Is the UFC Truly Dominant? A Brief Examination of the Boxing vs. MMA Debate

ouchI've always been loudly outspoken in my feelings that there is no "war" between boxing and MMA.  Since I was old enough to remember I have been a boxing fan.  In fact, I got my start at SB Nation as a writer at BadLeftHook.  And I've always been clear that I feel the constant MMA chorus of "boxing is dead" is very much overstated.  However, there is a right way and a wrong way to approach the "boxing is healthy" argument and Paul Magno at EastSideBoxing very much takes the wrong approach with statements such as:

White will talk about the lack of star power in boxing, the corruption and the general degradation of interest in the sport. He'll talk until his segment is up and then post it all over the internet for even more to hear.

He'll never mention the fact that his company probably only has one or two fighters, to be generous, remotely recognizable to the average person on the street. One wonders who would draw more attention on a busy street corner in downtown Chicago, the threesome of Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao and Bernard Hopkins or the MMA trio of Georges St.Pierre, BJ Penn and Lyoto Machida...The answer to that is obvious.

This is a convenient method of picking and choosing fighters.  If we're going to use the three most recognizable boxers to American fans in this situation why not remove Lyoto Machida from the debate and replace him with Brock Lesnar?  Let's make it Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao and Bernard Hopkins vs. Randy Couture, Chuck Liddell, and Brock Lesnar.  Now the debate shifts considerably in the other direction.  I would say right now that those three, St. Pierre, Penn, Ortiz, Griffin, Mir, maybe even Machida and Anderson Silva all have a good amount of street recognizability, which is far more than boxing has at the moment.

Magno continues missing the mark:

However, it should be pointed out that attendance has generally been good at boxing events in the US. For instance, a weak card in Newark, New Jersey with the questionable Tomasz Adamek-Bobby Gunn main event, drew over 8,000 fans and the Vic Darchinyan-Joseph Agbeko card in Florida drew over 9,000 while, on the same night, the mega-promoted UFC 100 drew over 10,000 in Las Vegas.

A dominant UFC should've crushed two marginal boxing cards in secondary markets, but it didn't, at least not at the live gate.

Live boxing did do well in those two events, but in slow economic times cheap entertainment will draw.  Where Paul's argument fails to hold water here is in ticket prices.  The cost to get into UFC 100 was insane.  I am willing to bet that a portion of the boxing cards were papered and that many of the tickets sold were discounted and in the $20-40 range.  The live gate isn't attendance, it is money made from those attending and I'd be willing to bet that UFC 100 crushed those two cards combined.

The focus should be on the fact that boxing is obviously not dead when they're drawing nice local cards to shows that aren't strong.  Not simply comparing live attendance numbers to UFC 100 and trying to pass off that the numbers were comparable.  Again, it's sleight of hand of the highest order.

And more:

Now, take all that live action that would've been on cable TV and put it on one mega PPV per month, making it so that if you want to see live boxing, you have to order the show.

Take the month of August as an example. The boxing PPV for August (We could call it Boxing #1: Heat Stroke, or something equally catchy) would feature the following televised bouts:

Roy Jones vs. Jeff Lacy
Timothy Bradley vs, Nate Campbell
Juan Diaz vs. Paulie Malignaggi
Nonito Donaire vs. Rafael Concepcion
Juan Urango vs. Randall Bailey
Robert Guerrero vs. Malcolm Klassen

How many PPVs would that card sell if there were almost literally no way to see boxing aside from ordering the event? Would a card like this sell more than the average UFC PPV of 450-600,000? The answer would be a resounding "yes" and August is not even a particularly strong month this year in terms of competition.

I'm sorry, but no.  A card headlined by Roy Jones (old and not a PPV draw) vs. Jeff Lacy (never was a draw) with Timothy Bradley vs. Nate Campbell as the big supporting undercard fight would not sell more than 600k buys at $50 a pop.  The truth is, Floyd Mayweather Jr.'s next fight is the P4P best boxer in the world returning from retirement, to face a popular Mexican fighter, on Mexican Independence Day, with a very strong undercard and it will get outdrawn by a weak (relatively speaking) UFC card.  Now this isn't a sign that boxing is dead or dying, but it does show that the above scenario likely isn't going to be a huge success on PPV.  Add in the fact that those fights would combine for over three hours of in ring time and you'd probably be turning off the casual fans from tuning in.

The UFC model works for the UFC and never would for boxing because, and this is an important point, it is a different sport.

On the flip side Steve Cofield was speaking with PPV distributor Joe Hand over on Cagewriter where Hand said the following:

"People ask, 'Do you think UFC will kill boxing?' " Hand said. "It already has. Boxing's dead. "Look, the next [Floyd] Mayweather fight is the same night as UFC 103. Does that make any sense?"

The reality is somewhere between what Hand says and what Magno was trying to feed everyone.  Boxing is very much alive and well internationally but here in the States it has some work to do.  Boxing is, however, taking some of the right steps.  Events like the upcoming Super Six tounament show a committment to outside the box thinking and more "best fighting the best" events.  Also, less fights are being shown on PPV because the stars didn't exist to carry these expensive shows.  HBO and Showtime are working to try and make new stars and while it hasn't really been successful yet, in the long run it is the best path back to a healthy sport.

Boxing isn't dead, but the UFC is clearly dominant in the combat sports world.  To ignore that as a boxing fan is to ignore the learning points that can make your sport better, not to mention open yourself up for nasty countershots.

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