In less than 20 years, the UFC has grown to the point that it’s now officially standing side-by-side with boxing, just like the little brother who grows to the height of his older sibling, and in the next five years, it looks like little brother will be taller and bigger.
How did this come to pass? How did boxing fall from being a sport full of big stars and big-money fights to a series of events dominated by many foreign fighters with foreign motivations?
Sure, boxing still has some great fights—excellent even—but not nearly as many people know about them now as they did 10 years ago.
Simply put, boxing has lost a lot of followers, for a variety of reasons.
For one, getting the fights the fans want to see made and turning them into a reality is more difficult now than it ever has been. While many a fan has been kept waiting, they decided to turn their attention elsewhere, and with them, they took their money.
Of course, this happens in every sport, but no one expected it to happen to the degree it has with boxing. Without names Like Oscar De La Hoya, Lennox Lewis, Mike Tyson, Roy Jones Jr., Arturo Gatti and so on, the sport has lost a great deal of name recognition, and fans do attach themselves to names.
So, how on earth could Zuffa change that? Were they of the mind to get into the business of promoting boxing?
For starters, it wouldn’t be easy because boxers expect more money than your average MMA fighter, and rightly so, as boxing is more dangerous. But, what if it wasn’t a consideration of money? What if Zuffa was willing to pay out the big bucks in such a venture—could they do better than promoters like Bob Arum and Golden Boy?
Well, it would be a bit of both yes and no in the beginning.
Granted, Zuffa has all the right connections, especially in Nevada, and many of their top men know the world of boxing—in all of its aspects—inside and out, coming and going.
But still, the way business is conducted is vastly different, and perhaps, that's where Zuffa could do the most changing and having the most success.
As they wouldn’t have any titles of recognition or importance to give out, they would have to focus on getting fighters who love to put on a show, and from there, take those fighters and put their accomplishments on a damn big stage under some very big lights.
In short, they would be looking to get fighters who think actions speak louder than words and who believe they have a lot to say and then give them all the exposure they need to do just that.
It would be the only real way to begin: letting the fighters sell themselves and helping them do so to the utmost of their ability; Zuffa could do that with a vengeance.
The second thing Zuffa would do is listen to the public and set up the fights the fans wanted to see, with no contractual hang ups. This is what attracts fans: knowing they are going to get to see the fight they want or at least the fight they’ve been hearing about around the water cooler for the past four months.
No more “Wouldn’t it be great if…?”—now it would be: “Did you hear? Those two guys on Zuffa’s Tuesday Night Fights—the one’s who’ve been kicking so much ass the past year? They’re fighting in July.”
After establishing themselves and their boxers in the minds of the public, they begin to target other promoters and their fighters and start to put on the pressure—your guy vs. my guy.
It’s simple, aggressive and totally to the point, and it would give boxing the shot in the arm it needs. Boxing suffers not from a lack of passion, but from being too encumbered—streaming it back to the glory of the earlier days is not a matter of addition, but subtraction.
It was simple back then because it was about bragging rights, and thus, so shall it be now on Zuffa boxing cards—or something like that.
Granted, this boxing model of Zuffa would be limited in scope and power, and in truth, would act much like a star builder for bigger promotions who already have the biggest names in the sport and the purses to match, but it would also get the fans to talking, and talking is how changes get made.
Back in the 1980s, boxing’s mega-bouts got made very quickly. Sugar Ray Leonard vs. Tommy Hearns was rumored to have been made in less than a week after serious talks began.
Think about that for a moment: the biggest fight of its time, made in less than a week.
That kind of deal-making happens in MMA, especially in the UFC, but in boxing, the only thing big stars could decide upon in a week is what size gloves they would wear if they were ever to decide to fight—and that’s pushing it.
Of course, this flight of fancy is nothing more than that, but it does beget a question: how badly would Bob Arum and Golden Boy be sweating if Zuffa were to get into the boxing promotion business?
Perhaps, not at all; or perhaps, enough to begin to put aside their differences and sign the fights the fans want to see in an effort to get Zuffa out of the sport of boxing and back into MMA.
If for no other reason than that, it would be worth it.