5 Reasons why MMA is killing Boxing.

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Boxing vs MMA talks have gained steam as we inch closer to the Mayweather vs McGregor super-fight. 

‘Fighting’ is a timeless art. Regardless of the rules or format of combat sport competition, fighting is something that appeals to the primal urges and the basic instinct of human beings. Fighting is in our DNA. Now although boxing and Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) have existed since the ancient times, the recognition and refinement of the two aforementioned combat sports, is fairly recent.

Pro-Boxing has been recognized as a sport since the early 19th century whereas MMA originated from Vale Tudo in the early 1920s; and has been popularized all over the world after the rise of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and Pride Fighting Championships (Pride FC).

Boxing is a martial art that involves the usage of punches (to the head and body), foot-work and body movement among other pugilistic skills. The sport of boxing involves a full-contact fight (bout) contested between two boxers wearing protective gloves (boxing gloves), for a pre-determined amount of time; until one of the two combatants is unable to continue or the time runs out.

MMA is an art in itself, and represents the usage of every martial art style in the world, in order to compete against one’s opponent. The sport of MMA is contested in either a cage or a ring, between two Mixed Martial Artists (MMA fighters) for a pre-determined amount of time; until one of the two combatants is unable to continue or the time runs out.

As opposed to boxing that only allows the use of pugilism/boxing that is a striking-based martial art, MMA allows the usage of various striking as well as grappling-based martial arts.

With the advent of globalization and the modern-day advancements in medical-science and technology, MMA is the fastest growing sport in the world today. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, martial artists from different parts of the world considered their own martial art style to be supreme and held very little regard for the fighting styles of foreign martial artists.

However, with the popular portrayal of various martial arts styles in Hollywood movies as well as Asian and European Cinema; martial artists all over the world have progressively become more open-minded and accepting of foreign martial arts styles.

This increase in global communication and open-mindedness has served to accentuate the development of the sport of MMA, which as its name suggests is a sport that involves the usage of every martial art in the world.

This increasing popularity of the sport of MMA combined with the dwindling influence of boxing in recent years, has sparked endless debates pitting MMA and boxing against each other. In spite of being relatively new as a business, in comparison to boxing, MMA constantly keeps taking the spotlight away from boxing.

Let’s take a brief look at a few things that are helping MMA knock-out boxing-

#5 Weight Classes

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The importance of boxing world titles is diluted by the creation of unnecessary secondary belts

Before we proceed, with boxing weight classes, you must understand that the long and storied history of boxing’s weight classes cannot be explained briefly or in simple words. As a boxing fan myself, I can attest to the fact that boxing is a beautiful combat sport but has been ruined by corrupt organizations and greedy promoters.

In the early 19th century boxing had no weight classes, however that changed in 1823 when the weight limit of 168 pounds (154 pounds in some places), was regarded as the Lightweight category. Any boxer weighing above the aforementioned weight limit was considered to be a heavyweight.

One of the most essential transitions in the weight-division history of boxing took place in the 1960s owing to the split between the World Boxing Association (WBA) and World Boxing Council (WBC) that lead to the creation of the multitude of weight classes that has given us the current boxing model as of 2017.

The addition of several weight-classes with narrow gaps between each other was a gradual process that helped top organizations such as the WBA and WBC crown multiple world champions and thereby increase their income by way of humongous amounts of sanctioning fees for boxing matches involving the aforementioned world champions.

This business model helped turn boxing that was already a lucrative business, into a multi-billion dollar industry. However, it’s this very model that has created the mish-mash of weight-classes that boxing suffers from as of today. Professional boxing in 2017 has...Wait for it...17 weight classes! That’s right, gone are the days when all we had to remember as fight fans, were the Lightweight and the Heavyweight divisions.

Furthermore, the 4 major boxing organizations, the WBA, WBC, the World Boxing Organization (WBO) and the International Boxing Federation (IBF) disagree on the names of many of the aforementioned weight-classes. For example- The 154 pound division is recognized by the WBA and WBC as the Super-middleweight division; by the WBO as junior middleweight division; and by the IBF as the Light-middleweight division. Furthermore, many of these weight classes are separated by as little as 3 pounds making it all the more confusing for a boxing fan, a new one in particular, to distinguish between the champions and top fighters of different weight classes.

On the other hand, MMA boasts an excellent division of weight-classes. The arrangement of weight-classes in MMA can be described the best as Goldilocks’ porridge- just perfect. Women’s MMA (WMMA) has 11 weight classes- (Atomweight- 105 pounds, Strawweight- 115, Flyweight- 125, Bantamweight- 135, Featherweight- 145, Lightweight- 155, Welterweight- 170, Middleweight-185, Light-Heavyweight- 205, Heavyweight- 265; Super-Heavyweight- 265+ pounds).

Men’s MMA doesn’t have a 105 pound division and the Super-Heavyweight division is mainly functional in Japanese MMA (JMMA) and in lower-level regional promotions in the Eastern European circuit. As compared to boxing one can easily distinguish between the different weight-classes and their respective champions in the top MMA promotions (more on MMA promotions later). The weight-classes in MMA are created in lieu of the guidelines laid down by the Unified Rules of MMA, created in the year 2000.

The Unified Rules of MMA have undergone several changes from time-to-time in order to promote fighter-safety, with the most recent changes being effective from January 1st 2017. The weight-class guidelines laid down by the Unified Rules of MMA have been widely adopted by every major MMA promotion in the world. Furthermore in the sport of MMA, as opposed to boxing, the distinction of the roles of ‘promoter’ and ‘organization’ is not emphasized.

MMA’s simplicity in the weight-category aspect trumps boxing’s mish-mash of unnecessary and confusing weight-classes.

#4 Organizations

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Brock Lesnar fights for the UFC organization at UFC 200

That brings us to the all-important point of organizations and promoters in boxing and MMA. Now it’s essential to understand the difference between the core of the business models of boxing and MMA. In boxing the alphabet organizations (WBA, WBC, IBF, WBO, etc) reserve the right to sanction fights between the top professional boxers.

Apart from the permits from the State or National Athletic Commission (depending on the rules of the nation that the event is taking place in), the aforementioned boxing organizations also play a key role in the organization of pro-boxing bouts.

On the other hand, it is a pre-requisite for a boxing promoter to be free of any business association from the boxing organizations. This in turn is another aspect of boxing where corruption and politics play a huge role in destroying the sport.

The biggest example of a boxing promoter wielding influence over a major boxing organization is that of Don King and the WBC. In fact boxing pundits and fans alike have called WBC President the late Jose Sulaiman as Don King’s puppet.

Several instances of favoritism by the WBC for King’s fighters have come to light over the years, including the WBC’s favors to Mike Tyson, Roy Jones Jr., Julio Cesar Chavez and many other boxers that were at the time promoted by King.

This illustration of the unholy alliance between a highly respectable boxing organization and a greedy promoter is just one of the innumerable times, that boxing organizations and the boxing business model has failed the fans and fighters alike. What makes these goof-ups by the so-called honorable boxing organizations more hilarious is that in spite of their obvious favoritism and blatant disregard for their own rules, these organizations still truck on as the representatives of the sport of boxing.

Furthermore, top boxing organizations such as the WBA and WBO have more than one champion for each weight-class in their own organization...Let that sink in! The WBA has a ‘Super Champion’/’Unified Champion’, a ‘Regular Champion’ and an ‘Interim-Champion’- all in one weight class. Let’s simplify this with an example. The WBA Light-Heavyweight (175 pound) Championship- Unified champion- Andre Ward; Regular Champion- Nathan Cleverly; Interim-Champion- Dmitry Bivol.

And that’s just the WBA, the WBC, IBF, WBO and several other lesser-recognized organizations also have multiple champions in one weight class.

What’s more hilarious is that most of these champions never compete against each other, in spite of being in the same weight-class. Add to this the fact that most of these ‘champions’ could be the #5 and #9 ranked boxers in the world, but are always promoted as ‘World’ champions.

Besides, the 4 major alphabet organizations routinely witness their belts being vacated by boxers who seek fights against champions and contenders of the other organizations. There have been several instances when the WBC would disallow their fighter to compete against a WBO champion or top contender.

Now although title-unification is gradually being encouraged in boxing by promoters such as boxing legend-Oscar De La Hoya and other open-minded promoters; such instances are far and few. Besides, putting together a title-unification bout in boxing involves not only years and years of lobbying for the fighters, camps, and promoters; but also the approval of the alphabet organizations involved in the said title-scenario.

The WBC also boasts of having the ‘Silver’ and ‘Diamond’ world titles in boxing. The aforementioned titles created by the WBC serve to further de-legitimatize the actual champion of the weight-class, whilst muddying the waters even more at the top of the division. In other words the insane number of belts, in boxing, that are promoted by the 4 major organizations, confuse the longtime-boxing fans and also drive away new fans.

In stark contrast to boxing, MMA has great functional dynamics of fight organization and fight promotion. MMA organizations and promoters don’t have the pre-requisite of being mutually exclusive. Top MMA promotions such as the UFC, Bellator MMA, RIZIN FF, etc promote the fighters as well as hand the fighters world title belts of their respective organizations.

This brings transparency to MMA as compared to boxing. Furthermore, MMA has two or at the most three major organizations handing out world titles. In fact, as of today the UFC world titles are widely regarded as the Undisputed world titles and the UFC champions are considered the best fighters in the sport.

This hierarchy of organizations in MMA has provided clarity to the MMA fans and Pundits alike. Furthermore, each weight class in the top MMA organizations have ‘one’ Undisputed champion. In case the Undisputed champion of a weight-class is unable to defend his belt for about 6 months or more, most MMA organizations create an Interim-championship for the said weight-class.

For example Conor McGregor who won the Undisputed UFC Lightweight (LW/155 pound) championship from Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205 in November of 2016, declared a 10-month absence from competition following which the UFC has scheduled an Interim-championship fight between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson at UFC 209 in March of 2017.

It’s essential to note that unlike boxing, the aforementioned title contenders at UFC 209 are in fact the top contenders in the UFC LW division.

No ‘Silver’ belts, no ‘Diamond’ belts, no made-up meaningless titles. From the organization hierarchy to the belts handed out by the top organizations, MMA prefers to call it like it is. Once again MMA avoids the logjam of boxing’s innumerable organizations and belts.

#3 Stacked Undercards

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UFC 205 was one of the most star-studded fight-cards in combat sports history


Now before boxing fans point out the Mayweather-Cotto card, we must note that high level cards in today’s pro-boxing world are extremely rare. Decent boxing undercards such as that of Wladimir Klitschko-Samuel Peters 1, the undercard of Miguel Cotto’s rematch with Antonio Magarito among others are not delivered consistently by boxing.

On the other hand, MMA routinely delivers stacked cards such as UFC 202, UFC 205, Bellator 165 and several others. In the aspect of fight-cards, MMA beats boxing on not one but two fronts-

Multiple high-level fights on the same card: Boxing as a business has been around for longer than MMA, giving us classic fights like the Ali-Frazier trilogy, Tyson-Ruddock fights and many others. However, after the departure of Lennox Lewis from the Heavyweight title picture in 2003 and the subsequent reign of the Klitschko brothers in boxing’s baddest weight-class; the interest of combat sports fans (especially in the US, UK and South America that constitutes the majority of the fight-game market) started to move from boxing to MMA.

This shift of interest of fans also coincided with the mainstream breakthrough that the UFC attained with the popular reality show The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 1 around 2005. MMA promotions started going all-out in their promotions and consistently delivered stacked fight-cards.

On the other hand, boxing operated on its same outdated model of being top-heavy by relying on the top two or at times just the main-event fight, to bring in the fans. Boxing’s bad habit of being over-reliant on their top stars to sell the entire pay-per-view (PPV) card began backfiring whilst MMA’s popularity gradually increased.

If you look at the under-card of Oscar De La Hoya vs Floyd Mayweather Jr. and then look at cards such as UFC 202 and UFC 205, the differences are obvious. Former boxing stars like Mayweather and current stars such as Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez are highly marketable and can without a doubt sell PPVs, however MMA has its own stars in Conor McGregor, Jon Jones, Nick Diaz and many others that are guaranteed PPV and box-office attractions.

The only difference between the boxing and MMA fight-card models is that boxing delivers good fights with watered-down under-cards, whereas MMA delivers good fights with strong under-cards that provide a boost to the headlining fighters and also ensure more entertainment for the fans.

High level fight-cards every week: Boxing delivers excellent PPVs every few months, whereas MMA does the same every week. At worst it delivers every alternate week. Now mind you, by high-level fight cards I mean top-contenders fighting each other, champions defending their belts, prospects being matched up against steadily increasing levels of competition and so on and so forth.

Now MMA as of late has seen champions like McGregor avoid defending their respective belts and pursuing fights outside their weight classes as well as outside their organization and even outside the sport of MMA. However when you talk about such fighters, they are the exception not the rule.

In case such MMA fighters refuse to take fights against top contenders in their sport, top MMA organizations such as the UFC immediately act upon it and move-on with the sport. The most glaring example of this is the upcoming UFC 209 Interim-LW title fight between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson that has been scheduled owing to McGregor’s refusal to defend his UFC LW title in a timely manner.

On the other hand, when you take a look at boxing and the alphabet organizations’ leniency toward its top-stars you’d come across a whole different story altogether. Take for example boxing’s biggest PPV star in 2017 (assuming that Floyd stays retired), Canelo Alvarez. Alvarez has been criticized throughout his career for fighting out-matched or smaller-sized boxers. He won the Ring and Lineal Middleweight crowns against Miguel Cotto, whom many fans and experts alike consider a natural welterweight.

Canelo beat Liam Smith for the WBO junior Middleweight title (known as the Super Welterweight title in other organizations such as the WBA and WBC), which is another example of him fighting a much smaller fighter than himself. Now it’s not as if Canelo is lacking in challengers at his own weight class, with Gennady Gennadyevich Golovkin willing to fight him at Middleweight.

‘GGG’ currently holds the WBA (Super), WBO, IBF and IBO Middleweight titles and has been consistently avoided by Canelo and his promoters ‘Golden boy Promotions’ till date. Canelo is a Middleweight, GGG is a Middleweight but do us boxing fans get that fight? The answer is a resounding ‘No!’

Great match-ups in boxing are left to marinate unnecessarily for years, whereas great match-ups in MMA are brought to the fans multiple times every month.

#2 Exhibition of various martial arts

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Multiple-time boxing world champion Holly Holm faces off against multiple-time Muay Thai world champion Valentina Shevchenko before their MMA fight for the UFC organization.

Boxing is an individual striking-based martial art and the sport of boxing involves the usage of boxing techniques only. Now although boxing does involve the usage of the ‘clinch’ that is as form of grappling, such exchanges are brief and are quickly broken up by the referee.

Boxing involves the display of pugilistic skills. Punches are the primary offensive weapon with foot-work, head-movement, clinching, parrying, blocking, etc being the defensive weapons. Boxing involves much more than merely throwing hands, but despite all the striking skills and movement techniques in the world one can’t deny the fact that boxing restricts a martial artist from completely displaying his/her skills.

On the other hand, MMA involves the usage of various striking as well as grappling-based martial arts in its bouts. An MMA fighter is allowed to utilize a wide-variety of striking techniques including punches, elbows, knees, kicks, hammer-fists, spinning back-fists and ground strikes among others in a pro-MMA fight.

Striking techniques in MMA involve the utilization of Muay Thai maneuvers, Taekwondo, Karate, Boxing, Kung-Fu and various other striking-based martial arts. Besides, the usage of grappling techniques involves takedowns, submissions, ground-and-pound, top-control (an effective method of scoring points) and several other maneuvers borrowed from the martial arts of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ), wrestling, Judo, Sambo and various other grappling-based martial arts.

This display of the wide-variety of martial arts skills is what makes MMA so appealing, not only to its core audience but also to fans of several other individual combat sports such as Boxing, Muay Thai, Kickboxing, BJJ, Catch-wrestling and many others.

This is turn leads to several athletes crossing-over from their respective individual combat sports to MMA. Notable examples of such cross-over stars include Brock Lesnar, Matt Mitrione, Josh Barnett, Valentina Shevchenko, Holly Holm, Ronda Rousey and many others.

Now apart from the skill-exhibition aspect that MMA provides to fighters coming from different martial arts backgrounds, the vast arsenal of fight-ending techniques tremendously increases the probability of MMA fights delivering edge-of-the-seat thrilling action.

An MMA fight could end with a punch, a kick, an elbow, a knee-strike, a choke-hold, a joint-lock, or it may go to the scorecards after a fight in which the two MMA combatants are afforded every opportunity and allowed the usage of a vast array of martial arts techniques to defeat their opponents. Beautiful, isn’t it?

The aforementioned points are in no way meant to demean the sport of boxing, but to merely point out that rather than restricting the fighters to an individual martial art, MMA as opposed to boxing frees fighters of their shackles and allows them to display the complete arsenal of their fighting skills. More freedom for the fighters means more entertainment for the fans.

#1 Straightforward presentation

MMA is generally much more clear cut than boxing

Boxing and MMA are both sports however one can’t deny that both aforementioned sporting contests are driven by money as much as they are by the sporting aspect. The fight game is a business- a business that depends on fan-following.

The more fan-following a sport has the more money the organizations, sportspersons, coaches, etc rake in. This can be illustrated by the differences in the gross yearly income of various combat sports such as MMA, boxing, BJJ, etc.

For example both boxing and MMA are multi-billion dollar sports, whereas a fringe sport such as BJJ does not rake in as much gross income from its sporting events conducted around the world.

Now it’s essential to understand that although sports such as BJJ, Muay Thai, Judo, etc are practiced all over the world, when it comes to sporting events centered around the aforementioned sports the fans won’t shell out as much dough as they would for a big-time boxing or MMA event.

One of the major reasons behind this discrepancy in the business of other combat sports as compared to MMA and boxing is the presentation and marketing of MMA and boxing. First of all boxing needs no introduction in today’s world. As soon as people hear the word ‘boxing’, names like Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson come to mind.

On the other hand, MMA broke through into the mainstream after the TUF series around 2005, however prior to that it was marketed around the world as no-holds-barred cage-fighting. The old-school appeal of boxing and the raw, untamed appeal of MMA are what help differentiate them from the various other combat sports.

These Unique Selling Points (USPs) of boxing and MMA help market their respective sporting events to a wider fan-base than other sports, which in turn helps the people involved in boxing and MMA rake in millions and millions of dollars (or pounds, if you’re in good old England!).

That brings us to the battle of the respective USPs of boxing and MMA. As far as the presentation of big-time boxing events is concerned, it is excellent without a doubt. The same can be said of the MMA mega-events such as UFC 193, UFC 202, RIZIN FF’s inaugural Grand Prix (for all you RIZIN FF freak-show fans out there!).

However, MMA beats boxing not in the flashiness or grandeur aspect of event-presentation, but in the informative aspect. Let’s illustrate with an upcoming boxing mega-card expected to take place in April of this year at the Wembley stadium in England between Wladimir Klitschko and Anthony Joshua. Britain’s great hope and current IBF champion, Joshua will look to unify the IBF and WBA titles when he takes on former Heavyweight (HW) champ and boxing legend Klitschko.

The marketing for this big-time boxing HW fight is in full swing but something seems amiss. That something is typical of all boxing mega-cards in recent history. As usual the promoters of the Joshua-Klitschko fight are presenting the PPV as top-heavy, by focusing on the headlining fight and not according even a miniscule amount of attention to the co-feature bouts.

Now this is not uncommon even for several top upcoming-MMA cards, however on fight-night; the MMA organizations present the event from the ground-up.

In other words, the top MMA promotions in the world accord as much respect and importance to the coverage of the bouts that precede the main-event; as they accord to the main-event itself.

Top MMA promotions such as the UFC and Bellator MMA devote a significant amount of air-time toward educating the fans about the sport of MMA, including the rules, common techniques, fighter history and several other factors. In the golden days of boxing, boxing used the same approach of being educative and more connected with its fans.

Big fights like Lewis-Tyson, Tyson-Ruddock, etc were presented in a simple manner, without the wastage of air-time on trivial talks such as the ‘Diamond’ champions or the ‘Silver’ champions, or the ‘Inter-Continental’ champions (* MMA fans please note- I did not make that up. The Inter-Continental title actually exists in boxing, as does the Interim-Inter-Continental title!).

Gone are the days when boxing fans didn’t have to worry about some made-up title belts and champions who are nothing more than place-holders. Today’s boxing fans have to deal not only with the insane number of weight-classes but also the ridiculous number of title-belts that are handed out like free candy to the highest bidders.

Boxing as of 2017 is confusing. The alphabet organizations, their multiple title belts, the excessive weight-classes, the inter-organization politics, the corruption and the constant removal and re-instatement of several title-holders by the organizations’ board members; have reduced the life of a boxing fan to that of a discombobulated maniac.

On the other hand, you have MMA and its simple, to-the-point approach. MMA has an adequate number of weight classes, more or less. Its champions are well-defined. An MMA fan doesn’t need to remember the names of the Inter-Galactic Super Junior-Welterweight champion of the world (Yes, I just made that up!), unlike the fans of boxing. MMA presentation is informative, with its commentators routinely given the job of educating the audience on the various striking as well as grappling maneuvers. All in all- MMA presentation is simple and to-the-point.

As martial arts fans, we must accord an equal amount of respect to both MMA and boxing. The aforementioned points are in no way meant to downgrade the sport of boxing, but to merely highlight the fact that ‘MMA’ is providing combat sports fans everything that the ‘Boxing’ promoters promise, but fail to deliver.

Boxing has been adversely affected by the corruption and politics of boxing head-honchos, the alphabet organizations and big-time boxing promoters. Now although MMA has its fair share of corruption and controversies its nothing close to that of the innumerable debacles caused by boxing personalities like Don King, and the corruption and red-tapism of organizations like the WBA, WBC, WBO and several others.

Boxing is one of the most popular combat sports in the modern world, however there’s no denying the fact that MMA has taken over the spot-light as the ‘Undiputed King’ of the fight-business. As of today, MMA is doing most things right whilst boxing falters on the very same avenues. Metaphorically speaking MMA is knocking Boxing out, not out of the ring, but out of the entire damn park!

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