Thursday, December 24, 2009
While there is certainly room for both boxing and Mixed Martial Arts in the combat sports arena, the two will always be put under the microscope alongside each other, supporters and detractors on both sides ready to voice their opinions.
Over the last year, one of the biggest story lines involving the two has been the emergence of MMA - primarily the UFC - into the mainstream and the perceived decline of boxing.
No - this isn't going to be another in the long line of "My Sport is Better" soapbox jobs that have popped up in the last year, singing the praises of one while ignoring the merit and value of the other.
That said, the recent developments in the potential superfight between the two best fighters of the last decade - undefeated Floyd "Money" Mayweather and multi-divisional champion Manny "Pacman" Pacquiao - certainly serve as a great opportunity to examine the relationship between the two moving forward.
Originally scheduled to take place March 13, 2010, the highly-anticipated clash ran into a roadblock this week when two camps failed to agree on a testing procedure to use leading up to the bout, prompting promoter Bob Arum to declare the bout dead.
With the amount of money the various sides stand to make from a fight of this magnitude, there is a snowball's chance in hell that this is the last we'll hear of this bout. Negotiations will continue, potential solutions will be tabled, and these two great champions will eventually stand opposite each other under the bright lights.
But will it be too late?
To a certain extent, this is the only fight boxing fans care about, and with negotiations at a standstill and the UFC leading the Mixed Martial Arts invasion across the globe, the long-standing King of Combat Sports might finally be forced to relinquish the throne.
While serious boxing fans can rattle off the names of champions across various weight classes and organizations, the sport simply does not have the same big name draws as it once had. Most people couldn't name five top heavyweights, unless "those Russian brothers and that giant dude who beat Holyfield last year" counts as three-fifths of a correct answer.
Though boxing is certainly not dead, when new fans are looking for their combat sports fix, more and more of them are turning to the world of Mixed Martial Arts than are looking to "The Sweet Science."
Fans have been craving a Mayweather - Pacquiao fight for years, and the calls for the two to get into the ring together only grew louder following Mayweather's 12-round textbook beating of Juan Manuel Marquez in September.
These are the two remaining megastars of the sport and the one fight that everyone - serious fans and casual observers alike - still want to see. Failing to deliver only opens the door for someone else to fill the void, and you can bet Dana White will be ready to oblige.
Following boxing was something not unlike being a fan of a specific hockey team is for many here in my home and native land - you cheered for the team your father cheered for, as his father did before him and your son will once he's born and you immediately dress him in Toronto Maple Leafs or Montreal Canadiens footsy pajamas.
Once the sport shifted from Saturday afternoons on ABC to the pay-per-view model in place now, fans slowly started slipping away. As the number of stars declined and the level of corruption - real or perceived - continued to escalate, more people stopped watching.
In the meantime, Mixed Martial Arts starting to draw some of combat sports audience; first as the no-holds-barred freak show that was forced off pay-per-view and underground, and then as the regulated and repackaged product made popular in North America by the UFC.
With boxing's two biggest remaining stars unable to come together to make their highly-anticipated, multi-million dollar fight a reality, what is there to look forward to from the sport in 2010?
At best, boxing has one or two major fights a year; cards that are unquestioned must-see events and pit the superstars of the sport against each other for all to see... for the price of $49.99.
In contrast, the UFC offers monthly events with smaller Fight Nights on Spike TV mixed in between. Though that does mean more money out of pocket for UFC fans, it also means very little time left counting down the days to the next "big fight."
Mayweather - Pacquiao was the only major story boxing had going for it heading into 2010 and now it's in limbo. Conversely, the UFC has a number of interesting stories brewing for 2010, including the return of three currently-sidelined champions and the highly-anticipated rematch between Lyoto Machida and Mauricio "Shogun" Rua.
In fact, the current "death" of the Mayweather - Pacquiao fight couldn't have come at a better time for the UFC, as 2010 is set to be the most active year to date for the company, and includes the continued expansion to new markets, including Australia for UFC 110 in February and potential shows in Boston and Vancouver in the summer.
While there is certainly always going to be a percentage of fight fans who refuse to sample the offerings of Dana White and the UFC, without a marquee event to look forward to, it's not inconceivable that some of those fans who earmarked $49.99 for March to still purchase a pay-per-view that month.
Though no bouts are official as of this time, UFC 111 is scheduled for March 27 at the Prudential Center, and could boast a pair of title bouts.
In addition to Georges St-Pierre's return and subsequent title fight with British challenger Dan "The Outlaw" Hardy, an interim title match between former two-time champion Frank Mir and #1 contender Shane Carwin is being discussed.
By the time Pacquiao and Mayweather finally find some middle ground on testing and a venue to stage their fight, the UFC will have rattled off a dozen pay-per-view events, not to mention another season of the still highly-successful Ultimate Fighter and a number of Ultimate Fight Night cards on Spike TV.
When you add in Strikeforce's schedule, including a second appearance on CBS in April, and the always-entertaining WEC, MMA fans will have been treated to a number of great fights and countless events.
Which sounds like a more enticing option to you - watching tons of fights or waiting around for one?
Boxing may not be dead, but this latest failure could certainly put the sport on life support.
Unfortunately for "The Sweet Science" and it's passionate fans, the UFC and Mixed Martial Arts as a whole has never been more alive and in better shape.
Don't be surprised if 2010 is the year MMA moves to the head of the Combat Sports class.
After all, they've just be spotted a big head start with Mayweather versus Pacquiao falling apart.