With the first-ever broadcasting of an Ultimate Fighting Championship card airing on ABC last weekend, it can show why mixed martial arts is more popular in the combat sports world. Mixed martial art promotions such as the UFC have dethroned boxing as the long-standing king of “fight nights.”
But with the emergence of YouTube stars like Jake Paul throwing themselves into the ring, the soon-to-be-dead sport seems to be given a fighting chance. With 1.2 million pay-per-view buys in his second pro fight, this time against former pro basketball player Nate Robinson, Paul has drawn new fans into the sport of boxing. But is it the right kind of attention to the sport?
“They haven’t been around the sport long enough to understand the discipline and respect of it all,” Sean Finnigan, a Canadian Middleweight and Light Heavyweight champion, said. “If he goes through the steps to get a real boxing match, then I’ll have respect for him.”
Finnigan admitted boxing was on the decline due to poor management at the World Boxing Organization level and said he didn’t feel as if it was fair to fault the sport itself for losing popularity. He said Paul was giving boxing some well-needed attention, even if it wasn’t in traditional boxing style, such as marketing big-name boxers like Mike Tyson.
“They’ll watch [Paul] even if he’s getting beat up,” he said.
Finnigan found Paul’s recent call out of MMA fighters like Dillon Danis confusing, as they would have to make the transition into a boxing training camp, which differs from mixed martial arts.
“You wouldn’t have a ringette player go against a hockey player,” he said.
Still, not all members of the fighting community share Finnigan’s sentiment towards the calling out of mixed martial artists. Paxton Culligan, a former boxer with a first-degree black belt in Goju-Ryu, said the prospect of MMA fighters entering a boxing ring was promising and was a natural step for the sport to take.
“When the UFC started it was a proving ground for all disciplines of martial arts to see who was the best. I think that MMA fighters entering a boxing ring is quite similar to this,” said Culligan. “Boxing is already a facet of mixed martial arts.”
He also felt the way Paul had been handling his calling out of athletes was unprofessional and said it damages the reputation of real martial artists.
“I’m all for banter but [Paul] crossed the line when he started talking about families. Connor McGregor set himself up with his left hand and his mouth, but I don’t find their style of promotion honorable at all,” he said.
Paxton said if a star in the boxing world manages to triumphantly knockout an MMA elite, the world of boxing could reclaim the throne currently occupied by UFC president Dana White. But before this can happen, Paul needs to transition to a professional league.
“It would be my worst nightmare for boxing to mix pro and amateur fights on the same card. But if [Paul] goes pro, I’ll gain lots of respect for him,” said Culligan.