Caption: And the winner is…?
The fact we are evenasking that question and having this debate is a huge win for the sport of MMA and the UFC before we have gone anywhere with it. The knowledge that you will get different answers depending on who you speak to, is another win for the new kid on the block. Let’s not forget, it is as recently as the fall of 1993 that the UFC held its first event. It was seen as a circus, a freak show even. There were no weight divisions, no rules to speak of, but it bought into something that fight fans had been craving and boxing was increasingly unable to deliver.
It was far from an easy or smooth ride. There were times when it looked like it was doomed to failure, and it is somewhat fitting that a promotional outfit that has fully embraced and utilized social media, should have been saved from going out of business completely by a reality TV show.
On the other side of the coin, we are talking about boxing here. The sweet science. The sport that gave us some of the greatest sportsmen in history, some of the most famous events, sporting or otherwisethat have ever graced the earth. What has happened for there even to be a suggestion that it has been dethroned? We shall cover that shortly.
Asking which is best is always going to be emotive and subjective, but there are several metrics we can use to judge the current popularity. The betting market is a good one. Taking a legal online gambling site in PA for example, MMA/UFC is a far larger market than boxing, and don’t forget Philly has a long and rich history in boxing.
Caption: The fight for dominance is not for the faint hearted
Another metric is butts on seats. The UFC sells out arenas on a monthly basis, not just in the US but across the world. The only place at the moment that could sell 60,000, 80,000, even 100,000 tickets for a boxing match is in the UK. Even the big fights in the US struggle to get significant numbers in the arenas, with the exception of those involving Canelo, courtesy of his huge Mexican following.
PPV is another good way to judge the two camps, and once again the UFC wins hands down. Sticking to US figures, it makes for depressing reading for fans of the sweet science. At the time of writing, there have been 26 PPV events that have garnered figures of 1,000,000 buy ins or more. Seven of those were for boxing fights, and one of those was between Mayweather and McGregor.
With the recent retirement of Manny Pacquiao, only the aforementioned Canelo is still active of all those who featured in those other six fights. That is a problem in itself. A sport is carried a long way on the names of its superstars. US boxing promoters must be scratching around trying to find the next prospect they can pin their hopes onto. Even when he was heavyweight world champion, Wilder never attracted the acclaim – or numbers – that normally come with what once was the most prestigious title in sport. The recent back and forth between Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua did the sport no favors and would only have highlighted the reasons the UFC is such an attractive alternative. If you have two fighters considered to be the best at that weight then they fight each other. There may well be theatrics and drama around the buildup, with early skirmishes taking place on social media, but 99 times out of 100, they will end their differences in the octagon.
Whether it is another cause or perhaps the consequence of what has happened to boxing of late, promoters are turning to ready made stars. Be they old washed-out champions, desperate for another payday to recoup for poor decisions made in the past, or YouTube/Instagram stars with a ready-made legion of followers. Boxing may be down, but it is certainly not out. What it does need to do is take a serious look at itself, and its rival across the ring.