The emergence of MMA/UFC, a threat to Boxing?

11th November 2009

24 years ago the term Mixed Martial Arts hadn’t been coined. At the same time in Las Vegas, Nevada, “Marvellous” Marvin Hagler took on and knocked out Thomas “the Hitman” Hearns in what are widely regarded as the most exciting 9 minutes in boxing history.

Fast forward to 2009 and we are approaching a fight of similar hard- hitting potential.

Manny Pacquiao vs. Miguel Cotto at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas on November 14th, is for boxing purists the biggest fight of the year- but will Joe public be tuning in?
For on the same evening in Manchester, England, UFC 105 (Ultimate Fighting Championship) will be taking place. The brainchild of Dana White the UFC is Mixed Martial Arts in its most popular form and one that has developed from a “no holds barred contest” to a mainstream sport that is arguably the most popular combat sport on the planet. When first day tickets went on general sale at the M.E.N arena on September 14th, over 9000 tickets were sold. Grossing over one million dollars in 24 hours the implication is that the UFC is exploding in popularity in the UK and around the world,with many of these fans converting from boxing to MMA.

Marshall Zelaznik, UK UFC President, makes an even grander statement “In five years time people will be watching UFC in the same way that the world stopped to watch Muhammad Ali fight George Foreman, that’s how big this sport will be”. It’s hard to argue with the man as over half a billion people tuned in to watch UFC 100 from Las Vegas. For many the choice on a Saturday night is between boxing and UFC, it seems the UFC is coming out on top with many seeing it as the future of pugilism. But is the market large enough for them both to exist?

The crossover between MMA and boxing is certainly a grey area, indeed many of the older generation refuse to bow to the growing popularity of the UFC. However from a neutrals perspective there seems to be only one winner. For pure entertainment the Ultimate Fighting Championship stands head and broad shoulders above any boxing promotion.

The void between the two is clear on presentation alone.
Saturday’s boxing is advertised as Manny Pacquiao vs. Miguel Cotto with little attention payed to the undercards on the evening. Compare this to UFC105 where the event is promoted as a line up of fights rather than one main event which lends itself well to being seen as an entertaining evening out.

If the undercards at a boxing match are as stimulating as a barn dance, then the UFC cards are like a full on rave at the Hacienda – ecstasy and all! The UFC have hit the nail on the head when it comes to recognising what the public wants, events globally are selling out in record time whilst boxing match ups are struggling to fill the arena on the night.
Boxing Promoters seem dumbfounded as to why fights such as Carl Froch vs. Andre Dirrell weren’t sold out in Froch’s hometown of Nottingham. But for many fight fans the reason is simple -it’s the undercards silly! For lack of a better word they were a calamity in Nottingham; indeed one might see more aggression down at the local Wetherspoons. There is simply no value for money with a boxing ticket, where as the UFC reward fans with an exciting array of fights time and time again.

Worryingly despite the downturn in popularity of boxing both worldwide and in the UK, one has seen little effort from promoters to change the way that fights are presented!

Alas do I speak too soon, it seems that boxing in this country may have been thrown a lifeline in the form of one David Haye. It fails to astound how one fight can reignite interest and seemingly have a whole nation talking boxing again in such a short space of time. Let us hope that the promoters put on a spectacular show for his first defence to bring back the fans that boxing has long since forgotten. Indeed the ticket sales for UFC 105 suggest the interest in combat sports is there, and this even though the UK fighters in UFC 105 are arguably less well known than a Ricky Hatton or David Haye.

Boxing has an abundance of talent; the question is whether promoters are doing this talent a disservice.
Brandon Vera a fighter at UFC 105 has revealed he hopes to finish his fight against Randy Couture early and find somewhere to watch Manny Pacquaio take on Miguel Cotto.
“I’m hoping I will be able to watch it. I love watching Pacquaio fight…I’m not really a fan of boxing, but I’m a fan of Manny Pacquaio”.
It seems boxing has the fighters to make it big again, what it needs is to change its format. It may be shameless but reinventing the sport in a mould based on the UFC could see many fans lost to MMA return.Put big fights such as Haye vs. Ruiz and Pacquaio vs. Cotto on the same card and stage these events around the globe.

MMA and boxing are two different disciplines that should be able to co-exist in a large market, but the reason the participants are payed so handsomely is that they have the ability to entertain. Boxing seems to have forgotten this minor detail and lost its way; let’s hope a man called Haye can remind us what we’ve been missing.

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by Alistair Hill