4 Things Boxing Can Learn From The UFC

>UFC welterweight champ Georges St-Pierre (left) will be in his hometown on Dec. 11 to fight Josh Koscheck. — AFP/Getty Images files" />

This is not a story about the death of boxing. Those reports are woefully exaggerated and usually the result of poor context. Even still, when it comes to marketing, presentation and having the pulse of sports fans, the UFC has a lot it can teach the sweet science.

Why? There's a lot of reasons. First, I think it helps that the UFC is run by younger guys, which helps exude a sense of youth where the four horsemen of boxing promotion, Dan Goossen, Bob Arum, Richard Schaefer and Lou DiBella often come off looking like mummies. There is a ton of smarts and staying power at the apex of boxing promoters, but in the coolness factor, there's no doubt that Dana White (who I think can be a total asshole sometimes) comes out looking like Zack Morris, while the others guys end up looking like Mr. Belding.

Second, in recent years boxing's long history has acted as a double-edged sword. On one side, the good one, the sport’s long history has afforded it a proper place of reverence and important reference points to gauge modern-day performances. This history, so intertwined with important moments of the larger society (e.g., Louis v. Schmeling II is arguably the single most significant sporting event of all time, as it was a prequel of sorts for the bloody meeting between the United States and Nazi Germany), is one key reason why George Foreman once said, “Boxing is the sport to which all other sports aspire.”

But since the vanishing of the great American heavyweights, it seems that boxing’s history has been used to cut down the sport. All too often sportswriters cry about the death of boxing because the sport isn't as popular as it was in the '20s, when at least as many people watched boxing as baseball, or in the '50s when every major city, and many small ones too, had weekly local fights that filled the memories of baby boomer’s childhoods. Boxing isn't like that anymore. But different doesn't mean dead.

Boxing still holds all but one of the top 10 all-time highest PPV sale records, with Floyd Mayweather and Oscar De La Hoya at the top with 2.5 million buys for their 2007 clash at the MGM. Boxing can still fill huge arenas — just take a look at Manny Pacquiao’s fight against Antonio Margarito at Cowboys Stadium. And when it comes to the largest growing demographic in the country, Latinos, the ties between Spanish-speaking countries and boxing remain strong and have carried over into the U.S. — just take a look at the throngs following Canelo Alvarez at a press conference and the 40,000 tickets he sold at the Alamodome. But despite these highs, boxing could do better.

Here are four things boxing could learn from the UFC.
ufc website

1. Make Your Website Look Sharp

If you’re not online, you don’t exist. That’s just the truth in today’s world. But that doesn’t mean all websites are created equal. Far from it. Websites should be accessible and give basic key information in an exciting and easily understood way. If you look at the UFC website, you’ll notice small icons with each fighter on the UFC roster easily viewable, alongside a win-loss record and a weight classification. The fighters are broken down by titleholders, weight classes and notoriety. Each fighter’s bio even comes along with a CompuBox-style breakdown of attempted/success takedowns, submissions and punches thrown. I watch a lot of MMA, and even I learned a lot just from a quick glance at the website.

The same can’t be said about the websites for the four major boxing promoters. Just take a look at the list of athletes represented by Lou DiBella. It’s just a boring list. No pictures — so you can’t tell these fighters from the homeless guy down the street. No weight classes. No mention of any titles. Basically, a novice to the sport is left with too many questions. Hardcore fans who know Sergio Martinez is represented by DiBella still lose out because as they navigate to Martinez’s bio, they lose the opportunity to put a face to a name of the many other fighters on the promoter’s roster. Overall, the website design is mediocre. It looks like a part-time employee designed it, not a pro.

2. Embracing Streaming Media

Boxing has gotten the hint that it needs to keep up with technology. Website (albeit less than ideal versions), check. Facebook, check. Twitter, check. But two areas where the sport needs work is on YouTube and other streaming services.

Leading up to Anderson Silva’s fight with Stephan Bonnar, the UFC released several of Silva’s full fights on YouTube. It was a great way for people who didn’t know how amazing it is to watch the Spider in action to get a sneak peek at the goods. Showtime showed many of Mayweather’s fights on CBS Sports leading up to his match with Robert Guerrero, but why not put them online? Along the same lines, more people need to follow Adrien Broner into the world of self-promotion via YouTube. His self-produced show, “About Billions,” is a great way to reach out to fans outside of the regular fight-promotion cycle.

The UFC Channel on Roku is also a huge step in the right direction. HBO and Showtime need to find a way to do something similar. One way or another, the promoters and the distributors need to realize that people want their content on the net. I know they’re afraid of illegal streaming, but guess what? It’s already happening. Don’t ignore it. Embrace it, and offer a smoother, better functioning service.

3. We Care About The Corners

Why is it that I can understand the coaches in the UFC during the fighters’ one-minute break between rounds but when the cameras turn to the coaches in boxing it sounds like the guys are talking through a paper bag? HBO/Showtime, hook up the coaches with mics or get better long-range ones. Fans like knowing what these world-class coaches are saying to push their athletes forward. Hearing a pep talk on a basketball court is somewhat of a joke to me. There isn’t much adversity compared to a person who’s tasted the canvas three times in the first round after being pummeled by a storm of punches (see Pacquiao v. Marquez I). There is drama that fans are missing because they can’t hear the dynamic of the relationship between fighter and trainer unfold.

4. Ring Girls Matter

Everyone who watches the UFC knows Arianny Celeste. The UFC has spent time and money building up the names of the ring girls it uses, especially Arianny. Why? These women have become part of the UFC brand. When Arianny goes on tours, does a signing or shoots pictures in a magazine, people think of the UFC. People look forward to seeing her at the fights. And it’s not just men she’s attracting. Arianny’s growing popularity has created an interest among women who hope to take her spot. The result is that more women are watching the UFC.

I'm not sure exactly when the ring girl went out of favor in boxing. There was a time when ring girls were shown on television. Now, unless you’re at the fight, you hardly know they exist. Boxing promoters, you should have a contest to find your next three ring girls. Once you have them, use them repeatedly. As the ring girls' recognition grows so will yours. Shoot a hot bikini calendar with your girls. We here at The Sports Fan Journal would definitely put them up in our offices, as would many others. Remember that people pay a lot of money to watch sporting events. While glitz and glam isn’t the driving force behind the fan base, it helps pull in new viewers, it catches the eyes of passersby and to be really honest, helps fans more easily forgive lackluster performances that eventually occur in any sport. In this generation, the spectacle of the sporting event must be sold right alongside the sport itself.

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