While boxing struggles to make the best fights possible, the Ultimate Fighting Championship lead by example as we approach the end of the year, writes George Gigney
The comparison between boxing and mixed martial arts (MMA) has been ongoing for decades. It’s a slightly unfair debate given that they are entirely different sports and that one is centuries older than the other. That being said, the meteoric rise of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has made the debate more worthwhile, particularly when it comes to the package that is offered to fans.
Boxing has long been the most popular combat sport in the world and has the potential to be one of the biggest sports outright. But the UFC – particularly with its global expansion over the past decade – is starting to show up the sweet science. If you need evidence, just look at the past couple of weeks.
First there was the Conor Benn debacle, which is still ongoing by the way. Attempts to barrel through with the Chris Eubank Jnr fight despite a failed drug test threw boxing into disrepute. Then came the one-two punch that potential fights between Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua and also Terence Crawford and Errol Spence will not be happening anytime soon.
Instead, Fury is fighting Derek Chisora in a pointless trilogy fight and Crawford will face David Avanesyan in a solid but ultimately underwhelming title defence. Spence and Joshua are yet to confirm their next steps.
That’s a real rough patch for boxing. The only glimmer of hope we’ve had was the excellent contest between Claressa Shields and Savannah Marshall. Looking ahead to the rest of the calendar year, there’s not a whole lot to get really excited about either.
Meanwhile, this past weekend the UFC staged its most stacked card of the year (perhaps even of the past few years). Despite taking place in Abu Dhabi the event got huge coverage both in the UK and the US.
A new lightweight champion in Islam Makhachev was crowned with a dominant performance. He was then confronted by the UFC’s pound-for-pound No 1 fighter Alexander Volkanovski, with both verbally agreeing to fight each other next year in Australia, Volkanovski’s home country.
The card didn’t live up to the frankly stratospheric expectations of fans but it was still a resounding success. And in just a couple of weeks the UFC will be staging another blockbuster event, this one topped by Israel Adesanya defending his middleweight title against old rival Alex Pereira. Then there’ll be another big show in Las Vegas a month later. Oh, and the company’s announced a PPV show in Australia for early 2023.
The reason we’re talking about UFC broadcasts in a boxing magazine is because they’re an example of what happens when you get it right. Boxing and MMA have many differences but at their core they are the same; they take two combatants, place them within clearly-defined boundaries and they fight to determine who is better.
The UFC isn’t without its problems but it’s consistently been going from strength to strength. Not only is there a lot to be learned from this, but there’s also the increasing risk of the UFC and MMA absorbing more of boxing’s audience. It’s not a zero-sum game, but both sports are expensive to follow – especially with all the PPVs on offer – and more casual fans are turning toward the slicker, more reliable productions of the UFC.
That being said, according to media company SportsPro at least, boxers are much more marketable than MMA fighters. They recently released their annual list of the top 100 most marketable athletes on the planet, using what SportsPro dubs a “Marketability Score” based on three factors: “brand strength, economics and audience.”
No MMA fighters featured in the top 100 while four boxers made the cut. Irish superstar Katie Taylor was the highest-ranked fighter, coming in at 47. Canelo Alvarez (64), Tyson Fury (75) and Anthony Joshua (88) were the other three.
Although SportsPro compiles a full list of 100 athletes, it mainly focuses on the top 50, of which Taylor is the only inclusion from the world of boxing. Her position puts her just ahead of England captain Harry Kane and golfer Rory McIlroy.
These sorts of lists should always be taken with a pinch of salt – an athlete’s marketability is almost impossible to definitively quantify – but it’s still significant that Taylor is so high up, especially in comparison to the likes of Canelo and Joshua.
She recently spoke to DAZN ahead of her upcoming fight with Karen Carabajal this weekend, indicating that retirement – while not imminent – is something that has been on her mind. She uttered those infamous words, “I can’t do this forever,” and now she will likely be dogged by questions about just how long she thinks she can do it.
That would be unfair given she’s still the best female fighter on the planet. Whenever Taylor does decide to hang them up, it’ll be fascinating to look back at her impact on the sport.
In the wake of the collapse of a Spence-Crawford fight, both men have spoken to various media outlets about how they’ve done everything they can to get the fight made. This is part of the problem with coverage of negotiations – there is almost no chance that either Spence or Crawford did not want this fight. All fighters want to face the best opposition possible.
When fights break down, it’s typically never because of the fighters. They shouldn’t need to speak in the press about how badly they wanted a fight and what concessions they made to get it done.
Also, the criticism of Fury’s and Crawford’s teams for having back-up options to the superfights they were negotiating is bizarre. It’s just good business sense to have another fight to fall back on – even if the alternatives are disappointing.
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