UFC success forced boxing to step up its game
Several years ago, it would have been hard to imagine MMA running level with boxing in terms of popularity. It's even harder to imagine that today, boxing is taking a page out of MMA's book to win back its fans -- but that's exactly what's happening.
Originally Published: January 22, 2008By Royce Feour | ESPN.com
Ric Fogel for ESPN.comWho would have thought that one day, boxing would be taking a page out of the cage's book?Boxing and mixed martial arts went head-to-head on Jan. 19 with the Roy Jones-Felix Trinidad boxing card at Madison Square Garden in New York and UFC 80 in Newcastle, England. Several years ago when the Ultimate Fighting Championship was first starting, the boxing establishment did little more than look down its nose at the fledging MMA sport. In its early stages, it was hard to envisage mixed martial arts growing to the point where UFC would sell out major arenas and have the kind of pay-per-view sales numbers it's been having. I covered boxing for 42 years in Las Vegas, including 37 years for the Las Vegas Review-Journal before retiring in 2004. I was ringside for thousands of fights, including the biggest names in boxing, because I worked in Las Vegas. But I never covered a UFC fight card. Actually, I didn't know the sport and I didn't really care for it. That was mostly because I didn't understand it and did not know the nuances of mixed martial arts. Since then I've attended two UFC cards in Las Vegas as a spectator and enjoyed the action. There is always something happening at a UFC card: The UFC makes great use of its video on giant screens to show interviews and highlights between fights. Gone are the sometimes lengthy "dead" times between fights where nothing is happening like in boxing. I think the success of the UFC had an influence in forcing boxing to step up by promoting better fights and offering a more enjoyable fan experience, although the boxing promoters won't admit it. Boxing enjoyed a revival of sorts in 2007 because the good fighters started fighting each other, something that wasn't happening, at least that often. Did the UFC, with its tremendous rise in popularity and success, really have an impact on boxing and force boxing to raise its level of promotions with better fights?
Marc Ratner, the UFC's vice president of government and regulatory affairs, thinks mixed martial arts did just that. "I firmly believe that the best thing to happen to boxing in the past year was the veiled threat with everybody saying that mixed martial arts was going to take boxing's place," he said. "Because of that veiled threat, boxing reacted and is putting on fights that the public wants to see." Ratner mentioned the Shane Mosley-Miguel Cotto, Kelly Pavlik-Jermain Taylor and Joe Calzaghe-Bernard Hopkins fights as examples of how, when boxing puts on fights the public wants to see, boxing is at its best. " I am still a great boxing fan," Ratner emphasized. Ratner was the face of the Nevada Athletic Commission for most of his 14 years as the executive director of the commission. Counting his previous years as inspector and chief inspector, Ratner spent 22 years working in boxing with the Nevada commission. Ratner has been with the UFC for about 21 months. When he joined the fast-growing and already successful company owned by Lorenzo Fertitta and Frank Fertitta III and led by president Dana White, Ratner gave the UFC even more credibility, particularly with the mainstream press, much of which was still skeptical of coverage for mixed martial arts. "There is plenty of room for both sports," Ratner said. "To me, it's like soccer and rugby. They are different sports. But you can love them both equally." Mixed martial arts has been approved in 32 states, Ratner said, and he is working on getting it approved for four or five more, including New York and Massachusetts. "The growth of mixed martial arts has been great," he said, "but the growth has not been at boxing's expense. There's plenty of boxing going on. Boxing had a fabulous year. It just proves that if you put the fighters together who the public wants to see, there is a vast audience."
AP Photo/Matt YorkAccording to Marc Ratner, the best thing that could have happened to boxing was to have people prematurely count it out.
The growth of mixed martial arts has been great but the growth has not been at boxing's expense. There's plenty of boxing going on. Boxing had a fabulous year. It just proves that if you put the fighters together who the public wants to see, there is a vast audience.
-- Marc Ratner, on the positive aspects of boxing
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