For A very long time, boxing had no real challenge on its hold on the imagination of fight fans.
“Pro” wrestling lingered around but serious battle followers came to terms with the truth that the matches were rigged, scripted and manipulated for entertainment. The stars of the game were amusing and fun but questions remained if the behemoths of that ring could wage any real contests.
But now the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and other mixed martial arts (MMA) events are intriguing fight fans who may have grown bored with boxing and its traditions and laid-back nature. There are karate, taekwondo, muay thai or judo practitioners who like the kicking and grappling allowed by mixed martial arts. And then are those who relish the no-holds barred raw fighting where each battle seems like a fight to the finish.
Skeptics may dismiss this as nothing more than a return to the time of the gladiators at the Roman coliseum, where frenzied spectators could demand for the death of a vanquished warrior. The analogy may be close but the fact remains that the popularity of UFC and MMA is on the rise and boxing needs to change its outlook and ways before its popularity slides any further.
What can boxing learn from UFC and MMA?
First, boxing needs new stars. Grizzled boxing managers and trainers will say that making a champion takes time, but the sport today needs new bright lights to tickle the interest of fight fans.
And the stars have to be intriguing. UFC fighters are mostly loquacious or talkative and not afraid to declare what they will do in the ring. Call it part of the script, but the talk does add to the spice.
Many boxing stars are safe in not wanting to sound too boastful. The constant fear of boxing managers is that a bold pronouncement of victory can haunt a boxer. There may also be a cultural layer here where Filipino or Asian boxers don’t like to brag about their ring prowess. But think Muhammad Ali and he did sell a lot of tickets at the tills.
Second, boxing must continue to stage fights as events. Many fight promoters do not want to spend any extra cash for hype elements like extra lights, round girls or music. This is where UFC does a sterling job. The fight card is an experience and not just a collection of boxing rounds.
Third, the boxers’ skills must be brought to a level worthy of a big event and media coverage. Boxers often just go through the motions of surviving another fight to put food on the table. They must realize that each fight is career defining. This is where Manny Pacquiao stood out when he was just starting to pummel opponents in the Blow by Blow TV program.
Boxing can no longer remain dull and interesting. UFC and MMA are beginning to capture the fancy of young fans who can also watch their favorite gladiators online. Boxing needs an injection of zesty adrenalin to keep it interesting while remaining true to its traditions.