Will Dana White and the UFC be the Next Big Players in (Zuffa) Boxing?

By Bryanna Fissori

“I could see bringing boxing under our umbrella and trying to see what we could do with that. I could see doing that.”-UFC President Dana White.

As written about by BoxingInsider.com following Floyd Mayweather Jr fight versus UFC Champion Conor McGregor, there may be something to the “Zuffa Boxing” t-shirt adorned by White during pre-fight interviews.

Zuffa, LLC. sold the UFC to WME-ING last year, though the Zuffa brand is still heavily associated with the promotion.

White was interviewed on the Wall Street Journal’s “Unnamed Videopodcast,” where he was questioned about the possibility of a UFC crossover to boxing. Though vague in his response, White alluded to the fact that it could happen. His answer seemed to have been worded to imply that he had not given serious thought to the concept, but would Reebok already be selling “Zuffa Boxing” shirts if something were not something in the works?

Dana White and Boxing

Leaving the world of MMA for boxing does not seem to be on White’s agenda. “What people don’t understand is first of all, I’m still an owner,” White said. “I still have an ownership position in the UFC. And yeah, I signed a contract, but no contract can keep you anywhere. I could leave tomorrow if I wanted to. I obviously couldn’t go work for somebody else, but I could leave when I want to leave. I don’t want to leave.”

No stranger to the boxing world, White spent a lot of his early combat sports industry career in that sector. White trained in boxing, taught boxing and had his own boxing brand. The Mayweather / McGregor fight grossed in the neighborhood of $600 million. That is certainly enough to grab the attention of new UFC parent company WME-IMG, whose fairly recent acquisition of the company could mean a lot of changes to the structure and operations of the business. Who is to say one of these changes couldn’t include the addition of boxing under the UFC conglomerate.

Pay-Scale Differentiation

It is common knowledge that there is a discrepancy between what MMA fighter and boxers are paid. The top purse reported in MMA has Ronda Rousey (UFC 207) and Conor McGregor (UFC 202) tied at $3million with Brock Lesnar (UFC 200) a fairly close second at $2.5 million. These payouts do not include Pay-per-view percentages or any other bonuses.

In contrast, the top for boxing is Floyd Mayweather Jr who took home $100 million just for his purse alone, against Conor McGregor. Mayweather does tend to be the exception, taking home far more than most other top-tier boxers. It is hard to take Mayweather out the equation when talking about top-paid boxers. Of the top seven grossing matches of all time, he was a participant in at least four.

When Manny Pacquiao fought Mayweather in 2015, the PacMan came home with $120 million. In September, the highly anticipated Miguel Canelo and Gennady Golovkin bout boasted a purse of $15 for each fighter, before the 60 percent PPV split. The PPV and other bonus can add millions on to each purse in the boxing industry.

Bout Minimums

That being said, the cream of the crop in boxing obviously grosses significantly more than its MMA counterparts. The bottom tier may be a different story. The UFC minimum purse for any card is $10k to show and $10k to win. Unlike most boxing promotions, purses are usually offered at a flat rate with a win bonus that equals the same amount. This provides added incentive for an athlete to preform to their highest potential. Some lower promotions like Victory Fighting Championship (broadcast on UFC Fight Pass) have been known to offer “finishing bonuses” to fighters who end the fight rather than letting it go to the judges.

In a stark contrast to the UFC minimum, the opening bout for the Mayweather/McGregor card did not even amount to $10k between the two fighters. This may also have to do with the fact that rounds were significantly shorter for Savannah Marshall ($5k) and Sydney LeBlanc ($3.5k). The first 12 round fight on the card was Andrew Tabiti ($100k) against Steve Cunningham ($100k).

The UFC minimum is not the industry standard. Bellator MMA may start an undercard fighter at $1,000 to show and $1,000 to win, while small regional promotions may be as low as $200 and $200. This is not unlike smaller boxing promotions.

Overall it can be said that top tier boxers currently have the opportunity to make significantly more than MMA fighters at the highest levels, while the pay is probably more even overall at the lower levels.

Competition With Other Promotions

In joining the boxing community, the UFC will have significantly more competition than the promotion is use to. This is unlikely to dissuade the UFC, given that they are very good at what they do and will undoubtedly be competitive in the current mix as far as the promotional aspect is concerned.

Some of the top competition in the boxing world include; Top Rank, Golden Boy, Premier Boxing Champions, K2 Promotions, Dibella, Mayweather Promotions (TMT), Roc Nation and the recent addition of the successful British promotion, Matchroom.

These promotions host their events across a number of high-profile broadcast networks such as HBO, Showtime, ESPN, CBS, NBC, Fox, FS1 and more. The UFC currently airs its “Fight Night” events, which are not PPV, on FS1. Premier Boxing Champions is the boxing promotion featured on FS1, which could mean someone would need to find a new network if the UFC started promoting boxing events frequently. This would be less likely in the immediate future as the UFC would probably start out with a few PPV events to test the waters.

Audience and Marketing Strategy

The UFC already has a huge audience in the MMA world. It is very likely that a good number of these fight fans would follow the promotion into the boxing arena. As evident in the Mayweather/McGregor fight, the UFC has the ability to reach a broad demographic.

With decades of steady promotions and marketing strategies, the UFC has already mastered the promotional aspects of creating a successful event. They do an incredible job of pre and post fight media, using an adequate but not overbearing amount of dramatization to draw fans in to the personalities of the competitors. Like any good TV show, movie or book, knowing the compelling backstory of an athlete inspires fans to feel more connect and more motivated to watch.

This type of professional and methodical approach to promotion may be what boxing needs to make a comeback in the U.S. where it is still less popular than in other regions.

Competition for Boxers

McGregor is not the only MMA competitor who has shown interest in boxing. There are a good number of athletes who already compete in both sports. UFC athletes Jose Aldo, Stipe Miocic, Jimi Manuwa and Cris Cyborg have already voiced interest in wanting to box. If allowed to compete in the ring, those names would undoubtedly draw a crowd.

The hang up on which promotions boxers compete for could potentially ride on the payout, which it should. No one is looking to get punched in the face for free. As extensively discussed earlier, the high-end payouts for the UFC are still significantly less than that for top boxers. The UFC may find that they have to cough up more to compete for athletes in the industry. Depending on the PPV and gate numbers, this may be worth it, as many large boxing cards have draw a much bigger crowd and PPV turn-out than UFC cards.

Top Rank Boxing Promoter Bob Arum has been very vocal in his opinion that the UFC is considering getting to boxing because of low PPV numbers. “My thoughts are that UFC is desperate. Their numbers are way off, they have no marquee star,” Arum said in an interview with NYFights.com. “Look at their PPV numbers. They barely break 100,000 homes on their shows. They’re having trouble getting renewal on their contract with FOX. They have to do something. One of things they may try and fall back on and try and acquire a boxing presence.”

Arum, who typically has a lot to say when it comes to the UFC and Dana White, has also made comments about the amount the UFC pays their fighters in comparison to boxing. In a 2011 interview he was quoted as saying, “I don’t know where Dana is coming from, I never said anything bad about him. But Dana has to realize, because of the monopoly the UFC has, they pay their fighters maybe 20-percent of the proceeds that come in on a UFC fight and we pay fighters over 80-percent. So that’s the difference, so talk about giving back to the sport, when you pay your talent 20-percent and boxing promoter’s like myself and others pay over 80-percent, who’s giving back to whom? It’s very easy (to make network deals) when his athletes get paid nothing. Our athletes get paid.”

The other question is whether or not the UFC would put their boxers on an official roster with the same ancillary rights agreement that their MMA fighters are subject to. This could also make a difference in the caliber of athlete they acquire.

UFC Easing in to the Boxing World

About this same time last year Arum told media outlets that he met with Ari Emanuel (owner of UFC parent company WME-IMG) who was interested in purchasing Top Rank’s fight library for $100 million, which includes iconic fights such as 1975’s “Thirlla in Manilla” between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. Though the conversation did not go anywhere, the library would have been an addition to the extensive classic fights available on UFC Fight Pass and a soft introduction into boxing for UFC fans. A long-term deal with ESPN has since been inked for rights to the library.

In the recent interview with NYFights.com Arum stated that he was contacted last year by someone in the UFC wanting to purchase Top Rank. It was unclear if Arum was referring to the entire promotion or the previously mentioned attempt to purchase the library. The UFC is know for successful acquisition of other promotions, though up to this point they have all been MMA only promotions.

Allowing McGregor to compete in boxing earlier this year granted the UFC businessmen and fans to acquire a taste for boxing without shoving it down their throats. This has sparked obvious interest from fighters and there are a lot of MMA fighters out there with great hands who could be fun to watch.

The Future of UFC Boxing

Will we see a UFC boxing card in the near future? Overall it makes a good deal of since. The UFC already knows the formula for success in combat sports. The company has already gotten its feet wet. Fighters and fans are watching anxiously to see what the UFC’s next move will be.

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