There was a war between mixed martial arts and boxing in the combat sports world—and MMA came out victorious.
Over the past decade, the world's fastest-growing sport has supplanted boxing's top-dog status among fight fans, to the chagrin of certain promoters and professional pugilists alike. While this rivalry has caused a riff between MMA and boxing officials, this bickering is counterproductive to both sports and should be abandoned for a more harmonious approach.
Neither sport really benefits from ripping on the other. Whenever Bob Arum or any other loudmouth boxing personality rants about the morals and merits of MMA, they always come off as petty and jealous.
Instead of winning over fans, these anti-MMA pundits, coming across as uneducated, even plain stupid, about the sport, just end up pushing fight fanatics away.
Conversely, whenever the likes of UFC President Dana White or any other outspoken MMA proponent talks about boxing's demise, they push away old-school fans who need to be slowly integrated into this generation's new combat-sports scene.
If MMA and boxing officials just swallowed their pride, both sports could grow and benefit from each other—and there are a lot of benefits.
MMA has proven itself to be a great avenue for other combat sports to reach a wider audience.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and grappling have skyrocketed in recent years due to its close ties with the MMA world. The UFC often co-hosts grappling tournaments with Grapplers Quest at the promotion's various expos, exposing strictly fans of the cage to the world of ground fighting.
Many regional promotions also like to feature kickboxing and grappling fights on their MMA cards, showing that fans love to see fights regardless of the format.
Spike TV is beginning to use MMA's popularity to launch other combat-sports programming, such as K-1 kickboxing events, alongside their cage-fighting programs—another telling sign about fans' love of any type of fights.
Major boxing promotions could benefit greatly from cross-promotional, cross-sports events and programming such as these. While I doubt you'll ever see the UFC and a high-profile boxing promotion teaming up, on a regional level, this could help grow a wider audience for both sports. Older fans who like boxing would be slowly introduced to the world of MMA, while cage-fighting fans will unknowingly be exposed to the vast amount of technique these professional pugilists display.
Both sports could also help each other find top talent as many upper-echelon MMA fighters, such as the Diaz brothers, are well versed in boxing, and are willing to test themselves in both the ring and the cage.
Can boxing and MMA work together?
But before a partnership can be forged, boxing officials need to realize that their time has passed. MMA is the top dog for the foreseeable future and, no matter how big boxing's stars are, they just can't capture this generation's fans' attention like Jon Jones, Anderson Silva or George St-Pierre can.
And once the likes of Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr. are through, there will be no top-tier pugilists who can gross record-breaking pay-per-view numbers.
If boxing's proponents can just realize this, then they could begin to explore other avenues to stay viable, regardless if it is playing second fiddle to MMA.
Despite the rocky relationship between the two sports, if egos can be put aside, I am confident that they can find a way to work together in order to put on the best fights for combat sports fans.