Mike Freeman wrote in a recent article that this weekend's De La Hoya-Mayweather Jr. bout would be boxing's last stand, its last chance to hold off the "UFC barbarians at the gate." The thing is, he's right -- only not in the way he thinks.
The media blitz leading up to this fight is a sign of the times for boxing. A huge press tour filled with headline-grabbing antics and sound bites has proved only one thing: boxing is in a bad, bad way. But what Freeman doesn't understand is that mixed martial arts is not to blame for boxing's decline. Boxing is.
|If it's head-butting thugs you're looking for, boxing's your sport. (Getty Images)|
Not sure what he means by "hooliganism", but I can only assume it's something like the fracas that erupted during the Mayweather-Zab Judah bout that saw Mayweather Jr.'s uncle and trainer ejected and suspended. Never mind that this type of thing has never happened in the middle of a UFC bout, though it has happened numerous times in boxing's storied history (how is Andrew Golota these days, anyway?).
When Freeman writes that all MMA has done is "take a few former nightclub bouncers, knuckle crackers and parolees, put on some fancy TV graphics and told them, 'Kick the other guy in the nuts,'" I can only assume he's hoping to contrast some of boxing's upstanding citizens like Mike Tyson and Sonny Liston with such thuggish MMA fighters as former high school math teacher Rich Franklin, or Olympic silver-medalist IFL coach Matt Lindland.
The reason boxing is floundering now isn't because MMA has lured fans away with some shameless spectacle. Boxing is suffering because of its own mistakes, its own legacy of mismatches, corruption and underwhelming efforts.
I grew up with boxing and I still love it the way one loves a ne'er-do-well uncle. In all likelihood, I'll end up ordering the De La Hoya-Mayweather bout, just as I have ordered every UFC in recent memory.
But when this fight is over, where is boxing going to go? What happens next weekend, when MMA comes back with its weekly shows like The Ultimate Fighter and IFL Battleground? Boxing will be back where it was before this fight, with cards full of fighters few have ever heard of and even fewer care about.
Notice that when Freeman makes his case for this weekend's bout as the fight to save boxing, he doesn't mention any other match-up besides De La Hoya-Mayweather. It makes me wonder: Could he even name another fight on that card without looking it up first? Boxing has come to depend solely on the main event draw, putting all its hope into one fight at a time, just as it is doing now.
MMA, on the other hand, offers up fight cards full of exciting matchups. It's not at all uncommon to see more than one title go up for grabs on a single UFC pay-per-view, and even the undercard fighters are relatively well-known by fans of the sport.
But beyond the marketing side of things, MMA is successful because it is compelling to watch as a sport. Not only is it safer (there has never been a death or serious injury in a sanctioned MMA bout), but it requires a wider range of skill from its participants.
Those who think it's simply barbarism either a) have no concept of the intricacies of the ground game and how that affects every other aspect of a fight, or b) have never really watched much MMA.
I suspect Freeman falls more into the second category, which is a shame. Many boxing fans seem to feel such a loyalty to their sport that they can't watch an MMA event unless they're doing so to find something worth criticizing, something that will prove once and for all that boxing is superior.