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Fight Critic: Why MMA versus boxing is good for both sports

Chi Kong Lui's picture

To start, let's get one thing straight: boxing is not dead. I'm going to take it one step further and say that boxing will never die. Just ask your local martial arts instructor. Judo, karate, tae kwon do and kung fu never had any reality TV shows, PPV revenue or sold out arenas and yet many martial disciplines continue to exist and thrive with legions of practitioners. The fighting arts have a funny way of surviving and getting passed down from one generation to the next.

As a lucrative spectator business, it's almost crazy to debate the livelihood of boxing when you consider that De La Hoya versus Mayweather just shattered the PPV record with over 2 million buys. People can ponder what's next, but so long as boxers like Manny Pacquiao and Ricky Hatton continue to carry the pride of nations on their backs, a promoter will be able to sell tickets and make loads of money.

The same logic can be applied to MMA. Brazilian jujitsu, muy thai and wrestling are martial arts as old as time and so long as superstars like Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture call themselves mixed martial artists and fill arenas, MMA isn't going anywhere either. So everyone should take a deep breath and accept that boxing and MMA are both here to stay and this is good thing.

Nothing gets the public going like a good rivalry and MMA versus boxing has all the makings of a classic rivalry. This is old-school versus new-school; fathers versus sons; Red Sox versus Yankees; Gracies versus pro-wrestlers. Let's not forget the latter is what helped propel Pride FC and MMA to what it is today.

UFC president, Dana White, recognizes that pitting MMA's top fighters against boxing's best could be a big box office draw, which is why he challenged Mayweather to fight Sean Sherk (I'm sure the publicity didn't hurt either). Boxers like Kermit Cintron and Tommy Morrison also saw an opportunity to elevate their profile and perhaps their fight purses by throwing their hat in the octagon. Cintron publicly accepted White's challenge and Morrison is set to make his MMA debut in a smaller promotion in Arizona.

It isn't only the box-office receipts that would get a boost either. MMA needs boxing to legitimize itself as a true sport to old-timers who think mixed-martial artists are bunch of over tattooed thugs. Boxing needs MMA to make itself relevant to 18- to 24-year olds who wouldn't know the Rumble in the Jungle from the Rumble in the Bronx. Both sports combined would benefit by achieving a higher stature in the public conscious, which is already preoccupied and conditioned to watch the NBA, NFL, and MLB.

One could argue that bad losses for either sport are too risky and would permanently damage the image of its respective sport, but that's unlikely to happen. Any world-class boxer entering the octagon would work on his ground game and takedown defense to a respectable level and any elite mixed martial artist entering the boxing ring would make adjustments and polish up his or her stand-up game. While I suspect that MMA fighters would win more than they lose, you rarely get any definitive answers from these "whose-style-is-better?" challenges and it would probably come down to the strength and weaknesses of each individual fighter.

What is more likely to happen is a mutual respect from both sides. Boxing fans would see that mixed martial artists are well-disciplined and well-conditioned athletes and MMA fans would better appreciate the level of skill and science that top boxers possess. One sure thing that boxing versus MMA would produce is a lot of drama and isn't that why we watch fighting to begin with.

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Not Dead, Just Reduced to Spectacle

Chi, I think you're way, way, way too deep into the forest to see the trees. The public at large can't name more than 2 or three current boxers, can't tell who has what belt, and can't even tell you the last time they watched a fight before Mayweather/De La Hoya. The public at large tunes in to the occasional PPV bout (such as the recent one you cite) not because they care about boxing, but because the media and society raise the occasional bout up onto a pedestal and people are shamed into watching it because it's an "event". And because it's an excuse to have the friends over and throw a party. The same way people who couldn't pick Peyton Manning out of a police lineup tune in to watch the Super Bowl. They don't care about football, they tune in for a sense of inclusion and a feeling of belong. Just the way my wife got me to watch the final episode of "Dancing With the Stars" last night. I couldn't care less who won and she never watched an episode of it all season; but she wanted to watch the finale... because everyone at work was watching it and she wanted to be able to talk about it. Football has this every year with the Super Bowl (not to mention 16 stadiums filled with 75,000 people every Sunday); American Idol has it practically every week; boxing has it once a decade. And the dollars don't matter.

As for MMA, I've watched a few fights and frankly I'm turned off by it. I don't like the rawness of it and while the guys definitely deserve a lot of respect for what they do, I don't see their names ever being tossed about like a Tiger Woods or Kobe Bryant or Reggie Bush or Albert Pujols. No matter how heated the rivalry gets within MMA, it's not going to penetrate the American mindset at large.

This isn't to say that boxing won't continue to exist and that MMA won't thrive; but they are fringe sports. They'll always be fringe sports. MMA may end up surpassing the MLS and NHL in terms of popularity but I highly, highly, doubt there will ever be a day when the majority of Americans can even name a single MMA fighter.

Chuck Liddell just appeared

Chuck Liddell just appeared on the cover of ESPN magazine and guest starred in an episode of Entourage. Randy Couture is rumoured to be getting a cover on Sports Illustrated. Ratings for live Ultimate Fight Nights sometimes get higher ratings in the 18-24 male demographics than Baseball and Basketball. I totally agree that there are a lot of fair weather fans, but boxing vs MMA is the type of event that might gets folks talking at the water cooler even if they can't name a single boxer or MMA fighter. And in someways, I would prefer MMA not go all coporate and remain on the fringes. The rawness is what makes it unique. These are guys that still love the sport and I'd hate to see big money corrupt the purity of what's there right now.


I agree with you that both sports are doing well and that both sports are not necessarily in competition. It has been repeatedly discussed that they appeal to different age demographics, in addition to the fact that they each offer enough unique expressions of athletic ability that they easily stand alone. Rugby and football have more in common that MMA and boxing.

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