Reason number one that I put up coverage of mixed martial arts, 99% from the UFC, is because I am a fan of fights. And I figure you guys are too, so even if it isnt your cup of tea, if the science involved is lost on you, or you have latent issues that pop up when you see two guys grappling, you give me a pass that MMA isnt boxing.
The second reason I cover MMA is because I like to compare and contrast the sport with boxing, particularly from a business-side perspective.
MMA is the fastest growing sport in the world, maybe the fastest-growing sport weve ever seen. The UFC is worth two billion dollars, is reaching its tentacles into China and India and twenty other nations, and when kids ponder signing up to learn a fighting art, boxing comes in a distant second, after MMA. The pipeline of fighters, in other words, is quite likely going to be strong for the next century. If you are a fightwriter, it does make sense to keep up with the Kardashians, rather than concentrating solely on Paris Hilton, whose star is dimming….
When comparing the two sports, it seems like they, and to a large extent I mean UFC boss Dana White when I say they, do so much right, and sometimes it seems like the major players in the boxing industry do so much wrong.
One of the things he does right is one of Whites traits I most enjoy—his candor.
Maybe its because his is basically the only game in town, because the UFC is the MLB, and everything else is the minors, so Whites power is so immense that he can act the way he wants to act, and doesnt have to fear repercussions. If one of the fights on a card stinks, White will say so. Even if the stinker is turned in by one of his top three attractions, as when Anderson Silva preened and postured and made something of a mockery of the sport at UFC 112, against Demian Maia in April. White ripped Silva a new orifice after that display, and threatened to cut the man. He didnt do so, and it seemed like the message got through to the Brazilian 185 pounder, the UFCs middleweight champ.
I spoke to White on Monday morning (see ESPN piece here: sports.espn.go.com/extra/mma/news/story) and he again mentioned the possibility of cutting a well known veteran, the former heavyweight champion Frank Mir, who, save for a last minute knee-from-hell which dropped foe Mirko Cro Cop, looked like he was getting in some work at the gym during the main event of UFC 119 in Indianapolis on saturday night.
Would he consider cutting Mir, I asked him?
Sure, he said, without a second of hesitation.
Not so in boxing. Imagine Bob Arum, Richard Schaefer or Don King being so disgusted after a poor PPV showing that they publicly threatened to dump the headliner. Now, before you jump in with a comment telling me that I am comparing apples and oranges, let me state that we are somewhat comparing apples and oranges. White and UFC are MMA, while boxing is comprised of a load of free agents, jockeying and shoving each other to gain better position. So if Schaefer told the media after Shane Mosleys last fight that he though SSM had seen better days, and a few days later Schaefer cut him loose, the day after, another promoter would take Shane on, because hes still bankable. Whites sole interest is the sport, because UFC is the sport. Because 95% of the top athletes in MMA are working for him, he can toss one overboard if hes not living up to expectations, and his bottom line wont tank.
Now, does anyone really believe that White would cut Silva, one of the five best mixed martial artists on the planet? Not really…But hes just enough of a loose cannon to do it, so Id bet Silva and his people took the threat seriously enough for it to sink in.
Some of you out there might be saying to yourself, Thats cold. These dudes put their lives on the line, and when they have an off night, their boss kicks them to the curb.
I put forth that line of thinking to White, and he blasted me.
If you stunk out the joint at your work, Woods, your boss wouldnt hesitate to toss you to the sharks, White pointed out.
True enough. But mine isnt a life or death position.
Neither is being a fighter in the UFC, White told me.
I was blown away by that stance, I admit. And then I thought about it, how many fatalities have we seen in UFC? Zero.
How many fatalities has the oil services industries suffered this year? OK, so the UFC is a smaller sample. But the athletes are living, for the most part, their dream and being compensated quite well.
Most of these guys have a better education than I do, Woodsy, White told me. These arent dummies. These arent guys from Mean Street, USA. Theyve chosen to be athletes. And theyre very well paid to do it. (White has drawn heat before for having a top heavy pay scale, but has righted that perception in recent years, for the most part, by pointing out that his lower card guys can hit a lotto ticket if they win Fight of the Night, Knockout of the Night, or Submission of the Night honors. That will net a guy whos making $15,000 a cool $70,000. ) If you get canned, Woods, see how many guys on the Internet stick up for you.
Er, good point sir. I think Deepwater would toss a party, and put up a Woods pinata!
So, will White cut Frank Mir? I highly doubt it. But just the message alone should be enough. Im guessing the 31-year-old heavyweight, who owns more than solid jiu-jitsu and boxing skills, comes out like a first-timer wanting to impress the badass baldy from Boston in his next Octagon outing.
The way White has built the UFC empire has impressed the hell out of me, Im not afraid to admit. A while back, irked with another crap pay per view, featuring two faded veterans in a dreary waltz, I messaged White.
Would you ever come into boxing, and do your thing here? I asked him.
No way, he answered. Ive loved the sport, and I respect a lot of the guys, but its dead.
I didnt agree, and told him so. If Pacquiao and Mayweather were to ever fight, the gross will be immense, bigger than Latvias GDP. That aint dead. But that also aint a certainty. After Pacquiao and Mayweather, who is the third best pound for pounder on the planet? It may well be Paul Williams or Sergio Martinez, who glove up Nov. 20 in Atlantic City. Both those guys could get inserted in a police lineup, and make it through without being outed as a celeb.
Bottom line, Id like to see boxings bigs study the White playbook, and steal from his pages a bit more. The big boxing shows still sadly lack in oomph, in zest, in mood, compared to Whites shows. The boxing PPVs are still a hit and more often miss affairs, and fans and media are told that they are to be dining on Kobe beef, with stellar undercards, and then are fed sliders, with prospects put in against faded vets who peaked five or ten years before. What about some of those cash bonuses to charge up the boys? It takes money to make money, boxing brigade…
White isnt immune to falling into promoter-speak; he was a canny carny selling the James Toney debacle. But hell toss political correctness through a plate glass window, and speak up if he thinks a fighter got screwed by the judges, even if the fighter is one of his A gamers. Many dont care for his X-rated delivery, but all have to concede he just about always delivers the money shot for the fans, and hell spew one-tenth the color-by-numbers hype along the way.
Ok, so the way the sports are set up means boxing will have trouble employing many of Whites ways. But while just about everything he does builds his brand, builds up MMA, even if he risks a short term loss (remember when he tossed the potential next big thing Brock Lesnar in against the vaaastyly more experienced Mir in 2008, and Mir knee-barred the ex WWE stud?), too often it is every man for himself in boxing. Too many power players are looking to grow revenue, with the zeal and conscience of a Goldman Sachs trader, and they are letting the brand rust.
The message to the boxing powers that be: handle your business more like White, respect the brand as a whole more, cut down on the BS hype and speak from the heart and gut more, and offer us more pick em scraps. This sport aint dead, and it aint dying. But it is graying, and we can halt the process by borrowing from the guy who has built an immense empire in no time flat.
SPEEDBAG I wrote about my chat with White for ESPN, but only had limited space, so I wanted to delve into other stuff he touched on here, if you dont mind.
—While White had not much good to say about Frank Mir, he didnt grace his foe Mirko Cro Cop with another hole. Cro Cop took the fight late, after Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira pulled out with an injury, and then the Croatian was himself injured. His eye was poked in a sparring session and it was feared hed be scratched. But a doc cleared him, and he went on with the bout. I have a lot of respect for him, White said of the 36-year-old MMAer who once was known for his lethal kicking game. He showed up to fight, with a poked eye. Im sure it wasnt feeling great. But will we see him again in the UFC? I need to talk to Cro Cop.
—White told TSS that indeed Mir didnt quite realize how badly his fight came off, but was quickly clued in by ace matchmaker Joe Silva, who he is tight with.
—White was more than a bit miffed at the fan reaction to the show. The main event and the cruddy decision in the Sean Sherk-Evan Dunham bout may have kept people from soaking in the good stuff, like the superior batch of prelims, and the top drawer Sherk-Dunham tussle, he said. It pissed me off, the overall event was solid. There were great fights on that card.
—White thinks fans who Tweeted him that they thought Sherk won the bout should have their license to Tweet taken away.
–White was impressed, as where we all, except for maybe some members of Team Serra who say him getting lumped up by Chris Lytle right hands from the first round on, that Matt Serra chose to bang against banger Lytle, instead of deadening the pace with methodical jiu jitsu. Of course, he virtually ceded his chances of winning, but wanted to give the fans their moneys worth. I love and respect Matt Serra, White said.
—White said Dunhams stock rose in the loss. I told everyone, if he wins, everyone will know who he is Monday. I think he gained more fans with the BS loss. Fighting through a cut, check, a sickening slice, on his eye had everyone in Indiana bowing down to Dunham.