I almost titled this one “Boxing vs UFC,” because as far as MMA goes the UFC is king. In the end, though, I am going to highlight the UFC specifically but try to reference MMA as a whole.
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…
Yeah, that’s Star Wars but it fits with my personal history with combat sports. Why? I am an old school boxing fan, and I loved the history of boxing because there was so much of it. My “good years” were during the height of the Mike Tyson craze. If you don’t remember that craze, then I guess it’s good you’re reading this column.
There was a time when boxing was king. You waited and waited for a great fight to come along and you’d shell out $50-$75 just to watch that fight. Mike Tyson was Undisputed Heavyweight Champion of the World, everyone wanted a championship because there were at least four different “organizing bodies,” and all was right with the world. I could name every single Heavyweight Champion, in order, from John L. Sullivan to (at that time) the present without missing a beat. I loved Marvin Hagler reruns, “Sugar” Ray Leonard fights, Michael Carbajal as the Flyweight Champion, Julio Cesar Chavez on his march to 100 professional fights, and about 15 weight classes worth watching.
After writing all that, I also have to note that sometime in the mid-90s, things changed…
The “belt” that one could not hit below suddenly seemed to start creeping up on each fighter’s body. There are fights where the trunks were so high on the fighter that you couldn’t see their nipples. THEIR NIPPLES! The “belt” kept creeping high and a boxer, despite their skill, stopped looking like a credible money maker.
The big fights stopped happening as often because fighters started requiring opponents to do ridiculous things before accepting a challenge. Drug tests, beat so many specific opponents, and so on… hell, Floyd Mayweather required Manny Pacquiao to jump through so many hoops that he finally dropped the challenge and said “fuck it.” They eventually fought, which Mayweather called “a great fight” but was really a hug-a-thon, in a sad… sad… sad image of the shell boxing has become.
Remember above when I mentioned the governing bodies in boxing? Unlike any professional sport out there, there is no “end all, be all” governing body of boxing. You have the alphabet organizations… which, to date, are at least (but not limited to): World Boxing Council (WBC), World Boxing Association (WBA), International Boxing Federation (IBF), World Boxing Organization (WBO), International Boxing Organization (IBO), World Boxing Federation (WBF), and those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head. The Ring Magazine, the magazine that has been called the “Bible of Boxing,” has attempted to establish some sort of “realistic” single, unifying presentation for the rankings and championships but only a handful of guys even recognize the magazine’s efforts. If I were to be watching boxing, I’d be using the Ring’s rankings. These organizations, except for the Ring, are all so corrupt that you can literally chuck some cash at them and end up being ranked higher than the damn champion (yes, the WBA has each weight class a “Champion” and a “Super Champion”… it’s fucking ridiculous).
How about the weight classes? Well, you have them from heaviest to lightest (with alternate names in parenthesis because not every organization uses the same fucking names): Heavyweight, Cruiserweight (Junior Heavyweight), Light Heavyweight, Super Middleweight, Middleweight, Junior Middleweight (Light Middleweight, Super Welterweight), Welterweight, Junior Welterweight (Light Welterweight, Junior Welterweight, Super Lightweight), Lightweight, Junior Lightweight (Junior Lightweight, Super Featherweight), Featherweight, Junior Featherweight (Junior Featherweight, Super Bantamweight), Bantamweight, Junior Bantamweight (Super Flyweight), Flyweight, Junior Flyweight (Light Flyweight), Mini Flyweight (Minimumweight, Strawweight), and Atomweight (Light Minimumweight). That is 18 weight classes, with each having at least the six alphabet championships in it, there is a staggering 108 possible champions, or 126 with the “Super Champions” in the WBA.
When the Ultimate Fighting Championship happened for the first time, I was interested in seeing how kung fu did against the other fighting styles of the world. Well, the whole point of UFC then was to showcase the BJJ of the Gracies, which then slowly morphed into the organized MMA we recognize today. I wasn’t a big fan of the “rolling around on the mat” fights, so I didn’t really follow MMA and held on to that boxing dream well into the 2000s. Then I started noticing something I had been ignoring because I thought the UFC wasn’t adapting: knockouts.
Wanderlei Silva, Chuck Lidell, and Cain Velasquez weren’t rolling around on the mat. I also needed an escape from the ordeal that my father dying was, and I started watching the UFC as that outlet. What I saw was what I had loved about boxing: fights without the bogged down problems boxing developed.
There are only nine weight classes in the UFC (99% of MMA, really): Heavyweight, Light Heavyweight, Middleweight, Welterweight, Lightweight, Featherweight, Bantamweight, Flyweight, and Strawweight. There is a Super Heavyweight division in some organizations but the UFC doesn’t have that, and the only Strawweight division in the UFC is currently the women.
What about championships? Well, every organization has their own championship for each weight class, but with a very minor exception from One Championship, and possibly even Bellator, the UFC champions are considered the best in the world. Period. I wouldn’t personally include Bellator, but One has some interesting individuals I think would take UFC fighters for a ride.
So, what can boxing do to reclaim their former glory? First and foremost, get rid of every single championship except for one in each weight class. Trim down the weight classes, because 18 is too many. Make the “belt” of the trunks be only as high as the belly button. Let a small pool of experts rank the fighters, and champions can not defend their championships against any of the fighters lower than #5. Yep, forget 6 through 10 because you need to make up a lot of ground. Concentrate on the best fights possible. Give absolutely no attention to Mayweather vs Joe Q Public because no one knows Public. Only give attention to the big names, the big fights, and get rid of the hugging. DEDUCT POINTS for excessive hugging. Boxing is a fight, not a love in.
If I had to guess, I would say boxing has a “best if used by” date attached, and that date may have already passed. The UFC is doing things in an exciting manner, so well in fact that the WWE (whose whole business is built as a hype machine) is having issues competing with the UFC. That is good shit.
I’ll write more in the future, but it’s sad that boxing has fallen so hard that I don’t think they can get back up from their knockdown. UFC is only just getting started.
Think on it.