Boxing and MMA on same card a mixed bag
The idea of combining boxing and mixed martial arts in the same show has
been talked about on a big level and done a few times on a small level,
with negative results more often than not.
The two sports have different audiences. Some believe MMA is a flash in the pan and boxing, with its rich history, will eventually persevere. Others argue MMA is the boxing for a new generation and boxing is headed the way of horse racing as far as
I subscribe to neither of these theories.
My belief is both sports will thrive or falter based on each one’s ability to maintain national television exposure and reach the masses, to consistently market new stars and regularly create matches the public wants to see. Besides, virtually all evidence points to pro wrestling and MMA appealing to similar demographics and boxing and MMA’s audience being
The original audience that saved a money-losing UFC from extinction was
created in 2005 with “The Ultimate Fighter” reality show. It captured largely 18-34-year-olds who were watching World Wrestling Entertainment’s Monday Night
Raw when it was on Spike TV. They stayed for the UFC show that followed,
and enough started purchasing UFC events on pay-per-view and becoming
fans that the company’s business fortunes turned around that first year
and business exploded the second year.
In a sense, all three came together on Saturday night with the Square
Ring pay-per-view show from the Pensacola (Fla.) Civic Center. The card featured
boxing, headlined by aging legend Roy Jones Jr., several mixed martial
arts matches, and promoted to the pro wrestling audience by advertising
Bobby Lashley vs. Ken Shamrock, both successful WWE stars of years past
who are now fighting in MMA.
Of course, Shamrock ended up out of the show after being suspended for failing a steroid test in California and was replaced by Jason Guida (now 17-20), whose main claim to fame is that his younger brother Clay fights for UFC.
The show itself was neither particularly good or bad. It was far from the
glitz of a UFC event or HBO boxing, also failing to provide the skill level of
fighters those type of shows would feature. But one would have been foolish to go in
expecting that. The real surprise was just how well, under the same bill,
the two sports coexisted.
Dan Lambert, an MMA promoter in South Florida who was at the show representing two MMA headliners, Lashley and Jeff Monson, had experimented with shows like this, always with bad results, and was surprised at how different it was Saturday night.
“My shows drew MMA fans and they didn’t want to see boxing,” he said.
“But this show drew a boxing audience, and they enjoyed the MMA fights.”
Sure, there was booing during the Monson-Roy Nelson match, but most MMA audiences would have reacted similarly during the slow spots of that match.
When Affliction and Golden Boy promotions last year talked about staging a
joint boxing and MMA show, the initial reaction, including mine, was
skepticism. You know, boxing draws older fans and a heavily ethnic base
audience – the exact audience UFC, with its live audience being primarily
20-35, and white, has yet to tap into. A big boxing show is all about the
main event, and the fans don’t even watch the prelims. MMA fans in most
cities are into the entire show. Enough people insisted loudly enough
that the two are oil and water and couldn’t work on the same bill. So
the idea quietly died without even being tried.
This experiment yielded the opposite results. The boxing fans didn’t boo
when the fight went to the ground any more than an MMA crowd in a similar
city would have. They arrived early and were into the MMA fights just
like an MMA crowd would have been. They weren’t turned off by the ground
and pound, but didn’t like when things were on the ground and nothing
progressed – no different than most MMA crowds. Further, they had no issue with
kicks and knees being added to the stand-up game.
But just because fans will enjoy them together doesn’t answer the
question of whether it is financially viable to put them together. It is doubtful this show did
much pay-per-view business. Most MMA pay-per-view events without the UFC
brand name do poorly, Jones Jr.-Omar Sheika wasn’t about to draw a
lot of boxing fans. They had a solid crowd at the venue, reported as 6,559 fans,
but had plenty to do with it being in Jones’ hometown.
Could the experiment Affliction and Golden Boy abandoned work as
an entertaining live event, with both a higher quality of MMA fighters
and boxers? Probably.
Whether it’s viable is a completely different issue.
Boxing draws almost exclusively based on the main event. MMA draws
largely on the main event, but not to the level of boxing. So if there was a strong boxing main event, would boxing fans order it with MMA matches underneath?
Almost for certain, since most pay no attention to anything but the main
event anyway. And If there was an MMA main event that people wanted to see,
would having a marquee boxing match keep people from buying? No.
Sounds easy – except for the way costs are structured.
Just putting fights with either sport on pay-per-view means nothing, as the little PPV interest in this past weekend’s event showed. Big-time boxing main events cost so much to put together that there is little money left for the undercard.
Somewhat similarly, Affliction so greatly overpaid for most of its fighters that they can’t turn a profit via the traditional PPV model.
As for combined cards, there are too few fights people will want to see on pay-per-view that
making it work is tricky. For a television event on Showtime, HBO or even CBS, the mixed card could work with the right names in terms of generating a larger viewing audience. But networks would be best-served having only one marquee boxing match because the average mainstream viewer may have a problem with two 12-rounders going the distance on the same night.