Old Hand at boxing now in love with UFC
THERE NEVER was a burning bush moment, or a celestial voice whispering in their ears. For two very influential older converts to the church of mixed martial arts, the revelation was gradual, like the changing of the seasons. To tell the truth, it sort of sneaked up on them.
"Joe Jr. and then Joey Jones [the sales manager of Joe Hand Promotions] got into this before I did," Feasterville's Joe Hand Sr., the national closed-circuit distributor for boxing and UFC events, said of his introduction to mixed martial arts. "I was the last one to come aboard."
Hand formally entered boxing, that most traditional of combat sports, in 1964, as one of the original investors in Cloverlay, the consortium that backed the early portion of future heavyweight champion Joe Frazier's professional career. The former Philadelphia police officer went on to become the closed-circuit distributor of major boxing cards, first locally and then nationally, and he acknowledged being initially resistant to a new idea, a new love. But, well, things change. Sometimes it is possible to teach an old dog a new trick.
Hand, 72, still sells boxing's bigger fights to about 40 sports bars and restaurants in the Delaware Valley, and up to 3,500 nationwide and in American territories as far-flung as Guam. But, increasingly, boxing constitutes a smaller portion of his business, and UFC makes up for, and surpasses, whatever he has lost in boxing.
"Over the course of a year, we might do three big boxing matches, tops," Hand said. "UFC is running every month. And a year in advance, I know the date and site of those shows.
"When I go to sell [UFC] in a bar or a restaurant, they understand they're going to get 3 hours of entertainment. Every fight is a great fight. Most boxing promoters, they'll put on a good main event. But you might not find out who's on the undercard until the last minute, and then it's usually junk. The undercard is not important to them."
Hand might have arrived late to the mixed martial arts party, with most guests in the coveted 18- to 34-year-old male demographic, but he is now having the time of his life. And he thinks UFC 101, set for Saturday night at the Wachovia Center, signifies a sea change that could cement MMA's recognition as the foremost combat sport. Although UFC, which is far and away the most dominant of the MMA promotional companies, has a presence in Europe, UFC 101 represents the Las Vegas-based company's farthest penetration east in this country.
Forty states have sanctioned MMA and, if the lobbying efforts of Marc Ratner, UFC's highly respected vice president of regulatory affairs, are successful, Massachusetts and New York will soon enter the fold.
"People ask, 'Do you think UFC will kill boxing?' " Hand said. "It already has. Boxing's dead.