MMA: Without Irish Gangster Whitey Bulger, Would the UFC Have Survived?

Colin LinneweberSenior Writer IMarch 1, 2011

An infamous gangster may have helped save UFC.
An infamous gangster may have helped save UFC.Isaac Brekken/Getty Images

Ultimate Fighting Championship President Dana White has often expressed his belief that boxing is a dying sport.

White, who as a young adult lived in South Boston and worked as a bouncer at the famed Irish pub "Black Rose" near Quincy Market, was an amateur pugilist who once established a boxing program for inner-city youth at McDonough Gym in Southie.

White may have never abandoned his boxing gym had he not been threatened with extortion by notorious Irish gangster Whitey Bulger before the criminal went on the lam in 1995.

"I had a kind of run-in with Whitey Bulger and his guys," said White, 41. "They showed up at the gym looking for money. It was time to leave."

White wisely vacated the Hub and resettled in Las Vegas.

White eventually became involved with mixed martial arts and ultimately helped resurrect the flailing UFC from virtual extinction.

Instead of the utter freak show that Arizona Senator John McCain once labeled "human cockfighting," the UFC evolved into a mainstream fixture that today rivals boxing in popularity.

Particularly in the city of Boston, mixed martial arts have emerged as a fashionable and legitimate sport.

"Boston has a great history as a fight town, but boxing has fizzled out from where it was," claimed White.

Boston and its surrounding cities have produced some of the greatest and grittiest boxers in history.

Legendary pugilists Rocky Marciano and Marvelous Marvin Hagler hail from nearby Brockton, and "Irish" Micky Ward originated from Lowell, Mass.

Regardless of Boston's impressive list of storied fighters, many insiders agree with White that mixed martial arts has superseded boxing in both local and national relevance.

Mike Cappiello, another native of “The City of Champions” who once fought for the IBO super featherweight title, is one of those individuals in agreement with White.

"I think MMA has taken over in Massachusetts already," said Cappiello, who retired with an impressive record of 33-6. "I have gone to many MMA fights and I see it as a big social event."

Despite the contentions of White, Cappiello and many others, professional boxing will always be more accepted than UFC because the bulk of society considers boxing a more civil and humane sport than mixed martial arts.

Society's favoritism for pugilism mainly stems from a great misconception that mixed martial arts are more dangerous than boxing.

A UFC fighter has never died from wounds suffered in the octagon.

Sadly, on the contrary, it has historically not been an uncommon occurrence for fatalities to occur in a boxing ring.

Most mixed martial artists possess an arsenal of fighting skills.

Generally, once an MMA fighter gains a decided advantage, the contest is quickly halted before a combatant is seriously or mortally wounded.

In boxing, a prizefighter can be repeatedly struck in the head by an endless array of blows for 36 torturous minutes.

From a distance, jabs may seem quite harmless because they inflict little apparent damage.

"Boxing is basically a fistfight that lasts 36 minutes," said South Boston resident Brad Sherwood.

"It's aggravating to see one fighter crowned a winner when both competitors look the same at the end of the fight as they did when they walked into the ring."

In actuality, a constant barrage of jabs can prove to be very harmful and boxers often experience severe complications from absorbing shots for the entire duration of a bout.

Nevertheless, boxing is currently experiencing something of a rebirth and the sport itself will always have the ability to garner larger overall ratings than a UFC event.

"Boston's got a big chip on its shoulder," said White. "It's got that whole fighting vibe to it. And I love it."

There is no question that Bostonian's will flock to any UFC event that White holds at the TD Garden.

Still, the majority of Boston and the rest of the nation will forever "love" boxing more than UFC.

*Cappiello Brothers Boxing gym is located on 162 Main Street in Brockton, Massachusetts (02301).