The impending mega-fight between retired boxing champion Floyd Mayweather and UFC superstar Connor McGregor is dominating the headlines, but which of their respective sports needs it more?
As it stands, both boxing and MMA (UFC being the brand synonymous with mixed martial arts) are at a crossroads. Boxing was once on par with the NFL and MLB as far as stature and prestige among sports aficionados. And while those features are gone, the money is certainly still there. The UFC on the other hand has exploded in popularity and mainstream acceptance in the last 10-15 years, largely due to the diverse fighting styles it presents as well as some larger than life personas such as Brock Lesnar, Anderson Silva, Rhonda Rousey, and most recently, McGregor.
With both of these sports at a crossroads, it seems only fitting people wonder who will benefit more from all this in the long run. Financially speaking, McGregor stands to become a multi-millionaire while Mayweather will only add millions more to his bloated bank account. What happens to their respective sports is another issue altogether, though. MMA, and the UFC in particular, has been waiting for a huge crossover event like this for more than a decade. Despite the massive popularity of some of the aforementioned fighters, none of them could single-handedly legitimize the sport in the eyes of its skeptics.
So while an event like this will allow McGregor and the UFC to reach a massive and mainstream sports audience that previously still thought of the sport as nothing more than “those street fights,” the same can be said of boxing fans who want nothing to do with MMA and still cling to the sport’s Golden Age.
Ultimate Fighting Championship’s journey to this point has been a long one, though relatively short compared to that of boxing. For most of the 1990s and early 2000s, the sport still carried the stigma of its early roots. Those roots being barbaric fights with little-to-no rules and no weight classes.
However, under the leadership of promoter Dana White, UFC has rapidly grown into one of the most watched and talked about sporting enterprises. From being featured on FOX, having its own subscription service, television series and even a line of video games, it has exploded on the American and International sports scenes. McGregor has only helped to elevate that status thanks to his dominating performances and wide crossover appeal.
McGregor’s natural ability to sell himself, his fights and the UFC might well mean he’s the prodigal son the sport has been waiting for.
Can boxing survive?
Boxing is one of the oldest sports and at one point, was one of the premier events that transcended the sport itself. The list of stars is so long I could literally write thousands of pages for each of its greats. Names such as Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson and Ray Robinson, just to name a few. But those days are long gone. Mayweather, despite being an undefeated fighter, simply isn’t on par with some of the sports legends. But more than that, the sport lacks any hero or star right now.
While Canelo Álvarez and Gennady Golovkin are great boxers, they alone don’t appeal to a wider audience outside of loyal boxing followers. And they certainly can’t generate the buzz that Mayweather can, thanks in part to him being loathed by fans who are willing to pay to see that he’ll hopefully get his comeuppance.
But that begs the question: if this is Mayweather’s last hurrah, can any boxer right now carry the torch—financially speaking—for the sport? Perhaps, should this event introduce an entire generation which has grown up watching and following the UFC to the sport as sort of a crossover. But at the very least, can any boxer right now generate enough interest to keep the sport going?
And don’t forget about PPV
The state of pay-per-view is also at a crossroads—at least for boxing. The UFC is generating millions thanks to its monthly showings while boxing has been relegated to only a handful of events each year that truly generate interest.
Respectively, boxing has always had its loyal following. So boxing, and Mayweather in particular, continued to rake in millions. But what happens in the long run? The sport has no real stars outside of the two boxers just named. Could Anthony Joshua be that star? Try asking a random sports fan on the street and some still associate it with a star who no longer even fight, such as Oscar De La Hoya. At what point will the average boxing fan decide $80 is no longer worth it?
Despite its long-standing historical status, it’s entirely plausible that boxing needs this fight to happen, and badly. If not, it will finally risk becoming passé once and for all while the UFC takes its place as the dominant combat sport of the 21st century.