Monday, November 14, 2011

UFC on FOX: The Network Debut is Another Nail in Boxing's Coffin

The UFC made its network debut on FOX Saturday night with the heavyweight title of the world on the line. Defending champ Cain Velazquez had his first title defense against the No. 1 contender Junior Dos Santos. All-in-all the fight was over in 64-seconds as JDS was able to drop Velasquez with a big overhand right ending the momentous evening rather abruptly. The hour long special was viewed in 5.6M homes and generally viewed as a success in spite of the quick stoppage.

In the aftermath, there were questions about if this was exciting, good, or something more could have been done. That's all hindsight, but what the night did represent is the beginning of a new era for mixed martial arts and the UFC.

A couple hours after JDS was answering questions at a post fight press conference another combat sport you might have heard of, boxing, was having a rather large fight of its own; the third and final fight between Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez. Pacquiao is a transcendent athlete that has more star power than any other boxer than maybe his fellow contender for pound for pound boxing supremacy, Floyd Mayweather. The fight, as I've heard, was tightly contested, heated, and entertaining. Everything that boxing can be when it's going well. The problem is boxing hasn't been going well for quite some time.

The travails of boxing have been analyzed and discussed, and whether it is too many titles, not enough stars, long-term health concerns, or money corrupting everything, Saturday night was a night for boxing to show it still has some legs before the UFC swallows it up entirely.

Arum is part of boxing's problem.
Now, I am in the party that agrees boxing and MMA can co-exist in their own realm, but due to boxings exceedingly lack of self-awareness and arrogance, key figureheads of boxing, specifically Bob Arum, one of boxings most powerful promoters and handler of Manny Pacquiao, has drawn this line in the sand where fans have to choose one over the other.

The reason UFC on FOX is so important for the growth of MMA is that it opens up the sport to fans that don't follow regularly or plop down $55 every month on a pay-per-view by airing free, live fights. You know, like boxing did 30 years ago. Even without the love of a network broadcast, UFC has grown year over year with a virtually unlimited potential between the TV shows, PPV, and free fights they are now able to get to the public.

The UFC probably won't have the widespread appeal of the NFL or the rich tradition of Major League Baseball, but what it can be is not only a replacement of boxing for the planet's pugilistic observation sport, but a major sport in its own niche way.

Pacquiao Marquez III was an entertaining boxing match. But over the past 5 years and seemingly for the next 5 years, unless Pacquiao or Mayweather is in the main event, boxing has nothing to interest the casual fan.

Dana White will see his hard work pay off.
What the UFC offers is a great depth of fighters and interesting match-ups. Instead of relying on a couple of marquee names, the UFC has many popular fighters across all weight classes. This leads to interest year round and along with the nature of the sport, a great fight doesn't have to be a main event. Even on Saturday night, the fight of the night wasn't the championship bout, but rather the co-main event Ben Henderson v. Clay Guida that was bumped to Facebook and The sense of anything can happen at anytime is something boxing just cannot replicate.

As the stars in boxing fade, perhaps a couple more will sprout up to carry the tired legs of an outdated sport. Whereas the UFC hasn't even seen some of the greats of a relatively young sport. More dynamic, skilled, and exciting fighters will build on what past and current fighters have already done for MMA.

The page is turning on boxing. It's a demise which didn't need to happen, but it is survival of the fittest and people like Bob Arum just can't compete with Dana White.

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