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…on boxing vs MMA again (from the mailbag)

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The Contender crushed The Ultimate Fighter in the ratings but it's not how big you are but what you do with it that counts

Many thanks to Reza Torkzadeh for this week’s email.

I just finished reading your article on boxing/MMA, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I had a few questions and was wondering if you had any input in terms of the boxing v.s. mma or more importantly what boxing needs to do to save itself.

1. What do you think that Boxing doesn’t offer that MMA does?
2. What has attracted so many people to MMA and away from boxing?
3. Aside from the promoters and sanctioning bodies, what else do you feel has contributed to the decline in interest with boxing?
4. How as MMA and particularly the UFC been so successful in promoting its product?
5. Are MMA fighters more accessible than professional boxers? Do you think this has an impact?
6. Can boxing in your opinion follow a UFC model and change course?
7. Boxing had a reality show called The Contender. Why do you think this wasn’t as successful as UFC’s reality show, The Ultimate Fighter?
8. In terms of marketing, UFC has certainly the MTV/Internet generation in mind. The UFC website for example provides interviews, clips, photos and profiles of each fighter. There is no boxing website that even comes close. How much of an impact do you think the internet plays in terms of marketing the entire product whether pro boxing or UFC.

Thanks so much!


Many thanks for the email, Reza. In order:

1. Personally, I think that there is a desire for a combat sport which combines grappling and striking. It has always been there and, essentially, is the concept that underpins professional wrestling. Ultimately, boxing will never push the buttons that MMA can push. However, that isn’t to say that boxing cannot be as successful or more successful than MMA. Boxing is far simpler. Everybody understands a punch in the face, not everybody understands a kimura lock. For example, working from the bottom is somewhat counter-intuitive.

However, for all the cries of brutality, MMA offers a safer alternative to boxing. Those 10oz boxing gloves don’t protect fighters’ heads, they protect the hands. “Punch drunk syndrome” was unheard of in the days of bare-knuckle boxing and I’m sure the 9th Marquess of Queensberry lent his name to the new rules of boxing with the best intentions but boxing is more likely to kill you than MMA until hstory proves otherwise. In that respect, we can watch a fight and all go away happy. Guys get to go home too.

2. I don’t think people are being attracted away from boxing. There’s an idea that people are ditching boxing because they love this new-fangled MMA stuff. I don’t buy that. I stopped watching boxing religiously because mainstream boxing is based around stars. The last star I can remember being genuinely enamoured with was “Prince” Naseem Hamed and by the time he really hit the big time in the US, his wild style had been tempered and with it, so did the entertainment.

I watch MMA because it is what I’ve always wanted to see, which is, for the want of a better phrase, “real wrestling”. Boxing is haemorrhaging fans because of public relations. Boxing isn’t in terrible shape. Good pay-per-views involving name boxers are doing well but it’s the bad pay-per-view, where average fighters whose promoters have politicked their fighter’s way to a world title, that gives boxing a bad image. Mosley-Vargas, Tarver-Jones Jr., Hopkins-Taylor, Mayweather-Judah; all were credible bouts, all did decent numbers. However, when you’re expected to cough up coin for an average junior featherweight champion to beat up on a bum, they’re taking the piss. This fight should be a featured bout on the undercard of a better bout or, alternatively, should not be taking place at all. If there were less titles and a title defence had to be against somebody credible, i.e. An impartially decided top 10 fighter, we would avoid annoying people.

If anything, all PRIDE and UFC have tried to do is give the people what they want. Make them wait for it until a lot of people will pay for it and in the gaps, give them something credible. People wanted Chuck/Tito but they gave them Chuck/Babalu in the meantime because it was a credible fight. If people are leaving boxing to spend money on UFC PPVs then fine. However, I still feel that the people that will spend money on boxing and will spend money on MMA aren’t the same people.

3. A lack of interesting fighters. The media want to be enamoured with something. Every couple of years, a guy comes along whose appeal transcends race or culture. I’m thinking of guys like Naseem Hamed or Mike Tyson. Tyson is not the best heavyweight of the modern era, let alone the greatest of all time. However, his appeal was widespread. People wanted to watch him. Until Barrera beat him, Naseem was a cocky little shit who made people watch featherweights. Right now, they don’t have that guy at featherweight. A division can be defined by a couple of fighters or a few good matches. Look at how hot light welterweight was when Mayweather beat Gatti and Hatton beat Tszyu. Everybody was all “light welterweight is *the* division in boxing”. Less than two years later it has gone cold because Hatton looked fallable at 147 and has turned into the 10st John Ruiz and EVERYBODY gave up their belts so the main four alphabet champs are fighters without much drawing power. It doesn’t help that it is impossible to unify the belts. People will watch boxing if the fighters are good and people will watch a division if it’s hot. Right now super featherweight and welterweight are hot. One is the home to Barrera and Pacquiao and the other is currently the most stacked in boxing, which will be even more packed if De La Hoya drops down to 147 to meet Ricky Hatton halfway.

Also, it doesn’t seem to help that the major boxing supporters, like HBO, have switched up their coverage. Boxing After Dark is a nice idea but it’s less coverage than before. When it’s left to less-visible networks like Versus to pick up the slack, there’s trouble ahead.

4. I think they’ve been successful by watering it down enough so it doesn’t piss too many people off but keeping the core structures. The key to the whole thing is the Unified Rules. The sport was bound to blow up once it was legal. It’s what people want to see. Ultimately, it seems to me that the demogaphics they’re pulling means that they’re pulling in who the sponsors and the advertisers want. This is where the money comes from. Once the money starts coming in, you become a success, it breeds more success. UFC have managed to get a whole TV network behind them with a style that is walking the line between pro wrestling and pro sport. Dana White has cleverly positioned himself as a double-talker that never gets called on double-talk because of his often disarming frankness. It’s so many things rolled into one.

5. Who knows. Some of the most aloof fighters are mixed martial artists. Guys like Cro Cop and Fedor do not seem fan-friendly in any way, whereas De La Hoya is quite the opposite. Where the dfference comes is that you have less of the nastiness. The closest thing MMA has to James Toney is Frank Shamrock and even then Frank’s antics are explained away as him being a fan of 70’s wrestling.

6. In some ways, some promoters are trying to do this. Somebody has been trying to launch a World Boxing League for the last year or so, similar to Chuck Norris’ World Combat League or the International Fight League. Don King and Bob Arum have successfully promoted fights between their own charges. Oscar De La Hoya will attempt the same with his “post-modern superfight” between Bernard Hopkins and Winky Wright. Thing is, how do you get the toothpaste back in the tube? People think that boxing’s corrupt enough, let alone having promotional titles. The problem isn’t that boxing’s structure of promoters and sanctioning bodies is wrong, it is that everybody looks out for themselves. If one of the big sanctioning bodies adopted computerised rankings similar to the IBO, then it would remove any notion of corruption. If they said you can only defend your title against the top 10 non-World title holders, you might stop seeing fighters take easy fights. Look at Carlos Maussa. He got lucky because Viv Harris wanted an easy title defence, picked a low ranked contender (Maussa was ranked something like 13th in the WBA ranking) and didn’t train hard enough. Maussa then gets a payday he doesn’t deserve.

I’m getting off the point. If two or three big promoters across the world wanted to form a network of shows, establish their own titles and have their fighters fight on TV for free, I think it would be possible to form a UFC-style structure. Will they do it? If it means they’ll make more money, yes.

7. The Contender got way better ratings than the Ultimate Fighter. Problem was, if you’re on network TV, you have to justify yourself financially. It also tapped into a forgotten demographic; women. In the US, women loved the Contender but they didn’t know what to do with that it seemed. They’ve had some successful fights afterwards. The rematch between Sergio Mora and Peter Manfredo did huge business. It just seemed to me that they didn’t have a consistent plan for what to do with the fighters they signed from the show. They created a promotion, they’ve run some successful shows with these fighters. Alfonso Gomez is still a popular welterweight, Sergio Mora would have fought Jermain Taylor if he didn’t turn the match down and Peter Manfredo does very good business in Rhode Island. The Contender Challenge, the current series of fights between Contender fighters and some random British fighters, sold out an 11,000 seat arena in Newcastle. It was a popular show worldwide.

The reason the Ultimate Fighter appears more successful is because the UFC control their own PR. They control the fighters, the titles and the environment in which they fight. Nobody has ever tried to run boxing like that. Right now, we have to consider that TUF is like a farm team with a reputation. You get one or two decent prospects a season and a bunch of “name” fighters to offer up to others. However, the Contender guys have real credibility problems with boxing fans. So they acquire this fame and can’t use it because boxing fans think they’re a joke.

Personally, I found both series of the Contender to be frustrating. I want to see a five round fight, not seven-minute long highlights of a fight. There is a format out there which could present this in the right way and keep the women interested then they need to do it.

8. Well, I think that boxing has a far better presence on the internet on some levels. For instance, Boxrec is easily better than any MMA fightfinder on the internet. However, when it comes to promotions, you’re right, it’s all about MMA. MMA promotions offer unrivalled access. ProElite’s site is fantastic and the UFC give you content, for sure. The only boxing promoter I’ve seen to provide anything near to the UFC is Frank Warren (www.frankwarren.tv). People are missing the boat. What amuses me the most is when Oscar De La Hoya says that boxing is still being promoted the same way it has for years. He’s right but he’s no better in this respect. Boxing has a lot of catching up to do.


Written by Michael Farrow

May 14, 2007 at 11:24 am

Posted in Boxing, MMA

Tagged with ,

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