For hundreds of years, Boxing has been the most popular contact sport in the world. In fact, not many other sports can match Boxing in terms of history and tradition. Fondly regarded as “the gentleman’s sport”, boxing has been a permanent fixture on the Olympic schedule – dating back to the earliest documented contests around 700BC.
The sport of boxing is just as popular now as it has ever been. However, there is a new kid on the block, who looks like a serious challenger to relieve boxing’s stranglehold over all combat sports.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) was once considered a barbaric underground fighting discipline, when it first showed its face on the combat sport scene in the early 90s. Over the subsequent years, regulated sets of rules and determined weight divisions were brought in. Not only to make the sport safer, but also to draw parallels with more traditional sports – such as boxing – in the hope of gaining more exposure and popularity.
Since the new rules and regulations were put in place, UFC has gone from strength-to-strength, garnering more acceptance and a whole lot more commercial exposure over the past decade than anyone could have predicted. Today, UFC is massive business, but will there ever be a time where UFC surpasses boxing as the superpower in the world of combat sports?
Bookmakers BWIN recently released an article comparing box office figures between the two sports over the past decade. Boxing’s box-office stats have remained at a consistent level for a while now, but they have been heavily reliant on the now retired Floyd Mayweather, Oscar De La Hoya and the 37 year old Manny Pacquiao during that period of time. UFC on the other hand, has shown a steady rise in box office activity, even showing a higher peak than boxing on several occasions.
Like boxing, the bravado, personality and skill of the combatants is what helps draw in the big crowds. The box office figures suggest that, at this moment in time, UFC have got more fighters capable of attracting bigger audiences than boxing. Conor McGregor is arguably the most talked-about personality in the whole fighting business and his recent rivalry with Nate Diaz – a brilliant juxtaposition of the flamboyant, loquacious Irishman – caught the attention and imagination of the entire sporting world.
Not many sports have done as much for pushing the women’s side of the sport as UFC have. Ronda Rousey is almost as big a name as McGregor and she has been lauded for bringing a sense of glamour to the sport, along with her devastating ability inside the octagon. In reply to this, Boxing has recently began to push women into a brighter limelight. Female boxers once chose to stay in the amateur ranks, as there was more to gain through Olympic glory than they ever could as a professional. Now, female boxers can see a viable and lucrative future in the professional game – but they still cast envious glances over at their female counterparts in the UFC.
Irish boxing’s poster girl, Katie Taylor recently won her debut bout as a professional, after signing up with Eddie Hearn and Matchroom Boxing. Hearn has been doing his best to paint a wonderful picture for female boxing, with former Olympic Champions Taylor, Nicola Adams and Claressa Shields leading the charge to put female boxing on the map. But Taylor herself has spoken openly about her admiration for Rousey and the other female competitors in the UFC. Conor McGregor’s trainer, John Kavanagh claimed in a recent interview that Taylor had spoken to him about her interest in progressing her training from boxing, towards mixed martial arts.
Its unlikely UFC will ever match the history and prestige of boxing, but their recent rise to prominence doesn’t seem like a flash in the pan. As the money keeps rolling in, the business will continue to grow and expand, so it’s extremely feasible that in the near future, the UFC will be a bigger business than boxing.
If there is more money in UFC, then you will see the leading boxers look to get in on the action, swapping their shorts and boots, for trunks and ankle wraps. Boxing needs to find a way to stay on top of the combat sport competition, because once you start to slip, it’s very hard to gain an even footing once again.