Boxing has been a relevant sport in the United States for quite some time. Like all combat sports in the modern era, it has struggled for widespread acceptance, although men of every class have followed it obsessively since the years of Reconstruction following the Civil War.
In fact the first sports celebrity in American history was John L. Sullivan, who was the heavyweight champion of the world in the 1880s. At the time when America started to build skyscrapers out of the newly cheap steel, John L. Sullivan was the most popular man in America during the Gilded Age.
The 1892 contest between Sullivan and James J. Corbett was the first modern boxing match as it featured padded gloves, media exposure on a grand scale and the new Marquis of Queensbury rule system that is still in use today. Boxing has had 120 years to grow, develop and expose itself to the American citizen. MMA has had less than 17.
However, since 2005 the sport of mixed martial arts and the UFC in particular has surged to the forefront of the world sports scene. Boxing has been taken over by Mexican and Russian boxers, suffers from prima donna athletes who display offputting antics and is run by men who seem more interested in their account balances than their fans. MMA is gritty, has an underground feel, its athletes are blue collar individuals we can relate to and it is just fun, plain and simple.
In the 21st century the UFC and the sport of boxing will be locked in a struggle that in which neither will disappear but one will grow to new heights. But, which sport will that be? It very easily could be the young sport of mixed martial arts. The UFC already draws far more consistent numbers in pay-per-view sales than boxing.
Recently the UFC has become a marketing machine as well. In this slideshow the reasons MMA will prevail are explained.
Its actually not that complicated to understand. In boxing you have fighter A matched up against fighter B. Each of these fighters has a promoter and other interests that basically handle their financial futures and have much more control over the athletes. MMA is not that way.
In the UFC they have fighters under contract to the company, the entity itself, rather than having to get permission from an inner circle or boxing commissions who control title defenses. The point being made is that boxers often avoid the tougher fights and mixed martial artists typically run towards them. In addition to that since Zuffa owns both the UFC and Strikeforce, the pool of fighters just grew to a reservoir. The UFC brass can tap into Strikeforce as well, and they will soon.
Boxers often have a string of meaningless fights against overmatched competition where they amass a perfect record. Some call it padding the record. On top of that boxers often end up facing lesser opponents because of a host of personal issues. Floyd Mayweather Jr. often takes long periods of inactivity and yet expects to fight for the title and for a king's ransom every time he decides to grace us with his presence. I once spent 20 dollars to see him fight at a cinema and five dollars would have been too much for the poor show we viewed that night.
The bottom line is that the UFC can put on the fights the fans want, they do so and they will continue to do so. Do people get that same kind of promise in the sport of boxing these days? I'll leave you to ponder that one.
Another thing that is very important in the modern American sports landscape and across the world is being consistent in your product. Boxing may still be able to sell more pay per views than mixed martial arts a few times a year, but the UFC produces stacked fight cards that are exciting month after month, and practically week after week this summer.
Thirty years ago when the heavyweight boxing division was booming with fighters like Ali, Frazier and Foreman the sport was a strong, consistent product. I have talked to many middle aged men who remember watching Friday Night Fights. One man even told me that his dad never missed it. How many people actually care about those types of programs now? Not that many people are enthused about boxing anymore. It's just not that exciting.
The UFC is constantly promoting it's next fight which is usually four weeks or less removed from the previous one. With boxing it always seems to be a guessing game. When a fighter like Manny Pacquiao or Floyd Mayweather Jr. leaves the ring it becomes longer and longer between major fight cards. If this trend does not change the UFC will move further and further ahead in the mind of combat sports fans.
I grew up a boxing fan. Mixed martial arts didn't even exist until I was 11 years old. No one had heard of it and it remained that way for a long time for me as well. My first combat sports memory is the heavyweight championship fight between Evander "the real deal" Holyfield and Bert Cooper. It must have left quite an impression because twenty years later I am more of a fan than ever. However, boxing is a distant second by a wide margin.
A big reason for my change of heart is the fact that mixed martial arts is just plain exciting. It isn't always flashy and not always overly violent contrary to what some may think. It includes all of the great martial arts of the world. It fuses them together and the end product is much more exciting than present day boxing. The UFC, Strikeforce, Bellator and the hundreds of other organizations have athletes that are much more of a blue collar breed than their boxing counterparts. These new mixed martial artists want to win by submission or knockout.
Two weeks ago David Haye and Wladimir Klitschko squared off in what promised to be the most anticipated heavyweight matchup in a long time. The fight ending being a lot of jabs from the Ukranian champion and a lot of running around by the challenger Haye. Once again a major boxing fight fell way short.
If the UFC has a bad night they always find a way to make it up to the fans. Dana White makes it his personal mission to deliver the fights that people want to see. UFC fighters know that if they lose a few bouts in a row they can be released. They fight with courage and heart. If they don't they will be let go. The incentive is there in a big way.
This is another reason that the UFC and the sport of mixed martial arts will become the major combat sport in the world in this century.
One of the major advantages the sport of boxing has had is its global network. Fighters often come from all over from here in the USA to Russia, Japan, Mexico and beyond. The UFC is rapidly catching up though.
Dana White is questioned all of the time as to where the UFC is going next. He typically states that they are going, "everywhere." At this point it is hard to disagree as the UFC continues to criscross the vast USA, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the Middle East. It also seems to there will be international editions of the TUF (The Ultimate Fighter) in the near future.
UFC 129 was held in April and broke every UFC record for attendance and live gate ticket totals. That event was held in Canada. The future will only get brighter.