Boxing and MMA is like oil and water|
Published by Staff on September 14th, 2008 in Current Events
By Zack Arnold
After having to reschedule their second MMA event from October 11th to January of 2009, Affliction promised the MMA public a breathtaking, earth-shattering announcement that would forever alter the course of the fight industry. This announcement would take place at a press conference featuring Ricky Hatton to hype up his next boxing fight. Rumors were abound that Affliction finally inked a partnership with Golden Boy Promotions.
So on Saturday night, we were treated to Hatton no-showing his own press conference (illness was used as the reason for the no-show) and Affliction announcing that they would promotion four fighting events with Golden Boy Promotions in 2009. The headline from this press conference on AP and other news agencies revolved around the fact that Oscar De La Hoya was finally getting into the MMA business.
The real headline, of course, is that Affliction is now abandoning their originaly MMA business model in hopes of promoting hybrid fight shows featuring both boxing and MMA matches.
What a lousy concept.
If recent history has taught us anything about the success UFC has had in the MMA industry, it’s that there is a real and legitimate crossover between MMA and professional wrestling fans. Pro-wrestling fans are more than willing to pay for an MMA PPV if someone like a Brock Lesnar is on the fight card. So, the MMA/wrestling connection is established as a successful marketing tool. Pivoting from MMA to boxing, however, is at best an unproven marketing method and predictably, at worst, a template for a complete marketing disaster. Unlike with the already established MMA/pro-wrestling connection, there isn’t much empirical evidence to show that boxing fans are also MMA fans and vice versa. The audiences for both PPV purchases and live events tends to be separate of each other. It makes a lot of sense. If I want to watch a boxing event, I’ll pay for a boxing PPV. If I want to watch MMA, I want a full card of MMA fights like UFC offers for $40 or $50. Why would I pay $50 for a fight card with two decent boxing matches and two decent MMA fights? It makes no sense.
However, desperate times call for desperate measures and the move by Affliction to work with Golden Boy on promoting mixed cards should not be comforting for MMA fans hoping for long-term competition against UFC in the marketplace.
Ask yourself this question… if Affliction’s debut show last July in Anaheim was as big of a financial success as being touted, do you really think that this MMA upstart would be so eager to complete change the philosophy of their company to a mixed fight format by their second show?
Boosters online of this new Affliction/Golden Boy mixed MMA/boxing concept tout the fight that it has worked before. Some of the faulty examples given include K-1 big show cards featuring a mixture of kickboxing and MMA fights. Of course, kickboxing is a different animal than boxing. Plus, the Japanese as an audience have completely different expectations and tastes than North American fight fans do. Recently, a promoter ran an event at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas featuring a mixed boxing/MMA card with the boxing matches airing on ESPN2’s “Friday Night Fights” telecast. The gimmick for that event revolved around free or discounted tickets given to fans, with the hopes of corporate sponsorship being able to finance the salaries for the fighters on the show. It worked, but only because it was on a lower level. Believe me, none of the fighters on that card were offered purses of $300,000 or more just to show up.
There are a lot of political questions that need to asked and answered regarding the new Affliction/Golden Boy partnership. First, will HBO be willing to support any of the mixed fighting events? If the answer is no, then that takes away a major power source away from Golden Boy. Second, why would HBO be willing to support Affliction when they were interested in working with the only pure MMA play in town, UFC? Third, how much risk is Golden Boy really dealing with here as far as working with Affliction (other than helping with the production costs involved in the shows)? Is the risk minimal or is it an all-in bet in the MMA market? Remember the last splashy name who promised to make a big play in the MMA business and instead is happy with a limited role… Mark Cuban. We certainly remember the breathless headlines months ago when Cuban and Floyd Mayweather Jr. had a meeting and ESPN was heavily pushing the idea of Mayweather Jr. fighting in MMA under the HDNet Fights banner.
If you’re reading this article, you’re more than likely a diehard MMA fan. Raise your hand if you are more interested in buying an Affliction MMA show because boxing fights are going to be added to the card. … I don’t envision too many fans raising their hands right now. Now, raise your hand if you are less interested in buying an Affliction MMA show with boxing fights on the card… I envision a smattering of hands going up. Now, raise your hand if Affliction adding boxing fights to their MMA cards doesn’t mean anything to you as a paying customer… now I see a majority of hands being raised there. Unlike pro-wrestling fans who are willing to make that pivot to MMA, you are not going to find too many boxing fans automatically making a natural pivot to MMA.
For the sake of argument, let’’s play along with those who are touting the Affliction/Golden Boy deal as a good thing for both companies. Let’s say we get our mixed boxing/MMA cards going and they draw some interest… what is more likely to happen, boxing fans being converted into MMA fans or MMA fans being converted into boxing fans? If you chose the former, you made the right call. Given that equation, why would Golden Boy want to get involved in an industry (MMA) that could hurt their core business (boxing) long-term? It’s a head-scratcher.
On paper, the announcement of Affliction and Golden Boy working together is supposed to provide positive shock value. It’s supposed to create the kind of buzz and excitement that would make MMA fans go, “Wow! UFC has real competition now!” Instead, Saturday’s announcement of four events featuring a mixed boxing/MMA format has produced a relatively muted reaction and a shrug of the shoulder from hardcore MMA fans who pay for every PPV, buy every MMA DVD, and read every MMA book published. If even the hardcores aren’t impressed with this new marketing strategy, then how do you expect the casual fight fan in North America to react?
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