Atencio and Co. reaching out to boxing demographic
What's so bad about Affliction's Tom Atencio reaching out to a new demographic -- the boxing demographic -- by partnering with Golden Boy Promotions? Absolutely nothing, if you're a fight fan.
Icon SMIFedor Emelianenko -- opening for Oscar De La Hoya? Don't laugh; it's a possibility.Further proof that perspective is everything: Affliction CEO Tom Atencio's announcement Saturday that his fledging MMA banner would partner up with Golden Boy Promotions for a series of mixed-discipline fight cards beginning in 2009 was trumpeted as a "major announcement" by executives. And it was, for reasons we'll get to shortly. But MMA fans, spoiled to the gills with loss-leading megafights and a steady schedule of three- or four-hour events, cried foul. They don't want boxing infecting their sport, to have ponderous stand-up bouts diluting their free-for-all wares. It's a valid argument. Too bad they have things mixed up: Boxing isn't contaminating MMA. MMA is injecting itself into boxing. As a viscera-loving fight fan who doesn't give one red turnbuckle about the comparatively one-dimensional sport of boxing and who will absolutely be checking out for bathroom or snack duty at regular intervals during one of these integrated cards, I'm nonetheless appreciative. This experiment isn't for me, or for you -- it's for a generation of ruddy-faced boxing purists who would sooner eat a boiled leather glove before sitting down for an evening staring at the Spike network, crude home of the human cockfight. Atencio and Co. strapping themselves, Yoda-like, on the back of Golden Boy is a move designed to attract an entirely new demographic to the sport, one that hasn't yet had the UFC logo practically seared into its brain with a branding iron. It's a market that has yet to be directly appealed to despite its proven willingness to spend gobs of money when properly solicited. (The May 2007 Oscar De La Hoya/Floyd Mayweather snot-buster yielded 2.4 million viewers, more than double that of the UFC's biggest single-night earner.) These fans have disposable cash and they like when athletes get punched in the face. An unholy marriage this isn't.
Reaching out to ignored (and ignoring) audiences worked very well for the UFC earlier this year, when Brock Lesnar rallied his pro wrestling audience into ordering UFC 81 650,000 times. That's a record for 2008 likely to be broken only by -- wait for it -- Lesnar's meeting with Randy Couture in November. It was the rare white flag from the sport, which usually preoccupies itself with a superiority complex and dismisses everything from fake grappling to boxing as spectacles either for elderly men. The industry can benefit from this amalgamation, providing it loses a little of that hubris. Critics mewl about the odd tonal shifts, claiming that boxing will look rigid next to an MMA fight, and MMA's stand-up battles will look awkward next to a polished set of hands on the undercard. True? Perhaps -- and perhaps boxing fans who have dismissed MMA as a sloppy bar dispute will be interested to see how someone like Andrei Arlovski fares in both areas, as has been rumored. Alternately, their interest in the "sweet science" could conceivably dwindle when it's mashed up against the more dynamic options available in a freestyle fight. Dilution? Fact is, out of any substantial MMA event, there are usually only three or four truly compelling bouts out of nine or 10 scheduled. Assuming Affliction weeds out the chaff and leaves its marquee bouts in place, there shouldn't be any appreciable loss of quality in the proposition. The idea that someone like De La Hoya would strap on a pair of four-ounce gloves would obviously merge two disparate demographics together. That's clearly not going to happen, but De La Hoya plying his trade on the same card that Fedor Emelianenko is plying his -- certainly a feasible possibility -- is the kind of synergy that can only help both sports. If the Olympics telecast can entertain 70 percent of the world's population by alternating swimming with judo with gymnastics, the fight industry can weather a slightly less jarring blend of athleticism. Jake Rossen is a contributor to Sherdog.com.
Ed Mulholland for ESPN.comBrock Lesnar helped reel in an audience that had previously been ignored.