Saturday night was a great night for mixed martial arts and the UFC. On a day where they went head-to-head with the biggest heavyweight boxing match in the last number of years, UFC 132 came away as the undisputed winner of the day.
While Klitschko-Haye fizzled, UFC 132 delivered fireworks. From the opening bout between newcomers Jeff Hougland and Donny Walker through the five round championship clash between Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber, this card was all kinds of excellent and a tremendous showcase of the greatness of this sport.
But let’s not for a minute think that Saturday’s event put MMA ahead of boxing in the combats sports pecking order. Did we win the day? Absolutely, but one day does not a total victory make.
Mixed martial arts is certainly making in-roads in the combats sports arena. It’s the choice among the young generation searching to fill their desire to watch fights, and nights like Saturday definitely keep closing the gap with boxing, but we’re nowhere near the point of overtaking “The Sweet Science” in the standings.
I know this might sound strange coming from a guy who writes for an MMA website and spends copious hours each week invested in the sport, but hear me out.
Instead of crowning ourselves the victors and thinking that we’ve overtaken boxing, we need to look at Saturday as a single battle in a war of attrition. We’ve been winning some smaller skirmishes over the last few years, and this was a very good victory, but there is still a long way to go.
Saturday night’s championship fight should be held up as an example of what is great about this sport, especially in comparison to our combat sport’s cousin.
While Klitschko-Haye took three years to put together and came up short in the ring, Cruz and Faber met eight months after the former featherweight champion made his debut as a bantamweight. Where the boxers put forth a tepid effort, the UFC dynamos delivered an electric affair that started out fast and stayed there throughout the duration of the bout. And this isn’t something new.
MMA has consistently defeated boxing when it comes to making the fights the fans want to see, and having the marquee match-ups deliver in spades. There was a raucous call for Georges St. Pierre to face Nick Diaz and the UFC made it happen. Meanwhile, Floyd Mayweather continues to fight plenty of opponents not named Manny Pacquiao.
That being said, mixed martial arts still hasn’t surpassed boxing in the standings. Not even close.
For one thing, there are no states where boxing is forbidden. If Mayweather and Pacquaio wanted to hook’em up in Madison Square Garden, they could, and the New York State government wouldn’t have any problem with it.
As an offshoot of that, you don’t hear people running boxing into the ground the way they do mixed martial arts. Even though we know many of those perceptions are based on archaic opinions of what the sport used to be, and not educated assessments of what the sport is today, there are still a whole lot of people out there who are very much opposed to MMA.
Though the mainstream media isn’t necessarily opposed to MMA, they’re also not flocking to the fights in droves and putting up highlights on SportsCenter; the exception being the odd massive knockout or kick that came from The Matrix. Conversely, boxing is still covered in earnest, even though the sport has been perceived to be in decline for a number of years.
HBO hasn’t come around offering to do a 24/7 series on any major UFC bouts as of yet. ESPN has yet to back an “Insert Day of the Week” Night Fights opportunity either.
MMA is still a mouthy teenager in the anthropomorphized view of combats sports; brash, young, too big for their britches. Boxing is your 93-year-old grandfather; established, respected, and held in high regard. Though there are some who are willing to get behind the cocky 17-year-old, embrace change and move forward into the future, there are still a great number of important people who are closer in age, thinking and understanding to your grandpa, and they want no part of his bratty grandson with is angry music and fighting in cages.
It sucks, but it’s the truth. Until that changes — until those decision makers who side with granddad move into the minority – boxing is going to retain its standing as the top-ranked combat sport.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t keep chipping away.
The UFC 132 should definitely be held up as a prime example of what is great about this sport. It showcased everything that is outstanding about MMA: a championship match made as soon as it made sense, fought with technical brilliance and without any of the bloodshed that makes critics cringe.
Boxing remains out in front, but MMA has been closing the gap for the past couple years, and took another big step forward Saturday night.
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