Boxing sits atop the fighting world right now, but the UFC is surging

Floyd Mayweather and Jon Jones are the two best pound-for-pound fighters in the world.

Mayweather, who mostly boxes in the welterweight division, dominated Canelo Alvarez on Sept. 14 in a unanimous decision victory, unifying the WBA and WBC light middleweight belts.

Jones, the UFC light heavyweight champion, won his sixth consecutive title defense, setting a record for his weight class, after escaping a five-round battle with Alexander Gustafsson Saturday.

Mayweather is set to earn nearly $100 million for his fight, while Jones reportedly made around $450,000.

If you’re wondering who’s winning the battle of viewers between boxing and the UFC, just follow the dollar signs.

Boxing is an American pastime. It will always hold that advantage over mixed martial arts and namely the UFC, the premier MMA organization, which debuted only two decades ago. Boxing also boasts the big names such as Manny Pacquiao, Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko and of course “Money” Mayweather. Boxing has the pay-per-view market by the throat, with Showtime reeling in a record $150 million from Mayweather’s tilt with Alvarez. And perhaps most importantly, boxing has dominated the Las Vegas scene, where betting and fighting have always gone hand-and-hand.

Boxing may be firmly in the lead in the fight game right now, but MMA is the superior sport and people are just starting to realize it.

The casual boxing fan, which makes up a large part of its audience, would be hard pressed to name any boxers outside of Mayweather, Pacquiao and the Klitschkos. And even when one of those big names fights, the main event is almost always the only fight people care about. Did you know Danny Garcia defeated Lucas Matthysse in a junior welterweight championship fight before the Mayweather-Alvarez headliner? Didn’t think so.

UFC 165 on Saturday packed a punch well before Jones entered the octagon. Brendan Schaub made Matt Mitrione submit via a Brabo choke in the third fight before the main event. The fight had to be stopped when Mitrione passed out. Mitrione didn’t want to tap, so he was put to sleep. The heavyweight bout didn’t have any title on the line, but it didn’t need to.

Half of the belts in boxing are meaningless anyway. I mean, how many belts can one fighter own? I don’t think Mayweather even knows how many belts he has. The UFC has nine weight classes and one title per division. Boxing can learn from that kind of structure.

The next matchup put one of those belts on the line when Renan Barao met Eddie Wineland for the interim bantamweight championship. Barao quickly retained his crown after knocking out Wineland with a sensational spinning back-kick in the second round. No, you obviously can’t kick in boxing, and no, the referee didn’t give Wineland 10 seconds to recover, either. Barao pounced on Wineland after he was knocked down.

The event was topped off with what might go down as one of the greatest fights in the history of the UFC. Jones, who entered as a huge favorite, found himself in a dogfight with Gustafsson, who became the first fighter to ever take Jones to the mat. The fight was back-and-forth and fast-paced throughout. Jones’ spinning back elbow in the fourth round, which is one of the most sensational signature moves in all of sports, was enough to put the judges on his side. The bout wasn’t a one-sided domination, which happens regularly in boxing. Despite being victorious, Jones left the octagon as a blood-splattered, swollen mess. He didn’t throw in the towel, and neither did Gustafsson.

UFC 165 wasn’t an anomaly; the UFC consistently puts out cards just like this. There doesn’t need to be some big name to draw you in – even a fight between two guys you’ve never heard of could end up being the most memorable of the night. Many of these cards are also free on FOX, something that has exposed MMA to the public to an even further extent.

The UFC allows more creativity than boxing. There’s only so much originality that could go into punching another guy in the face. MMA creates a space for boxers, kickboxers, wrestlers, judo, muay thai and jiu-jitsu practitioners to flourish. MMA answers the ultimate question of “who would win in a fight between blank and blank?” There are no restrictions against grabbing your opponent or using kicks, knees or elbows. MMA fights are flat out brawls. Some viewers may be turned off by the “no holds barred” notion of MMA, but the repeated strikes to the head in boxing makes it the more dangerous sport.

Anyone can fight in the UFC. Just ask Ronda Rousey, who’s sitting atop the women’s pound-for-pound rankings and quickly becoming one of the UFC’s biggest headliners. Or even Matt Hamill, who has carved out a nice career in the UFC despite being deaf.

It just doesn’t add up. If the UFC is more creative, provides edgier fights, has a more unified brand and is more diverse, then why is boxing much more profitable? Well first of all, MMA is not even sanctioned in the state of New York, cutting out a major money-making region from the UFC. But more than anything else, the UFC and MMA as a whole are still quite new. In the past 20 years, the UFC has gone from a knockoff WWE brand to a legitimate sport that is getting more and more recognition every day.

Boxing may have a larger fanbase than MMA at the moment, but what happens when Mayweather retires for good? Will boxing be able to replace him? The UFC isn’t worried about marketing one fighter or promoting one huge main event. The UFC is only focused on putting on a show and selling its sport.

So even if boxing continues to reel in hundreds of millions of dollars, the UFC will continue to surge. It’s just a matter of time.

Michael is a senior in Media. He can be reached at [email protected]