Toro Magazine has up an interview with HBO boxing commentator extraordinaire Jim Lampley. Lamps has been the subject of a lot of scorn from the MMA community as he has taken some shots at our sport but seems to have evened out his view on things considerably. The highlight for the MMA crowd:
Q: I’ve always been a boxing fan – but quite frankly, I have no idea which organizations are running the show today – I don’t really know who the heavyweight champion of the world is. But I know a hell of a lot about MMA fighters of every stripe. Is this a question of MMA marketing their product better, or novelty, or a genuine passing of the guard when it comes to pugilistic sports?
A: Let me answer your question first with a question. So I can be sure of something. Do you know a lot about MMA fighters of every stripe, or do you know a lot about UFC fighters, and mostly exclusively UFC fighters?
Q: Very good point. Of course, mostly UFC fighters.
A: I think that what’s perceived as the giant success of MMA is actually the big success of the UFC. Because there are several other MMA organizations which have gone bankrupt or are struggling now. So it’s really only UFC which has achieved this cachet that people keep talking about. And if you think about it, it’s a little like saying that if a boxing organization, like the WBA or the WBC or the IBF could concentrate so much power and promotional credibility they would eliminate attention paid to the others, and their people would be seen as the people and they would have a marketing niche that proceeds through kind of star identities that sell. And one of the things that bothers you about boxing, and bothers most people about it, is that there might be four champions in any given division at any given time. They’re called champions because they have belts from governing bodies with no hierarchy to tell them that one of them is more important or more prominent than the others.
People who watch MMA, a lot of them pay attention only to UFC. Now what does that mean? UFC hires their own announcers – they don’t deal with a Larry Merchant and a Jim Lampley picking them apart from a perspective of legitimate honesty and saying whatever they want to say. We’re talking about an organization where the promoter has hired the commentators. Now that’s an entirely different kind of broadcast than what we do or what anybody in boxing does. That’s really a lot more like pro wrestling. Because then they tell the story that they want to tell.
So the bottom line is, they have a tremendous advantage, UFC does, over what goes on in boxing. Is that because boxing people are dumb and UFC people are smart? To a certain degree, yeah. No question about it. They have done a better job of organizing and promoting the product to make an impact on the marketplace over the course of the past 12, 15 years. Does it mean that UFC, or MMA, is as legitimate and important and resonant a cultural experience as boxing? Not in a million years. Not even close. Boxing is a sport with a 120-year history, and extremely deep penetration in various cultures around the globe – most particularly American culture where it has produced some of the most prominent socio-political figures to be found in all of sport, most notably, Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali. No Joe Louis, no Muhammad Ali, no Barack Obama.
And so I think you have to be careful about judging something purely on the basis of a market penetration as opposed to looking at the institution as a whole. One thing we try to do at HBO Boxing is what you talked about earlier: it’s to look at the institution as a whole and present in an unvarnished fashion.
Q: Do you think MMA will, in the end, fade, survive or supersede boxing?
A: I think it’s here to stay. I think it’s here to keep existing. I think in a hundred years from now it will be interesting to see how variegated their experience is. But I believe there’s room for both, and that both are going to continue to exist and both are going to produce stars. And you know, I used to think of this in terms of “I like boxing because it’s better.” But now I think of it in terms of “I like boxing because it’s boxing” – and some people like MMA because it’s MMA. It’s no better and no worse, it is what it is. And I think there’s room in the cultural marketplace for both.
To see someone who is as much "the voice of a sport" as Lampley take the "there's room for both" stance makes me happy. It's the position I've long held. There isn't any reason to compare the two or to debate which is the "more complete" fight sport. They are their own sports with their own rule sets. Is well rounded MMA training more effective than boxing in a real world application? Sure. But what does real world application have to do with sport? I've said it in the past but football is not a better sport than basketball because the chances you may have to run away from someone at some point in your life are higher than the chances you'll need to throw a ball through a ten foot high hoop from twenty-five feet away. There are room for both and the success of one does not mean the failure of the other.