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ESPN laments boxing’s future with no union while praising UFC (with no union)

By Zach Arnold | September 11, 2013

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It’s fight week for a big boxing bout and you know what that means… really awkard media banter about boxing’s future, boxing vs. MMA, and boxing fans going after MMA fans online because Floyd is making a lot of money.

I don’t know how or why it came to this, but it has.

1.5 million PPV buys. 2 million PPV buys. Whatever the number is, it will easily eclipse anything UFC has presented this year. So, why the rush to bury the fight? Mayweather is edging towards 3-to-1 status, which is closer than previous contests he has had. Certainly moreso than the fight with Robert Guerrero. Chris Mannix, the Sports Illustrated & NBC Sports Network guy who hinted that there could have been a fix in the Anderson Silva/Chris Weidman fight, says that hyperbole has run amuck for Canelo Alvarez. Floyd Mayweather Sr. says that Canelo is not as good as Cotto. Not sure why that made headlines, but it did. Here’s a Deadspin article on the making of the Canelo myth.

And then there’s the whole “boxing is dying” meme that Floyd Mayweather addressed recently.

Unfortunately, Oscar De La Hoya won’t be at Saturday’s fight because of going back to rehab and that’s generating buzz. The Nevada State Athletic Commission will make an estimated $1.25 million dollars from the fight, but Keith Kizer’s too busy to celebrate that benchmark because he’s on the media warpath against Georges St. Pierre over drug testing due to his pathological hatred of Margaret Goodman. More on that debacle from Brent Brookhouse & Matt Roth. Promoters foot the bill for drug testing in Nevada for events.

USA Today published an article stating that boxing isn’t dying and that Money Mayweather will make $19,000 a second. Michael Wilbon, the elder statesman of blowhards on ESPN, continues to say that boxing is dying. Tony Kornheiser continues to use lingo that fights are happening on barges.

Al Bernstein, who used to work at ESPN, has had enough of the “boxing is dying” meme on ESPN platforms.

“You can’t create a narrative that boxing is dying when the sport is producing great fight after great fight, drawing great numbers,” Bernstein said. “You can’t just create that narrative because you want to create it. It’s lazy, stupid journalism. … It’s endemic now in the ESPN system to create a narrative and push it forward.”

In response to Bernstein’s remark, ESPN sent their Embrace Debate squad to defend the network. The omnipresent overlord of verbosity, Stephen A. Smith, fired back at Bernstein this morning on ESPN2 (audio here).

Smith stated that boxing is not dying globally but is stagnant in America, the country hosting the Mayweather/Canelo fight. SAS said that boxing has allowed three promoters to dominant the sport and “eradicate it from the American conscience.” He ripped into sanctioning bodies, Don King, Bob Arum, Lou DiBella, and Golden Boy.

“Look at the advent of the UFC with Dana White” and said that it was a reflection of boxing’s decline in the States. He claimed that Dana White can make a fight at any time that the fans want to see, something which doesn’t always happen in boxing. More on this claim in a minute when we address an ESPN poll of MMA fighters.

Skip Bayless chimed in and said that all boxing has for a mega-headliner is Floyd Mayweather.

“Why have so many kids, let’s say over (the last) 20 years, turned to football and basketball and ignored the sport of boxing?” He said that boxing used to be “the quickest way to become a multi-millionaire.” Bayless argues that the public has seen the effects of Dementia pugilistica and don’t want to get involved in boxing.

SAS countered by stating that a lot of young kids don’t want to get into boxing because there is no “representation” and that not everyone is as smart or well-connected as you need to be like Floyd Mayweather or Oscar De La Hoya to survive in the boxing industry. He praised Mayweather for controlling his own brand and that all other fighters should admire him. Smith further stated that Mayweather had every right to ask for a higher purse split than Manny Pacquiao when they were negotiating to fight.

“This dude is the one cutting the checks.”

ESPN’s mysterious poll of 38 MMA fighters

Which brings us to a new poll released by ESPN yesterday where 38 MMA fighters were anonymously polled on a variety of subjects. The results are interesting on various levels.

The fact that staph infections aren’t the #1 concern amongst fighters in terms of safety issues, even labeled as “the grossest thing you deal with,” is alarming.

Only 2 out of 38 fighters think that Fallon Fox should be allowed to fight UFC female fighters. The overwhelming conventional wisdom amongst MMA fighters is anti-transgender in terms of allowing transgenders to fight female fighters. As one respected official put it, “Would you allow a man to beat on your daughter in the cage?” This sentiment is not changing any time soon.

The fighters polled believe that just over half of the fighters currently in the sport are using drugs like testosterone. That’s entirely plausible.

However, by far the biggest takeaway was the response to two questions. 3 out of every 4 fighters do not believe that Dana White should have the power to force super fights. 3 out of every 4 fighters is in favor of a union for MMA fighters. Whether the fighters polled realize it or not, there seems to be some symmetry between the two responses. And that symmetry goes against what Stephen A. Smith says is the strength of the UFC. He laments boxers not having union representation but praises Dana White for booking whatever big fights he wants to. And yet a union would give fighters representation and protections from monopolistic promoters. You can’t have it both ways.

Am I surprised that 3 out of every 4 fighters would in favor of an MMA union? Actually, yes. Given the dog-eats-dog nature of the business and the spin from current agents against an MMA union or a potential entity like Rob Maysey’s MMAFA, I’m surprised the number is only 24% against a union. However, the 76% number is useless. Why? There will never be a day when 76% of fighters polled would publicly be willing to put their name out there and say, “Yeah, I want a union.” The fear of repercussions is enormous. And the only way fight promoters survive in the game is by acting as the equivalent of benevolent third-world dictators.

The reality is that maybe 10% of fighters, at most, would be willing to put their name out there publicly in favor of a union. The 24% of fighters who said they didn’t want an union are also the reason why a union will likely never happen in Mixed Martial Arts. Everyone wants to become a One Percenter and going along with what a promoter or a money mark tells you what to do to achieve that is all that matters. And those power sources will always do what they can to destroy the creation of a union or fighter’s association.

The Ali Act hasn’t been what it’s cracked up to be because lawyers in positions of prosecutorial power don’t want to enforce the law on the books. Promoters constantly break the law when it comes to the way they structure contracts. Why can they get away with it? Because prosecutors won’t enforce provisions of the Ali Act. The only hope for the Ali Act having teeth is through civil lawsuits — and if the Ali Act was amended to include MMA, just how many fighters would actually be willing to risk their entire life savings challenging Zuffa in court?

In order for a union or fighter’s association in MMA, you would need a strong external force to create change. A politician or political party. That’s not going to happen. You would need a rival promotion willing to challenge the status quo and play a role in developing or supporting such an organization. In MMA, there’s only one super power and the small rival that does have access to big Viacom resources is even less likely to encourage the propspects of a fighter association than the UFC itself. There is no NBA/ABA or NFL/AFL situation here. Additionally, the idea of big name fighters creating their own promotion ala Golden Boy wouldn’t stay fighter-owned for very long. There’s a reason Richard Schaefer is the power broker in Golden Boy and Oscar is largely the cheerleader.

The same amount of fighters who want an MMA union also don’t believe in Dana White forcing fighters to face each other if it means mega-money PPV bouts. At least there isn’t cognitive dissonance at stake here. Just don’t expect the current crop of MMA agents to tell their clients not to go along with what Uncle Dana wants. Want a strong external force creating change in the MMA space? The fastest way to do it is to bring in the heavy hitters of sports management. Right now, that’s not happening because many top sports agents don’t see enough money to be made.

There’s a reason current high-profile, bloviating agents do not want to see an MMA union or fighter’s association. The current agents & managers don’t want heavy scrutiny. They don’t want competition from big agencies like William Morris or CAA. And as long as there isn’t a union or fighter’s association, the quality of agents in the MMA space is going to be remain substandard compared to other sports. That helps these current agents & managers maintain their power & longevity in the sport. In the fight business. low-quality representation is a plus for promoters in preventing a union or fighter’s association from getting developed. Until the big boy sports agents (like Jay-Z/CAA) decide to take the risk and get involved in representing multiple big-name MMA fighters, don’t expect the current MMA business landscape to change.

Topics: Bellator, Boxing, Media, MMA, UFC, Zach Arnold | 27 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

27 Responses to “ESPN laments boxing’s future with no union while praising UFC (with no union)”

  1. Chris C says:

    Ryan Blivens is a douchebag.

    Boxing isnt going anywhere and neither is mma, I know that makes some people sad.

    Who gives a shit what SAS or Skip think? They know nothing about the sport.

    the boxing vs mma stuff is so old and boring. MMA came out and boxing fans trashed it, mma blew up and mma fans trashed boxing saying its dead and mma is the future.

    mma slows down and boxing comes on strong the last two years and now boxing fans trash mma. Its gotten to the point its stupid.

    Boxing sports are great, both sports have great fights, both sports arent going anywhere. If you like one or both then watch it.

  2. david m says:

    Canelo is a lot better than Cotto in my opinion. He has fast hands, good head movement, understands distance, throws ridiculously hard punches, and is hard to hurt. He doesn’t have the best stamina I’ve ever seen, but it isn’t like Floyd is an action fighter; Floyd wants to counter and roll his shoulders and capitalize off of mistakes. I think Canelo will actually beat him.

  3. 45 Huddle says:

    I’m going to the theater for the boxing match. $18 aint too bad for a ticket.

    The sample size isnt large enough for the survey. It also needs to split up UFC fighters vs. Non ufc fighters. But what do you expect from espn? A legit survey?

  4. Simon says:

    38 fighters polled, and not all of them were in UFC. Out of what, 450 fighters in UFC, not sure how many are in Bellator, that’s not a very accurate representation of fighters opinions.

    You said it yourself, Zach. The numbers don’t really matter if none of the fighters polled are gonna put their name on it.

    38 people seems to me at least to be too small of a sample size to gleam anything positive or negative from the poll.

  5. 45 Huddle says:

    BJ Penn & Frankie Edgar are next seasons TUF coaches. And the fight will take place at 145. I really don’t mind, despite Edgar being 2-0 in their previous meetings.

    We will get to see Penn in peak condition, and a guy he lost to before is a great indicator if the change of weight class will make a difference. If he loses, he should retire.

    And the next UFC on FOX show has Urijah Faber vs. Michael McDonald…. Which should be an awesome fight. And the UFC wants Pettis/Grant as the main event.

    • Zach Arnold says:

      Watching UFC Pravda on FS1 is quite the deal.

      Dana blaming Alistair Overeem for flaming out in UFC due to fans overhyping him. Love that revisionist history. Dana ranting and raving about rankings and media mistreatment of Chael Sonnen. Dana ranting and raving about both Rampage and Tito.

      Anderson Silva’s “Chael for President” comments featured ahead of Ariel Helwani’s update on Matt Grice.

      And now Marc Ratner touting it’s not a matter of if but when MMA legislation passes in New York. Ratner dropping the “unAmerican” line about Sheldon Silver refusing to allow a vote in the NY state Assembly.

      To top it all off, Karyn Bryant is hosting this show.

      • 45 Huddle says:

        The ratings for FS1 have already gone up for the weekly average.

        I think I said a week ago that they should try to strive and be the true #2 sports channel within 12 months. I should clarify that. FS1’s goal should be to average more viewers then ESPN 2. They will not catch ESPN over the next 3 years. It just won’t happen. But if they can beat out ESPN 2, it makes things interesting moving forward.

  6. Bix says:

    “Only 2 out of 38 fighters think that Fallon Fox should be allowed to fight UFC female fighters. The overwhelming conventional wisdom amongst MMA fighters is anti-transgender in terms of allowing transgenders to fight female fighters. As one respected official put it, ‘Would you allow a man to beat on your daughter in the cage?’ This sentiment is not changing any time soon.”

    In this specific case, SHOULD it change, though? Fallon Fox is the worst possible test case: She transitioned well into adulthood and looks juiced up even if she isn’t.

    Then again, in potential “best case scenarios” (blocked puberty, no growth into an adult male, and this likely no real issues), would the fighters even want to consider disclosing?

    • Steve4192 says:

      The fighter they quoted in the article summed up my feelings about the Fallon Fox issue perfectly.

      UFC welterweight on Fallon Fox:

      “I admire Fallon Fox’s courage in coming out and as a role model for transgender people. But it isn’t fair for someone who was born male and spent most of her life male to fight as a female.”

  7. Chris says:

    The whole Boxing is dead argument is nonsense, When well matched competitive, or interesting fights happen, people show up. When the fights are lame mismatches they don’t.

  8. david m says:

    BJ Penn is my favorite mma fighter ever. I am GEEKED to see him back. I have no idea with his, shall we say, lack of eating discipline, can make 145, but it will be interesting.

  9. Diaz's cashed bowl says:
    In a just and free society people should be free to protect themselves from dangers in their workplace. extreme sport competitors use various pads helmets etc… to protect themselves from damage in skateboarding motocross bmx football hockey etc… so why is it that in sports such as boxing and mma where there is serious danger to the brain every fight and no actual protection, the one drug with no side effects which has proven useful in the prevention of brain damage due to blunt force trauma, is banned?

  10. 45 Huddle says:

    The Ultimate Fighter’s ratings went UP for episode 2. That never happens. So it is a good sign that momentum is going in the UFC’s & FOX’s favor when it comes to that channel.


    I think you have to look at boxing from the perspective of the average sports fan.

    1) Boxing is almost never on sports center.

    2) Most people don’t buy PPV’s, so any content on there is irrelevant to them.

    3) Over 2/3rds of the American Households do not have HBO. Heck, Netflix has more subscribers. Even a greater percentage don’t have Showtime. So for these people, boxing fights just don’t exist.

    When you put all of these things together, it is easy to understand why people think boxing is dead. You put your content behind huge pay barriers for so long and it will choke the life out of the sport.


    This is why the future of the UFC is off PPV and on FOX. It can open up such huge opportunities for the sport if guys like Jones, GSP, & Rousey are fighting on FOX or FS1.

  11. Zheroen says:

    So basically…if you ignore all factual evidence and make irrelevant statements like “most people” and “almost never” without any source whatsoever other than your own bias, then yeah, it does seem like boxing is dead! RIP, Sweet Science!

    • 45 Huddle says:

      I wouldn’t call them ignorant statements. If you put all of your important content behind a giant paywall, don’t be shocked when people don’t know it exists.

      • Zheroen says:

        I agree. I feel so bad for all of those critically-acclaimed HBO series like The Sopranos and A Game of Thrones that will never get the popular audience they deserve.

        • duck says:

          Game of Thrones gets like 5 million viewers if it was on network TV it would probably do double the audience.

        • Zheroen says:

          Hahaha, AGOT on Network TV? The episodes would be about 8 minutes long after edits. Stop being dumb.

        • 45 Huddle says:

          And Game of Thrones is the most illegally downloaded show on TV today. Hmmmm, I wonder why? It’s a show for geeks…. And geeks know how to go past the paywall.

          Average people do not, so the stuff on HBO and Showtime does not exist for them.

      • RST says:

        I haven’t watched game of thrones yet.
        (despite every opportunity.)

        Is it awesome?

  12. […] leadership, ineffective drug testing, and the influence of organized crime in Japanese MMA. A great example is this recent post exposing issues in organized labor in boxing and MMA. Do not expect Arnold on the scene with the quotes to remember from big fights. He’s behind […]


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