Why Mixed Martial Arts has superseded boxing in Australia
At the post-fight press conference for UFC 127 on Sunday afternoon, UFC Marketing Director of International Development, Marshall Zelaznik announced the event’s attendance as 18,186 fans for a 3.5 million dollar gate.
The event – held at Sydney’s Acer Arena – sold out in just half an hour while last year’s UFC 110 sold out in two hours for an attendance of 17,831 and a gate of 2.5 million dollars.
At the pre-fight press conference last Wednesday at the Star City Casino, Zelaznik spoke about the developments he has noticed between this year and last year.
“I think the difference between this year and last year is we are seeing much more media uptake and that is very important for us because that changes everyone’s opinions when the proper media starts to cover the sport, so we love that.
“Obviously we sold out very quickly with the first event but this event sold out even quicker. You get the sense that there is almost an insatiable appetite with our fan base here and the prospect of us doing more than one event here a year is very real.”
This “insatiable appetite” of Australia’s Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fans coupled with the farcical nature of Australian boxing has led to what I perceive as not so much a changing of the guard in terms of what is Australia’s premiere combat sport but rather a coup.
Apart from the Danny Green and Roy Jones Jr. bout in late 2009, which also filled out the Acer Arena, and was a great success for Green, there has been nothing in terms of interesting bouts for years in Australian boxing.
The Australian media and public primarily focus on Anthony Mundine when it comes to boxing, who repays the notoriety by headlining shoddy cards against no-hopers.
Fans are expected to pay fifty plus dollars to watch Mundine keep his name alive by squeaking past fighters far inferior to him. This would be okay if the undercards of these events were used to showcase Australia’s up and coming boxing talent but those positions are instead given to ex-Rugby League players who look to trade sloppy punches with random Polynesian taxi drivers.
Australia’s premiere boxing talents, such as Vic Darchinyan and Michael Katsidis earn their living overseas and have little to no name recognition back home due to the media’s obsession with Anthony Mundine and Danny Green.
Australian boxing finally jumped the shark in December of last year when one of Mundine’s handpicked opponents, ex-Rugby League player and the winner of Australia’s Contender series, Garth Wood knocked Mundine out in an ugly bout.
While it’s pointless to compare the skill sets between boxing and MMA as they are two entirely different sports, you can definitely compare their approaches to promotion and production.
Mixed Martial Arts or more specifically the UFC are much more fan-friendly when it comes to putting together events. Instead of the one marquee bout and series of record padding undercard bouts that are traditional on boxing cards, the UFC provides highly competitive and relevant match-ups the whole way down the card.
The fact that the match-ups in the UFC are decided solely by the UFC management and not by individual promoters, like in boxing, means that the fights that the fans want to see are made. You just have to look at the song and dance routine that went into trying to get the fight between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao made in boxing as proof of the merits of the UFC system.
This UFC model has led to the company superseding boxing as the pay-per-view king in the United States.
It’s true that fights featuring Pacquiao and Mayweather garner more attention and pay-per-view buys than the biggest UFC events but there are no more than, at best, 3-4 of those a year while the UFC provides a consistently great product which garners a consistently high level of pay-per-view buys that far excel boxing’s yearly return.
The overwhelming and growing response by fight fans to the UFC’s first two trips down under shows that the appetite for the sport down here is, as Zelaznik puts it, “insatiable”, while the most Australian boxing has to offer for early 2011 is a Mundine/Wood rematch.
It may not be the most popular opinion in Australia right now, but years of mistreating Australian fight fans with weak match-ups and weaker fight cards has left Australian boxing weak and on its last legs.
Mixed Martial Arts is new, ambitious and fan-friendly and has arrived down under to deliver the final blow.