What happened to the sport of boxing in the 21st Century? Growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, professional boxers were household names. Ali, Sugar Ray, Foreman, Duran, Hagler, Hearns, “Boom Boom” Mancini, Holmes are just some of the names that I can think of in less than a minute. The publicity and hype surrounding the sport was huge — you simply couldn’t avoid it. Everyone soaked it all in and the fights were good. Boxing was as big as the NFL and the MLB. The Hagler vs. Hears fight in 1985 is one example of an epic boxing match.
By the time the 90’s came around it was all about one man, Mike Tyson, and, man, were his fights fun to watch. His life and career unfortunately went south, and you have to think that maybe he was the beginning of the end. Did the “Bite Fight” start the cannibalism of this sport? My friend’s father (RIP Skinny Jack) ordered the pay-per-view that night and we all watched in shock and disappointment. I try to think of one good boxing match after that June 1997 night in Vegas and nothing comes to mind. Somewhere, Evander Holyfield’s ear is ringing.
Can you name many popular boxers today? Have you watched a boxing match and really cared about it? Sure there is Floyd Mayweather, who deserves respect for being undefeated, but did you watch his victory against Manny Pacquiao last year? I watched it and it was BAD. I’ll take a tub of cottage cheese and a Golden Girls marathon over watching a fight like that again. Was that the fight to bring attention back to the sport? If so, what an epic failure. As we witness boxing fading into obscurity, combat sports has a new champion: Mix Martial Arts.
“I think I found my sport.” – Jim Brown at UFC 1 November 12, 1993
I love that quote from Jim Brown. As a commentator for UFC 1, he saw the action first hand and was hooked. This is coming from the best running back in the history of the NFL. He saw the future of fighting at the inception of the sport. The early days of the UFC had fewer rules than what we see today and most people considered the sport as “human cock fighting” while boxing was the “sweet science”. I remember friends playing VHS tapes of early UFC fights like it was this taboo thing to watch — most states refused to sanction UFC events. The general public was appalled by this new combat sport.
Fast forward eight years and Las Vegas-based Zuffa purchases the UFC and begins to shape the sport into what you see today. They established rounds and made some strikes illegal (most needed: kicking a downed man in the head) and in the process changed the views of sports commissions who opened the door for more events at more locations. By 2005, the Ultimate Fighter reality show on the Spike network created a new generation of mix martial art fans. The Bonnar vs. Griffin fight at the show’s finale is still something to watch.
So that leads us to today. Mix Martial Arts (specifically the UFC) has become an international sports powerhouse. Major Corporations like Reebok, Metro PCS, Burger King, Harley Davidson (surprise, surprise) and the Fox Network are all on board with this new generation of fighters. Names like Rousey, McGreggor, Silva, and Jones have made their way into the fabric of pop culture. Weigh-ins for fights are packed. New locations are hosting MMA events every year and the arenas are filled with loyal and educated fans. Events generate millions at the doors. Pay-per-views are bought in homes across the world and bars are packed to watch these fights.
What in our culture has lead the UFC to knock out Professional Boxing? Is it our fast food lack of attention span society? Is it a greater appreciation of the “Art” in Mixed Martial Arts? Are people just bored with two boxers concussing each other for twelve rounds with big gloves? The UFC claims to be “As Real as it Gets” while boxing has long been accused of fixing fights. Somewhere, Don King’s hair ( the original House Party doo) stands a few inches higher. As we look forward into the 21st Century I see Boxing less popular than Curling and the UFC closer to the NFL, NBA, and MLB.
….7….8….9….10 KNOCK OUT!