You are not the World: UFC, Boxing, George Orwell, Dana White and the search for cultural significance.
So Dana White and Zuffa Inc. are once again pulling a Vince McMahon as they eliminate their biggest competition by purchasing it.
Financial details of the agreement were not yet disclosed, though an official announcement is expected soon.
What does this have to do with boxing?
It seems fans of each sport are now more than ever more accepting of the other, and I for one hope this trend of a one party state doesn’t find its way into boxing.
When the topic is broached comparing the two sports, you will often hear sentiments echoed similarly to this:
Boxing Fan/Writer/Etc.: “I don’t necessarily like MMA, but I believe Boxing should take a note from Dana White and promote like he does.”
MMA Fan/Writer/Etc: “Boxing is dead, I don’t know who the champions are in boxing, MMA is more exciting, UFC, UFC, UFC, UFC, UFC, UFC…”
Over the last five to ten years, the debate has grown, died off, and is now growing once again; except now the comparisons of the business model enter the conversation with much more frequency. With the UFC’s stranglehold on the sport now further strengthened with its acquisition of Strikeforce, it sets a business model that all boxing fans should be thankful isn’t one we have. That’s not to say Oscar De La Hoya thinks any differently than Dana White does. In an interview last year Oscar quoted: “We need to sign all the talent and get all the TV dates; then you can have your own agenda and have a schedule for the fans and the sport. You can do a monthly PPV, a bi-weekly HBO fight; you can have the best fighters fight each other. When you have five or six promoters, it’s very difficult.”
If that happened in boxing, it would be terrible.
Wait and see how much worse MMA will be once the UFC is the lone promotional organization.
It amazes me the amount of credit those in the sports world give Dana, despite Dana’s constant trashing of boxing. Last summer, White appeared on Scott Van Pelt’s ESPN radio show (http://espn.go.com/espnradio/show/_/showId/scottvanpelt2009/postId/5383393/show-in-review#). I remembered that interview particularly because Dana discussed the topic of why the UFC is better than boxing for the gazillionth time and for reasons beyond me, received praise as he always does for his “suggestions” on how to “save” boxing. He claimed to be a “boxing guy” yet thinks boxing will go away. It will cease to exist! He has no problem disregarding the magnitude of success Bob Arum and Don King have had, additionally disregarding the hard work promoters like Lou Dibella, Gary Shaw, Kathy Duva, and Yvon Michel put into their successful promotional outfits. If Dana thinks boxing is about to die, why bother having a Freddie Roach or a Mike Tyson on his reality show?
Is the UFC a better product than boxing is as a sport? Well, that’s up to the fan to decide. To me, comparing the two makes about as much sense as comparing NFL football to NHL hockey. Fans and scribes alike typically refer to sports as “products;” an example defined as to what a sport delivers and appeases to them. That product can be deceiving regardless of any sport you watch.
A constant argument in support of the UFC is that the presentation is far superior to boxing. The lights and pyro may be shown on a more consistent basis than most boxing events here in the States, but if you have a great fight, the WWE spectacle is an afterthought. Feeling the need to put on a show not unlike the WWE is a prime example as reason to acknowledge pro wrestling and not boxing as the UFC’s intended competition. That being said, the product of the WWE suffered greatly once their biggest competition in the form of WCW and ECW were gobbled up.
If you want a rocking live event, simply head north of the border to Montreal and you will see all of the pyrotechnics one could imagine at a Lucian Bute or Jean Pascal fight. Head overseas and it’s the same thing with every Klitschko fight. Top Rank has over the past few years employed these great features and they should be applauded for that. The in house experience for the modern fan is different than it was years ago. Boxing is catching up with production value, while the UFC’s fights are declining in excitement. As the sport has evolved, we see more tactical skill employed. This doesn’t play as well to the viewer as does a beautiful knockout; knockouts that boxing still delivers with regularity.
It’s largely understood that in America the young middle class white male is the main demographic targeted by the UFC. Even with the wealth of great foreign MMA fighters, nearly every country in the world besides the United States carries a devotion to boxing over the UFC and MMA in general. Even in the states, fans come out in droves for certain fighters. Manny Pacquiao packed between 40,000 and 50,000 last year in Dallas. Many other top fighters are huge regional attractions such as Andre Ward in Oakland, Antonio Escalante in El Paso, the aforementioned Lucian Bute in Montreal, Tomasz Adamek in New Jersey, Fernando Gurerro in Maryland, and Miguel Cotto in New York City. Lets not forget how in Europe, the Klitschko brothers regularly sell out Soccer stadiums. The idea that boxing is a dying sport and MMA a fledging one isn’t as cut and dry as mainstream press reports would have you believe.
I haven’t even gotten into the fighter purses…and I don’t have that kind of time, as the economics are vastly skewed. But isn’t something seriously wrong when the challenger of a Heavyweight Championship only takes home $40,000 as Shane Carwin did last year against Brock Lesnar?
This all brings us to back to the UFC’s signing of Strikeforce. Good for them. Become one promotional company. Become a New World Order. One currency. One brand. You’ll be the only show in town.
To the boxing fan: Embrace this great, if not flawed sport in the way which it currently stands.
To the MMA fan, I’ll leave you with a quote from George Orwell to ponder as you think about what the UFC signing Strikeforce does to the sport you love:
“If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever.”