Boxing can take a lesson from mixed martial arts

Patrick Newell

It’s too bad boxing could not have more nights like last Saturday’s WBA welterweight championship in Las Vegas. Not only were two of the division’s best fighters paired, but arguably each fighter was perhaps among the top five or six pound-for-pound fighters in any division.
The challenger, Mexico’s own Antonio Margarito, outworked and wore down unbeaten champion Miguel Cotto winning by 11th-round stoppage. I stayed up late Saturday night following the blow-by-blow coverage on The aggressive styles of each fighter made for an instant classic, and by all accounts that I have read, it may end up as the fight of the year.
The problem with these types of fights is that it leaves you wanting for more. Unfortunately, the way boxing works today, you’re lucky if you get two or three marquee matchups a year. Promotors wrangling and arguing; contractual and money issues, and great fighters retiring, unretiring, and retiring (read Floyd Mayweather) conspire against the best facing the best.
I love the sport of boxing, but it has fallen so far from the mainstream that great fights only happen on pay-per-view – or pay channels such as HBO or Showtime.
My mother used to tell about my grandfather’s passion for boxing. He religiously tuned in to watch Friday Night Fights – on regular television no less. My grandfather was not unlike many dyed-in-the-wool boxing fans in the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, who were able to easily witness the greatest fighters of their day. And the greatest fighters of the day fought the other greats of the day. There was no confusion over sanctioning bodies and watered-down championship belts. The best faced the best on a regular basis.
As recently as the late 1970s and early 1980s, some of the best fights were still aired on cable television. I caught my first glimpse of the great Muhammad Ali in the mid-’70s fighting his nemesis Joe Frazier in the second bout of a thrilling trilogy. Ali won a close decision in a rematch of two eventual Hall of Famers. I saw Ali’s last victory as well – a 15-round decision over Leon Spinks, and I also witnessed the coming of age of Larry Holmes when he outpointed Ken Norton for the heavyweight title in 1978. What are the chances we would see a fight of that caliber today?
Cable viewers interested in fighting sports are turning to mixed martial arts. Why, you say? For one, great fight cards are put together at least once and sometimes twice a month; two, cable networks regularly broadcast those cards; and three, great fighters do not hem and haw, delay, and put off the opportunity to face another premier fighter. While it seems UFC is almost monopolizing the mixed martial arts game, the best thing to come out of it is that dream matchups are not the exception, they are the rule. It is that fact that has MMA on the rise, while boxing interest wanes.
Give us boxing fans more Margaritos versus Cottos, and that trend may change.