Why MMA has become better than boxing, purely from a fan perspective (continued)
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between 2-3 occasions per annum (the number 2 and 3 seeds go at it for an interim title should the champ be indisposed through injury).Consequently, fights are made according to the current pecking order, rather than on a promoter’s whim. The operative word here is “make” fights, as opposed to boxing in which fights are frequently offered/requested (particularly germane to those involved at the pinnacle of the sport). In the UFC, champions remain passive in the process. Shirking fights, an ever-increasing phenomenon in boxing, is virtually unheard of/simply not permitted in the UFC. I will not dwell on the obvious case of Floyd vs Manny but this really serves to typify this unfortunate trend (were they fighting under the same promoter the fight would have likely transpired). Also, it took an eternity to finalise the Haye-Klitchsko bout but thankfully fans will eventually be able to witness this fight materialise.
The above policy guarantees at least 15-20 (significantly more if other organisations are taken into consideration) highly-anticipated title bouts annually, with numerous influential and keenly-awaited contendership battles also ensuing during the course of a year. So, it’s straightforward to comprehend why MMA supplies more regular meaningful bouts than boxing. Irrespective of whether you believe the merger and acquisition to be a positive, this supply of elite fights will only be enhanced by the well-publicised Zuffa takeover of Strikeforce (the consensus no.2 MMA organisation after the UFC), potentially enabling the arrangement of “superfights” between the champions of both corporations. Hence whilst on the surface the purchase may prove detrimental to the fighters’ scope for negotiation, it will likely prove beneficial to the fans in terms of witnessing the best possible matchups. Ultimately, the level of talent increases, and via unification it becomes possible to establish the world’s elite fighters. Other “Superfights” (pitting legends from different weight classes, organisations or eras) also become inevitable, an absolute treat for the fans. Suddenly MMA rankings may begin to hold weight, as erstwhile hypothetical fights can be realised. The UFC becomes synonymous with MMA (effectively representing the sport as the NBA represents the zenith of basketball), the playground for the world’s best. Place this adjacent to boxing, which appears comparatively fragmented, governed by too many sanctioning bodies and promoters, and dictated primarily by money rather than entertainment, legacy and the desire to determine the best of the best. It appears that boxing has diverged from its original successful blueprint, which evolved throughout the course of the C20th, an operational professional sports format very much inherited by the UFC under Messrs White and Fertitta. Ironically, boxing could now learn a lot from UFC by reverting back to its functional roots (less weight divisions/less belts etc).
Even though demand also outweighs supply in MMA, it attempts to deliver more quality than boxing (and is addressing this issue by progressively seeking to host more events). For the casual fan, boxing probably provides between 5-10 eagerly-awaited bouts annually (mostly PPVs).
Disconcertingly for boxing, with the exception of less than a handful of names (Pacquiao still managed to fill to capacity the Dallas Cowboys stadium when fighting an unmatched opponent such as Joshua Clottey which culminated in a decidedly one-sided affair, as have all of Pacquiao’s recent matchups against evidently unworthy adversaries), certain alleged “must-see” bouts struggle to attract full houses. Recently Bradley vs Alexander (yet another poor advertisement for the sport of boxing) took place in front of a sparsely-filled arena. I fail to recall the last occasion on which the UFC hasn’t virtually filled its venue.
1. Better Value for Money, Less Disappointments
As a paying fan (whether on the TV or live), I feel I receive greater value for money (more bang for your buck, more punch for your pound) from MMA than boxing (again echoing the sentiments of Dana White, a self-professed combat sports fanatic whose admiration for boxing preceded his passion for MMA). Cards are more densely-packed with intriguing matchups (due to the UFC’s aforementioned policy to constantly ascertain the top combatants, and its superior marketing of talent and fight-hyping capacity), whereas boxing undercards regularly pit unmatched fighters against each other. I defy you to name a boxing card that is uniformly competitive, and replete with well-known names. It rarely transpires.
I also feel MMA regularly delivers more entertainment than boxing. Of the 11 fights on a UFC card, you can virtually guarantee a breathtaking knockout, an impressive submission, and an exhilarating two-sided fight of the night. Dana’s bonuses for all three (70k provides substantial motivation to the participants, virtually double most fighters’ basic pay) underscore his insistence on entertainment). The card is sufficiently deep to ensure that even if the main event and co-main events do not live up to their billing, fans will be compensated lower down the proceedings. As a result, fans are not often left with that frustrating feeling of being shortchanged. Conversely in boxing, I’m beginning to lose count of the amount of occasions on which I have cursed my own decision to forego slumber in order to watch a title fight from America (in which pre-fight coverage encourages ambivalence on behalf of the viewer by conveying two evenly-matched combatants), only to be encountered with an emphatically one-sided affair. It’s very much a 50/50 (if not less favourable) ratio situation, in which some fights delight, whilst others disappoint, leaving one with a dilemma. Just within the last six months, I can recall numerous supposed title bouts which have proven non-events verging on the farcical, leaving a sour taste in my mouth; Haye-Harrison, Bradley-Alexander, Klitchsko-Solis, Khan-McCloskey to name but a handful, all of which promised so much yet delivered so little. Yet simultaneously, boxing can still produce positively magical moments, as evidenced by Khan-Maidana and Berto-Ortiz (whilst the majority of genuinely enthralling boxing matches happen at a domestic and European level).
The 16th April 2011 perfectly encapsulates boxing’s unerring capacity to disappoint and delight in the very same evening. No sooner am I throwing tomatoes at the TV screen as a result of the perennial disappointment of boxing (as exemplified by Khan vs McCloskey), I am vigorously wiping the screen to rid it of the excess tomato seeds in order that I can view the enticing brilliance of Ortiz vs Berto. As Al Pacino might utter, “just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in”. However, it’s still fair to say that MMA delivers more satisfaction on a more regular and consistent basis.
Implicitly subsumed within this question are the prospective ramifications for boxing spawned by the rapid ascension of MMA, and the lessons which boxing can learn from MMA. MMA is undoubtedly continuing to expand at an exponential rate (there actually exists a surplus of global demand for the sport which cannot currently be matched by the supply, as the UFC seeks to penetrate all continents), whilst boxing is experiencing certain difficulties during a somewhat tumultuous period. Claims have been made therefrom that MMA is the future (as Dana relentlessly indicates, this is the fastest growing sport on the planet, with the number of participants, gyms, and fans proliferating at a staggering pace), while boxing is in serious danger of stagnating unless it resolves its glaringly obvious issues. Alas for me personally, MMA has become an intensely beautiful relationship, boxing a mere fling, consigned to a bit of combat sport on the side if you will (yet for the handful of glorious moments that boxing still awards me on an annual basis, I will always continue to pay the alimony).
By Jonathan Shrager (follow me on Twitter @jonathanshrager)