UFC still miles behind boxing in popularity stakes
CAPE TOWN - For all the marketing speak, UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) is a poor country cousin compared to boxing.
And contrary to perception, most of it generated by UFC supporters, boxing globally, on all networks, consistently gets higher ratings than UFC. In most cases, the audience doubles the viewership of UFC and while UFC likes to sell ‘viewership’, boxing still sells ‘pay per view’.
Those defending UFC argue that it is a sport in its infancy, which it is, but boxing is certainly not a sport in decline, despite all the trash talk.
Boxing’s headline acts may come in cycles, but UFC’s biggest names can be named on one hand.
I am not talking about those who are said to be the ‘best of the best’ in UFC; my reference is to who commands a ‘pay-per-view’ audience, who dominates the media for the right reasons and who has a track record to back up the hype.
In boxing, you could name 20 individuals across several divisions.
The heavyweight division is crowing at the moment, and while Tyson Fury is knocking out the likes of Deontay Wilder and Andy Ruiz is stunning Anthony Joshua with the biggest of beatings, boxing will always get the print back pages and the top of any digital and social media sporting feed.
UFC has Ireland’s Conor McGregor, who is more renowned for the fights he has lost in UFC and boxing than the ones he has won. McGregor got schooled in a 10-round boxing embarrassment against Floyd Mayweather and was forced into submission in his biggest UFC fight against Khabib Nurmagomedov.
McGregor made four times his net worth for the boxing humiliation against Mayweather than he did in his entire professional career inside a cage.
The sporting media and sports supporters still want boxing before UFC. The pay-per-view audience wants boxing before UFC.
McGregor’s $30 million cage-fighting net worth wouldn’t even place him in the top 10 of boxing’s earners, past and present, with Bernard Hopkins the 10th highest net worth of any boxer with $40 million.
Mayweather’s fortune, as a boxer, has been quoted as $560 million and then there is a long list of boxers in tow before you get to any UFC fighter.
UFC promotes itself as the ‘fastest growing sport’ on the planet. Beach volleyball boasted a similar thing several years ago; so too powerboat racing … Take your pick.
People pay to watch boxing and people, pre-Covid, paid to be at the biggest boxing fights. Not so UFC because their biggest fights can be counted in single figures.
Business Insider, as of January 2020, lists Mayweather’s boxing fight against Manny Pacquiao in Las Vegas in May 2015 as the ‘Fight of the Century’, with the highest PPV buys of 4.6 million. It smashed revenue records in the US, making roughly $410 million in PPV sales alone.
Business Insider lists seven of the top-10 best-sellers as boxing matches, which included Mayweather’s victory against McGregor.
The highest ever ranking UFC event, 2.5 million buys for a fight, was between Nurmagomedov and McGregor in what proved to be a no contest as Nurmagomedov comfortably defeated McGregor.
Nurmagomedov, unbeaten in the sport, retired a month ago and his parting message was a desire to be acknowledged as the greatest fighter in the sport’s history.
He may well be, but what he never was, was the poster boy of the sport or a broadcaster’s dream. He can fight but he doesn’t sell the sport.
Compare him to the likes of Fury, Wilder and Joshua in boxing’s heavyweight division, just as one example.
UFC mates of mine rave about the brutality of the sport and the Bleacher Report made an argument of UFC over boxing because of submission holds, UFC fights being in a cage and not a ring, broader weight divisions, one premier world champion per division, less rounds and more time, not just punches and footwork, fairer officiating and the marketing sell that in UFC the best always fights the best.
Promoters of UFC dismiss boxing as a combat sport with limited appeal? Queue Fury versus Wilder.
For those trumpeting the UFC as the ultimate spectator sport, I’d refer them to YouTube for Ali v Frasier, Ali v Foreman, Duran v Leonard, Hagler v Hearns, Holyfield v Tyson – Tyson (in his prime) – and the list just keeps on going, from division to division and from decade to decade.
What does UFC offer but a retired Nurmagomedov, a spent Jon Jones, a puffed-up McGregor and Nigerian-born New Zealander Israel Adesanya.
Hell, even a 54-year-old washed up Mike Tyson has greater appeal for an eight-round exhibition fight against another ‘has-been’ in Roy Jones Junior.