It’s simply amazing how quickly the world of combative sports can change; how suddenly juxtapositions in opinion and position can come.
Not all that long ago, Floyd Mayweather Jr. (along with many other big names in boxing) had nothing but contempt for the sport of MMA. It was a place for men who couldn’t make it in the world of professional boxing, they said.
Of course, MMA advocates fired back and both sides have taken potshots at the other off and on for years now.
But all the while, both sports continue to conduct business side-by-side, and now it seems that a change is coming.
While each sport has its purists, it really is of no surprise that both audiences are beginning to appreciate the other, and in some cases slowly merge. Both are combative sports and thus share many of the same unfortunate misconceptions in the general public.
But when Floyd Mayweather made mention of his interest to promote MMA fighters (h/t Ben Thompson at FightHype.com), it was a sudden and surprising reversal of position. What was once a less-than-credible combat sport was suddenly worth the time, energy and money needed to promote or manage on any level.
However, it’s important to note that other notable names from the world of boxing have tried to promote MMA.
Gary Shaw started off in the world of boxing in 1971 when he was named inspector for the New Jersey State Athletic Control Commission (NJSAC). In 1999, he became Chief Operating Officer for Main Events, and then in 2002 he formed Gary Shaw Productions.
For those interested, one of the greatest fights in boxing in recent years was a Gary Shaw Production: Diego Corrales vs. Jose Luis Castillo.
Shaw was involved with Elite Xtreme Combat for a short amount of time, but he always seemed as if he was simply babysitting. It was as if he were standing watch on the off chance that something worth while began to happen in this crazy sport of MMA. Or perhaps he was just killing time on the off-chance that maybe he would see the next big star and try to bring him into the fold.
Either way, it didn’t seem like Shaw was trying to make something at Elite XC; rather it was as if he was simply waiting to see if something could be made with minimal effort and attention.
Of course, Elite XC didn’t last but a few years and we honestly don’t know what, if any, impact Shaw had on the organization. We do know that he certainly didn’t mourn its passing.
We all accept that the world of MMA is vastly different from the world of professional boxing, but that will only remain the case for as long as that which is accepted goes unchallenged. Change happens when someone wants to make it happen and believes that their way of business can be different and successful.
Right now, the UFC is the biggest monster roaming the countryside, and to be honest it’s a beautiful thing. Twelve years ago I was daydreaming about a future where MMA fans would get one UFC event per month; now, that is a very slow month for the company.
But much of the way the UFC does business only succeeds because they have no rival. What works during peace time usually doesn’t work at a time of war and the UFC has not been at war for a while. The last time they had a viable threat to their dominance of the sport was when Pride FC was still alive and kicking, back in the early 2000s.
In 2012, if there had been a rival promotion that had the money and experience needed to compete with the UFC, chances are very high that we wouldn’t have seen Dana White blame the UFC 151 fiasco on Jon Jones. To do so would have been to needlessly risk losing him to the competition.
Now, we ponder how Floyd Mayweather Jr. could impact the world of MMA, via promotion or fighter management.
And it doesn’t take very long to figure that, if they are serious, their greatest success will be in the promotion of fighters and events rather than managing fighters. Doing business with Dana White, as Mayweather talked about, is usually a one-way street. If they restrict themselves to fighter management, their fighters will only make what the UFC is willing to pay, which would make a Mayweather fighter not unlike many others.
If Mayweather is truly serious about throwing his proverbial hat into the promotional ring, he has many advantages that most others don’t: money, connections, near-global name recognition, popularity, partnerships and experience.
Make no mistake about it: Floyd Mayweather could build an MMA promotion that could succeed in the pay-per-view market and if he enjoyed what he was creating, he could build an MMA promotion that would be making the UFC very uncomfortable in less than three years.
Of course, many wave their hands dismissively at such a notion, but that doesn’t matter. The UFC built something incredible and in doing so they fought battles no one need fight again. In truth, those successes may have quite possibly paved a very easy road for their next rival.
His connections with Showtime and Golden Boy Promotions alone could see a Mayweather owned and operated MMA show pushed forward with the same level of enthusiasm and hype that is normally afforded the UFC alone.
Don’t think so?
Since 2008, Mayweather has been involved in the top two highest grossing pay-per-view events in combative sport history. His bad boy act has polarized and inflamed the buying public and his biggest opponent to date, Oscar De La Hoya, couldn’t defeat him in the ring yet now co-promotes with him.
Then, we have the work the UFC has done in order to expose the sport to mass markets via cable television. The movers and shakers no longer look at MMA with any fear of the unknown; the UFC proved MMA was a sport that appealed to many more fans than anyone felt comfortable imagining just four years ago.
There’s water in that well; they all know it, they’re just waiting for someone to come to them and show them the mechanism by which they can get everyone to use their bucket.
Should Mayweather really commit to the endeavor, he need only reach out to Showtime and Golden Boy, both of which have experience in the world of MMA promotion, albeit hesitantly.
Also, Golden Boy shares some real estate with the UFC: Fox Sports 1. Zuffa may have made the biggest splash by signing with Fox, but Golden Boy was doing work as well and that could help set up future deals for MMA.
Of course, it tends to reason that part of the deal Fox has with the UFC would prohibit the network from promoting any rival MMA promotion, but the Golden Boy name would continue to be recognized by the viewing public, which would help any MMA promotion they worked with.
The UFC has a long history of being firmly against co-promoting on any level, but a Mayweather-Golden Boy joint venture could prove to be the quickest and most viable route to seeing a successful entrance into the world of mixed-martial-arts promotion.
Of course, one major hurdle any new promotion is going to have to face is the fact that the UFC has nearly all the best fighters and the biggest names.
But even this obstacle is not permanent. Should Mayweather and Golden Boy be willing to put their money where their mouth is, they can quickly establish themselves as a place were fighters get paid—quite possibly at a much higher rate than the UFC.
Secondly, their presence on pay-per-view and Fox could be used to lure in bigger sponsors for those fighters, which is especially important given how many fighters have taken exception to the UFC sponsor tax.
Should fighters make a higher base wage and have an unrestricted flow of money from sponsors, not to mention a large spotlight, then the UFC wouldn't be the only show in town anymore.
With lower tier fighters getting big exposure and higher paydays, other big name fighters with the UFC could be lured away once their contracts end. At the end of the day, the “hurt business” is also the money business and fighters want to get paid as much as they can.
It really gets interesting when you try and guess how the UFC would wage war against such a new promotion. They like to sit back and say that there is nothing to worry about because most new promotions don’t really know what they are doing. That wouldn’t be the case if Mayweather and Golden Boy were really committed to gaining a strong position in the MMA world.
Would the UFC try a counter-program? Probably, but it’s hard to imagine them having nearly as much success as they have had in the past. Add to that the fact that counter-programming goes both ways and you could see UFC PPV events going toe-to-toe with big boxing cards.
If the UFC has proven anything over the years, it is that they can adapt, but they haven’t had to really change the way they do business in a very long time. That could change (for the better of the fighters and the sport) if their position as “the biggest, best and only show in town” was challenged by a promotion that was financially savvy and committed to making a permanent place, but would they? Doing so might be too close to admitting that a rival was really a rival—an admittance that elevates the competition.
Yet for all this speculation, we just have no idea how serious Mayweather is, or what his long term plans are. They could be grand or nothing more than talk.
But if he ever does get serious about MMA, Mayweather has the means to become a true contender in a realm that needs one badly.
This is MMA, after all, where it takes two to fight, and the UFC has been standing alone in the cage for too long now.