Boxing and it’s major three letter problem
By Ben Green
For years, the sport of boxing has been viewed as the number One combat sport in the world. It comes with great history, tradition and a level of respect from viewers who can only dream of having the skill, toughness and determination that the sport’s greatest have shown throughout time. Since 1990 however, boxing’s popularity has greatly diminished, specifically in its commercial capital, America, and this partly all down to one three lettered company: the UFC. For over 20 years now, the UFC and the sport of MMA has closed the gap on boxing to such an extent, that its label as the most popular combat sport in the world is seriously under threat.
So how has the UFC grown into the phenomenon it is in 2021? The company’s aggressive marketing, and brand image has certainly played a part. To many, the UFC is MMA, and many casual fans wouldn’t be able to list any other MMA promotions. The company is widely seen to be the premier MMA brand where 99% of the world’s best fighters compete. This statement may be up for debate, but what cannot be argued is that the perceived top fighters in the UFC fight each other on a regular basis (the same cannot be said for boxing) which keeps the fans interested. The overall marketing and brand image of the UFC is levels above any boxing promotion. Only Matchroom boxing can boast similar levels of interactions on social media, YouTube views and PPV buys. This strong marketing ability has enabled the UFC to continue to create big stars. From Chuck Liddell, to Ronda Rousey, to Connor McGregor, the company has always managed to replace their PPV attractions and create the ‘next big thing’.
Aside from the competition, why has boxings popularity waned over the past two decades? One major issue is the fact the sport is run by different promotors. These different promotors all have personal interests which can affects who fights who, and who gets to fight for what title. They are also responsible for another of boxings major issues. Unlike the UFC, the best fighters in boxing very rarely fight each other. Deals constantly fall through and fans have to wait years for big fights to happen. One example would be Mayweather vs Pacquiao. That fight was THE fight to make in boxing, yet the fight took 7 years to make. Compared to the UFC’s ability to create new stars, boxing has struggled to create these attractions. Aside from Canelo Alvarez and Anthony Joshua, boxing doesn’t boast any major PPV fighters currently; compared to the previous generation of fighters where multiple PPV starts existed. It has recently come to a head where retired fighters such as Mike Tyson and Oscar Dela Hoya have come out of retirement and drawn big numbers on PPV, despite being years past their prime.
So, what does boxing need to do to change the trend? I think the sport needs to explore the YouTube boxing scene and promote more fights involving these youtubers. The KSI Logan Paul fight drew millions of viewers, arguably, millions of new viewers to the sport, which can only be a good thing. The major boxing promoters also need to start working together, in order to produce the big fights that the fans want, which will ultimately drive-up interest. The bigger fights that happen, the easier it will be for these promotors to create new PPV attractions going forward. Boxing has a major competitor for the first time in its history and the question is, if the sport doesn’t evolve, how can it retain the position of the premier combat sport in the world?