Mixed marital arts (MMA) and boxing are two different sports, with decidedly different demographics and pricing dynamics. When I started covering boxing for various publications in 1992, eventually working my way into regular contributor gigs at ESPN, including working as their round-by-round scorer for a few fights, the flux and change of both business models alarmed me.
In a word, MMA started to resemble what boxing used to be in terms of volume and quality of matches-per-dollar, while the Sweet Science's rising issues, particularly with how pay-per-view (PPV) was utilized, became a serious red flag.
Saturday night was a further reminder of that.
After catching the excellent UFC on Fox 3 card that took place last night (Sat., May 5, 2012) in New Jersey, I filed my post-fight story with this site, and switched over to the Floyd Mayweather vs. Miguel Cotto bout on HBO PPV. I no longer cover boxing professionally, despite a love for the game stretching back to the late 70s, but check in periodically to monitor noteworthy events and bouts. After seeing the $69.95 price tag to order the HD version of the fight, I was reminded of how I fell out of love with the game and found MMA a far superior replacement.
That $69.95 price tag was a $10 bump from the previous maximum price, at least of any HD boxing match I've ordered, and frankly, was ridiculous. Mayweather vs. Cotto was a surprisingly decent fight, which, in assessing Mayweather's recent "competition," only implies that it was briefly competitive in spots and you got to see him have a taxing moment or two en route to winning a unanimous decision sweep on the scorecards. Fortunately, I've been around this block a time or two (I ordered every PPV from 2000-2007 that boxing offered, including the grim procession of John Ruiz events), and had numerous friends over to share in the costs.
With boxing's surging reliance on PPV to market its two megastars -- Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao -- and the plummeting fight quality and quantity of its once-venerable cable franchise, HBO, the boxing fan is increasingly faced with a dilution of quality offerings on cable TV, and is more often than not faced with the privilege of buying the chance to see Mayweather and Pacquiao perform against overwhelmed opponents, instead of seeing them in fights where the odds are anywhere close to 3-1 or less.
We need not go into the lengthy resume of Mayweather's previous PPV "fights" of late, which have largely consisted of dreadful affairs where the only real threat that develops is an argument with Larry Merchant in the post-bout interview.
Contrast that to Saturday night, where you got the following from the UFC on basic cable:
A title elimination bout between two elite lightweights (Nate Diaz vs. Jim Miller), two middleweight contenders in a bout with elite contender implications (Alan Belcher vs. Rousimar Palhares), two top-five welters (Johny Hendricks vs. Josh Koscheck) and a heavyweight brawl in Lavar Johnsonvs. Pat Barry. What's equally important is that the volume of the MMA card not only far outweighed the pricey boxing PPV, but it delivered excitement, thereby securing the loyalty of existing and potential future converts.
The Mayweather co-main consisted of the talented Saul Alvarez battering the aged Shane Mosley for 12 rounds, along with similar dubious match-ups on the undercard, including Jessie Vargas' ho-hum decision win over Steve Forbes, a competitive fossil foisted up precisely for the purposes of giving guys like Vargas a win over a "name" opponent on a big stage.
Odds-wise, the lines on a boxing undercard are rarely competitive, and their MMA equivalents would be Dana White foisting up a King of the Cage journeyman who once fought in the UFC, and putting him on a PPV card and telling you it was a fight you should buy.
Mayweather and Pacquiao continue to do the dance on why they want to fight each other but have specific reasons not to, while feasting on one another's leftovers, and/or continuing to offer up empty new plotlines. Pacquiao's latest iteration of a PPV "fight" is the willing but brutally overmatched Timothy Bradley, an undersized type with no punch whatsoever whose sole credentials for their June showdown is that it will be an overpriced ass-kicking, with Bradley supplying 100-percent of the ass. It's like a Ponzi scheme that ends only when people stop get suckered into it.
Meanwhile, guys like Diaz, ABelcher, and the rest of MMA's ever-matched-tough cadre of competitors continue to have relevant fights with real implications and a competitive tone. The fact that Saturday night showcased MMA's superior volume on basic cable compared to the overpriced scam of watching Mayweather perform against Someone Not Named Pacquiao only reinforced why MMA is growing and boxing continues to offer a questionable product for egregiously overpriced action.
Jason Probst can be reached at Jason@jasonprobst.com or at twitter.com/jasonprobst.