Opinion

What boxing can learn from UFC 244

After UFC 244 causes a delay to the boxing in Las Vegas out of a fear it would steal the attention from Canelo-Kovalev, it's time to ask some serious questions

LAST night, the UFC staged arguably their biggest fight card of 2019 with UFC 244 when Jorge Masvidal stopped Nate Diaz on cuts at a sold out Madison Square Garden in New York.

Between them, Diaz and Masvidal now have 25 career defeats (12 for Diaz, 13 for Masvidal). In boxing, two fighters with that many defeats headlining a flagship card is unheard of. In fact, it’s impossible – and that’s why boxing, as a sport, must learn from this latest UFC milestone.

Not only was this one of the UFC’s coveted pay-per-view slots for the year, it was just the fourth time the company has staged a show at the iconic Garden, and it marked their 500th ever event – they weren’t just handing any old show to Diaz and Masvidal.

There was no official UFC title on the line; instead, the UFC created a one-off BMF (Baddest Motherf*****) title, a term coined by Diaz. This was a huge, huge show; Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson presented Masvidal with the belt after the fight while Roberto Duran himself sat cageside (so too did the President of the United States).

Over in Las Vegas, Canelo Alvarez and Sergey Kovalev were left waiting backstage at the MGM Grand an extraordinary amount of time before the UFC event wrapped up, so as to avoid a broadcast clash for their light-heavyweight fight. The event-runners even showed the UFC main event live on the big screens in the arena to entertain the restless crowd.

THE END: But Canelo and Kovalev were made to wait

While the UFC 244 undercard was very decent, this was a show predominantly sold on its main event which, in turn, was a fight not sold on records, but on the narrative surrounding its two protagonists.

Masvidal, a UFC veteran, was coming off of two back-to-back upset wins; a knockout of Liverpool’s Darren Till, which preceded the obliteration of then unbeaten Ben Askren in five seconds, the fastest knockout in UFC history.

Diaz, also a stalwart of the UFC, had only fought once in three years prior to this – an enthralling win over highly-ranked Anthony Pettis – but with a cult following and the baggage of record-breaking fights with Conor McGregor in 2016, the Californian is also a huge name in mixed martial arts.

After that win over Pettis, Diaz respectfully called out Masvidal and the MMA world suddenly demanded a fight that would’ve barely moved the needle 12 months prior. That the UFC was able to capitalise on this so successfully is testament to how nimble the organisation remains, despite its growing size. Therein lies another lesson for boxing, a sport notoriously slow on the uptake. 

This wasn’t even a fight sold on a rivalry, genuine or manufactured. Diaz and Masvidal have enormous respect for one another and made that very clear in the build-up. Fans embraced this fight because Diaz and Masvidal have both taken their licks, they’ve tasted defeat, but they’ve never succumbed to it. Time and again they’ve defied the odds, revitalised their careers and consistently taken on the toughest challenges.

Unbeaten records count for nothing in UFC so why are they so important in boxing?
WELL-MATCHED: And, in the UFC, that’s all that matters [Sarah Stier/USA Today]

Their exciting styles – predicated on toughness and aggression – make them must-watch. Records have nothing to do with it.

This isn’t an exception to the rule for the UFC, either. The vast majority of their top fighters all have at least one loss; many have several. Just look at McGregor – he’s lost four times (twice before even entering the UFC), but is easily the biggest star the UFC has ever seen.

Their broadcasts and promotion put little emphasis on records, as well. Instead, they contextualise fights with the respective rankings of their combatants, and as they walk to the octagon, infographics with key stats from their career are displayed. Not only does this paint a more detailed picture of a fight, it also helps the uninitiated quickly understand who’s fighting and what’s at stake. 

Fans, media, promoters and broadcasters alike accept that losses in the UFC come with the territory; by no means do they define a fighter’s worth. The main reason for this is that, in theory, the best have to fight the best. They’re all under one banner, and in each division they’re all gunning for just one belt.

For boxing to replicate that the sport would need a complete overhaul, which isn’t happening anytime soon. What is more realistic is a shift in attitude. Since Floyd Mayweather turned his ‘0’ into one of the greatest marketing tools the sport’s ever seen, there’s been a purveying obsession with undefeated records that now needs to be dismantled. Floyd is gone, and should be regarded as the exception, rather than the rule.

Dereck Chisora
ATTRACTION: Chisora remains popular despite imperfect record [Action Images]

Prior to David Price’s fight with Derek Chisora in London last week, a prominent US journalist aired his confusion around the Liverpudlian’s popularity among UK fans despite the amount of losses he’s suffered. This is a perfect example of missing the point; Price – and Chisora for that matter – remain draws because when they’re fighting, it’s very hard to look away. Whether they’re winning or losing, they never shy away from a fight and they’re always good value. It didn’t matter that they had 15 losses between them heading into it; they were a worthy chief-support to a PPV card here in the UK.

Topping that bill was Josh Taylor’s thrilling super-lightweight unification with over Regis Prograis. It was the American’s first pro defeat, but it should enhance his reputation and earning power, rather than detract from it.

Not only was he one half of arguably the best fight of the year, he also displayed class and charisma all through the build-up and in defeat. He has a fascinating life story, is a great talker and most importantly can fight like hell. Broadcasters should be falling over themselves to snap him up.

This isn’t pie-in-the-sky stuff, but nor is it an overnight fix. If fans continue to throw their support (and money) behind defeated fighters who continue to strive for success, eventually it’ll make business sense for promoters and broadcasters to look beyond records.

1 Comment

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  • George really understands boxing and in this article displays outstanding wisdom that broadcasters should pay attention to. Heck, the UFC has recognized this years ago. Boxing is about real fights and not manufactured wins. Thank you, George, for bringing this to the spotlight. As a 45 year veteran promoter, agent etc I give kudos to your words of wisdom.

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