It seem like ever since the UFC became popular, one of the biggest debates in sports is MMA versus boxing, and more specifically, which one is “better”. With all due respect to those who enjoy debating this topic, we don’t think it’s even a question that can be answered, mainly due to the fact that they are two completely different sports.
Is there overlap? Of course. You can knock someone out with the exact same punch or combo in both sports, and the result is the same. However, the training, culture, rules, and regulations of each sport are so different that it would be like debating what is better between baseball and cricket. Therefore, we won’t dive into the “what is better” debate, but rather, we think a more appropriate question would be what is more popular, and what are the reasons?
From Boxing to MMA
Boxing and MMA have both been around forever. Each were present in the Ancient Olympic Games (BC times), where pankration was the equivalent of MMA, and both were much more ruthless than what we see today. In terms of recent history, it’s clear that boxing was extremely popular up until the last decade or so when MMA began to take over. But if MMA has been around forever, why the switch in popularity?
Fall of Boxing
Don’t get us wrong, we love boxing. It’s a sport that requires incredible conditioning, and these guys are by far the best strikers on the planet, which makes sense given that’s their niche. Boxing is rich in history, iconic athletes and trainers, and epic battles between some of the most influential athletes to have ever lived.
So why doesn’t it seem as popular now? In our opinion, this is because of multiple factors, but two stand out among the rest:
- A heavy focus on defense in the judging means that you can earn the same amount of winnings by being aggressive in the early rounds and being highly conservative the rest of the way. Furthermore, you usually need to win in a clear fashion in order for the judges to award you a win, especially in a title match, so conservative defense often favors the returning champion. If the judging system changed to so that offense was more highly rewarded, then the boxers will adapt to do whatever they can to win. More KO’s means more entertainment for the spectators.
- No heavyweights in boxing. Well, there’s lots, some of which are great to watch, but you don’t see anyone even close to as exciting as icons like Mike Tyson, George Foreman, Joe Frazier, Muhammad Ali, Jack Dempsey, Sonny Liston, Evander Holyfield, etc. The welterweight division is usually a strong one to keep track of, but when the #1 fighter in that division is so technically sound that it hurts to watch (Floyd Mayweather Jr), it’s easy to get pissed off when you spend $100 renting a PPV for one of the most boring matches in history.
Rise of MMA
It’s no surprise that the rise in popularity of MMA coincided with the gradual fall of boxing. Boxing fans looking for more excitement were drawn to the original cage matches, and since then have been delighted with the increased formality and multi-discipline nature of the sport. MMA came to the rescue when boxing fans (and sports fans in general) needed it the most, and boxing just hasn’t responded.
While stemming from deeply traditional roots, MMA still isn’t as “stuck” in tradition as much as boxing. MMA, in particular UFC as an organization, are constantly considering what the fans want, what helps with popularity, and constantly adapts to the market.
Now add in the factor that many disciplines in MMA are unfamiliar to many people, but fights still draw interest, you have a great recipe for a new fan hopping on the train and learning more about the sport. Many of these fans turn into fighters, further fueling the sport by showcasing their impressively versatile athletic ability.
While there is no easy fix to the drop in popularity of boxing, we feel that this sport would benefit tremendously from an adjustment of the judged scoring, as well as various organizations like the WBO and IBF promoting there boxers and upcoming matches outside of a PPV setting. MMA is cruising, and for good reason, it’s simply…well….awesome. But like we said, both sports are so different that they cannot be directly compared, which is why it is our hope, one day, to see both sports highly popular among North Americans, as well as the rest of the world.