Does MMA Have Boxing On The Ropes?
Mixed martial arts, for so long considered to be boxing’s younger, less popular brother, has now grown into a worthy competitor for the sweet science. But just how much further does the sport have to go? Or, has it already taken boxing’s combat crown?
Sports Gazette weighs in by pitching the two sports against each other in a five-round contest in the hope of finding an answer. Rounds will look at the topics of viewership, superstars, administration, fight organisation, and anti-doping policy.
Just like a boxing or MMA bout, the winner of each round will score 10, with the loser awarded nine or less. For the purposes of this article, the UFC will be the main focus when discussing MMA.
Driven by stars such as Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey, the UFC has surged in popularity in the last few years, threatening boxing’s monopoly of combat sports.
Boxing, for so long the only kid on the block, has seen its stock dwindle recently as the void left by legends such as Mike Tyson, Lennox Lewis, Oscar de la Hoya and Floyd Mayweather is yet to be fully filled.
Meanwhile, talks of a super-fight between Mayweather and McGregor are gaining traction, putting the two sports on a collision course.
Who will emerge victorious?
Round 1: Viewership
If you look each sports best annual pay-per-view (PPV) event during the last 15 years, boxing has absolutely dominated MMA, coming out on top 12 times.
During that time, boxing had three events that sold over two million PPV buys, with the UFC never having reached that level.
The better-never-than-late ‘Fight of the Century’ between Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao in 2015 sold a massive 4.6 million PPV buys. MMA’s biggest event of that year, UFC 194: McGregor vs. Aldo, could only muster 1.2 million.
However, 2016 saw MMA score a significant victory over boxing, with UFC 202: McGregor vs. Diaz II drawing 1.65 million buys. Boxing’s biggest event of the year, Canelo vs. Khan, managed a meagre 600,000.
2016’s win for MMA is indicative of a more recent trend that suggests that it is hot on boxing’s heels: in the last five years, the UFC has had six PPV events breaking the million mark, with boxing falling behind on five.
Verdict: Boxing makes a strong start behind the jab and lands a vicious uppercut, but MMA replies late on with some useful combinations. 10-9 boxing.
Round 2: Superstars
Fighters such as Gennady Golovkin, Saul Alvarez, Anthony Joshua and Andre Ward are supreme boxers, and the depth of boxing talent in the game is still as strong as ever, but there is still a Mayweather-shaped void looming over the sport.
Yes, Manny Pacquiao came out of retirement last year, winning back the WBO welterweight title against Jesse Vargas, but his focus is now mostly shifted away from boxing.
MMA on the other hand is in its pomp, with one man leading the charge.
Conor McGregor is now one of the biggest stars in sport, let alone MMA, quickly becoming one of the most recognisable sportsmen in the world – ‘The Notorious’ is currently in the process of trademarking his name and nickname.
Verdict: Boxing’s standard pedigree goes missing for the round as MMA dominates, scoring a knockdown with a trademark straight left. 10-9 MMA.Conor McGregor is now one of the biggest stars in sport, let alone MMA, quickly becoming one of the most recognisable sportsmen in the world”
Round 3: Administration
Boxing world titles are sanctioned by four organisations: the WBA, WBC, WBO, and IBF.
This means that there may be four different world champions at the same weight. Oh, and the WBA also promote some to ‘Super’ champions, meaning their ‘Regular’ belt is freed up for someone else to claim. Messy.
Conversely, the UFC is a centrally controlled organisation with one world champion at each weight class. Simple.
Verdict: Boxing seems to have lost all direction as MMA takes command with a strict game plan. 10-9 MMA.
Round 4: Fight organisation
In boxing, with fights being sanctioned by four organisations and boxers being represented by countless promoters, there is huge scope to avoid certain fights.
The long-delayed Mayweather-Pacquiao fight is a prime example, with negotiations beginning six years before it eventually took place.
The UFC, at the centre of all fight negotiations, will make every attempt to organise the obvious fights, both for their own pockets and for the fans’ entertainment.
Verdict: Boxing spends the round avoiding MMA’s heavy hands, which still land several times. 10-9 MMA.
Round 5: Anti-doping policy
Another side effect of boxing’s decentralised organisation is that it lacks a uniform anti-doping programme. Many boxers aren’t even subjected to year-round random testing.
The WBC is leading the way with their Clean Boxing Programme, subjecting their top-15 ranked boxers to mandatory random testing. However, this is a tiny step towards solving a problem that isn’t taken seriously enough.
Meanwhile, the UFC implements a comprehensive anti-doping programme in association with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA).
Starting in 2015, the programme subjects all athletes to year-round random testing, with a minimum of 2,750 tests carried out per year, an average of five per fighter.
Verdict: Boxing’s poor performance continues to the end as MMA continues to land shots at will. 10-9 MMA.
Final scorecard: MMA wins 49-46. It’s star quality, clear game plan and clean fighting style mean it comes out on top in a dominant performance against legendary rival boxing.
Is it the beginning of the end for boxing? While of course it would be downright stupid to write the sport off, MMA is undoubtedly closing in hard.
Issues such as corruption, doping, messy organisation and flagging viewership are just a few that need resolving in order to stop MMA’s charge for the combat crown.
Boxing needs to get its act together, or we may see many potential stars make the jump and join MMA’s fighting revolution.