The battle between mixed martial arts and boxing is relatively new but has developed into the Cold War of sports.
As the fight business becomes splintered—and less popular if Floyd Mayweather’s pay-per-view buys are any indication—these two sports are increasingly at odds. They’re competing almost on a monthly basis for a limited section of the population—fans who are willing to spend $50 or $60 to see a major fight.
That alone makes the two sports gnaw at each other, hoping to pinch an extra penny or two and hold it over the competition. It’s also led to a war of words between the two sides—and not necessarily from UFC president Dana White.
Enter Tyson Fury. For the uninitiated, no, he’s not a character in Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!. Fury is one of boxing’s heavyweight up-and-comers, a 6’9” orthodox fighter without a loss on his resume. The 24-year-old Fury is 21-0 (15 KO) in his career and just earned his first win in the United States last month over Steve Cunningham.
More notably, the Brit is also the latest boxer to call out a mixed martial artist. Over the past couple of months, Fury has unleashed a tirade against UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez and the sport of MMA—leading to a firestorm of criticism and intrigue about the young fighter.
The events began in January. Frustrated about his inability to land a bout with Wladimir Klitschko, Fury first tweeted that he would switch sports and take out the UFC champion in less than two rounds.
Then things got personal. Although 140 characters impaired his grammar, Fury called Velasquez a “midget” among other less printable things:
Cain valasquez is a little midget on steds bring it on I'll fight. Not a man born from his mother can beat me! Contact Hennessy sports!1/3/2013, 11:09:54 AM
@cainmma I challenge u to fight all in in a cage or ring! It could be billed as the man vs midget lets get it on! U small stif idiot. Tit!1/3/2013, 11:16:10 AM
I'm the new baddest man on the planet I'll smash @cainmma. Let's get it on! @danawhite @AdamHarrisbox @HennessySports @MikeTyson1/3/2013, 11:27:28 AM
It didn't take long for Velasquez to give Fury the “thanks but no thanks” treatment—at least initially. Speaking with ESPN Chicago, the UFC champion equated Fury’s challenge to little more than a publicity grab.
"I didn't know who he was until this," Velasquez said. "I think he's using my name to gain publicity, which he has done, everybody is bringing it up."
While the coals on the rivalry died down after that initial spike, Fury reopened the possible bout while promoting the Cunningham fight. The brash up-and-comer made no qualms about his feelings about Velasquez or MMA as a whole.
“I would take Cain Velasquez out,” Fury said to ESPN’s Franklin McNeil. “MMA to me is [expletive]. It’s for people who can’t box and like wrestling on the floor. It’s rubbish.”
Something in that quote must have set off UFC president Dana White. Speaking with fans at a question-and-answer session, White seemed ready and willing to give Fury a shot at Velasquez on the spot.
"You want to fight Cain? Come on over here," White said, according to MMAJunkie.com. "You will get smashed."
You probably have a good idea of what came next. Talking with The Daily Star, Fury again spoke candidly about a potential bout and said the UFC heavyweight champ was holding up the process.
"I am 100 percent up for a fight with him,” said Fury. “I've challenged him to a fight three times but he's a little boy who doesn't want to fight and has said 'No' to the fight live on television.”
Fury’s follow-up comment was perhaps more interesting.
"I'm definitely interested but the money would have to be right," said Fury.
It’s an understandable stance for Fury to take. Money and recognition seem to rule everything for this young man, and he would get plenty of both if he entered the Octagon—even in a one-off event.
Boxer James Toney was 42 years old when he stepped into the Octagon at UFC 118 to face Randy Couture. Toney was subsequently eviscerated and submitted within two minutes, and his time as a mixed martial artist is scoffed at in boxing circles.
But Toney got paid. With a $500,000 purse, Toney was by far the UFC’s highest-paid fighter on the UFC 118 card, doubling the guarantee of Couture. If Fury is looking at such a financial windfall, then there’s little reason he should decline.
As for whether the UFC should stoop itself to this level, it’s questionable.
A potential Fury vs. Velasquez bout would come with a lot of hype considering the young boxer’s stature in the squared circle. And with Velasquez being among the most bankable names in mixed martial arts at the moment, the duo topping a UFC pay-per-view is money in White’s bank.
White knows this. That’s why he’s egged on the publicity and would more than welcome the fight—as he should. Like it or not, White is this generation’s Vince McMahon. He’s a ruthless promoter of his sport, taking the UFC from a backwoods fringe event with barrel-bellied Tank Abbots ruling the promotion to the Anderson Silva era.
Fury wouldn’t just lose to Velasquez—he’d be embarrassed. Comedian Adam Hunter’s tongue-in-cheek response to a possible bout was shared by many:
MMA Roasted @MMARoasted
Tyson Fury said he'll fight Cain and then return to boxing. I think he meant he'll fight Cain and return in a box.5/7/2013, 6:24:58 PM
But the precedent set by a potential bout—with someone with literally no experience challenging arguably the UFC’s best fighter—is damning. It would stink of desperation.
For Fury, though? It would represent little more than a one-time novelty. Mixed martial arts isn’t his trade, so he would have nothing to lose even if he were knocked out or submitted. And if the embarrassment of getting defeated by Velasquez is too much, I’m sure he could find something to do with $500,000.
Follow Tyler Conway on Twitter: