovski. I’m just saying that it seems strange the way we’re willing to place so much importance on it, when we wouldn’t necessarily have the same reaction if we heard that Arlovski was working with a great Greco-Roman wrestling trainer.
At Wednesday’s press conference I talked with kickboxer Pat Berry, who helped train Rothwell to face Arlovski. We talked some about how he had tried to prepare “Big” Ben and what he expected of Arlovski, and I couldn’t help but wonder which was of more practical use for a fighter — being coached by a boxing trainer or training with a kickboxer?
They’re both different sports with different fundamental rules and approaches, but isn’t kickboxing closer to what a fighter will experience in the stand-up aspect of MMA? Isn’t there less translation that needs to happen in order to make his lessons useful in the context of the fight?
Maybe it’s some holdover from the privileged position that boxing still enjoys in the minds of many Western fight fans. Even though we love MMA, we still grew up with the sweet science. We still hear ‘boxing trainer’ and imagine what Floyd Mayweather might do if he was also a BJJ black belt. Then again, maybe that’s just me.
I am genuinely interested to see what an influx of boxing trainers can bring to MMA. I’m just not more interested in it than I am in what some really great wrestlers and submission artists can, and already have brought to it. Of course there’s room for growth, but it’s a mistake for us to assume that boxing trainers are a magic serum.
They aren’t. They’re good trainers with a lot of useful knowledge. But they’re not the only ones. Just ask Pat Miletich.