The debate between MMA and boxing has been raging for a long, long time. The reality is that there is room in the market for both sports to thrive. The majority of fight fans stick to one or the other while a minority crossover between the two. Despite that, the mere fact that UFC 103: Franklin vs. Belfort is airing the same night as Floyd Mayweather’s bout with Juan Manuel Marquez is still turning some heads. Here’s Steve Cofield giving his take on the situation, via Bloody Elbow:
September 19 is a big day for both boxing and MMA. Jim Lampley may be shaking in his boots. The HBO announcer has trashed MMA saying it will never compete with the biggest names in boxing. Well, it’s put up or shutup time as a Floyd Mayweather pay-per-view card in Las Vegas is pitted against UFC 103 in Dallas. According to Lampley, the biggest stars in boxing will eat the UFC alive.
Mayweather also calls himself the PPV king. One problem with that, the only huge numbers Mayweather has ever pulled on PPV came when his opponent brought millions to the table. Juan Manuel Marquez is not Oscar De La Hoya or Ricky Hatton.
The other problem boxing has had recently, as its seen its PPV numbers slip down to an average of 300,000-350,000 buys, has been the depth of the cards. Give Golden Boy credit it is trying to remedy the situation and actually give fans more than one fight for their $50. It’ll be announced today (in a conference call that just so happens to be going head-to-head with a UFC 102 call) that the card actually has three more quality fights. Chris John will rematch Rocky Juarez at lightweight. Michael Katsidis, who has the potential to be the new Arturo Gatti, faces 2004 U.S. Olympian Vincente Escobedo. And Zab Judah returns to battle Antonio Diaz. This card should be able to compete with a UFC card headed up by Dan Henderson Rich Franklin v. Vitor Belfort, shouldn’t it? Or has so much damage been done between the dead periods on the boxing schedule and the lousy undercards of the past that the Mayweather card won’t even compete with UFC 103 as far as sales go?
Cofield makes a lot of good points, but are the two cards actually competing with each other for viewers?
Sure, this is the first time that a major boxing pay-per-view is airing while a UFC event is being broadcast simultaneously. But for the shows to be competing with each other for viewers, there has to be a significant portion of the audience that would have watched both cards had they been shown on different nights. As of right now, we really can’t tell what percentage of the audience consists of these “crossover” fans. Any polls taken online are polls that are answered by the hardcore fans of each sport, which means we get inaccurate numbers if we’re talking about the entire audience.
The reason the buys of these two shows will be significant is because neither is a “super-fight” for either sport, meaning both are essentially on an equal playing field. Fights like Lesnar-Couture, Lesnar-Mir, and GSP-Penn have been some of the massive fights with broad appeal that we’ve seen in MMA in recent months. Boxing, on the other hand, has experienced a ton of success with Manny Pacquiao’s past two fights, and before that with 2007’s pair of Floyd Mayweather bouts.
So, why aren’t either of these fights “super-fights”? As for the UFC, Rich Franklin is a fan-favorite but has never been a bankable star on the level of guys like Liddell, Ortiz, Couture, or Lesnar. Vitor Belfort is fighting in his first UFC bout since the MMA boom of 2005 so he likely won’t be dragging in a large crop of additional viewers. While Franklin-Belfort is a dream fight for many hardcore fans that will surely do well from a financial perspective, it simply doesn’t have the hype of any of the aforementioned “super-fights.” As for the boxing pay-per-view, Mayweather headlined two of the highest drawing fights in the sport’s history only two years ago. The problem is, as Cofield points out, is that his opponent does not have the broad appeal Oscar De La Hoya and Ricky Hatton both had. People love superstars like Mayweather, but are usually only willing to pay for it if it’s a compelling match-up. Mayweather’s fight with Marquez is no doubt compelling from a sporting perspective, but it won’t reach the levels of his past two fights from a business perspective. Fans want to see “Money” step into the ring with Manny Pacquiao, which boggles my mind as to why that fight isn’t happening instead.
If a significant portion of the viewership is made up of these “crossover” fans, the UFC will no doubt win. The fact that the UFC’s lowest numbers over the past few months have been in the 600k range while HBO Boxing saw two shows in a row hover around the 200k-300k range (Calzaghe-Jones and Pavlik-Hopkins) says it all. There are more hardcore MMA fans willing to shell out money for a UFC pay-per-view than there are hardcore boxing fans. Boxing fans will come out of the woodwork for a true super-fight, but that’s something that Mayweather-Marquez is not. UFC fans, on the other hand, will tune in as long as there is an interesting main-event.
I expect both cards to do good business but in the end the UFC should walk out with the higher buyrate based on brand recognition and the fact that 103 will be following the trifecta of 100,101, and 102. If Floyd Mayweather’s return to the ring somehow winds up posting higher numbers, expect “Money” to rub it in the faces of all these drunken, bar brawling fighters, or whatever it is that he calls mixed martial artists.