Boxing has remained the undisputed champion of popular combat sports across the globe for as long as any of us can remember and we’ve come an awful long way. But boxing and MMA (mixed martial arts) are now starting to grow closer together.
From the earliest days of unsanctioned, bare-knuckle brawls hundreds of years ago, it has evolved to become one of the world’s most actively participated and respected sports, generating hundreds of billions of dollars to boot.
However, in recent years the rise of mixed martial arts (MMA) particularly in the United States has given many of the boxing faithful cause for worry – could this cage fighting phenomenon eventually eclipse boxing and take it’s place as the premier combat sport?
To those people I say: Have no fear.
Your beloved ring ropes aren’t going to be replaced with unforgiving cage wire any time soon.
Rather, our goal should be to co-exist with our kickboxing cousins and to forge a competent working relationship. There is, after all, so much boxing can offer MMA and vice versa.
For example, in recent years pay-per-view numbers for so-called ‘blockbuster’ fights featuring some of the biggest names in boxing have failed to garner the level of public interest that was expected, while the UFC is experiencing an economic boom of sorts.
Granted, they are no where near reaching the financial heights boxing has reached but the elevation of numbers are truly telling.
Boxing is getting something wrong where the UFC is getting it right.
If there’s one thing the UFC is superb at it’s rallying hype before big fights, specifically it’s use of advertising funds to create promos the likes of which we rarely see in boxing.
Their cinematic trailer for UFC 205 was spine-tingling to say the least. If boxing wants to boost it’s numbers, perhaps this is the way to go.
Having said that, maybe the UFC need to be careful not to lose itself in its own spectacle. As we know there’s no better way to kill a sport’s popularity like failing to live up to expectations:
‘The biggest fight in boxing history’ (Mayweather/Pacquiao) earned us no converts.
However, despite the UFC finally earning legalization in New York, there are still unresolved concerns about it’s overall safety and the safety of it’s fighters.
It doesn’t take a genius to see that the level of punishment taken by mixed martial artists appears to be a lot more hard-hitting and career threatening than in boxing.
No, it’s not the outrageous ‘No rules’ ‘No regulation’ joke that it once was, but tiny, virtually weightless gloves and non-padded elbow and knee bare strikes to the temple don’t land without consequences.
I expect in the next 20/30 years we are going to see a lot of formerly big names in MMA suffering with serious ailments.
I think it would be wise for MMA to take a note out of boxing’s book and add significantly more padding to their gloves, along with at least some form of protective gear for fighters’ elbows, knees and shins.
While we’re on the subject of protection, it seems to me that referees in the UFC are a lot more hesitant to stop contests than in boxing, be it due to inability to defend ones self, cuts or otherwise.
There’s no two ways about it – combat sports now falls under the category of ‘Entertainment’, but if giving people there money’s worth in entertainment means allowing a fight to continue unnecessarily, that’s not a sport I want any part of.
Don’t get me wrong, I very much enjoy watching the UFC but the safety of the fighters should be paramount. Right now, I don’t feel as though that is the case, not to the degree that it should be anyway.
One area for which the UFC is to be admired right now, especially when compared to boxing, is it’s dedication to holding only one legitimate champion per division.
The dilution of the world championship scene in boxing is quickly becoming a laughing stock with numerous world champions per division and various secondary titles with alternate names also being considered as world championship belts.
With so much leather and gold floating around no wonder the general public and even some members of the boxing community are disillusioned as to who the ‘True’ world champions are.
In the case of the UFC this is not an issue – lets hope it stays that way. It’s nice to have some certainty in a sole champion and it generates more credibility for the sport as a whole.
Let’s not forget the media speculation generated by a potential crossover event, sparked by the ever-outspoken UFC poster boy Connor McGregor.
While nobody realistically expects he and former pound for pound champ Floyd Mayweather to share a cage or a ring, the considerable noise made got people talking. Whatever is good for business, right?
With the largest events of each sports’ calendar year falling eerily close to one another (Kovalev-Ward/UFC 205) it makes sense from an educational standpoint to take a good, long look at the successes and pitfalls that erupt from both.
The evolution of our respectful crafts will continue and we must not forget to offer those willing to put their bodies on the line for our viewing pleasure, be it between ropes or locked in a cage, the respect they deserve.
Despite our differences, we are brothers in blood.
(Top image source and credit: Sportsjoe.ie)