It seems that MMA, particularly the UFC, is becoming increasingly popular, with more press coverage and eyes on the sport. At the same time, boxing appears to be becoming a dying breed. But is this true? Will MMA overtake boxing in popularity?
MMA is on a trajectory to overtake boxing in popularity. This is because of the superior structure of MMA organizations, which allows for the most anticipated fights to be made consistently. On the other hand, boxing is increasingly weighed down with politics, taking away from the sport.
If you want to find out why it wouldn’t be surprising if MMA became the dominant fighting sport over boxing, then read on. Let’s take a look, shall we?
Boxing Politics vs. MMA Politics
The politics of boxing is a primary reason for the growing decline in the popularity of boxing.
Firstly, the number of belts from different organizations has frankly become confusing! To become the undisputed champion in a given weight class, a boxer must obtain the IBO, IBF, Ring magazine, WBA, and lineal belts.
This feat is nearly impossible for fighters, not because of their skill but because of boxing politics. Once a belt is obtained, the fighter will have to complete various defenses or risk losing the belt they worked so hard to gain.
Many of these ‘mandatory challengers’ stop viewers from seeing the fights they want to see. For example, in 2020, Deyontay Wilder stopped the heavyweight unification bout between Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury.
This was a fight that millions wanted to see. It would be the first time the heavyweight division was unified since Lennox Lewis defeated Evander Holyfield in 1999. Furthermore, both athletes were in their prime at this time.
However, because of Deyontay Wilder and legitimate legal rights, this fight was postponed.
In contrast, MMA politics is practically non-existent, which allows for the best fights to be arranged.
Let’s use the UFC as a prime example. In each weight class, there’s generally only one belt. (There may be two belts if the current champion cannot fight and contenders will fight for an ‘interim belt’). This means that there’s only one champion at any given time.
Contenders for the belts will be ranked, meaning that the best two fighters in that weight class will always fight. This has led to some simply incredible fights, where both men and women who were in their prime fought for the top prize in MMA.
For example, in 2011, a prime Anderson Silva battled a prime Chael Sonnen. This led to a five-round war, which many see as one of the best fights in history.
The UFC belt means a whole lot more than boxing titles, too, as there’s only one. This makes MMA titles more exciting than boxing titles for many viewers, leading many to switch to MMA.
So, while boxing politics can completely ruin the best fight that fans want to see, MMA’s more straightforward system allows for the best fights to be made at the right time.
To sell an event, you’ve got to feel some kind of emotion for the fighters, be it love or hate. It seems that, in recent years, MMA fighters have been more successful in capturing fan attention, leading to more pay-per-view sales.
The most notable example of this is Conor Mcgregor. His confidence and arrogance led to a significant increase in UFC PPV sales, mainly due to his personality.
For instance, in 2016, Mcgregor faced Nate Diaz, collecting 1.65 million PPV buys, a record for the UFC at that time.
Boxing personalities, on the other hand, seem to be a fraction of what they used to be. There are still prominent personalities, like Tyson Fury and Billy Joel Saunders. However, their antics and bravado turn far fewer heads than in the UFC. This ultimately leads to fewer sales of fights because people are uninterested in the fighters.
For example, the fight between Canelo and Jacobs, two huge names in Boxing, rallied around 1 million PPV buys, falling short of the Mcgregor/Diaz fight by some margin.
So, another reason that Boxing is losing popularity and MMA is gaining is the difference in fighter personalities.
Cost of Pay-Per-Views
All UFC fights are streamed on ESPN+, so if you’ve got a membership, you can watch every night at a discounted rate. Membership costs $70 per year, which is an excellent price for a lot of fights.
Boxing PPVS, on the other hand, can cost you a lot of money. Championship matches can set you back around $60, just for one event! If you want to watch all of the major fights in a year, you can be spending crazy sums of money every year.
We all like to save money, which is why many people have started to turn to the UFC rather than Boxing. Audiences get great drama, great fighters, and various fights for a fraction of the price of a boxing card.
A Look at Past Numbers
Numbers don’t lie, and it’s clear that, in the past, Boxing has outperformed MMA significantly.
For example, in 2002, Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis rallied 1.7 million PPV buys, which is a figure that the UFC struggled to keep up with. The biggest UFC event in 2002 was a match between Tito Ortiz and Ken Shamrock. This took only 100,000 buys.
A Look at Current Numbers
Current numbers show a much different story.
In August 2020, Whyte vs. Povetkin sold 200,000 PPV buys. This is a fraction of past numbers, showing a decline in the popularity of Boxing.
On the other hand, UFC 262 of May 2021, which saw Oliveria vs. Chandler, sold over 300,000 PPV buys.
Viewers are shifting from Boxing to MMA.
Overall, the evidence suggests that MMA is slowly but surely overtaking boxing in popularity. This is because MMA gives the fans the fights they want to see, whereas boxing delays fights and succumbs to politics. MMA is also cheaper to watch, and many are starting to gravitate more towards the fighters that MMA holds.