LAS VEGAS — The UFC made its debut on FOX yesterday, the start of a multi-year deal which brings the company’s mixed-martial arts catalog to primetime network television.
On the surface, it might seem like a huge blow to boxing to have MMA exposed to millions of viewers on a weekend boxing is holding a mega-fight. But Top Rank boss Bob Arum isn’t the least bit concerned.
Arum has never believed UFC and boxing are competing for the same audience. He recently characterized MMA fans as “young white guys that really don’t follow boxing.” That’s a stereotypical view, considering MMA has attracted fans from all races and countries.
But the 80-year-old boxing promoter has a point when he examines the national and global coverage last night’s championship bout between Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez received. There were features in various sports magazines, the HBO “24/7” series, and a special pullout of the Manila Bulletin in USA Today.
“They thought they would hurt us,” Arum said of the UFC. “Instead they got hurt because they got buried. But I think the fact they’re just on for an hour helps us.”
UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez attempted to defend his title against No. 1 contender Junior dos Santos in Anaheim an hour before Pacquiao and Marquez were to step in the ring. UFC president Dana White used a plethora of boxing analogies in promoting his card, including “Junior earned his shot just like a Sonny Liston or a Mike Tyson did. He knocked out top 10 guys until he was the last man standing.”
UFC, facing little competition, should continue to thrive. But rumors of boxing’s demise are premature. In fact, business is booming. Last night’s bout at the MGM Grand was sold out and expected to be a celebrity-driven pay-per-view success.
On Dec. 3 at Madison Square Garden, Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito meet in a long-awaited rematch Top Rank will promote, and there is future intrigue in bouts involving Timothy Bradley, Brandon Rios, Nonito Donaire, Yuriorkis Gamboa and Juan Manuel Lopez.
“We had so many companies soliciting us wanting to be sponsors not just for a fight, but a series of fights,” Arum said. “We’ve had to greatly increase our staff and personnel. Our [Las Vegas] offices are now too small, and we’re in the process of buying our own building, so we can expand and handle the people we have.”
Business is also booming in Germany, where heavyweight brothers Wladimir and Vital Klitschko draw crowds in excess of 40,000, as well as in Canada, where super middleweight champ Lucian Bute has a huge following, and in Mexico where boxing is now on free TV.
Should Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather meet in 2012, financial records would be broken. Mayweather is an established pay-per-view power, after attracting 1.2 million buys against Victor Ortiz in September.
“We’re going to do things next year that you haven’t seen in years,” Arum said, “Maybe never.”
Top Rank and Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions are the top two promotional companies in boxing. Golden Boy was often viewed as the favorite son of HBO benefiting from an out-put deal that ensured a certain numbers of dates. But that deal is in its final year, and with former Showtime boxing boss Ken Hershman moving over to HBO in January to replace Ross Greenburg, Top Rank should have increased influence.
“We’re not geniuses trying to be monopolists,” Arum said. “We’re just in the business. You can’t keep doing the same old things you were doing which were not successful, and somehow the skies are going to open and it’s going to become successful. You’ve to go out and solicit sponsors and you’ve got to make a real effort to run your business differently.”
By GEORGE WILLIS