Sergio Martinez, Nonito Donaire, Andre Ward and Chad Dawson. All prizefighters of the sweet science that you probably have never heard of. However, each of these fighters have a legitimate claim as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world, according to boxing’s “Bible” and authoritative magazine, The Ring. As early as 30 years ago, these prizefighters of the sweet science would be household names and their bouts would be glowing from television screens across the country and around the world.
Today though, the landscape of the sport is much different. Over the past twenty years boxing’s popularity has taken a significant blow. While still popular on a global scale, for American’s much of the sports success has always been predicated on the talent pool of the heavyweight division. In histories past fighters such as Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Evander Holyfield and of course, Mike Tyson, were revered as modern day legends. So goes heavyweight division goes the popularity of the sport. For the first time of note, the United States is lacking the household heavyweight name and, as a result, boxing has been fighting off the ropes to prove it is still relevant in the American landscape of professional sports.
Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquaio aside, the sport doesn’t have a whole lot of notable names, at least to the casual boxing observer. But perhaps even greater than the absence of household names or legitimate American heavyweights is the addition of MMA as recognized form of professional combat sports. As recently as 25 years ago, MMA was thought of as merely an underground, back alley, no holds barred sideshow without any real legitimacy. Bouts were unsanctioned, had little to no rules or weight divisions and were heavily scrutinized. That changed when Dana White, the mastermind behind the modern day UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship), became the companies president, changed the UFC’s philosophy and created a vision of what a unified mixed martial arts promotional company could become by turning the sport into a legitimate powerhouse in sports and entertainment.
For the first time, fans that were once boxing diehards had a choice between what combat sport to support. With the lack of a defined heavyweight prospect in the United States, boxing had lost some of its reverence and appeared ready to finally be knocked out once and for all. Or was it? In 1974 Muhammad Ali who was thought to be in decline and on the downside of his career when he took on a young, strong and hungry champion in George Foreman in the “Rumble In The Jungle”, fought most of the fight off the ropes before scoring a career defining knockout in the 8th round using a style which he coined, the “Rope-a-Dope”. Just like Ali, boxing too has continued to fight off the ropes and perhaps we have underestimated the sports popularity against the recent rise of UFC/MMA.
As it does after every fight, the Nevada State Athletic Commission just released the live gate sales from this past weekend’s Floyd Mayweather-Miguel Cotto fight. The live gate sales observes the revenue created from tickets sold to the live event. This does not include sales generated through closed circuit television, Pay-Per-View or any other promotional contracts. For a sport thought to be fledging, the live fight attendance from Mayweather-Cotto was astounding. Ranking eight on the all-time highest grossing list, as it drew in over $12 million dollars. By comparison, MMA’s biggest live gate sales to date was the second fight between Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz back in 2006, which brought in a little less than $5.5 million dollars, less than half of the Mayweather-Cotto showdown and over $13 million less than the number 1 all-time gate record of $18.4 million set in 2007 by cash cows Mayweather and Oscar De la Hoya.
The commission only keeps record of the top 35 grossing live gates and in fact, MMA’s best live gate wouldn’t crack the top 35 boxing gates, with #35 coming in at $6.2 million for the fight between Larry Holmes and Gerry Cooney in 1982. While there is certainly room for both sports to succeed and thrive, the idea that boxing is all but dead seems like a mere fallacy when you compare the figures as they are a telling tale and do not lie.
You see, the sweet science has always been a sport dominated by a select few from each generation and while the sport doesn’t yet have a ton of household names, a young batch of up and comers led by the likes of such fighters as Andre Ward, Adrien Broner and Yuriorkis Gamboa, are primed and ready to take center stage when Pacquiao and Mayweather, two of the greatest to ever step foot inside of a ring, finally decide to hang up the gloves. Like every pugilist that has ever laced up a pair of gloves and stepped foot in the ring, boxing will not go quietly in to the night. It will come out swinging and ain’t goin’ down without a fight. Like a true champion, it may get knocked down but the sport has always managed to beat the count and comeback swinging…Besides, who doesn’t like a good underdog story?