Why Boxing is Losing The Fight With Mixed Martial Arts
By Rod Bautista: Mixed Martial Arts and primarily the UFC have taken North America by storm, and although Boxing is still considered by the mainstream sports media as the number one combat sport, on the grassroots level and the coveted 18 to 35 year old male demographic, MMA is not only gaining steam it’s starting to win the fight.
When you compare Saturday night’s UFC 126 pay per view to the much hyped Timothy Bradley vs. Devon Alexander fight you see a world of difference. The fight card for UFC 126 was full or big named UFC stars on the under card with former champions and future stars alike. Casual fans would even know the fighters on the under card that featured the likes of Forrest Griffin, Rich Franklin, Ryan Bader and Jon Jones, not to mention the big main event which featured MMA’s P4P champion Anderson Silva defend his title against Vitor Belfort. That line up shows you a glaring difference between boxing and the UFC. Without getting into detail about the fights themselves a typical UFC card will have at least three decent match ups. On the flip side you would be hard pressed to find a casual fan who knew who Timothy Bradley or Devon Alexander was let alone the fighters on the under card.
I, unlike most of my friends including my wife, am a Boxing fan first, and also a fan of the UFC. I’ve been a boxing fan for as long as I remember and recall watching the Thrilla in Manila with my dad as a toddler. I also watched UFC 1 as a college student in my buddy’s basement. I can tell you that when I watch a Pacquiao fight or any big boxing event, that I’m the only one who watches the whole card. When I watch a UFC event it’s a whole different story. My wife is glued to the Ultimate Fighter while getting her to watch Friday Night Fights is like pulling teeth. Even she likes to see a good fight and has told me on numerous times if Manny Pacquiao isn’t fighting it’s to boring for her to watch. The only reason she watched the Mayweather, Mosley fight was to see Floyd get his ass handed to him. We all know how that ended up. My point is the popularity of MMA with females is quite staggering. You’d be hard pressed to find a true female boxing fan, while my wife can have a water cooler conversation with her co workers about the last GSP fight.
The UFC and Dana White make it a point of making good entertaining cards and their biggest strength is identifying a good match up and making it happen. The sport is at a stage that the governing body or the organization has the ultimate control. Fighters are under contract and must fight who the “boss” wants them to. That’s why every event has entertaining fights. You can’t duck anyone if you want to be at the top of MMA you must fight the best. We all know that boxing is ruled by promoters and a fighter can pretty much fight who they want to, add to that that there are at least a half dozen boxing organizations that give out championships which makes it very difficult or rare to see the best on best.
The action Saturday night was non stop and if you are a UFC fan you didn’t leave disappointed. If you came to see submissions you got it. If you came to see striking and knock outs, you got that too. Heck The UFC knows these things are going to happen which is why they give bonuses out for the best fight, submission and knock out. I don’t know maybe that’s why MMA fighters always seem to want to engage and put their chins out there, and I think that is what people like to watch. Like boxing used to be MMA is truly a battle of wills and a clash of styles, with the most basic of human condition at the base of it all, the will and struggle to survive. The main objective for any MMA fighter is to finish the fight as fast as they can. It’s not good enough to just score you need to be able to finish your opponent and that is ultimately what people want to see. Far too often in boxing it seems fighters are afraid to lose and do only enough to win. Although that strategy is usually effective it’s not a recipe for an exciting fight. The end result is a fight that is only satisfying to hard core fans and boring to the casual fans. People want to see blood and guts, not a glorified dance routine. When you pit two defensive, slick, elusive, light handed fighters against each other that is what you get, an uneventful forgettable fight. Unfortunately that is exactly what we got with Bradley vs. Alexander.
You often hear of a lack of an American champion in the Heavyweight division as a reason why boxing has taken a back seat, but when you look at the biggest stars in MMA you see that they are clearly not American. Anderson Silva still speaks through an interpreter and Georges St. Pierre speaks with a heavy French accent. Only two Americans hold UFC titles and one of them is of Mexican decent. Fight fans love fighters that leave it all out on the line. That is a big reason why Manny Pacquiao is popular with so many people outside of the Boxing world. With the UFC you see dozens of Manny Pacquiaos every week on cable TV. If the UFC can sustain and gain popularity with champions from other parts of the world, why can’t boxing? Both combatants of the main event Saturday night are both from Brazil, but that didn’t stop over 10,000 people from attending the live event or 750,000 (my educated guess) PPV buys. Bradley vs. Alexander had barley 6000 in attendance for a venue that could have held 60,000.
It’s odd to say this but it seems that the roles have reversed and boxing is now for the hard core fans and MMA is becoming more and more mainstream. A huge factor is how the sports get their talent form on the grassroots level. Boxing at least in North America has it’s roots on the streets and in the ghetto or the projects. Meanwhile whether Boxing fans like it or not MMA gets it’s talent mostly from a sport that is present in most high schools and at every major University and the NCAA. Amateur wrestling is huge in America and has been for many years, and now wrestlers have somewhere to go after their amateur careers are over, and it’s not the WWE. More and more wrestlers turn to MMA because of the sports evolution and rise to prominence. Literally hundreds of thousands of wrestlers are training in MMA and dozens of current UFC athletes come from a wrestling back ground, complete with NCAA division 1 pedigrees. Boxing can’t compete with that. At the grassroots level the talent pool of potential MMA fighters is by far much deeper than Boxing’s. Wrestling is funded by the public school system and is taught in Physical Education classes across the country. How can Boxing compete with that?
Combined with the marketing machine that is the UFC MMA is taking a big chunk of popularity away from Boxing. Boxing is still king, but if things don’t change Boxing will continue to lose. The longer it takes for The Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather fight to happen the worse it gets, and if the fight doesn’t happen the damage will be too devastating to repair. Without Floyd or Manny who does boxing have to carry the torch? The Bertos, Khans, Bradleys and Martinez’s of this world need to ride the coat tails of the superstars to gain popularity and make names for themselves, but mostly they need to fight entertaining fights. If more people saw Sergio Martinez’s devastating knock out of Paul Williams, or if Devon Alexander didn’t quit against Timothy Bradley it would be different. The public needs to see more fights like Ward vs. Gatti 1, or round 10 of Corrales vs. Castillo, or Khan vs. Maidana, or Marquez vs. Katsidis or even Friday night’s Chatman vs. Hatley. Boxing is an exciting sport, but it needs to stop shooting itself in the foot. Boxing needs to check itself before it wrecks itself. At the end of the day fight fans want to see a good entertaining fight more and more the good fights are happening in the UFC.