I attended a local hybrid event (MMA and Pro boxing) event in my home state of North Carolina this past weekend. Two 4 round boxing bouts started off the crowd that night. Before you read on and begin thinking mma vs boxing is my goal here, i must preface this with the following: i have been and always be a fan of the sweet science and of the purity of a battle of the fisticuffs. I am simply writing this article as an assessment of the boxing economic paradigm and its future implications when compared with its clear competition that is MMA.
The 4 round bouts were mirror images of one another. A hyped, relatively local fighter fought a fighter who had been brought in from out of town, and the favorites emerged unscathed. One fighter in particular, had I passed him on the street, I would have not known he'd even been in a pro boxing bout. Unlike in MMA where there is grappling etc, to emerge from 12 minutes of a sport where you can only hit/not get hit, is not something that I want to spend $30 or my evening with friends.
One thing I have noticed, and it might be coincidence, it might not be, but with the improvement of boxing PPV undercards, the counter programming of the UFC, and the super six tournament....i must assume at least some boxing promoters and the like have taken notice, and have taken a leave of absence from their more lackadaisical days of putting one star studded main event on with nobodies on the undercard. The quality of cards has changed. Whether or not this is a direct result, only those men with the megaphones who put on events can say.
Another impact I've noticed is the more often than not positive reaction of boxing fans to mma. I've noted an increasing positive response to clear boxing fans (by dress/shirts of boxers etc, by speaking to them in the crowd/backstage etc) when viewing mma live. I've had a number of self-admitted long time boxing fans admit that if nothing else, amateur MMA is exciting to watch simply b/c it typically ends quickly, in a number of ways, and knockouts are common. This steep learning curve for up and coming MMA fighters which leads to this finishing power of mma fights is a topic for another post on an MMA site; whereas anyone who has fought amateur boxing (myself included) will tell you that there is some minor effort to protect amateur boxers starting out in their first few fights and avoid the kind of 'mouthpeice gone airborne' knockouts I've seen at the majority of MMA cards i've witnessed live. At any rate, the response of clear MMA fans when viewing pro boxing bouts on such mma cards has not been as favorable. The fights are typically the record padding kind, often times involving a lot of clinching/hugging and lead to much restlessness of your mma fans in attendance (not that this is not on the minds of local gyms/promoters at the regional MMA level), however, a number of the fights ar ea complete toss up in terms of the winner.
This article is not about critiquing fans, but simply about the sport from a spectator and thus economic perspective. Boxing purists would be hard pressed to admit that the regional/local shows are all that entertaining other than for watching a prospect begin the ascent up the ranks...but now this is such a process mired in pitfalls and taking decades in the process, that there is little to no payoff in this hobby of watching young, upcoming fighters. The likelihood a fighter you see as a young pro will be one you see on HBO/Showtime/Versus or whatever dwindles with what feels like each show for which you purchase a ticket. I have been and always will be a boxing fan, but from a spectator perspective, were I to choose whether to spend $30 in a recession on a boxing card or an mma card, or even an mma/hybrid card, the money for my entertainment will go to the mma show.
In summary, I don't think boxing wants to or cares to lure hardcore MMA fans from their base, but from a casual fan perspective (which does help the sport: crossover appeal is the key to any sport's reaching mega popularity like DLHoya, Hatton in Britain, Chavez in Mexico) etc, boxing has to put on more entertaining fights to build a new generation of fans/followers/people willing to buy PPV/support the sport.
Tournaments, network television, PPV undercards, and chiefly the development of regional/local shows is the true grassroots lifeblood of the sport's future, ie: like the every month availability of live MMA i can see in North Carolina where it has not even been legal for 2 years.