Is the UFC helping MMA overtake boxing as the world’s leading combat sport?
Lee Gormley | 2 January 2017
Is UFC overtaking boxing as lead combat sport?
Throughout history boxing has long provided sport with an abundance of global superstars and iconic athletes which have captured the imagination and hearts of fans, with Muhammad Ali being the standout example with his transcendent career.
A host of others have gained widespread acclaim following Ali’s titanic actions both in the ring and outside of it, with the likes of Sugar Ray Leonard, Roy Jones Jr, Oscar De La Hoya and most recently Floyd Mayweather Jr among those to reach the pinnacle.
Although, with more financial and contractual constraints seemingly plaguing the sport in recent years and subsequently seeing far fewer of the top fighters in each division squaring off for supremacy, it’s been a far-cry from the old days when the best faced the best in front of worldwide audiences.
While boxing has entered into this new period in past years, it has saw an uprising from MMA as the UFC continues to surge with its action-packed cards and mammoth pay-per-view events stealing much of the combat sports limelight.
So, with the UFC now rivalling boxing for popularity and financial power, especially over the course of a monumental 2016 for the sport, is MMA edging ahead as the most influential and prevalent worldwide?
Historic 2016 for UFC
There’s no denying that 2016 has been an incredible year for the UFC, most notably due to the 205 card arriving at Madison Square Garden in New York, following the longtime professional MMA ban being revoked.
The organisation brought its maiden event to New York City and was the first one in the state since 1995, after a historical overturn in the laws, and the card didn’t disappoint either as Conor McGregor starred in the Big Apple. He is 9/1 with Coral to overcome Mayweather in a potential, but highly unlikely, 2017 meeting in the ring.
As well as a women’s strawweight bout between champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk and fellow Pole Karolina Kowalkiewicz and a dramatic welterweight title scrap involving holder Tyron Woodley and Stephen Thompson, McGregor stole the show in typically bold fashion.
With a two-round demolition of former champion Eddie Alvarez, ‘the Notorious’ became the first fighter in history to hold two UFC belts simultaneously, cementing his position as the organisation’s biggest star with such success.
The event, described by UFC president Dana White as “the biggest in the organisation’s history”, certainly lived up to expectations and broke many records, including the highest MSG attendance for a domestic event and most gate sales for the prestigious venue.
This was only one of many huge nights for the company, with UFC 200 being another standout event in Las Vegas, while 196’s main event between McGregor and Nate Diaz drove mammoth numbers, as well as their eventual rematch at 202.
Many high-profile boxing bouts
With the UFC having generated massive figures throughout 2016 for its impressive cards, with much help from Irishman McGregor, boxing did have plenty of big match-ups and storylines scattered across the year.
Filipino legend Manny Pacquiao announced his retirement from the sport but arrived back on the scene just months later to overcome Jessie Vargas for the WBO welterweight strap, while Andre Ward controversially outpointed Sergey Kovalev to become unified light-heavyweight kingpin.
Meanwhile, Roman Gonzalez has continued his reign as pound-for-pound number one, as Northern Ireland’s Carl Frampton produced two great showings to oust Scott Quigg and Leo Santa Cruz and Vasyl Lomachenko looks to be the next big star with his dynamic ring abilities.
The heavyweight division saw Tyson Fury depart proceedings as he looks to get back to full health, leaving IBF champion Anthony Joshua to lead the way on British soil, though against far from dangerous opposition.
With the retirement of Mayweather, boxing has since been without that one eye-catching superstar that grabs the headlines and pulls in viewers with brash acts – something the UFC has gained in recent years in the form of lightweight champion McGregor.
McGregor leading UFC into new light
The Dublin native has almost single handedly brought MMA into the mainstream and shot the UFC onto a much grander platform, with his devastating knockouts in the octagon and entertaining actions in front of the cameras and media.
McGregor may be set for a deserved break away from the sport as he prepares to welcome his first born child, but anything he does during that time, no matter how insignificant, is met with widespread coverage nevertheless. Much like the presentation of Mayweather’s actions during his decorated career.
With Ronda Rousey set to return to the fold too, the UFC have another PPV juggernaut back in their ranks, as they continue to produce a host of action-packed cards in America and abroad.
The organisation are constantly pairing the best and highest ranked star against each other, therefore attracting so much attention from audiences who will undoubtedly tune into these must-see meetings.
In boxing, the process of getting the two biggest and best names in any specific division to collide seems a far greater struggle, with financial and contractual politics seemingly scuppering super fights regularly.
The most high-profile to fail to come to fruition is a much mooted clash between Gennady Golovkin and Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez. There’s an obvious case of less cooks make better broth in terms of the UFC, though, as they possess all their names under one roof, while boxing is littered with various organisations.
Power shift in 2017?
With McGregor currently flying the UFC flag high and also causing a stir by gaining a boxing license in California, the organisation have a modern day Ali to keep them flowing. Who in boxing can step up and undertake a similar role in 2017?
There are plenty of rising talents across each division in boxing and many more huge fights loom on the horizon.
Joshua’s meeting with Klitschko immediately stands out, while Canelo-GGG is one fans could finally witness in the coming months and Amir Khan against Kell Brook is a potentially brilliant British bout.
Frampton’s rematch with Santa Cruz, who is 6/5 to gain revenge and reclaim his featherweight strap, is another potential thriller, while Tony Bellew (4/1 to triumph) and David Haye (8/1 to win in first round) will square off in a true grudge match.
As long as the brash talking McGregor continues to dominate the headlines and help generate mammoth PPV numbers in each passing event he enters the octagon, boxing will be in danger of being left behind, but the latter sport possesses enough stars to pick itself off the canvas and battle on in what will be an intriguing 2017.
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