Has the rise of UFC, Conor McGregor, and Ronda Rousey made boxing irrelevant?

By Dexter Reyes

Ever since the Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao super fight failed to live up to the hype, boxing has been in a steady decline in terms of Pay-Per-View viewership in the United States. The fight was built up for several years and when it finally happened it was a costly $100 price tag just for the PPV. In the end the fight wound up being the highest grossing and viewed PPV fight in history, but also the most boring.

The majority of the Mayweather vs. Pacquiao buys were bought by casual fans who fell sucker to the hype. Many of those casual fans were so disgusted by the let down and outcome of the fight, they felt robbed by boxing and refused to dish out for Mayweather and Pacquiao’s subsequent fights. Both pugilists PPV buys dwindled significantly, Mayweather vs. Andre Berto never released any official number but estimates from 300 to 600 thousand buys were thrown around. Pacquiao vs. Tim Bradley 3, and Pacquiao vs. Jessie Vargas reportedly did 200 to 300 thousand buys. Flops compared to what these two superstar boxers once drew in viewership.

Boxing took a huge blow, and the UFC has taken over by building up stars and delivering the fights that actually satisfy the fans. The Ultimate Fighting Championship recently sold for $4 billion and has the teenage, and young adult market on lock. They have a superior product overall compared to boxing, thanks to President Dana White and his aggressive marketing and promotional ideas.

Conor McGregor

Conor McGregor

The boxing promotional companies failed to get with the times, they were content with the same old model of TV, Print and Radio promotion, and ignored the early 2000’s internet boom. The other thing that boxing lacks is the intimate relationship with fighter and fan. It seems in today’s boxing world it’s difficult to build superstars, they come around once in a blue moon, such as Mayweather and Pacquiao. The way to attract fans to the sport is to build up a fighter to the masses, get his or her name out there. Boxing doesn’t even promote their female fighters. Holly Holm a future hall of fame boxing champion, never fought on a major boxing PPV undercard, and was forced to go to Mixed Martial Arts to earn a payday. She finally got her chance when she was signed by the UFC and defeated superstar Ronda Rousey by knockout for the women’s championship. Holm was paid more than she ever was in boxing, but more importantly she was given the recognition and praise she never received from the boxing establishment.

Early on boxing promoters ignored the new combat sported called Mixed Martial Arts. MMA was looked at as a bar room fight, a spectacle of violence, politicians like John McCain were critical of it, and boxing promoter Bob Arum thought it was no threat just another fad that would die off, unfortunately it never did, instead the UFC grew to one of the fastest rising sports and biggest PPV attractions in the world. Boxing ignored it and paid the price, they got too comfortable overlooked them similar to how the Democrats laughed at the notion of Donald Trump becoming the next President of the United States of America, complacency is what gets you every time, never overlook your opposition because they just might surprise you.

UFC was able to surpass boxing by aggressively promoting their product to the younger generation a demographic that boxing seemed to forget. Ronda Rousey a female fighter is one of the biggest stars in the UFC, along with Conor McGregor both of them have captured the younger demographic. Rousey is signed by WME a big talent agency (WME/IMG purchased the UFC for a four billion), and has landed several big movie roles, if it wasn’t for the UFC’s promotion of her she wouldn’t land any of those deals. McGregor is the outspoken Irish fighter who copied the Money Mayweather persona with the boasting about cars, clothes and money, it worked and as the saying goes imitation is the best form of flattery. It also helps that McGregor is actually a better trash talker than Mayweather and a more exciting fighter who goes for the finish.

I sense Mayweather realizes the popularity the UFC and Conor McGregor bring to the table that is why he is trying to align his name with it. Floyd has been vocal trying to chase a boxing match with McGregor as his 50th bout. There is no question that a Mayweather vs. McGregor bout will do huge numbers its a huge spectacle of Boxing vs. MMA, it would be a crossover event that would break the 2 million buy rate for sure. This also shows the desperation, Floyd knows no other boxing match would garner him that type of money since the post Mayweather-Pacquiao backlash that caused his PPV numbers to plummet.

The upcoming UFC 205 card is stacked with championship fights and superstars top to bottom. You would never see something like this in boxing, because they have a history of promoting the main event only and big boxing fights are empty until the main event is about to start. Whenever I order a boxing PPV nobody is paying attention to the undercard, when I order a UFC fight everyone is paying attention to every fight because the UFC promotes the entire card not just the main event. This goes to the Fan-Fighter connection, and this is something Dana White has done brilliantly he builds up fighters so the viewer knows them, he makes sure they have a social media presence and posts up YouTube shows following the fighters around. Having the FOX network on board also helps enormously. FOX mixes the UFC fighters in with many of the NFL football shows and sports shows to cross promote, they also have UFC fighters working as commentators and in studio analysts for the fights. Many of these fighters are well spoken and charismatic.

On November 19th, a huge boxing match of utmost importance will take place on HBO PPV, unbeaten Olympian Gold Medalist  and former super middleweight champion Andre Ward will fight undefeated light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev in Las Vegas. This is a huge deal in the boxing world because the winner will be crowned the Pound for Pound king of boxing, a seat left vacant when Floyd Mayweather retired. However, nobody knows either fighter, unless you are a hardcore fight fan. If the UFC promoted Ward vs. Kovalev they would have made sure to build it up properly invested millions into marketing,  and by the time the two fought the casual fan would have gotten to know them better and familiarize with them making the bout more intriguing.

With the rise of the UFC, and the decline in boxing stars, this is a huge wake up call and boxing needs to start rethinking their business model.