The rivalry between boxing and mixed martial arts may appear to be peaking tonight when world welterweight boxing champion Antonio Margarito of Tijuana defends his belt against Pomona's Shane Mosley at Staples Center, and world-renowned mixed martial arts heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko takes on Andrei Arlovski down the freeway at Anaheim's Honda Center.
Yet, the reality of the combat sports landscape is anything but a blood feud.
Both the Los Angeles and Anaheim fight cards are being co-promoted by Oscar De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions and are expected to draw a sellout crowd 20,000 at Staples Center and more than 10,000 to the Honda Center. Those attendance numbers have caught the eye of various promoters who are increasingly working to maximize fans' interest with hybrid boxing and MMA shows. And MMA fighters don't think twice about sharpening their attack in boxing gyms.
Tonight, for instance, famed boxing trainer Freddie Roach is trying to add to his reputation after the masterful win by his star fighter Manny Pacquiao over the world's most popular boxer, De La Hoya. Roach is working in Arlovski's corner as his striking coach and trying to direct him to victory over Emelianenko, considered the planet's greatest MMA fighter, in the Affliction main event.
"Fedor's boxing skills are not that good," Roach said bluntly. "His footwork's terrible. We have to take advantage of that."
The 6-foot-3 Emelianenko (29-1) already has beaten two former Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight champions, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Tim Sylvia, and is a gifted judo- and wrestling-disciplined fighter who has won eight of his last nine fights by submission. The exception was victory by a doctor's stoppage.
It's no wonder, then, that former UFC heavyweight champion Arlovski, 29, stakes his hopes of winning the fight by keeping it to a stand-up battle.
"The distance we keep him away from the other fighter is a little different" than in a boxing match, Roach said. "Andrei can't get as close as a boxer would. . . . He'll tell me, 'If a guy gets that close to me, I'll knee him in the head.' I'll say, 'OK, let's not do that then.' The [striking] stance has to be a little squarer than a boxer's. The way to beat Fedor is to back him up from a boxing standpoint.
"If the fight goes to the ground, I have no control."
Arlovski also works with an MMA/jiujitsu trainer, a wrestling coach and a boxing tutor when he is home in Chicago.
But the 6-foot-3 Arlovski is such a skilled fighter that Golden Boy signed him to also box in the future. Roach says Arlovski can handle the conversion because he adapts quickly to coaching. Roach has also worked to strengthen the punching skills of the UFC's top MMA fighter, middleweight champion Anderson Silva.
Roach says if Arlovski wins tonight, he's going to renew his previous sales pitch to HBO to pit the mythical "world's best MMA heavyweight" against the 7-foot World Boxing Assn. heavyweight boxing champion Nikolai Valuev.
"If Andrei beats Fedor, I'd like to go after Valuev right away. Andrei's good enough to beat him right now, and I think pitting the Affliction champion versus the world boxing champion would be huge and sell," Roach said. "The heavyweight division needs that spark right now."
Golden Boy Promotions chief executive Richard Schaefer said he'll "immediately start conversations with HBO," if Arlovski beats Fedor.
Although Schaefer said he still had some reluctance to "mix and match" major boxing and MMA fights on the same fight card, other promoters are doing it and profiting.
"This dual concept is the best concept, both for the sports and the venue," said Roy Englebrecht, the longtime Orange County boxing promoter who stages the Irvine Marriott's Battle in the Ballroom cards and last year conducted more boxing and MMA shows than any other promoter in California.
Although California law still forbids dual boxing/MMA cards promoted by the same company at one venue on the same night, Englebrecht and former boxing champion Fernando Vargas have organized a boxing/MMA tournament that will start Feb. 14 in Primm, Nev.
"This is for the young fighters who might never get to a large arena and for those who might have a chance to get to the next level," Englebrecht said. "It's the equivalent of double-A baseball."
At an Indian casino in Lemoore, promoter Dan Goossen's boxing cards have been followed by a separate promotion with an MMA card. The next hybrid event will be Goossen's Feb. 6 show featuring unbeaten super-middleweight boxer Andre Ward. Former world champion boxer Roy Jones Jr. is going to headline a boxing/MMA card he's promoting in Pensacola, Fla., later this year.
"There's crossover in the audiences," Goossen said. "Fight fans want great fights, and we've gotten that message in boxing from MMA to find the best ones possible."
Goossen said he attempted something similar to the Arlovski-Valuev idea earlier this decade, trying to persuade the UFC to pit its MMA star Tito Ortiz against Goossen's boxer, James Toney, in an MMA fight. "Any tough fighter is always going to be interested in a good fight," Goossen said.
But UFC vetoed the plan, Goossen said. The UFC is intent on keeping MMA separate from boxing and has also frowned on Silva's requests to box professionally.
Arlovski's MMA coach Dino Costeas said his fighter's interest in the sweet science should be tempered by the fact that "the distance he has to go to be the greatest MMA heavyweight is a lot shorter than being boxing's best heavyweight. Let's get on top of the MMA mountain first."
Englebrecht, meanwhile, will continue to sell both sports. At his and Vargas' Worlds Collide tournament in Primm, he'll alternate four four-round boxing matches with four three-round MMA fights. The tournament is scheduled to conclude in December.
"I want the boxing fans to see the MMA," Englebrecht said. "I want to grow the fan base."