Being a man in my early thirties and a sports fan I have witnessed the rise in popularity of mixed martial arts almost from its birth. I can remember watching the first event which took place on November 12, 1993 in Denver, Colorado (Ultimate Fighting Championship, 2013). Living in Cleveland, Ohio I was only 13 and honestly was probably a little young to be watching the violence taking place in that event. As I have seen the sport of mixed martial arts progress through the years, I have also witnessed boxing regress over this same period. Although I remember being a fan of both sports at one point that is not true anymore.
There is a good reason for this; the sport of mixed martial arts has evolved. It is action packed, well run, and safer for its athletes. As I said previously, I have grown up watching both sports. From the first time I watched mixed martial arts I was hooked. That’s not to say that the sport has not changed. From that first fight in 1993 to the last pay-per-view I watched last week, the sport has changed dramatically. This is due in most part to the people running the largest mixed martial arts association the ultimate fighting championship or UFC for short.
The UFC is owned by Zuffa LLC, which is headquartered in Las Vegas, Nevada. The president and head of Zuffa is Dana White. He and his partners bought the UFC in 2001 and dedicated themselves to improving and cleaning up the sport as well as bringing it to the masses. The first thing that needed to be changed was the weight classes. In the first UFC event that I watched all of those years ago, I recalled seeing a small slender karate practitioner fighting a large wrestler. This is obviously not fair in many ways.
The first thing that was changed is a uniform weight class system was implemented similar to boxing but with less classes and belts. The second thing that was to be changed was the basic rules that all fighters, no matter what weight, needed to follow. New rules aimed at protecting the fighter were immediately implemented. These rule changes included things like mandatory gloves, no head butts, hair pulling, or groin shots. The third and final thing that was to be changed is the way referees conducted the fights. They were told to air on the side of caution and to protect defenseless fighters.
They even implemented doctors in the corners to check out fighters in between rounds (The fall and rise of UFC, 2012). This was all new to the UFC was just some of the beginning steps to gain popularity. The next thing the UFC had to do was change how people saw the UFC and gain respect as a legitimate sport. This started by getting sanctioned to fight in Las Vegas, the fight capitol of the world. After a few lack luster pay-per-views the fledgling UFC was starting to gain momentum. The company’s owners knew they had personalities in the locker rooms but needed a rivalry to stand out.
It started with Tito Ortiz and Ken Shamrock at UFC 18. After besting two fighters from the Shamrock camp, the young Ortiz was called out by the Veteran and the stage was set. The MGM grand sold out and the pay-per-view numbers skyrocketed, the UFC was on its way (The fall and rise of the UFC, 2012). This upswing was followed by UFC hall of famers like Chuck Lidelle, Randy Cotoure, Matt Hughs, and B. J. Penn emerging to lead the surge in the popularity of the UFC. Although UFC was growing in popularity, it still wasn’t as mainstream as the owners and Dana White would have liked.
That’s when the idea for The Ultimate Fighter came to be. They wanted a weekly show on cable TV to showcase some of the young rising stars and show people that this was indeed a real sport and how hard the athletes worked at it. The show was based on eight fledgling fighters over a period of time live and train together all the while being taped and fighting it out tournament style for a six figure UFC contract. The show was a hit and the public was watching it all unfold. This all culminated in the series finale with Forest Griffin and Stephan Bonner squaring off for the contract.
It turned out to be the most important night and fight in the history of the UFC. The two went the distance and Griffin was awarded the win in arguably the greatest fight on record in the UFC. With the UFC on the rise throughout the late 90’s and 2000’s boxing was heading in the exact opposite direction. With names like Tyson, Hollyfield, Sugar Ray ageing and retiring boxing was looking for the next crop of big names for super fights. They just never came. The Miami Herald just 10 years ago cited 30 fights in professional boxing fixed or having allegations of fraud (Boxing corrupt? 2012). The most recent embarrassment for boxing came on Sunday June 10, 2012 when Manny Pacquaio clearly won the fight against Timothy Bradley, both with the eye test and on score cards, but Bradley was given the split decision(Sportsyahoo, 2012). It is for reasons like this that boxing is on the decline and UFC is on the rise. Loss of public interest leads to less athletes boxing, which leads to lack of talent and fighters, which leads to less people watching. Boxing is in a downward spiral and needs to find a way to stop this free fall.
There are far too many leagues, belts, and weight classes. They need to unite under new leadership, clean up the sport, and make holding a belt or title meaningful again. Compounding the problems for boxing, it is now coming to light that the fighting in the UFC might actually be healthier for fighters. This is the idea that it boxers take beatings round after round and MMA fighters do not. Boxing also has a standing 8 count which MMA does not have. Although because of the relative youth of MMA these studies are ongoing (Doctors, 2008).
This is just more bad news for boxing. Boxing is often called a “gentleman’s sport” and mixed martial arts if perceived as a brutal blood sport. Senator Jon McCain even once referred to mixed martial arts as “human cockfighting”(The fall and rise of UFC, 2012). These opinions are often held by boxing purists still holding on to the glory days of the past. The UFC is on the rise and the public no longer shares this opinion. Boxing fans are tired of watching corrupt judges and over the hill fighters beat on each other. The UFC and MMA are here to stay.