Boxing and the UFC; Does Boxing need MMA?
By Miguel Antonio “Miggs” Barragan: Less than an hour after the UFC155 pay-per-view ended, headlined by a Heavyweight championship title bout between Junior Dos Santos and Cain Velazquez, internet social media began rumbling once again. Twitter was littered with everything from Cain’s back to the continued instability of the UFC division and back again. However, it was one tweet in particular that caught my attention immediately.
Steve Kim from Maxboxing.com tweeted “So did the MMA/UFC officially take over #boxing tonight? #blameBob”. By Bob, I can only assume he was referring to Top Rank head honcho Bob Arum. Now, exactly what Steve meant is a bit of a mystery to me. Either he was trying to be a troll and start something for the sake of starting something, or maybe he was referring to the increasingly offensive score cards spewed out by the official judges; perhaps it was in regards to boxing falling behind Mixed Martial Arts in overall popularity.
If you were to read the tweets replying to Steve’s comment, you would’ve concluded as I did that Steve meant the latter; although every other tweet would be about how either Klitschko would decimate Junior Dos Santos rather easily and that Dos Santos wouldn’t last blah blah. My point is this; boxing zealots came out of the woodwork to defend their beloved sport. Not that it needs defending to begin with, but obviously they felt it necessary to throw in their two cents. Some tweets went as far as to state that even a great UFC event wouldn’t compare to a boxing pay-per-view.
Reading these tweets got me thinking. If I were to sit and write down the pros and cons for each sport, I would be sharpening pencils for a year, so rather than do that, I decided to attack this from a different vantage point. Could it be that the increasing popularity of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) can in fact be beneficial for boxing? This reminds me of another form of entertainment I followed in my youth, pro wrestling. I know many of you reading this just smacked your foreheads in unison, in fact I can almost hear it. But follow me for just a few moments so I can explain what I mean.
It has to do with one phrase, competition breeds success. Now, I want to make one thing perfectly clear, I am in no way shape or form attempting to compare a staged and choreographed form of entertainment to a legitimate athletic competition such as professional prize fighting in regards to their craft, simply in their popularity and key demographics. The comparison could’ve been anything, Coke and Pepsi, The Beatles and the Rolling Stones etc. It just so happens pro wrestling is a topic I’m very familiar with. I watched wrestling and sometimes still do, there, I said it. Now, on we go.
When I was a child, I was heavily in pro wrestling, as I’m sure many reading this article were as well. It was our first visual taste of hand to hand combat, albeit staged. Even though my father made it a point to hammer into my head the fact that wrestling is not a legitimate competition, I watched it religiously. Along with boxing on HBO and Showtime and the occasional Julio Cesar Chavez pay-per-view, I followed boxing as well, of course far less than wrestling.
Into my early teens, there were three major wrestling organizations. In order of superiority: World Wrestling Entertainment or WWE (formerly known as WWF), World Championship Wrestling or WCW, and at a distant third was Extreme Championship Wrestling or ECW. In the mid to late 90’s, two of those promotions, WWF and WCW, went to war over ratings of their respective flagship programs every Monday night that would eventually be dubbed the Monday Night War. These two companies fought tooth and nail over the eyes of the viewers and fought to the bitter end. WWE, headed by Vince McMahon Jr, aired their program Monday Night Raw on the USA network. WCW, owned by media conglomerate Ted Turner and run by ambitious executive producer Eric Bischoff aired their show Monday Nitro on the Tuner station TNT.
Prior to feeling the heat from WCW, Vince McMahon and WWE’s product catered to a specific demographic that was aimed towards children, with their cartoony and comic book like characters. Unopposed by any real competition, WWE essentially spoon fed fans whatever they felt like cooking up that week. Either it was garbage wrestling or if it was entertaining and worth watching, wrestling fans really didn’t have a decent alternative. When WCW and Eric Bischoff challenged WWE, not only did the product improve as a whole, but it began to attract a different audience, while at the same time keeping their original audience. WCW had a tendency to cater to a much older demographic, with their realistic story lines and mature characters. This tendency became a very successful and profitable formula for WCW that forced WWE to change the way they presented their product, which by now seemed very outdated in an ever changing landscape. The battle that these two wrestling promotions fought and the product it gave birth to, changed the way wrestling was perceived by the general audience and in turn made that period a very lucrative time to be a pro wrestler due to the explosion in popularity. Possibly for the first time ever, pro wrestlers had real bargaining power. Make no mistake about it; this was an unprecedented time in the industry, one that will most likely never be replicated.
Long story short, WCW all but imploded in the coming years and was eventually sold to WWE when the higher ups at AOL/Time Warner (WCWs new parent company) pulled the plug. The success pro wrestling is experiencing today is if nothing else, a direct result of what came from the competition posed to WWE by WCW. The audience for Monday night wrestling during that time went from roughly 4 million in 1995 to more than 12 million at its zenith in 1998, when both WCW and WWE could do no wrong.
Now, after compressing an extremely long and very complex tale into a couple of paragraphs, I once again pose the question. Does boxing need MMA? Does boxing have its version of WCW in MMA? Prior to the enormous success of the UFC with its break through reality TV show The Ultimate Fighter in 2005, boxing was basically giving fans fights they (the promoters) believed they wanted to see. Every great fighter needs that other part of the equation, that opponent to take that fighter into greatness.
Just take a look at pay-per-views for example. Even if one boxing pay-per-view matches or even surpasses the number of buys of a couple of UFC pay-per-views, you can count on one hand how many boxing pay-per-views take place in a given year. The UFC has a pay-per-view every month. More boxing events are aired on either HBO or Showtime, and chances are that the homes who subscribe to those channels do so for other programming, not necessarily for boxing. The UFC has been aired on such channels as Spike and now all the FOX affiliates. Starting this month, Bellator MMA will take the place of the UFC on Spike, as it was previously aired on MTv2. If you’re not named Mayweather or Pacquiao, you’re not likely to headline a major boxing pay-per-view. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Boxing pay-per-view undercards have dwindled down to mere record stuffers for up and coming prospects and that often forces fans to become less willing to fork up $65.00 for a pay-per-view only to see one fight, the main event. Sometimes, not even the main event comes through and fans are left feeling ripped off. UFC pay-per-view cards often have stacked undercards with familiar names that people want to see fight.
Now, let’s look at how boxing has improved, not only did boxing have its equivalent to the Ultimate Fighter, The Contender, in 2005, but in 2007 HBO debuted 24/7, a behind the scenes look at the day to day rigors of preparation leading up to their big fight. Granted, it’s on HBO but it’s a step in the right direction. Oscar De La Hoyas’ Golden Boy Promotions have even begun to beef up their undercards on their pay-per-views, which I commend them for. 2012 saw a major pay-per-view that didn’t feature Mayweather or Pacquiao. In September, we had Julio Cesar Chavez Jr battle Sergio Martinez in a bout that not only broke the attendance record in the arena it was held in, the Thomas & Mack Center, but it garnered a respectable 475,000 buys. This was a bout fans wanted to see, and what do you know, they got it! Would you look at that? In addition to that, a few weeks ago, boxing returned to network television with a Heavyweight battle between Tomasz Adamek and Steve Cunningham that aired on NBC. Unfortunately that bout was not immune to incompetent scoring, but this bout being aired on NBC is again, a step in the right direction. Anyone can see it was a huge success simply by taking a look at ratings for that NBC broadcast. At 6:00 pm, right before the end of the program, ratings registered 3.2 million viewers. Yes, you read that correctly, 3.2 million viewers.
At one time, boxing fans had to either endure the pugilistic diarrhea promoters felt like throwing their way, or pay less attention to combat sports altogether, until Mixed Martial Arts exploded in 2005. Then, boxing fans had an alternative that may very well have contributed the decline in popularity. That’s not even touching the topic of absurd sanctioning bodies and their policies.
I can continue to preach until I lose my voice, but I’m going to hope that the above stats have proven my point. Boxing won’t ever die but who knows where it’ll be in comparison to MMA in the coming years. Regardless of the deep valley it’s currently experiencing, boxing can and should benefit from the loud bang MMA created that diverted attention away from the sweet science. Mind you, MMA is not doing this on purpose; they’re simply trying to heighten awareness of their brand. It is now, 2013, that boxing has to come forward swinging, much pun intended. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!