Since the UFC began gaining significant popularity in the U.S. midway through the last decade, fight fans have taken sides – MMA or boxing. But UFC president Dana White says it shouldn’t have to be that way. He believes that a fight fan is a fight fan.
This Saturday, UFC will air on network television for the first time, a heavyweight championship bout on Fox between Cain Velasquez and Junior Dos Santos. Critics have complained that White was trying to sabotage Manny Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez III, which also airs on Saturday on HBO Pay Per View.
White, conversely, believes that he actually is helping the business prospects of the third bout between the two boxing rivals. He believes that fans tuning into the UFC heavyweight championship fight will have the appetites whetted, and thus will want to see more fighting.
With the UFC card scheduled to end around 10:00 p.m. ET and the Pacquiao-Marquez bout slated to go on at approximately 11:15 p.m. ET, fans will be able to watch both – and White hopes they will choose to do so.
“Last time we went on the same night that Floyd [Mayweather] fought [Sept. 17 against Victor Ortiz], we were on free TV, we did 1.8 million viewers that night,” White told RingTV.com. “Floyd did 1.3 million buys. I think that fans who know they can stay home and get a ton of great fights in the same night as Pacquiao (fights, will do so). Why would you not stay home and watch both fights? It makes all the sense in the world.”
Furthermore, White is confident that the sports can coexist, that fight fans are simply fight fans.
“There’s always this battle between boxing and the UFC. I think there’s a lot of problems with boxing, but it has nothing to do with the UFC,” White said. “They have their own problems, but the two can coexist. I believe there’s fight fans out there. There’s people who like just boxing and people who like just the UFC. But there’s a bigger segment of the population who are just fight fans. And fight fans wanna see great fights. “
White truly believes that UFC’s Fox network debut on Saturday will more interest for the big fight between Pacquiao and Marquez.
“When it first came out [that UFC was going the same night as Pacquiao-Marquez] people were saying ‘the UFC is going head-to-head with Pacquiao, it’s gonna do this and it’s gonna do that,’” White said. “It’s good for both of us. It’s good for Pacquiao and it’s good for us. I think more people will stay home on a Saturday night when they know that they can watch both. One is free and one is pay-per-view.”
White, a life-long boxing fan, has a lot of ideas on the struggles of boxing and solutions to its problems. In fact, when White formed the UFC, he took the best of the sport and made sure to stray away from the bad aspects.
Among the biggest problems in the sport, according to White, is the lack of quality fights on free-TV, which shrinks the fan base.
“With USA’s Tuesday Night Fights, every Tuesday night my ass was on the couch. I never missed that show,” White said. “The difference between boxing then and boxing now is on Tuesday night fights they used to put great fights on with all the up and coming guys. All the guys who became pay-per-view stars of the ‘90s. Once that pay-per-view model came, it went away, they didn’t put great fights on free-TV anymore. “
White says not to count boxing out, that the critics predicting boxing’s demise are wrong. But that it’s vital that some promoter step up and start investing in the future – similar to what White is doing in securing a deal with UFC on Fox.
Furthermore, a big problem with the sport is the dire straits of the U.S. amateur program, with the U.S. Olympic team churning out gold medals a thing of the distant past.
“People talk about boxing dying and going away (but) boxing’s going to be around for a while. They gotta get somebody in there who’s really going to start working towards securing the future,” White said. “The big problem that they have is the amateurs.
“When the United States amateur level was strong, you didn’t see European champions, the USA dominated boxing. USA and Mexico. You used to be able to watch the Olympic box-offs and a lot of the amateur fights on NBC. They’re gone. USA boxing used to run the amateurs. They’re gone. When you see a sport fall apart at the amateur level, that’s when you see problems for the future.”
Another problem of course is that the biggest fight in boxing still hasn’t been made, between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, as White stated “You have these two multi, multi millionaires jumping in there to do everything they can to avoid a fight”.
Yet another thing that ails the sport is that every boxer gets a set purse, regardless of whether they win or lose. White hated that about boxing and changed the system when he formed the UFC.
“You get this much to show, you get this much to win, and then I throw big bonus numbers out there for guys who go out there and deliver that night,” White said. “How is it any different than any other f______ job? The way that boxing has been for so long, guys get away with [mailing it in]. You don’t get away with that at the UFC. Your job is on the line, just like anybody else’s job.
When White was planning the UFC, he wanted to make sure to bring fun events for the fans, such as fan expos and lively weigh-ins. But more importantly, he wanted the atmospheres at fights to be electric, with no large gaps between fights – common place in boxing.
“I was one of those psycho boxing fans,” White said. “I would love to see the weigh-ins and if there was anything where fans were able to go to, I would try to go and I would love to. I remember how fun it was, to be that into something. It’s fun to be a fan of something, it’s fun to be into it. So what we try to do is to make it that fun. Our weigh-ins are fun and exciting.
“With boxing, you get there, they put on one fight, and then you sit around the arena for 20 minutes until the next fight goes. And then that fight happens and you wait. Our fights are non-stop. There’s video screens in there, there’s things going on, there’s music playing, it’s awesome energy from the minute you walk in the place till the minute you walk out. And people care about all our fights. The first fight that we put on of the night, the place is 75 % full. By the time we go live on TV, and there’s still five fights left, the place is jam-packed. “
The UFC president also realized that most fans don’t care about gaudy records – they just want to see real fighters. Hopefully boxing promoters will take note.
“All of the things that we do over here, I’ve learned from boxing,” White said. “What I liked and didn’t like. What I thought they did right and what I thought they did wrong. I didn’t know if I was right or not, but it was the way that I felt. I’m a fight fan just like everybody else. People don’t care if you’re 40-0 with 39 knockouts.
“What I realized and when I realized it was with Arturo Gatti. He kept getting HBO contract after HBO contract. It wasn’t like he was the world champion, but that dude fought every time he was on TV. He was exciting. And you would be jumping up and down in your living room screaming ‘Holy S___ he f______ came back and won this fight’. That was the day I realized this is what people want. People want guys that go out and lay it all on the line.”
If the president of the UFC learned from boxing, perhaps boxing promoters would be wise to examine UFC and to take the best aspects of the ever-growing sport – the live atmospheres, the emphasis on great fights, the prize fighting aspect of it. If they do, and start investing back in the sport, rather than being so concerned with how much money they can make on an event by event basis, boxing would be far better off.
Mike Coppinger is a regular boxing contributor to USA TODAY and THE RING. He is a member of THE RING Ratings Advisory Panel, the Yahoo Sports Boxing Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeCoppinger