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UFC: Zuffa Boxing, DAZN and the Canelo/Kovalev Delay
By: Jesse Donathan
Rest assured, the more things change, the more they remain the same. The professional boxing landscape has recently looked offset and bewildered in the wake of what is increasingly shaping up to be a combat sports entertainment industry that is turning the page on how business is conducted in the modern era. With the highly unusual delay of the Canelo vs. Kovalev fight at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas at the hands of the UFC 244 main event as well as the recent KSI vs. Paul Logan II YouTube star spectacle, an overall picture is beginning to emerge on that suggests change is coming to the otherwise relatively steadfast traditional boxing hierarchy. With the emergence of social media, streaming services and the ever-looming presence of Zuffa Boxing and the UFC’s entry into the world of professional boxing, alliances are quickly shaping up in the way of UFC President Dana White reportedly meeting with boxing promoter Eddie Earn as UFC fighters and professional boxers are increasingly calling one another out.
Just this past week, former NFL standout Greg Hardy put Tyson Fury on notice while Fury himself was recently spotted training with UFC middleweight star Darren Till. Also waiting in the wings for a piece of the Tyson Fury sweepstakes is UFC titan Francis Ngannou, who has dreamed of a career in professional boxing since virtually the inception of his combat sports journey. This news of course, coming on the heels of the well-publicized beef between UFC president Dana White and boxing star Oscar De La Hoya means that the promotional and business aspects of the boxing/mixed martial arts crossover have been well in the making for some time now as the dollars and cents begin shape up in the combat sports entertainment industry.
Though not directly related to the UFC/Zuffa Boxing entry into professional boxing, the recent KSI versus Paul Logan II YouTube star headlining main event on a card promoted by Eddie Hearn, featuring legitimate, championship caliber boxers is a harbinger of things to come for many boxing fans who do not like the change in direction that the wind appears to be now taking. “White collar boxing is a slippery slope and has opened a very dangerous door,” writes four-time national amateur boxing champion Eric Kelly in his November 10, 2019 Twitter social media post. According to Kelly, “#KSI vs #PaulLogan is all the proof that you need. Being the main event on a card that features real professional boxers and world champions. Yet the boxers had to take a backseat to the YouTubers.”
Back in May of 2019, BoxingInsider.com published an article titled, “The Don King Effect – UFC’s Dana White and Zuffa Boxing to Promote Big Fights” where I predicted that the UFC was going to break into boxing in a big way moving forward into the future in 2020 and beyond. According to a November 7, 2019 Chael Sonnen YouTube video titled, “Could Jorge Masvidal vs Canelo Alvarez actually happen?” the former UFC middleweight title contender and current ESPN MMA analyst sat down in “The Bad Guy” studio to discuss what could possibly be on the horizon in the future concerning the professional boxing/mixed marital arts crossover.
“So Masvidal has something known as a hit list he put it out. There were three names on it, I can’t even remember two of them, but I want to get to the third because I remember this. He called out Canelo, Canelo Alvarez,” said Sonnen. “The sitting, reigning, multi-division world boxing champion. Canelo has only lost one fight ever, 21-years old, but he lost it, it was to a guy named Floyd Mayweather. And while he was dominated, it was his only loss and the guy was named Floyd Mayweather and Canelo was 21.”
In making sure his audience understood exactly what it was that he was trying to say, Sonnen went on to remark that, “I’m going to say that all for you a second time, so that you could put those pieces together. So, Canelo is a very special talent. And I’m condescending in case you don’t watch boxing and you didn’t know that,” said Sonnen.
According to Sonnen, “Masvidal is in a very unique position right now that I do not think he is aware of.” In summarizing the down to earth, regular kind of guy off the street attitude Masvidal seems to have, Sonnen went on to summarize exactly where Masvidal’s career stands at this point in time as “The Bad Guy” sees it. “I don’t think Masvidal realizes that anything is different in his life or career,” said Sonnen. “He woke up last week, trying to make weight knowing he was going to have to go out there and put it on the line against somebody for 25-minutes. Do the best that he could, walk away and live with the result. That’s what he got out there and did and I think he is waking up today in the exact same position,” theorized Sonnen.
“But he is wrong. He is wrong,” argued Chael. “The landscape of Jorge Masvidal has changed tremendously. He, I believe, is officially the number one contender. Would that be true? That if he wants to fight the winner of Kamaru/Colby that he will be given that opportunity. Would that be true? I think you guys would agree with me,” offered the ESPN MMA analyst. “But he doesn’t have to go fight the winner of Kamaru/Colby, he has a title,” said Sonnen. “Mission accomplished!” he added.
Stepping into Masvidal’s shoes, it’s all seems pretty simple and straight forward from “The Bad Guys” perspective. “Got in the sport, went up to that division, took big risks to win a belt; he has the belt,” said Sonnen. “He can now go after big fights and there is something about him versus Canelo that just works, it just does,” Sonnen confided.
“And as soon as he (Masvidal) said it, I said, ‘Oh, my goodness,’” explained Sonnen who no doubt knows few things are left to chance, but rather design.
“Now I am not predicting for you guys that you’re going to see that fight, the logistics of how are we going to do it and where are we going to do it are going to be tough,” Sonnen explained. “When Masvidal fights in the UFC and Canelo is exclusive on DAZN, but Dana worked that out with Showtime once before, he can work it out again,” said Sonnen. Which perhaps may go a long way in explaining the unusual delay of the Canelo/Kovalev main event this past Saturday night?
As originally reported in a November 7, 2019 BoxingInsider.com article titled, “DAZN’s Stands Defiant in Face of Canelo-Kovalev Criticism,” author Sean Crose writes, “After it delayed last Saturday’s Canelo-Kovalev match for 90 minutes in order to appeal to MMA fans who were watching a card of their own, I decided to reach out to DAZN for an explanation,” writes Crose. According to the veteran BoxingInsider.com reporter, he received a response the following Tuesday, though unfortunately none of his questions were answered directly as he was instead referred to comments DAZN representative Joe Markowski had previously made to ESPN reporter Steve Kim, who, as Crose noted, works for ESPN who coincidentally enough broadcasted last weekend’s UFC 244 event.
The report went on to note that, “The quotes, such as they are, make it clear DAZN is happy it delayed the fight for an hour and a half on Saturday. What’s more, Markowski added absolutely nothing conciliatory towards those who paid for what was literally poor customer service,” said Crose. According to BoxingInsider.com report, “Sure enough, my question to DAZN about how some perceived their weekend strategy went unanswered. Which brings us to a simple fact – DAZN is not only disinterested in individual consumer satisfaction, it isn’t afraid of that disinterest being public knowledge.”
Searching for a possible explanation to the sudden change of direction, Crose, who is the author of the acclaimed historical fiction novel titled, “the Regulator,” went on to postulate that, “Perhaps the streaming service received such a windfall from all those MMA fans this past weekend that it no longer feels it needs to play nice. Or perhaps it’s just an operation straight out of a Dickens’ novel. Either way, its coldness is notable,” writes Crose.
According to a November 6, 2019 Luke Thomas YouTube video titled, “UFC 244 vs. Canelo-Kovalev: Was DAZN Right?” the Sirius XM radio host weighed in on the issue, stating that, “I’ve noticed a lot of different takes on this. Basically, it goes one of two ways. One way is that you’re in favor of this. And the argument would be, wow, as a service to the fan, you got to watch the UFC 244 PPV and then, when that was over, you got to flip right over and then catch Canelo doing pretty incredible things,” said Thomas.
“Alright, and that was one argument essentially for it. And the other side, is that, well I don’t know how much of a cross over audience there actually is,” explained Thomas. “And more to the point, if you want to make your product look Busch league, boy, this is a great way to do it,” notes Thomas.
According to Luke, “MMA and boxing have always had a natural tension, and more to that point, when you look at the actual dollar figures that boxers make right, the 35-million that Canelo has made, the 40-million, I think 42-million guaranteed that Floyd got to fight Canelo or the 300-million that Mayweather got to fight McGregor, right, it’s always had this status as not merely the more lucrative sport for it’s a-list stars, its always had a bit of a big brother vibe to MMA,” explained Thomas.
Continuing, Thomas went on to expound that, “Like we respect the hustle to a degree of the MMA fighters, you are seeing some people open their doors more, the Freddy Roaches, the Teddy Atlas’s, that kind of thing, but its always had a bit of a big brother vibe to UFC,” said Thomas. “I think this was startling to boxing fans because this was the first time where that relationship got completely inverted. It was the first time where boxing could not look at itself in the face and say we are the big brother on this night,” explained the former United States Marine.
“And that’s important, because not only was this fight with Canelo and Kovalev not the big brother scenario, I mean it wasn’t the big brother when you had their top star. It wasn’t Danny Garcia versus Thurman II or something like that. This was Canelo Alvarez, the biggest star in combat sports. The biggest star in boxing, active, jumping up two weight classes man, and they made that one the second fiddle. I think that startled boxing fans,” noted Thomas.
In the after math of the Canelo Alvarez vs. Sergey Kovalev fight and its highly unusual delay at the hands of the UFC 244 main event at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas as well as the recent KSI vs. Paul Logan II YouTube star spectacle an overall picture is beginning to emerge on the combat sports landscape that suggests the winds of change are in the air as the page is beginning to be turned in the otherwise steadfast, traditional professional boxing landscape.
With the emergence of streaming services, YouTube social media sensations and the ever-looming presence of Zuffa Boxing and the UFC’s entry into the realm of professional pugilism, alliances are quickly forming with some of the biggest movers and shakers in the combat sports entertainment industry. Though one can sense the offset fear and bewilderment from the professional boxing community, one can rest easy knowing that the more things change, the more they will inevitably remain the same.
The Don King Effect – UFC’s Dana White and Zuffa Boxing to Promote Big Fights
By: Jesse Donathan
Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) President Dana White likes to shop for groceries and is a Tom Brady fan, according to an April 19, 2019 CNN article titled “Boxing ‘shooting itself in the foot,’ says Dana White.” Beyond those interesting facts about White, he also thinks he can do a better job at promotion than boxings current crop of charismatic front men. And White points to the lack of drawing power of Anthony Joshua in the United States, the heavyweight champion of the world, as evidence of boxing’s “strategic” mistakes in failing to properly market one of its biggest stars. CNN openly asks, could Dana White be the man to change this?
It’s possible, however unlikely in my opinion. Although I am willing to bet Dana White and company will be more successful than most are initially willing to admit. Boxing and mixed martial arts share much of the same infrastructure; the various state athletic commissions across the country issue licensing for both boxers and mixed martial arts fighters. White also has extensive experience in jumping through the various corporate hoops necessary to get new promotions off the ground and running and has demonstrated the business acumen necessary to be successful. Still, Dana White and Zuffa, the former owners of the UFC, are not without their detractors.
According to a May 3, 2019 badlefthook.com article titled, “Oscar De La Hoya doesn’t see what Dana White can bring to boxing ‘other than him screaming and yelling’” author Scott Christ quotes the boxing legend as stating, “I wish him all the best. I think he’s done a phenomenal job with the UFC. I have my opinions in the past on how I feel about the fighters getting treated by the UFC, but at this point in my life, I have so much on my plate, I’m sure he has lots on his plate.”
“Good luck. Be prepared for the ride of your life. Boxing is a roller coaster, and it’s sometimes not a fun one,” De La Hoya said.
What De La Hoya is referring to is when he called Dana White and the UFC out on how they treat their athletes. The fact is UFC fighters like to shop for groceries too, only their pay in comparison to professional boxers is grossly deficient, bordering on criminal. “We’re basically fighting for crumbs,” one fighter told ESPN.com who declined to be identified in a January 15, 2012 John Barr and Josh Gross article titled, “UFC fighters say low pay simply brutal.” According to the write up, discussing how the UFC compensates their fighters has been described as “career suicide” by one mixed martial artist.
“While paydays for top draws like Anderson Silva and Georges St. Pierre can run into the millions,” writes Gross and Barr, “entry-level fighters who compete under the banner of the UFC do so for as little as $6,000 if they fail to win their first match,” wrote ESPN in the 2012 report.
According to Aeric Koerner, a PHD candidate student at America University who conducted an inductive analysis on UFC fighter pay 2016 marked a change in UFC compensatory policy. In an interview by MMA analysist Luke Thomas uploaded on May 2, 2019 to YouTube.com titled, “The Truth About UFC Fighter Pay: An Examination,” Koerner describes how a transition occurred in June of 2016 that marked the end of the low-end compensated UFC fighters being paid $8,000 to show and $8,000 to win. At that point they transitioned to $10,000 to show and $10,000 to win.
Colloquially referred to as, “that Rebook money” in mixed martial arts circles the social media connotations behind it are anything but flattering for the UFC and Rebook. According to a March 1, 2019 forbes.com article titled, “UFC 235’s Ben Askren On Reebok Outfitting Program Pay: ‘It’s Pretty Terrible’” author Trent Reinsmith writes that, “The UFC signed a six-year agreement with Reebok in 2015.” According to Reinsmith, with the Reebok deal the UFC is in fact operating on tiered system of compensation based on the number of fights a fighter has within the UFC promotion itself, not their overall record which only raises more questions than answers.
“The current pay structure under the deal sees fighters with one to three UFC fights earning $3,500. Fighters four to ten UFC fights on their record make $5,000. If a fighter has 11 to 15 bouts, they receive $10,000, while those with 16 to 20 bouts make $15,000. The top tier, for those fighters who have more than 21 UFC contests pays $20,000. Title challengers make $30,000 and champions receive $40,000.”
To put these numbers into perspective, Canelo Alvarez is reported to have signed a $365-million-dollar deal with DAZN. Alvarez is said to have made $35-million from his most recent fight with Daniel Jacobs alone according to a bloodyelbow.com report.
If Dana White and company run their boxing promotion anything like they did with the UFC, future boxers signed under the Dana White and Zuffa boxing banner can expect to get the Don King treatment, always coming up short in the financial department as their handlers make off with the majority of the earnings. A sure-fire recipe for success when the backbone of your operation is paid peanuts while the corporate, Boss Hoggs kick back and watch their pile of slop grow. It worked for the UFC in mixed martial arts and it can work for Dana White and company once again as they move into pro-boxing as well.
“I am making all my boxing moves after this summer,” White said. “When this summer is over, you’ll be hearing a lot about what I’m doing in the sport of boxing,” writes Jed Meshew in his April 24, 2019 mmafighting.com article titled, “Morning Report: Dana White says boxing plans are still a go: ‘I’m making all my boxing moves after this summer’.” According to mmafighting.com:
“When Dana first began making overtures towards boxing, (Anthony) Joshua said he would “100 percent” consider signing with Zuffa boxing if the offer made sense. It was later reported that the UFC was interested in a $500 million deal to sign Joshua but White has denied those reports and Joshua went on to sign a three-year extension with Matchroom Boxing last summer.”
Whether White and Zuffa like it or not, the public perception of how they treat fighters is a stigma that they will find hard to shake moving forward, regardless if they attempt to throw the world heavyweight champion Joshua a bone and make an offer most athletes would find hard to turn down.
With the apparent exaggerated reports of a Joshua offer, one would think Zuffa would be willing to open up their wallets in order to acquire top talent. Not so, says undefeated (23-0-1) heavyweight boxer Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller. “Once upon a time MMA was a realistic option, but after he signed with K-1, Miller says he thought better of stepping into the cage,” writes Tristen Critchfield of sherdog.com in his June 19, 2014 article titled, “Glory 17’s Jarrell Miller: Why MMA is Not an Option for Me.” Critchfield would go on to quote “Big Baby” as stating:
“I did before I signed with K-1 because boxing was slow at the time. But at this point in my career: Nope. Definitely not,” Miller told Sherdog.com. “Just because the money those guys are getting and the injuries…. Listen, 99.9 percent of guys that finish their MMA career, the only thing they can do is open a gym and maybe coach, just because their face and their ears are deformed.”
“I’m not gonna be Dana White’s puppet,” Miller said. “Hell no. I’ve worked too hard,” declared a defiant “Big Baby.”
And with this inside look at how Dana White and Zuffa boxing will undoubtedly do business, its hard to agree with Oscar De La Hoya that Dana White won’t bring anything to boxing beyond yelling and screaming. What Dana White and Zuffa boxing bring to the table is a proven business model, where the fighters who are signed for pennies on the dollar will undoubtedly free up capital elsewhere for the promotion to handle the unexpected problems De La Hoya all but guarantee’s will be in White and Zuffa’s future as they transition into the sport of professional boxing.
That additional capital can go a long way in sewing up any loose ends White believes boxing has been left dangling in the wind with the lack of big money fights and promotion of some boxings biggest stars in markets like the United States where White, Zuffa and company see an opportunity to exploit the holes that boxing has thus far remained asleep at the wheel in minding up.
Dana White thinks Zuffa boxing can promote big money fights better than the current, existing infrastructure in professional boxing and I am not so sure that he isn’t right. It is entirely possible that White and company can breathe new life into the stagnant pool of inactivity we are currently seeing in professional boxings heavyweight division.
So, Dana White likes to go grocery shopping and I am willing to bet so do a lot of other people too; including the vast majority of his fighters under contract making pennies on the dollar, short changed, while the company big whigs reap the rewards without so much as a fat lip or a black eye. This business model helped propel the UFC to a four-million-dollar sale to the company’s new owners, WME-IMG. This same business model will undoubtably be used to drive Zuffa boxing into promotional contention in the world of professional boxing in the foreseeable future. Look for Dana White and company to break into boxing in a big way moving forward, unfortunately likely at the expense of those who do incur injury as a result of their efforts.
Anthony Joshua has the Attention of UFC / Zuffa Boxing
By Bryanna Fissori
Heavyweight Champ Anthony Joshua has caught the attention of UFC President Dana White, who has been making waves in the boxing industry with announcement that the UFC will be entering the boxing ring under the name “Zuffa Boxing.”
Following his April 29, 2017 knockout of Wladimir Klirschko, White was quick to praise Joshua as the next big thing.
“Boxing had been DYING waiting for an exciting heavyweight champ,” White wrote on Instagram. “Now they have it in Anthony Joshua, CONGRATS champ.”
Looking to Make Boxing Stars
In a recent interview White announced that he would not be looking to cross over fighters on the UFC roster to fill boxing cards. Joshua is the one boxer that White showed interest in working with.
“In my opinion he’s the most marketable guy in boxing,” White told reporters.
With an arguably declining roster of “star power” heavyweights in the UFC it is no surprise that White has been scouring for new talent that he can build up.
One of the most prominent parts of the interview was the conversation about development of stars for Zuffa Boxing. The UFC has a positive reputation for building up their top fighters, making them marketable with interesting backstories, creative visuals and constant exposure. White looks to accomplish the same for Zuffa boxing.
Joshua Aspires to Increase Influence in Boxing
Anthony Joshua is the holder of heavyweight titles for the IBF, EBH and IBO. He is also a 2012 Olympic Boxing Gold Medalist.
Joshua aspires to achieve that kind of star rank. “Before I was happy just to be a part of boxing. I never hand a minute to reflect,” said Joshua. “But now I want to stamp my mark and my legacy and be among the like of Roger Federer. If I want to be like these guys I have to carry myself the right way. . . I want to be like the Ronaldos, Messies, Federers who compete with Nadal, Murry. That’s where I want to take boxing.”
Unifying the heavyweight title is the first goal for Joshua. To do so he is going to have to go through some heavy hitters. WBO titleholder Deontay Wilder and WBC titleholder Joseph Parker are on that list.
Dana White Plans to Create New Stars For Zuffa Boxing
By Bryanna Fissori
Earlier this week UFC President Dana White opened up about some of his plans for Zuffa Boxing.
It is no secret that White is planning on stepping into the world of boxing under the umbrella of UFC parent company WME-IMG, which is also home to the Zuffa brand. Speculation about the transition to boxing has been floating around since this summer when White first appeared in interviews wearing a “Zuffa Boxing” t-shirt, produced by Reebok.
White has confirmed that he will be promoting boxing and maintained an air of confidence as he spoke at the media luncheon hosted at the UFC Headquarters in Las Vegas.
UFC Fighters Crossing Over to Boxing
One of the questions that has been on the minds of fans and fighters is whether or not the UFC and Zuffa Boxing athlete roster will be interchangeable. There are a number of current UFC fighters who have boxing experience and have vocalized interest in putting on the big gloves.
When asked if he would be pulling from the UFC list of athletes, White replied, “No. I’m not thinking about that. I’m not saying it could never happen, but that’s not what I’m looking to do.” He also specified that UFC Champion Conor McGregor, who made his boxing debut against Floyd Mayweather Jr this summer, was included in that statement.
New Stars In Boxing
Making it clear that he would not be bringing over UFC fighters leaves the question on who will be appearing in the Zuffa Boxing ring.
White was questioned about the fact that when the UFC was purchased there were stars already in place. “Back then there weren’t big stars,” asserts White. “And in boxing right now who are the big stars? The huge stars? Most people don’t even know half these guys. Then you’ve got guys who are fighting for $10k for title fights and stuff like that. When people talk about, ‘oh boxing, and the money’ you’re talking about a handful of guys. And then there’s a whole roster full of guys who make nothing. None of them are stars.”
“You’ve got to start small and work your way up and build stars. I think we do a really good job at it and I think we can do it in boxing.”
Emphasis on Card Depth
White was asked if cards would be similar to the UFC format and he confirmed that they would and emphasized that having quality fights throughout the whole card is important.
Referring to the UFC 218 Card “There are fights all the way down on the UFC Fight Pass prelims (first few fights) that you want to see. You never get that in boxing.”
“Seats are empty until the main event starts,” asserts White, who also told reporters that he was guilty of that as well. The only fight he watched on the Mayweather v McGregor card was the main event.
What’s Next for Zuffa Boxing?
White asserts that he will be taking a whole month at the beginning of the year, to meet with various people in the boxing industry and figure out his plan. He also stated that he has a plan A and a plan B. He just has to figure out which to go with. 2018 may prove to be an interesting year for boxing.
The UFC is 100% Getting Into Boxing
By Bryanna Fissori
From the Reebok manufactured “Zuffa Boxing” T-shirt to “I could see that happening,” to “We are 100 percent getting into boxing.”
UFC President Dana White is has masterfully kept fans and fighters on the edge of their seats waiting to see what the next move will be for the UFC. Rumors of a boxing promotion have been floating around since White first appeared at an interview wearing a shirt baring the logo “Zuffa Boxing.” Zuffa is a subsidiary of the UFC conglomerate and the former parent company of the promotion prior to the acquisition by WME-IMG last year.
“I’m not leaving the UFC. I’m getting into boxing with [WME-IMG head] Ari [Emanuel] and the UFC will be doing boxing, too,” White told the Los Angeles Times. “It’s still early. We’re still working on it. I’ve got to get my s**t together, but I’m getting into boxing, man. It’s coming.”
The UFC Brand
“I just know how good we are at what we do, and I know we’re better than pretty much everybody else out there,” White said. “I think that the guys who are involved in boxing, the fighters, would enjoy being under this umbrella and fighting for us, and yeah, I do think would could do it better than everybody else does.”
White commented that there is no “brand” in boxing. Everyone is out to make money without investing in the sport or thinking of the future. According to White, from a financial standpoint,
“. . . There’s no brand. There’s a bunch of cowboys. Every time there’s a boxing fight, it’s a going-out-of-business sale: ‘Let us get as much money as we can from everybody and let’s get the hell out of here.’ Right? That’s how boxing has always done business.”
There is no question that they UFC has done an amazing job in branding the organization and fighters underneath the promotion’s banner. For the general non-fan, the UFC is still a familiar acronym while Premier Boxing Championship, Top Rank or the like are much less likely to be recognized by the masses.
It is safe to say that even in the boxing industry, most competitive boxers could tell you what the UFC is, while many MMA fighters would be hard-pressed to list boxing promotions.
Well-Rounded Fight Cards
Making an entire fight-card engaging from top to bottom is another area where the UFC excels. Last weekend’s UFC 217 was one of the most exciting cards in recent history starting all the way from the bottom of the card on the UFC Fight Pass early preliminary fights to the Pay-per-view main event (Georges Saint-Pierre v Michael Bisping) at Madison Square Garden.
Boxing is known to have their cards stacked top heavy with lower payouts for earlier fights, corresponding heavily with anticipated lack of attendance and viewers for those bouts. There are generally not promoted with any significance and it is a given that most fans will show up or tune in specifically for just the main event.
“My job is to make sure every time you turn your TV off, you feel like you got your money’s worth,” said White. “I can’t guarantee [a single fight] is going to be the best you’ve ever seen. That’s why you have to stack the card and [ensure] everyone on that card makes money. … We spread the money around.”
The minimum amount that a UFC fighter is guaranteed is $10k to show up and $10k to win. More on this in BoxingInsider.com’s previous breakdown of the difference in fight purses here.
Playing Well with Others
The UFC is the top of the industry in MMA. Serious competition is minimal. In boxing the playing field is a bit more even and promoters are decently outspoken against each other. As the voice box for the UFC, White has not been known to hold back his thoughts. From an outside/fan perspective, this could make things interesting. Just in the short time White has been active in the boxing world he has delivered the clear message that boxing needs help. That message has not consistently been well received, especially by established industry professionals such as Bob Arum of Top Rank Boxing.
“The history of boxing … we all know boxing is broken,” said White. “The question is, how do you fix boxing?”
The Unknowns in Zuffa /UFC Boxing
• The Name:
So, the shirt said “Zuffa Boxing.” Zuffa is the former parent company of the UFC, but is now owned as part of the UFC conglomerate by WME-IMG. It may not be such a bad idea to deviate from the “UFC” name when promoting boxing in order to avoid confusion. This means that the company’s promotion could be titled “Zuffa Boxing.”
The name Zuffa is well known to the majority of MMA fighters already. And it is very plausible that the company could build the boxing promotion under that title.
• The In-House Potential
There is a lot of potential in-house talent that have already vocalized a desire to make the cross over to boxing. Some of these current UFC fighters include Jose Aldo, Stipe Miocic, Jimi Manuwa and Cris Cyborg. There are countless other UFC fighters and other Mixed Martial Artists across various promotions who have competed as boxers at some point in their careers (Holly Holm, Joe Duffy, KJ Noons, Vitor Belfort to name a few), but found MMA more profitable at the lower levels. With an option to climb the ranks in both sports, this could open up a lot of potential crossover. How that crossover would look will take a bit of effort from the contractual standpoint of the UFC’s legal team.
• How Soon is it Coming?
The UFC was not built in a day. The company is known for taking chances and trying new things, but there are licensing and regulatory hoops to jump through before WME-IMG can enter the world of boxing. The Conor McGregor boxing match against Floyd Mayweather Jr. earlier this year was a baby step for the company to get their feet wet. It should still take some time to set all of the legal and regulatory aspects of boxing in place, obtain licensing, competitors and to learn the ropes (rather than the cage). Given the UFC’s ability to put the right people in the right places, mid next year would be reasonable, though White has surprised us before . . .
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.
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.
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.