IBHOF inductee Graham Houston reflects on Triller Fight Club’s ‘Triad Combat’ show, which saw heavyweight contender Kubrat Pulev brush aside ex-UFC champion Frank Mir in a boxing vs MMA event.

With well-known boxers taking part I felt compelled to watch the inaugural Triad Combat event that took place in Texas over the weekend. (And as it was part of my monthly subscription to Triller Fight Club, I thought: Why not?)

First, a primer for those who might wonder what the heck I’m talking about. Triad Combat is a hybrid sport, part boxing and part MMA. Kicks, elbows, takedowns and chokeholds aren’t allowed, but something called an “active clinch” is permissible. This means one of the combatants is allowed to hold with one hand and hit with the other. 

The spinning back-fist is allowed, so old-time middleweight champ George LaBlanche, who supposedly invented something similar, the now-banned “pivot blow”, would, probably approve. And something called the “Superman punch” is permitted. (This, for those who don’t know, is basically a punch thrown in a lunging forward motion with the boxer actually in mid-air.)

Instead of a ring, contestants compete in a roped triangle. A limited stick-and-move style is possible in the triangle but really the way it’s designed is to cut out too much fancy stuff and largely limit the action to shootouts with punches thrown in toe-to-toe fashion. And modified eight-ounce gloves are worn, with fingers exposed, very much like the gloves worn in MMA but with more padding.

Rounds are of two minutes duration, and the fights are scheduled for five rounds for prelims, seven rounds for the chief supporting bouts and nine rounds for the main event. And the show is set up as a team event, Team Boxing vs Team MMA, with Shannon Briggs representing the boxers as a sort of cheerleader while Rampage Jackson filled a similar role for the MMA fighters. 

So, with that out of the way, here is what I made of it all.

Many of you will no doubt have seen a video clip of Kubrat Pulev’s one-round demolition of 42-year-old former UFC champ Frank Mir in the heavyweight main event. I found this actually a little scary. Pulev blasted Mir wth a big right hand, then delivered a left hook, and Mir was absolutely gone. Mir swayed unsteadily, hands down and defenceless. The referee, Dan Miragliotta, seemed to wait a tad too long before stepping in and waving it off. Luckily Pulev didn’t jump right on the hapless Mir and hit him again.

Miragliotta subsequently explained that he had everything under control and was poised to pull the plug as soon as he noticed Pulev moving in. But this could so easily have resulted in a bad outcome if Pulev, who is, of course, a heavy hitter, had landed just one more clean shot on his dazed and bewildered opponent.

It also concerned me to see 39-year-old Brian Vera taking goodness knows how many punches to the head in an all-out slugging match with Texas rival Derek Campos, who represented the MMA. Campos got the unanimous decision. Vera, who has always been a rugged battler, actually seemed to enjoy the battle. But I had to ask myself whether Vera really needed to be in this sort of give-and-take war at almost 40 years of age. Taking punches is probably like water off a duck’s back to a genuine tough guy such as Vera but, still, it made for something of an anxious watch.

On a more positive note, I must admit I found the fight between light-heavy big hitter Michael Seals and MMA in-your-face slugger Mike Perry to be exciting in its way. Perry went right at Seals, stayed on top of him, and mugged him on the ropes. But when Seals had the room to punch he landed some big shots, knocking Perry down with a left hook in the fourth round. Perry looked surprised to get the split verdict. “That was a bad decision,” Shannon Briggs declared. “I’m smiling — I’m happy,” retorted Rampage Jackson. MMA combatants won four of the seven fights. 

According to the broadcast, the event attracted a 20,000 crowd. Heavy-metal band Metallica performed but I fast-forwarded through that. It looked like a young crowd, not many over-30s there, it seemed to me, in the camera panning shots. And everyone seemed to be having a good time.

I’m not a fan of this hybrid combat thing — if I’m not mistaken, blow-by-blow commentator Ray Flores referred to it as a “human Demolition Derby” — but there seems to be market for it. My suspicion is that it will appeal much more to the MMA set than to boxing aficionados. 

There were a couple of mismatches last Saturday but no one got hurt (although Pulev vs Mir was possibly a near-miss in that regard). 

If the novelty value of Triad Combat wears off then it will fade away, as did something called Big Knockout Boxing five or six years ago. In the meantime, if the contestants are getting well paid, which apparently they are, and if people enjoy watching it, then who am I to be a naysayer? 

Main image: Amanda Westcott/Triller Fight Club.