By: Joe LaSala
I am, overall, a fight fan. But, over the past 10 years, MMA has become much more interesting to me than boxing. However, I grew up watching the great boxing Heavyweights of the 1990’s. I watched in awe as Mike Tyson tore through every fighter that they put in front of him; I watched Evander Holyfield become one of the first guys to come up from Cruiserweight to Heavyweight and prove that speed can (sometimes) conquer size and power in his epic battles with fighters like Riddick Bowe, Lennox Lewis, and Michael Moorer; and I watched a 45-year-old George Foreman defy the odds and become champion an astounding 18 years after he last held a title. These days are long gone.
While boxing still does and will always have appeal, the sport suffers from a very glaring flaw and has for a very long time. There is very rarely an opportunity to distinguish who is the best of the best. Every weight class, of which there are too many, has Regional Champions, National Champions and World Champions. Even when you reach the World Champion level, there are, at the least, four separate titles that can be held, none of which can be distinguished from the other and none of which can be considered “the best” at any specific time. For example, take a look at how confusing the current heavyweight title picture looks. Deontay Wilder is the WBC Champion, Anthony Joshua is the IBF Champion, Joseph Parker is the WBO Champion and Tyson Fury is both The Ring and Lineal Champion. All of these fighters are undefeated, all are champions, yet we have no idea who has the best claim to Champion of the World. Joseph Parker has an upcoming title defense against an undefeated Hughie Fury. Hypothetically, if Fury were to win, we are no closer to distinguishing who is the best. I would say we would even now be farther away.
This is the beauty of MMA and, more specifically, the UFC. While there are undoubtedly great MMA fighters that fight outside of the UFC, they are, by far, the best show in town. They only have eight weight classes for men, as opposed to 17 for boxing, and they have one champion for each weight class. If a champion cannot defend for an extended period, they will have an interim championship fight, the winner of which will eventually fight the true champion or get promoted, both of which result in there once again being one true Champion of the World.
Having one true champion allows the casual fan to follow MMA. Just try and explain the boxing Heavyweight title picture, as I described above, to someone who has lost interest in the sport. It will definitely not reinvigorate their interest. However, you can easily explain who is the UFC champion in a few sentences.
I personally come from a wrestling background, so maybe I am biased. But I cannot help but think that boxing would be much better off if they took a page out of the UFC’s handbook. While I think that boxing can probably regain the popularity that they used to have without getting rid of any weight classes, I still think that there is no doubt that making a clearer title picture would not only prevent the loss of fans, but also give the current fans more of a reason to watch. Not to mention it would give the casual fan more of a reason to come back and check out that HBO boxing match, or order that Pay-Per-View.
Boxing and MMA are different sports and amazing sports and there is no reason why they cannot coexist with boxing regaining its popularity while MMA continues to grow. People do not want to have to analyze and guess which title is the best title. There are not three different types of Super Bowl Champions or four different Stanley Cup winners or three different types of UFC titles. Fans want a number 1, and that is what boxing needs to give them.