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.