This weekend saw the combat sports world turn its attention fully to boxing for one of the few weekends a year. There is plenty of attention on boxing throughout the rest of the year (despite constant statements to the contrary) but on the few fights that the sport's biggest superstars take every year it draws huge attention. The lack of a competing UFC event that weekend, or even in the few weekends following, meant boxing had the stage to itself. Dana White was in attendance at the bout between Manny Pacquiao and "Sugar" Shane Mosley and had the following to say about boxing to MMA Junkie:
"I think boxing and the UFC can coexist," White told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com) after the pay-per-view show. "I'm a big fight fan. When there's a good boxing match, I want to see it."
White wasn't the only prominent UFC official in attendance; co-owners Lorenzo Fertitta and Frank Fertitta were seated alongside him. It's no conflict of interest, the crew insisted. There's no competition between the UFC and "The Sweet Science."
"Hell, no," White said. "We don't look at it like we're in competition. People who are real fight fans are [expletive] fight fans, whether it's MMA or it's boxing."
Top Rank, the promoter for last weekend's fight, has tried to learn lessons from the the dominant force that is the UFC. Making moves like airing some undercard fights prior to the pay-per-view on Showtime Extreme and offering an online stream of the fight with multiple feeds are both moves clearly inspired by the UFC's approach to their events.
President Todd duBoef also had this to say about the expectation of fighters:
"I think one of the things that I really like about Dana is that he has a real black-and-white perspective, which I think is really good," duBoef said. "I actually like when he has a stance and takes a position like, 'Hey, if you're going to fight for me, you're going to fight and put on a show. You're going to give it your all.' I think that perspective is really good. When you see a guy like Jorge Arce banging away and banging away, staying in there as much as he was out of the fight, and you think he's going to lose to the bigger guy, and he comes back in rounds 10, 11 and 12 and knocks the guy out, it's fantastic. I think those types of guys that give back to the fans are what I want to get back to.
"I think we ended up a little bit with boxing businessmen and annuity fighters. I think that model has to get back to prizefighting. Our sport was called prizefighting, and those guys gave it their all and gave fans a show. That's important to me. That's what you see a lot in the UFC. It's what Dana has ingrained in the fanbase, and it's what they expect the fighter to do."
In duBoef's eyes, boxing is not dying. It's not on life support. It's not even considering a trip to the emergency room.
And the rivalry with the UFC, with its inferior strikers and crowd-baffling ground game, that's a thing of the past, too. duBoef realizes MMA is here to stay, and he respects the leaders of the new movement.
"There's mutual respect between Dana, Lorenzo, Frank and myself," duBoef said. "We know each other, and we have a relationship. I think we kind of learn from each other. I think we kind of pick up on ideas that we're doing.
"We're both in the entertainment business."
As boxing changes and adapts to a world with the UFC as the combat sports king (especially in the pay-per-view arena) it has made nice adjustments and continues to draw solid numbers despite a meme that developed during a few down years. A quick search for ratings info for boxing events turned up these numbers:
June 6, 2010 Cotto/Foreman (HBO World Championship Boxing) - 1.6 million
November 5, 2010 Guerrero/Escobedo, Judah/Mathysse (HBO Boxing After Dark) - 766,000
November 20, 2010 Martinez/Williams (HBO World Championship Boxing)- 1.3 million
January 29, 2011 Bradley/Alexander (HBO World Championship Boxing) - 1.345 million
February 19, 2011 Donaire/Montiel (HBO Boxing After Dark) - 1.020 million
April 16, 2011 Berto/Ortiz (HBO World Championship Boxing) - 1.5 million
ESPN Friday Night Fights:
January 7, 2011 - Prodvonikov/Herrera - 545,000
January 14, 2011 - Manfredo/Eduard - 788,000
January 28, 2011 - Arreola/Abell - 734,000
Boxing is learning to move away from PPV for every fight of importance and it is paying dividends.
White is correct that the sports can co-exist and, if anything, boxing has gotten some very good benefits from the UFC showing just how well things can be done.