Sunday, March 15, 2015

MMA may have made a mistake and woke up boxing

For a century when it came to combat sports, boxing above all else reigned supreme. Sure wrestling had been around just as long as an Olympic sport, but as great a sport as it is the public could never relate to it. Most likely it is because people can relate to throwing a punch versus a fireman's carry.

As decades passed other sports or variations of sport attempted to loosen the stronghold boxing had, such as pro wrestling in the '70's when they promoted a match between "The Greatest" Muhammad Ali and Japanese wrestling legend Antonio Inoki. However, it turned out to be a bust when the promotion ended up being more exciting than the fight itself. In the '80's kickboxing created a minor buzz with fighters such as Don 'The Dragon' Wilson and Benny 'The Jet' Urqiduez, but in the end their top performers turned to becoming movie stars versus star athletes. Then in 1993 UFC 1 debuted and it would mark the beginning of a global phenomenon now known as mixed martial arts or MMA.

During its run in the '90's MMA would have its share of struggles and political backlash. Regardless of its presence though, boxing was still top dog around the world; especially in a decade that featured such high profile stars as 'The Golden Boy' Oscar De La Hoya, Roy Jones, Jr. and Mike Tyson. Boxing fans and purists alike laughed at the mere thought that MMA would even come close to touching its own popularity and for a while there they were right.

However, at the turn of the century Zuffa took ownership of the UFC, changed the rules of MMA and its popularity began to soar. The advent of  'The Ultimate Fighter' TV series in 2005 began its ascension into the mainstream and slowly, but surely MMA started to creep up on boxing. Boxing meanwhile didn't take any of it serious; they continued to disregard MMA's presence, but more importantly, it appeared they disregarded their public's outcries.

It appeared they got greedy and felt they could give the public whatever they wanted to at a premium. The only boxing worth watching was now only on a Pay-Per-View basis and even those were just one high profile fight every few months with a lackluster under card not worthy of the $50+ price tag. Meanwhile, the UFC laid out a blueprint of stacking cards with not just one, but many high profile fighters in evenly matched bouts. More importantly they would offer you free fight cards and even when they did have pay-per-view events, they would give you access to the under card fights for free.

MMA was smart in their approach and sure enough by the beginning of this decade they started to over take boxing in popularity. Many casual boxing fans and even some hard core started to believe the best days of boxing were now behind them. However, it appears MMA may have made a mistake and woke up boxing in the process.

In the last week alone we've been treated to fights featuring champions and former champions in high profile contender fights all for free on HBO, Spike and NBC; yes network television. NBC's debut of its 'Premium Championship Boxing' series looks as though we are taking a step into the past when boxing was showcased on network TV and even housewives and mothers knew the stars of the sport.

Whether boxing will admit it or not, stacking the under cards, creating more evenly contested bouts and showing those fights to the public as part of the product, is directly attributed to MMA. Also, the pride of boxing has come forward as its biggest stars have finally agreed to make the fights the public wants to see. Just this past Saturday night after Light Heavyweight Champion Sergey Kovalev finished former champ Jean Pascal, his biggest opponent who had previously been avoiding him like the plague, Adonis Stevenson, told the HBO crew he would be fighting him.

Of course no example of this is bigger than the "Fight of the Century" in the highly anticipated welterweight showdown between Floyd 'Money' Mayweather and Manny 'Pacman' Pacquiao. For years this fight could not be made and it all but looked like it would never happen. However, we're less than two months away from it becoming reality. Sure there are many reasons for this, including the proposed $200 million the fighters can make between them. However, I believe MMA may have made a mistake and awoken a sleeping giant in boxing and for fight fans like you and I, that's a great thing.

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