I have written on a number of occasions as to why the UFC should move into the domain of boxing. Thankfully it seems my wish is soon to be realised. In the aftermath of UFC 236 Dana White was almost bursting at the seams to talk about what the UFC has planned for the future. Announcements on multiple fronts are imminent. Boxing is front and centre of the UFC’s expansion plans and the timing could not be better.
On December 1st 2018 Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury provided Heavyweight boxing with a mini-revival. A dramatic 12th round, Lazarus like, resurrection by Tyson Fury from the floor of the canvas marked the end of a highly absorbing contest. A contest that ended in a draw. While many thought Fury won the fight, the scorecards allowed both fighters to move on undefeated and opened up a range of future fight possibilities. One bigger than the next.
For my money there are 4 world class active Heavyweights across the various world organising bodies.
- Anthony Joshua
- Deontay Wilder
- Tyson Fury
- Dillion Whyte
Most people will be familiar with the first three but make no mistake Dillion Whyte would give any of them a run for their money.
Here we are 5 months after the Wilder vs Fury fight and the various promoters and TV companies have not been able to organise ONE fight between the top 4 fighters. What has happened since that fateful night in L.A. is symptomatic of what is wrong with professional boxing in general. Instead of consolidating the opportunity and immediately getting more fights of this standard made, the individual fighters and promotional vehicles have to varying degrees used it to consolidate their wealth.
Not alone are the fighters mostly signed with competing promotional companies, who are looking after their own interests( As well as their fighters) they are directly negotiating with TV/Streaming platforms for 8 and 9 figure fight deals. This adds an additional complication into the negotiating equation.
The fact that Jarrell Miller has massively failed a VADA drugs test so close to his fight with Joshua has inadvertently done boxing a favour. Joshua was only fighting this guy to help catapult his brand into the United States. DAZN are the streaming vehicle that Joshua is signed with in the States and they obviously want some return on Investment. So a fight in the US against an American opponent becomes priority number 1. Makes a certain amount of business sense I suppose but it makes no sense competitively.
For whatever reason, Eddie Hearn, Joshua’s promoter, couldn’t get a deal done with Wilder or Fury. The next named opponent should have been Dillion Whyte, he is the number 1 ranked fighter across two world governing bodies and had a huge win in December headlining a UK PPV card against Dereck Chisora.
So on top of being, competitively the correct match, he also draws a paying audience for his fights. It should have been a no-brainer to make this fight. In addition to this Dillion Whyte mostly fights with Eddie Hearn and Matchroom Boxing the same as Joshua.
However the big catch was that Whyte isn’t American and DAZN would have trouble selling this fight in the States and hosting this fight in the States. While Joshua can sell-out 80,000 seats in the UK he can not do anything like that number in the States without the correct dance partner. It’s all highly, highly, complicated and political and it is the reason why the UFC are going to murder the WBC, WBO, WBA and IBF world federations if they launch the UFC boxing product correctly. I have little doubt that they will.
Dana White is the greatest promoter in the history of Combat Sports and the UFC brand are now tied to ESPN the absolutely best Sports network in the world. I feel this combination is going to blow the current boxing hierarchy out of the water. I have little sympathy, the boxing Tsars have only themselves to blame.
The UFC has a number of things going for it but the biggest one is that the fighters are centrally contracted. No bullshit of dealing with differing promotional companies representing the fighters. No bullshit of negotiating with different TV companies. I would guess that if you box for the UFC your fights are on ESPN. Guaranteed. Full stop.
While many current UFC fighters grumble about their remunerations levels within the UFC it is a system that will work for the many rather than massively well for the few. For example most professional fighters on any undercard of the big boxing promotions are getting paid absolutely peanuts. Currently the UFC basement level payment for pro-fighters is about 8,000 dollars with a doubling win bonus system. 90% of professional boxers have never received 8 grand for a fight.
The other beautiful aspect of centrally contracted fighters is that they realistically cannot duck each other for long. The current situation with boxing’s Heavyweight division would never develop in the UFC. Dana White would call out the fighters and so too would the fans. There is nowhere to hide. I am not saying that the UFC doesn’t have organisational problems but it is a set-up that should work beautifully for the majority of contracted boxers.
The other factor that should also work in its favour is that the range of injuries potentially facing an MMA fighter are greater than a boxer. So in theory boxers should be able to fight slightly more often in this environment. This in turn will hopefully see the end to the obsession that the boxing community has about fighters maintaining a zero on their defeats column.
All in All, I do not see the UFC having problems signing professional boxers. However they do need to ensure they are signing boxers of a certain calibre. Credibility is key in the initial stages of this endeavour. The 2020 Olympics are around the corner so I would be looking at that fertile breeding ground as a source of UFC boxing stars of tomorrow.
The most coveted ranking in boxing is the Ring magazine fighter ratings and titles. It is quite bananas if you sit down to think about that fact for a moment. Fighters place more value on the title bestowed by a magazine than they do of any bestowed by the world organising bodies they represent.
Within 5 years the UFC will be the new Ring Magazine.