For several years now there has been a certain tension percolating between boxing and mixed martial arts. This month the tension reached a boiling point. On Sept. 19, in a rare mix of coincidence and defiance, a big-card boxing pay-per-view shared the same broadcast date as a UFC pay-per-view. For months the two promotions played each other in a game of chicken and in the end neither of the two sides blinked. Thus far, the only losers in the battle were the fans that wanted to watch both fights but were forced to pick one over the other. Time wise, UFC 103 overlapped almost exactly with the Mayweather vs. Marquez card and, because of this, the true pugilist enthusiast would have to be watching two separate screens at once just to keep things straight.
But are there really that many people positively jonseing to watch both mixed martial arts (MMA) and boxing with the same intense, foaming at the mouth fervor? If you follow the voices from within the sports themselves, you might be led to believe: no. Ultimate Fighting Championship president Dana White often boils the battle between MMA and boxing down to the drawing power of good entertainment. Speaking specifically on the September pay-per-view clash, White criticized the entertainment value of his competitor saying, “you’re going to pay $60 to see Dancing With the Stars with Mayweather again. On that same night, you can all tune in [to the UFC] to see five great fights for $10 less.” According to the UFC big cheese, the MMA enthusiast is simply the smarter, savvier, perhaps enlightened, version of the fighting fan. Faced with the dilemma of watching either MMA or boxing the true fight fan will always go with the former and then watch the later on SportsCentre or something.
Surprisingly, the UFC take on the divide between combat sports is actually fairly tame compared to recent statements coming out of the boxing world. This month Bob Arum turned a head or two with comments made in an interview conducted by Fanhouse.com where the fight promoter flatly denied that the two sports in question shared a similar audience. Actually Arum went on to specify that boxing’s audience is diversely ethnic whereas the typical MMA audience is “a bunch of skinhead white guys watching people in the ring who also look [sic] like skinhead white guys.” Sports pundits the world over are still scrambling trying to decipher exactly how a person’s ethnicity might give away their preference of fight sports but, regardless, it seems clear that Arum is drawing a distinct line between the two fan bases.
Boxing great Oscar De La Hoya had a similar, although slightly less crazy, message for the media concerning competition outside of the sport. “We don’t have any problem with the UFC being on the same night,” De La Hoya said. “We don’t wish them any problems, but we have a great product in this main fight and in our sport in general. What happens isn’t going to change what we do. We do our thing, and they do theirs.” In other words, De La Hoya, also one of the promoters of September’s boxing bout, has a very nice, very polite way of saying that these two sports do not exist on the same plain. We do our thing, and they do theirs. Somehow I don’t think fighting fans feel the same way.
It may well be true that not all boxing fans enjoy MMA or that not every MMA enthusiast shares the same passion for boxing but surely to deny any crossover whatsoever is at least somewhat unrealistic. It shouldn’t be unreasonable for fighting fans to expect that two of the biggest fighting promoters in the world, who typically schedule a combined 15 fights per year, can find it within themselves not to schedule their events on the same day as their competitor. That is, assuming these two parties actually concede and agree that they are indeed competitors. Relatively speaking, the UFC is the new kid on the block and so it seems as though White and company understand they draw a certain share of audience from the world of boxing. But as long as boxing promoters like Arum and De La Hoya continue to ignore the significant overlap between audiences of these two sports, it may be more than likely to expect another needless pay-per-view battle in which the fans ultimately lose.