I have seen the future, and it ain't boxing.
Much has been made over the past couple of months about the rise of mixed-martial-arts fighting and how it's poised to supplant boxing in the genre of, um, beating people's asses on TV. A thoroughly uninspiring super welterweight fight between Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather set the stage for ESPN The Magazine coverboy Chuck Liddell and Rampage Jackson to give the viewing public a knockdown dragout blah blah all that good stuff.
Not so much.
After Jackson tattooed Liddell with a nasty right and knocked him out under two minutes in, people started talking about how UFC and Pride and MMA in general had missed an opportunity.
Well, I'm here to tell you it doesn't matter. I attended a very very bootleg 'Wednesday Night Fights' last night here in Iowa City, which featured some boxing, some MMA with headgear, and some MMA without (the type that Pride and UFC are running with).
Guess which was most entertaining?
I like boxing. It's fascinating; a sport that has long been the most distilled form of competition - follow a few rules and knock the other guy [or girl] down or out. Simple. Jack Johnson, Joe Louis, and Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali are three of the most important athletes of all time, and the sport provided many of the greatest personalities ever, making fights larger than life, all-important.
Most sportswriters feel that the lack of personalities is a main reason why boxing has fallen off in popularity. I don't see it that way: to me, The Contender was fascinating [US vs. UK should be good]; check out Seattle boy Walter Wright. Plenty of personality. Sometimes, it seems that the product hasn't fallen off at all - check the Ward-Gatti slugfests.
The main problem, most people realize, is that boxing is horribly run and has been forever. Fighters aren't compensated well, pay-per-view rules the day [never a good idea], and there's too many scattered, unintelligent governing bodies.
Meanwhile, UFC Prez Dana White has shades of Rozelle and Stern in him. White took over UFC in 2001, and started flipping deals left and right, locking down a deal with Spike TV. As the sport got more polished and regulated, the popularity's exploded. It's now broadcast in 36 countries and has its share of personalities.
But that's not why it's going to take over boxing.
image from Tapout.com
Last night, I saw a boxing match. I dug it; I understood it. Block-jab-jab-block-hook-advance. I also won $2 on the fight because I knew who was going to win beforehand. Boxing's not too impossible to predict; you knew Lennox Lewis was going to beat Old Tyson, you knew Mayweather was going to beat Oscar, you know Rocky's going to beat Drago. And so on.
MMA? I have no clue. I'm not sure if you ever have a clue. Most people thought Liddell was going to torch Jackson. Nuh-uh. Matter of fact, look at former Detroit Lion Johnnie Morton getting caught last week.
We watched one of my boo's co-workers in the next fight - former high school wrestler, built, huge shins, good technique. Going up against a guy probably 30 pounds lighter, also built, wiry, longer reach. I didn't have any clue who was going to win until our guy got Wiry to tap out in the third round. Wiry would try to punch but our boy would work in close, go low, and try to pin him onto the canvas. That worked great the first time. Then Wiry caught on and anticipated the dives, landing back punches and locking our man's head.
It was awesome, it was adaptive, and it didn't take much to appreciate. [I don't know shit about wrestling.] The strategy and shifts are impressive, especially up close. Where boxing is methodical, MMA is electrifying. It was 5 minutes, but you could talk about it for hours. It's just a better sport for most people, now including me. Would you rather watch rugby or chess? Would most people - especially that dude demographic with TVs [18-36?]?
The third fight [the one without headgear] ended dramtically and quickly when someone's nose got sandwiched between his opponent's shoulder and the mat. Blood everywhere. You don't get that with boxing, which needs a complete reassessment and a new governing body, because MMA ain't gonna stop.
Also, I saw all this in a [reasonably divey] bar in a college town - it was remarkably well-run by TapouT [dumb spelling theirs], who sponsor a lot of UFC fighters, including Liddell. The ref was solid, breaking clinches and calling fights efficiently and silently. The crowd got into it, there was positive energy and a buzz in the place. Drunk chicks were getting their stumble on. It was great.
Wikipedia sez: The UFC broke the pay-per-view industry's all-time records for a single year of business, generating over $222,766,000 in revenue during 2006.
I can see why. Sorry, boxing.