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Boxing Trumps MMA, And It's All In The Presentation

<em>Hail to the King</em> - via <a href=""></a>
Hail to the King - via

Veterans Weekend. In the UK we refer to it as Remembrance Weekend. And in the world of combat sports (or sports generally), Manny Pacquiao's drubbing of Antonio Margarito this past Saturday was the only event worth remembering.

Much has been said about MMA versus Boxing for several years, the argument of who would win in a fight being moot since the beginning. How each sport is sold or presented though shows the winner isn't as clear cut. A great number of factors has plagued Boxing for decades from corruption and greed to incompetence and negligence. Too many weight classes, too many titles, too many mismatches, too much padding of records while Boxers and their promoters holdout for arguably too much money only to produce too many lacklustre fights. We all know the score.

But when Boxing puts on an event and actually get it right, they really get it right. We often hear from Dana White how he takes from Boxing lessons on what not to do and how without doubt Boxing could learn from UFC events and matchmaking to improve their own sport, but Boxing has something that would benefit the UFC greatly in really elevating itself into the mainstream: class.

I'm not talking about the fighters, either. Fighters are going to vary with personality, some will be genuinely likeable people with a heart of gold, some are going to be complete anti-social headcases - in both Boxing and MMA. No, the class comes with how an event is treated.

Watching the Pacquaio vs Margarito fight and the build up during the night felt like a sporting competition of global cultural significance. It was treated with reverence and a legitimacy missing from the UFC, the top MMA promotion in the world. UFC by contrast feels more like a rock show. I like a good live music event but it caters to a very specific audience and its significance is often confined to that audience outside the rare monumental experience of a Woodstock or Live Aid. A sporting event presented as world class and important will often have more far reaching meaning.

Neither Pacquiao or Margarito looked like a walking billboard, their fight shorts clean of clutter and their names emboldened and emphasised on the beltline, and at most a subtle Nike symbol was the only addition to Pac Man's uniform. The noble red gloves versus the villainous black was also a nice touch.

They weren't without sponsored apparel prior to the fight starting, Margarito sporting presumably his own signature Affliction shirt, but it was pure sport by the time the first bell sounded. Obviously we keep being told the UFC's "Business Model" is different to Boxing which basically means fighters have to generate their own income more than relying on the discretionary bonuses of a temperamental, some times petulant sports President, but it would be nice to see the gap between both sports top purses close at a faster rate if it means our eyes can focus on the fighters more than random, distracting advertising emblems. Which do you think looks more professional and a reflection of a 'pure' sport?

The fighting enclosure of both sports offer pros and cons, and while I think the cage is best for an MMA contest and the Octagon in particular is a valuable icon for the sport while the ring's centre restarts that are often preceded by a tribe of Japanese officials acting as a human safety net is beyond irritating, the ring does afford better viewing not only for those in attendance but for those watching at home by virtue of more varied and better camera angles. The Octagon makes it difficult to film by comparison and cameramen have to walk the fine line of being in the right place to get a good shot while not obstructing the view of those who paid top dollar for floor seats.  

There isn't, however, anything stopping the UFC from investing in mechanically rigged cameras for overhead shots looking into the Octagon or longer zoom lenses from the back of arenas to offer slightly different angles of the fight, other than budget - or cheapness. With all the talk of "investing back into the sport", after giving us the mediocrity that was UFC 122 I'd rather the money go into updating the production. Ambient microphones embedded into corner posts to capture and accentuate the grunts, thuds and cracks of combative violence wired into the arena PA could make the live experience even more visceral and keep the crowd amped. A bit pro wrestling-esque, but a clever psychological ploy too. I would suggest investment into R&D for a more translucent alternative to the current cage mesh but that would be hoping for too much. Plexiglass has been suggested in the past but it is clearly too dangerous to be smashed into, not to mention the horrific imagery of blood spatters, or worse - squashed, discoloured sweaty flesh during an inevitable clinch-fest. A micro netting that offers the same tensile strength and non-abrasive texture for safe containment but is thin enough to trick the human eye into seeing beyond it is my best suggestion. It could also potentially stop the frowned upon fence grabbing if the holes are small enough.

Even the entrances for UFC could do with a facelift. I'm not talking full blown WWE theatrics, but compared to Pacquaio's and Margarito's entrances, UFC's often feel too stripped down by comparison. A separation from the crowd makes them stand out from the crowd and highlights their significance. Maybe some of the UFC's appeal is in how fighters can seem like they come 'from' the people which is why the entrance-ways are so narrow allowing fan interaction such as high fives (or hat thefts). Personally I think it's possible to elevate and separate  the fighters without alienating them from the fans and again it looks more professional. At least with the UFC though, the fighters only enter the Octagon and not the entire corner team and entourage like in Boxing. The only other man in the ring or cage at the beginning should be the referee.

Speaking of which, while Boxing referees look somewhat comical with their dated traditional shirt and dickie bow-tie, sharper uniforms would benefit referees on a UFC show. Keep the black gloves, but a smarter sleeveless shirt and slacks wouldn't go amiss. Currently they look a little too shabby to officiate a sporting contest.

Finally, I think the biggest thing I noticed Saturday night was the focus on the participants and not on the promoter. I think that's what makes Boxing done correctly a higher form of sport then UFC's MMA. UFC generally gives better bang for your buck, spreading the cost over multiple fights rather than solely banking on the main event surrounded by filler, but UFC fighters end up having to share the spotlight with Dana White. Instead of just a promoter selling his fighters and the event we have more of a ring master who has no problem whipping one of his attractions publicly when he feels they've underperformed. As long as White continues to act like P.T. Barnum he shouldn't be surprised the UFC doesn't get more favourable, mainstream media attention when they see it as a circus instead of a sport. One of the greatest contributions White could currently make is reigning himself back and allow the UFC to break out of the mould it's created for itself, or risk being suffocated by it.

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