Is MMA a genuine threat to boxing in the UK and beyond?

Is MMA a genuine threat to boxing in the UK and beyond?

The sport of MMA continues to grow. And not just in viewership, participation and businesses wanting to get involved. The number of countries represented at the UFC, Bellator, Strikeforce, etc., etc. is also growing. The effect this has on other combat sports in the United States is absorbed — at least for the time being — due to the sheer size of its population. However, there is a chance that if this growth continues at the pace we are seeing, it will have a profound effect on the fighting landscape in many smaller (in population size) nations. For the purposes of this article, we will look at the case of the United Kingdom.

Great Britain has a proud history, record and tradition when it comes to the sweet science. The Queensberry rules, the ones still adhered to today, were drawn up in England in 1867. In a country where wrestling is not part of the curriculum, and martial arts is still a minority sport, anyone who had a penchant and passion for fighting would automatically go into boxing.

Along with soccer, cricket and rugby, boxing is still hugely popular. A casual look at any UK online bookmaker in the news will see those sports dominate. If MMA is mentioned, it will be filed away under other sports. So, are things changing, and if they aren’t, are they likely to? The answer to both is yes, and those changes are being seen first and foremost in not just the number of British fighters competing in MMA but the type of fighters.

Conor McGregor vs. Floyd Mayweather Jr. - August 26, 2017 - Photo by Beckham pz10, CC BY
Conor McGregor vs. Floyd Mayweather Jr. – August 26, 2017 – Photo by Beckham pz10, CC BY

Darren Till, Jimi Manuwa, Danny Roberts, John Phillips (aka The White Mike Tyson) and Mark Godbeer are all successfully competing in the UFC and all are known for their striking. Several began their careers in boxing before moving on to MMA. The list goes on and is one that is growing almost by the month. Of course, Britain has had stand out MMA fighters in the past, notably, Michael Bisping, Dan Hardy, Brad Pickett and Ross Pearson, but the flow has changed from a trickle if not a flood to a jet stream.

Many if not all would have had little doubt those new kids on the block would have been boxers a generation or even a decade ago. Two things have been at the forefront of this change. The profile of the sport has increased several folds in the last five years. At that time, if you were to ask most people in the U.K. what MMA was, you would have drawn blank looks. Whatever else you think about Conor McGregor, he has massively lifted the profile of MMA fighters and of the sport across Europe and especially, in the U.K. and Ireland.

The other factor pushing current and prospective fighters toward MMA instead of boxing is the former is — rightly or wrongly — seem to provide a quicker way to get to the top. Though all are far from perfect, the way the MMA organizations are structured, with transparent rankings and the way (in theory at least) the best fighters fight each other, it is seen as a less daunting road to greatness than that faced by boxers. For far too long, boxing has been under the cloud of competing promoters and television companies who seem to hold all the power. MMA seems to be more relevant, more in tune with the modern age where a fighter’s presence on social media is almost as important as his or her ability in the ring/cage/octagon.

In a relatively small country like the U.K., with a limited talent pool, even a small percentage change will have a devastating effect on the other sports, in this case, boxing. Just two years ago, Britain boasted more boxing world titles than any other country on the planet. Boxing is in a healthy state, but they should not put their head in the sand regarding MMA, or they will find that the pool of talent has not dried up or merely gone somewhere else.
The same is occurring in other countries across the globe. Poland has embraced MMA to such an extent there is little doubt it has not overtaken boxing in popularity and profile. Australia, a country with a proud boxing heritage, is also seeing changes at a grassroots level where more and more of the better prospects are opting for the lighter gloves and the octagon.

Without a doubt, the groundswell of the popularity of MMA is having an effect. And There are also no signs of that groundswell stopping anytime soon. No one is saying that there is no room for both sports to live side by side, but boxing, especially in places like the U.K., needs to at least embrace the fact there is a new sport in town.