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Rural Cage Fighting
Big Ron and Hames Discuss Farm Fu MMA

Rural Cage Fighters Grapple to the Big Time - Daily Yonder James, what do you think about the popularity of MMA in rural America, whereas boxing has never really been too popular there? Is it because of the popularity of grappling is it the promotion of regional shows in these areas what is your opinion?

-Big Ron


Ron, before TV killed club fighting, beginning in the 1940s, boxing was popular in rural areas. Louis L'Amour fought over 80 pro bouts, mostly in rural settings. Young Stribling and other fighters of the 20s toured extensively in small towns.

Boxing just survived in the cities because, like basketball, it didn't take a lot of equipment or space. Rural boxing was often a carnival affair. You might want to check out my novel Hurt Stoker for that.

That said, these days, rural MMA fighters are notorious for bad hands and poor striking over all, but well regarded on the ground. Our local promoter goes to rural gyms to get record-padding matchups for his BJJ-based fighters, who also have shitty hands, but at least spar with boxers. However, if you have to choose a base for MMA, wrestling is better than boxing, so it is hopefully a natural fit. Also, promoters can draw crossover pro wrestling fans to an MMA card, but not a boxing card and pro wrestling is big in rural America, especially in our area in the east.

You know, Ron, the hardest I have ever been punched was by a farm boy. It was like having a hammer dropped on my brow.

The Punishing Art

Add Comment
IshmaelJuly 21, 2017 2:37 PM UTC

My father, if still alive , could tell you stories of Dempsey, he saw him fight in the Wastach Back, was my fathers favorite boxer, tin rural America wrestling took over for boxing, farm boy wrestlers are some of the best, my oldest son, wrestled with the Sanderson dynasty!
ShepJuly 20, 2017 11:19 PM UTC

Jack Dempsey used to ride the rails like a common hobo to get from one mining town to another in Utah/Colorado, where he would "promote" fights for himself by walking into saloons and challenging all comers.

By the way, here is the photo I recall seeing in my hometown newspaper which accompanied the story about ol' Jack knocking out two muggers in NY sometime around 1969-1971.
Jeremy BenthamJuly 20, 2017 11:45 AM UTC

Here's some more of my past commentary on the disappearance of boxing as an amateur sport from mainstream America for the benefit of this blog's expanded audience. Enjoy!

Oh, I forgot to mention that the Armed Forces remained bastions of amateur boxing during the 1960’s, ‘70’s, and '80's, both in the active services and in the service academies. As evidenced by the Navy manual on boxing you mentioned (although I must imagine that was the academy manual from the 1940’s). But as fewer men came into the service with previous boxing experience, interest waned. People tend not to pursue sports in adulthood that they haven’t practiced as a child. Their pride gets in the way of course; few people can tolerate the indignity of looking like a struggling rookie when they are supposed to be “all grown up”. As time passed it became more difficult to find boxing coaches as well. There may be renewed military interest in boxing now that the Army has revamped its hand to hand “combatives” program (based largely on Brazilian Jiu Jitsu now) and set up intra-service and inter-service MMA style competitions to encourage further study and sparing practice.
Jeremy BenthamJuly 20, 2017 11:29 AM UTC

Boxing disappeared from rural America, and most of the rest of white America, in the 1960's with the abolition of scholastic boxing. Every high school and college in the country had a boxing team pre-1960, so boxing was a very popular amateur sport throughout America since it was taught and promoted in the schools. Consequently every small community had their local boxing champion. Once school boxing teams disappeared there was no place for small town white youth to learn the sport. Wrestling replaced it in the schools. Here are my comments about this change from a few years ago as it pertained to the rise of the oriental martial arts in the USA.

One thing that profoundly influenced the growth of the oriental martial arts in America was the fact that boxing disappeared as an amateur sport from most of the country during the 1960’s and ‘70’s. For example, my father fought on his high school boxing team just before WWII. When I attended that same high school 26 years later there was no such thing as a high school boxing team, anywhere in the state. Shortly after University of Wisconsin middleweight boxer Charles Mohr died from injuries he received in a championship match, on April 17, 1960, the NCAA banned boxing as an intercollegiate sport. All the high school sports associations quickly followed suit and boxing as a scholastic sport was no more. Amateur boxing persisted only in the major urban areas, largely supported as a means of steering poor urban youth away from a life of crime, as you pointed out. Interest in scholastic folk-style wrestling expanded for those boys seeking competition in combative sports; but that style of wrestling taught you how to tackle and pin your opponent without hurting him, not how to hit and avoid being hit. Post WWII scholastic wresting bore little resemblance to the “catch” or “scientific” wresting of the early 20th Century. Simultaneously the crime rates in the country increased over a hundred per cent during this time period; all at a time when the venue that enabled most American boys to learn “the manly art of self-defense” was shut down. Various oriental martial arts associations were poised to fill this void in self-defense instruction. There was no longer any place to learn boxing, so where else could a young man in a small town or suburb go to learn how to fist fight but at one of the newly opened store-front Karate or Tae Kwon Do dojos in his community? Plus the oriental martial arts purported to teach a “better way”. Who didn’t want to learn how to wipe out an opponent with one sneaky trick? All without getting bruised up, getting your clothes torn up or even losing your hat. Such a promise was especially appealing to un-athletic types who kept getting bested by stronger, faster and more-coordinated opponents. Furthermore, women approved of karate over boxing since karate didn’t involve hitting in the face. Keep in mind that mothers gained a lot more say over what types of sports their sons would be allowed to participate in during this period. Judo had been around for a while and was even an intercollegiate sport, but there was no place you could find Judo instruction in fly-over land in those days. Anyway, if the people studying classical Karate, Kung Fu and Tae Kwon Do got sold a bill of goods back in the day, this was principally a result of the Liberal ruling class having eliminated effective competition from the traditional western combat sports. I can’t help but wonder how the evolution of the oriental martial arts might have proceeded if the various dojos had faced competition from scholastic boxing back when they were first getting established in this country some 50 years ago.