Looking back at the 60’s, straight through to the mid 90’s, boxing was huge. Guys such as Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Mike Tyson, Mike Tyson, Evander Hollyfeild, Amir Khan, Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao and many many more pioneered the sport for their generation, taking it as high as they could. But make no mistake, boxing is a sport in decline. Super fights are less and less frequent, with fan interest waining each year. Attendances are dropping, PPV sales are decreasing. People just aren’t as interested as they used to be.
Looking at MMA, the sport could not being healthier. With most PPV’s, the sales increases by each event. Looking through facts and figures, the biggest sell in Boxing to date was Floyd Mayweather vs Oscar De La Hoya, on 5/5/2007, which was watched (legally) by aprox. 2.4 million people worldwide. Compare that to the 1.6 million for UFC 100, not bad at all for an “emerging sport”. While boxing may have eclipsed the UFC’s highest PPV in 2007, this is the only the second time in 8 years this has happened. It is also worth noting that a huge, indeterminable proportion of UFC fans watch events online illegally, meaning the actual viewing figures would probably give UFC the edge.
Boxing is universally recognised as a “gentleman’s” sport, while MMA is still considered by many as barbaric and brutal. Many people still consider MMA an underground fight club, a phase that will pass, while this couldn’t be further from the truth. Looking at facts, MMAjunkie does a regular interview with a medical doctor who is an MMA fan. On several occasions he talks about how from a medical point of view, MMA is safer. Examples he cites are that in boxing, if a fighter gets knocked down he is given a standing ten count, where he might be injured, but will still try to persevere. If the fighter has suffered a concussion, at this stage there is no way to tell, receiving more hits will only worsen the long term damage. While in MMA, when a fighter gets knocked down, the fight is usually over seconds later, preventing further damage. MMA safety levels are rising. While injuries do happen, and bones occasionally break in submissions, this is usually a freak accident(unless your name happens to be Shinya Aoki).
While compared to boxing, MMA is still relatively young, and the long term effects cant yet be seen, but looking through some of the boxing greats, Muhammad Ali is now suffering from Parkinson’s disease, while George Foreman is so punch drunk he called 5 of his 12 children (one of which is a girl) George. In MMA, the forefathers of the sport become immortal. People will always talk about the time Randy Couture, at 42, caused massive upset when he beat Tim Sylvia, or the time Chuck Liddel knocked out Tito Ortiz(which at the time was the highest rated UFC PPV, with 1.05 buys for UFC 66) In boxing, guys like ALi become figures of the past, talked about, but never really celebrated they way they deserve.
Ask any boxing fan who the biggest or best boxer is today, and they will list maybe 3 or 4 names out, Mayweather, Klitschko Brothers etc, but ask an MMA fan, and there are easily 10-15 fighters who can be considered the best in the world at any one time. From the BJ Penn‘s, to Anderson Silva, GSP, Fedor, Brock Lesnar, Shogun Rua, there is no real answer. The sport has so many exceptional fighters that fans are almost spoiled for choice. Unlike boxing, where there is maybe 1 or 2 “Must watch” fights, MMA provides us with so many. Almost every UFC card will have a classic match up, or in the case of UFC 116 (currently the second most UFC PPV buys at 1.25 million)
It seems to that many people will be tired of the predictability of boxing, instead looking for something different, and finding MMA. Boxing will only end by decision or KO or TKO, but submissions and a ground game make MMA a different ball game. Even Kicks make it a more explosive sport. Everybody can remember an MMA fight where a guy was getting the Holy Hell beaten out of him, only to throw a “Hail Mary” punch and end the fight, or catch the opponent in an unexpected submission, something all fans love to see. Not only this, but in the “early” days of MMA, before weight limits, fans loved to see a smaller opponent triumph over a much larger one, in an unexpected fashion.
Make no mistake, boxing’s time has come and gone. The once proud sport now lies in tatters, with a million and one different weight classes (some varying by as little as 5 pounds) and dozens of championship belts. In MMA, each promotion has their own belts and thats it. While some companies (Strikeforce, Bellator, M-1) are doing well with co-promotion, UFC Presidnet Dana White cites boxing as the reason he point blank refuses to co-promote. and Who can blame him? While it helps smaller companies, it killed boxing. Title belts mean next to nothing. Most Champions have several belts, Mayweather holds around 12 title belts at present, in MMA, if a fighter holds a belt it means who truly has earned it. Only two fighters in UFC history have ever held two title belts in opposing weight classes (BJ Penn – WW and LW and Randy Couture – HW and LHW)
The next two years are critical for MMA and boxing. Mixed martial arts rise will almost mirror the fall of boxing, as fans turn away from the pugilist sport, in favour of something new and exciting. Each year that has past MMA has grown in popularity, with Dana White and UFC becoming synonymous as the brand name for UFC. In my opinion, once Floyd Mayweather retires, boxing will officially be dead. While some fighters like David Haye are huge in Britain, or the Klitschko Brothers in Eastern Europe, nobody else has the world wide appeal that could save boxing. Fact is, there simply aren’t enough great boxers to support the sport. Even in schools in America, kids are being taught wrestling, not boxing.
I give boxing another maybe 2 years maximum. And MMA? MMA isn’t going anywhere. It’s here to stay.