UFC outshining boxing in UK

by James Robson | source: manchestereveningnews
 

Comment: The ultimate fighting threat to boxing

it is July 18 and Amir Khan has just won his first world title on his own doorstep at the MEN Arena.

It is the dawn of a new era for British boxing - the coming of age of a national hero, who first captured the public's imagination as a charismatic 17-year-old when winning Olympic silver in 2004.

But something's not right with this picture.

While Khan celebrates in the ring and the world's media prepare to hail him Britain's next great hope, the pockets of empty seats around the arena tell another story.

Fast forward to Saturday night and the roof is virtually blown off an MEN Arena packed to its 20,000 capacity as the considerably less well known Michael Bisping floors Denis Kang in two rounds to the delight of the baying crowd.

Clitheroe's adopted Mancunian Bisping is not a household name - yet. But he, and a sport that was once dismissed as "human cockfighting" by US presidential candidate John McCain, are clearly striking a chord with the latest generation of fight fans.

The rise of UFC - the Ultimate Fighting Championship - has not gone unnoticed by boxing's bigwigs, who fear it will one day establish itself as the world's number one combat sport.

"It is all action, proper fighting," said Ricky Hatton recently. "They are going the right away about it to get people interested.

"There is a concern in boxing that UFC is taking its place. People seem to get more value for money."

Cacophony

It may still be some time before UFC usurps boxing - and for the purists it never will. But sitting ringside on Saturday, with a cacophony of noise ringing in your ears, it was hard not to think of this as the future.

At once terrifying, exhilarating and intriguing, it is pure car crash entertainment - like being parachuted into a post-apocalyptic world of lawlessness. For the soundbite, video-game-playing, reality star, Twitter-obsessed generation, it is pitch perfect. A cross between Strictly Come Dancing, Street Wars, When Pets go Bad and the WWE.

Critics would describe it as the embodiment of everything that is wrong with modern culture - while others would say it is the natural step forward.

Whatever your opinion, few could argue that it is an example of genius marketing - the likes of which boxing is already looking to emulate.

HBO's hugely popular 24/7 shows are the type of tool UFC has been using to promote interest and create back stories to make its fighters cult heroes. Reality show, The Ultimate Fighter, in which emerging mixed martial artists, like Bisping, compete for six-figure UFC contracts has proved a goldmine.

Creating heroes and villains like wrestling has done for decades, UFC is pushing the boundaries of cult phenomenon to mainstream sport. More than half a BILLION people watched UFC 100 in 150 different countries and it currently boasts a revenue of around $250m annually. UK UFC president, Marshall Zelaznik, believes it is only a matter of time before it is on a par with boxing in terms of popularity.

"In five years time people will be watching UFC in the same way the world stopped to watch Muhammed Ali fight George Foreman, that's how big this sport will be," he said.

A triumph of marketing, yes. But it takes more than slick production to grow at the rate UFC has - a sport that was all but dead eight years ago.

There is a genuine product here. A brutal spectacle that barely gives you chance to catch your breath, it is like stumbling across the most vicious of Friday night street brawls. Its pace - fought over three, five-minute rounds - all but eliminates the bore-fests that can occur in boxing - and the massive TV screens make it impossible to miss any action.

True, it lacks the grace, art and discipline of boxing - but you would have struggled to find anyone at the MEN Arena complaining about that.

Like it or not, a generation increasingly desensitised by violence, wants to see combat in its rawest form - and this is the place to get it.

Nottingham's "Outlaw" Dan Hardy is a truly terrifying individual, while Bisping cuts a more charismatic figure. But both clearly tap into the public's imagination in a way Khan appears not to.

It would be easy to suggest UFC 105 provoked more interest than Khan's WBA title fight with Andreas Kotelnik because it is a sport rarely staged on these shores.

But it is not as if Khan fights for world titles in Manchester every week.

This is hardly the death knell for boxing - just a gentle wake up call. If ever the sport needed a shot in the arm, it came via Manny Pacquiao in the early hours of Sunday morning.

The pound-for-pound number one is doing more than anyone to keep boxing at the top of the tree - and his awesome stoppage of Miguel Cotto suggested he is arguably the finest sportsman in the world right now.

Should he fight Floyd Mayweather it would be difficult to imagine any other sporting contest matching it.

Pacquiao and Mayweather, however, are the rarest of beasts.

If they are the now - UFC could be the future.

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Recent Comments »

smoogy site profile image  

11/17/09 5:57 PM by smoogy

"More than half a BILLION people watched UFC 100 in 150 different countries" Source: Dana White

bhealthy site profile image  

11/17/09 5:13 PM by bhealthy

mma should be popular here, there is not an abundance of superathletes like in the usa

bhealthy site profile image  

11/17/09 5:01 PM by bhealthy

human cockfighting is safer now with all of the equipment, there appears to be less blood and injuries than in nhb

Dawkins site profile image  

11/17/09 12:23 PM by Dawkins

Too bad all the other mma promotions in the uk are dying.

OldManMinerva site profile image  

11/17/09 12:18 PM by OldManMinerva

what a shitty articledon't accept this kind of poor treatment in mediabecause it's not openly hostile, it's still condescending as fuck.

orcus site profile image  

11/17/09 12:04 PM by orcus

 lol

soldave site profile image  

11/17/09 11:30 AM by soldave

David Haye will keep boxing on top here for a while

LordSeano site profile image  

11/17/09 11:18 AM by LordSeano

MMA is gaining momentum but is seen more as a spectacle/a hobby.A competitive one at that but not considered as a spor tthe way boxing is.It is still miles and miles behind boxing. As LouiseauElbow said, PAcman was all over the papers this week but there was no mention of the UFC.I guarantee you that if Hardy beats GSP, it wont be in the sports pages

ajsr site profile image  

11/17/09 10:51 AM by ajsr

 Almost 1 million people bought David Haye/Valuev in the UK. Taken as a % of the total population those numbers would translate to about 5 million buys in the States. MMA in the UK has a long, long way to go before it even nearly begins to rival boxing.

johnnypayne site profile image  

11/17/09 10:45 AM by johnnypayne

The reason Khan doesn't pull in the crowds is people think He's an annoying little cunt, He's been acting like the new king of british boxing while being distinctly unimpressive