UFC in position to overtake boxing as world's favorite combat sport
By: Ethan Hill
Nov. 22, 2022
Photo Credit: Associated Press
Over the past couple of months, boxing fans have voiced concerns regarding the complicated state of their sport. Recently, boxing fans were promised Crawford versus Spence, Davis versus Garcia, and Fury versus Joshua. Despite being some of the largest fight revenue opportunities for the sport, none of these fights materialized. So why not make the fights that fans are craving?
Unfortunately, ever since Floyd Mayweather’s incredible undefeated run and perfect 50-0 record, boxers and promoters have become much more hesitant when it comes to matchmaking. In recent years, a large emphasis has been placed on, “someone’s 0 has got to go,” implying that fans only want to see bouts featuring undefeated fighters. While that may not be completely false, fan favorite boxers such as Manny Pacquiao (62-8-2), Shane Mosley (49-10-1), and Oscar De La Hoya (39-6) have easily disproved the importance of having an “0” in the loss column.
Despite this, many undefeated boxers are reluctant to challenge other contenders and champions because of the misconception that one loss could ruin their career. This was even evident during Floyd Mayweather’s career, as he consistently turned down a fight with Manny Pacquiao. When Mayweather finally accepted the bout with Pacquiao, both fighters were near the conclusion of their careers and Floyd was able to easily box his way to victory. While Mayweather has incredible skill and an undeniable legacy, his perfect record has motivated many fighters to imitate his success.
Another issue plaguing boxing is the ongoing battle between promoters. Unless fights are scheduled between two boxers from the same promotion, you can bet that negotiations will be unnecessarily lengthy and complicated. This issue is currently highlighted by the highly anticipated Gervonta Davis versus Ryan Garcia bout. Davis is currently fighting on Showtime Sports and working with Leonard Ellerbe, a long time rival of Ryan Garcia’s promoter Eddie Hearn. While it appears that both fighters desperately want the fight to go forward, contract negotiations between networks and promoters have stalled the bout and drained the hype.
Where boxing has failed in recent history, MMA has succeeded, inching closer and closer to becoming the world’s most popular combat sport.
One key aspect of UFC’s success has been more affordable pay-per-view costs and more realistic fighter salaries, which has allowed the promotion to maintain nearly all of the sport’s top names. For example, wildly popular UFC lightweight contender Paddy Pimblett earned $12,000 to fight and netted an extra $12,000 after beating Rodrigo Vargas in early 2022, despite being the fan favorite fighter on the card. In comparison, Deontay Wilder, a well-known former heavyweight world champion, earned more than $20 million to erase fellow heavyweight competitor Robert Helenius within the first round. Helenius (31-4) had never earned more than $50,000 for a fight, yet made more than $9 million for two minutes of boxing. Boxing’s ridiculous fighter payouts also negatively impact fans: the PPV price for Wilder versus Helenius landed at $74.99.
Another advantageous aspect of UFC is the lack of multiple promoters. In MMA, it’s a rarity that fighters from different promotions fight each other, which works in favor of UFC. The size and popularity of UFC’s roster allows them to consistently create bouts between top level talent without battling stubborn promoters and labored negotiations. UFC provides its fans with around 15 numbered events per year, which guarantees title fights and championship caliber fighters in action for the entirety of main cards. On a boxing card, you’d be lucky to see two world title fights in succession.
The bottom line is that the UFC has been beating boxing at its own game. As the sweet science has missed bouts between top level contenders, massive star power, and legendary rivalries, UFC has capitalized on boxing’s errant business model. Still, boxing certainly has the potential to regain the prestige it once held in the combat sports industry. Restoring a system that pits the best against the best, listening to the criticism of fans, and reducing the frequency of unaffordable PPV prices are critical fixes that can ensure a future resurgence for boxing.