Professional boxing is on the ropes big time.
What happened? Hell, boxing was once in the mainstream of American culture. From bare-knuckled bouts in basements to Muhammad Ali in Manila through Mike Tyson's triumphs in Vegas. American Olympic boxers went on to pro bouts around the world — just consider Joe Louis and Sugar Ray Leonard. Quick: How many 2012 Olympic boxers can you name?
“Boxing should translate. It’s the best sport for a writer to cover,” observed famed sportswriter Frank Deford at a May 14 book signing in New York City. “Two men, in the middle of the ring, exposed and fighting for everything they have. It’s poetic. There’s a reason there’s a Hollywood movie about boxing every year, yet nobody seems to be interested in an actual boxing match anymore.”
No more Friday Night Fights on CBS. Nada on ABC Wide World of Sports. There's no free punch anymore. Today, professional boxing is off the scopes and the Ultimate Fighting Championship has served notice — in the ring, in the boardroom, and on the net.
"I don't have a beef with boxing." UFC President Dana White recently explained at the Variety Sports and Entertainment Summit in Los Angeles, "I love boxing, but everything they've done has been so greedy. A lot of people call me: 'the guy who killed boxing.' Don't put that on me. [The promoters] killed boxing by [putting] everything on PPV where the new generation of fans can't afford it. They shrunk their own market so the rich could get richer."
“The promoters killed boxing by putting everything on PPV where the new generation of fans can't afford it. They shrunk their own market so the rich could get richer.”
In contrast, the UFC, with monthly championship fights broadcast through a variety of viewing opportunities through various mediums, continues to flourish. Boxing is cemented in pay TV whereas the UFC uses free cable as a platform to introduce fighters, build a following and then move them to PPV.
Ken Hershman, head of HBO sports, describes boxing as the "crown jewel" of premium sports. He argues, "We don't have to worry about sponsors and advertisers. Boxing has no natural breaks."
The result costs the consumer. Young fans today don't know the first thing about boxing, and why should they? What kid (or parent), in this economic climate can shell out $70 for a fill-in fight (many of which, most experts believe, are fixed)?
On June 9, 2012, Manny Pacquiao lost to Timothy Bradley in what was a boxing match that played out more like pro wrestling (as far as how the outcome was determined). It was also a demonstration of boxing tripping over itself in trying to lay the tracks for a re-match. A bad movie of the week laying pipe for a sequel.
With results like these it's no wonder that Ross Greenberg, HBO's previous head of sports, decided to pass on Pacquiao v. Shane Mosley and subsequently lost his job. Greenberg, according to the New York Times, was sick of dealing with corrupt promoters.
A different system is in place at the UFC: Fighters are represented by the same governing body, so they're evenly matched and the results benefit everybody.
"Unlike boxing, we own 100% of everything. We call the MGM Grand, we sell all the tickets, we put together the fights and we pay the fighters," said White. "It was tough in the beginning because [there were few believers] and every fight was a crap-shoot." But White and the UFC saw big potential: Guts and grit on a global scale.
"We thought this would work all over the world. The one thing that translates in any country is,'Who's the toughest?' Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson and Bruce Lee all translate internationally, like no other figures, because [they were the toughest] fighters of their generation. Being able to say: 'I'm the heavy weight champion of the world and I can kick every ass on the planet, I think, is cooler than any other athletic accomplishment."
UFC fighters use multiple styles of fighting. Some like going to the ground, while others prefer fighting upright. Some optimize Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu while others use Muay Thai. Over time the best fighters have incorporated all forms of fighting into a style that is unique and defines what mixed martial arts has become. "No one style is the best. You have to have a little piece of everything to be a complete fighter," says White. "Pitting styles against styles is a true form of sport. We wanted to provide an answer to an age-old question: 'Can a karate guy beat a Kung-Fu guy? Can a boxer beat a wrestler?"
In as many ways as fighters can go after one another on the Octagon, the UFC has found just as many ways to promote and publicize the sport.
White and the UFC turned to reality television as a way to gain and build a fan base in millions of American households: "The Ultimate Fighter' was how we got the UFC on television. Everybody was terrified to put the live fights on television,[…]reality shows were just getting hot so we thought a reality show could be our Trojan Horse; people were watching the sport in a reality show format."
The UFC paid $10 million to fund the first season of "The Ultimate Fighter" and eventually cut a deal for broadcast with Spike TV. As the rules for the sport developed, the UFC was able to gain licensing in one state at a time and, eventually, began broadcasting live fights again.
Now the UFC has 250 employees in offices in LA, Las Vegas and London and fights are broadcasted in 175 countries, 1 billion homes, and in 22 languages. Oh, and the current value of the UFC, according to Forbes, is over $1 billion.
For a sport that was once filled with uncertainty, things are on roll: UFC 148 with Anderson Silva was the biggest fight in UFC history and boasted an American gate of $7 million and 1 million PPV buys.
The UFC plans to continue upward momentum by maintaining a viewing experience that's interactive and accessible through multiple platforms, not just television.
Chris Wagner, EVP of NeuLion, the company that is delivering UFC.TV for the global distribution of Live UFC events predicts, "We're going to deliver 5,500 hundred hours of premium HD programming in China with CCTV, [a potential platform for future UFC events]. The experience [we've created] has translated to significant gains in the marketplace by bringing fans closer to the Octagon through [online viewing]."
The UFC provides on-demand content that's seamlessly available on multiple platforms. Viewers can watch live fights on-line at UFC.tv, score the fight round by round and compare their take on the fights with other fans from around the world as well as the actual judges. "The fan isn't sitting around passively," says Wagner. And that seems to be the key.
If the UFC can legally hold fights in New York City, the flood gates will open for the sport.
A viewer can also choose from multiple audio and video feeds to watch a fight. This empowers fans to, in effect, produce and direct their own viewing experience.
Eric Shanks, Co-President & COO of the Fox Sports Media group, another speaker at the Variety Summit, has built a significant portion of Fox Sports strategically: "The UFC is an investment in the future as the highest concentration of male viewers world wide, ages 18-34, watch the UFC. Over the next few years you will start to use the other devices [such as tablets, smart phone and PCs] outside of traditional platforms [as a primary source] for viewing."
Both Fox and the UFC know that sports are inherently social and are best enjoyed through a multi-platform experience. New platforms bring interactivity, which is something young fans are demanding.
As for the future, The New York Daily News recently reported that the UFC has made significant contributions to New York Gov. Andrew Cuamo's office in an attempt to get licensing rights in the Big Apple. If the UFC can legally hold fights in New York City, the flood gates will open for the sport. Championship fights will regularly sell out Madison Square Garden and the UFC will have a secured foothold in the country's largest media market.
"We're on Fuel, FX and the big Fox right now. Our goal is to have, [on one of those networks] a night, every week, dedicated to the UFC, so fans always know where and when to tune in for a fight,” said White. “It's about always moving forward: When I first started managing, Chuck Lidell was making $2,500 a fight. When he retired he'd made over $32 million and we didn't start making money until 2007."
Overall, the math for the UFC is pretty telling: there is no ceiling in the Octagon. As for the sport, it looks like it has left boxing on the canvas staring up at a ten count.
Fan Hub Action
Michael T Carr May 16th
Another good article, Craig Lowell.
Charlie Lobosco May 1st
This is a very compelling story because Mr. Collins is a very passionate, tough, intelligent, athelete taking on some additional responsibliity to help others as…
Scott Cohen May 1st
Charlie.. very well said.. he does have guts
Scott Cohen May 1st
but it shouldn’t require guts. .like you said it’s nobody’s business but his own
Hisham Zameeth April 30th
best player ever…..
Kareem Musa Mayowa April 29th
We don’t need to be hopeless about the situation bryant his. Because even david villa situation also up to the level of his own to…
Maritess Lim April 28th
I still believe in KOBE’s power…… He is still the best…… He will make it possible no matter what……
mimi_aragon84 April 28th
I feel no pity for him. First of all, it is EAGLE, COLORADO, not Eagleton, secondly he enjoyed success and adulation from fans from 2003…
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