Outside of their respective hometowns of Oakland and Cincinnati, ultra-talented boxers Andre Ward and Adrian Broner could walk down a street in any American city and go virtually unrecognized, sans a few hardcore boxing fans.
The same holds true for super-talented Americans Paul Malignaggi, Chris Arreola, Lamont Peterson and Chad Dawson.
Aside from Filipino Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr, few (if any) "active" boxers would generate much attention if he was spotted in an American mall or grocery store, or standing on a street corner.
Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko are literal rock stars in Europe but do they command the same respect and endearment from the American masses? When was the last time two "dominant" heavyweights could walk freely in any American city without being utterly mobbed?
Its been quite some time.
During the 1990s, a number of active boxers were mobbed, or at least frequently approached, whenever seen in public. Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Sugar Ray Leonard, Riddick Bowe, Larry Holmes, Roy Jones Jr, Pernell Whitaker, Thomas Hearns, Oscar De La Hoya and George Foreman to name a few.
And depending on which city they visisted, even foreign fighters such as Roberto Duran, Lennox Lewis, Hector Camacho, Julio Cesar Chavez and Felix Trinidad would turn heads and command a fair amount of attention.
Today, although their earnings are significantly lower than their peers in boxing and they're arguably not household names either, its quite possible MMA standouts such as Anderson Silva, B.J. Penn, Jon Jones, Georges St. Pierre, Rampage Jackson and Rasheed Evans "may" be more popular in the U.S. than boxing's top active fighters, minus Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao of course.
So how is this possible?
What is MMA doing that boxing isn't? And how can boxing learn from MMA, particulary UFC?
5. Promoters, Listen to the Fans
Nine times out of 10, boxing fans never get what they want. Many probably feel like the beaten wife who just keeps going back to her husband. But everyone has a boiling point and one day that beaten wife is likely to move on.
Promoters take heed!
And when the big fights finally do happen, its after fans have been forced to wait and it always seems as if they 3 years too late (examples: Floyd Mayweather vs Miguel Cotto and Sugar Ray Leonard vs Marvin Hagler)
Boxing promoters need to find a better way to connect with fans. For better of worse, we live in an age of "immediate gratification" and what may have worked in the 1970s and 80s may not necessarily work today.
The fan is still the most important, most relevant element of boxing. After all, its the fans who keep boxing alive. Fans buy the tickets, order the PPVs, generate publicity, cultivate new fans and make the fighters feel appreciated.
So how is MMA better than boxing in this regard? It gives its fans the fights they want to see - and its usually done fairly quickly.
If boxing wants to crush MMA in the U.S., or even remain competitive, its promoters must put their differences aside because their behavior towards each other is killing the sport.
Unlike UFC, there are multiple promotional companies in boxing such as Golden Boy and Top Rank who negotiate and make fights based on "their" best interests, not the sport's and certainly not the fans'.
4. Increase News-Related Exposure
In the U.S., MMA has more talk shows and overall coverage than boxing. For example, MMA features talk programs on ESPN, Spike TV, AXS TV, and Fuel TV. But for boxing, the only real talk show is on HBO's The Fight Game which is broadcast every once in a blue moon.
And minus the big events, it's hard to find boxing news on mediums outside of boxing websites. In America, MMA has far more outlets for information than boxing.
So how can Boxing improve?
It's pretty simple. Feature more shows centered around boxing. ESPN, arguably the world's top sports provider, rarely covers boxing other then Friday Night Fights on ESPN2. How can boxing get more coverage on ESPN? And how about expanding the NBC Sports boxing series and getting Viacom in on the action?
3. Enhance Your Weak Undercards
At the moment, UFC is facing some heat as result of UFC 151. The event was recently cancelled due to an injury sustained by a fighter scheduled to appear in its main event. Had the card been stronger, UFC 151 would have taken place as planned but the fight card didn't have enough depth to save it. Nevertheless, UFC is known for stacking its cards with two or three marque fights per PPV event.
Instead of showcasing 'no-name' fighters on its undercards, MMA (especially UFC) attempts to fit as many good match-ups and recognizable names on the card as possible. UFC 146, for example, not only gave fans a heavyweight championship fight between Junior dos Santos vs Frank Mir, standouts Cain Velasquez, Roy Nelson, and Antonio Silva were also on the card.
When fans purchase a UFC event, they get more then just one "marque" fight.
And even the non-PPV and untelevised fights feature recognizable names such as Dan Hardy, Jason "Mayhem" Miller, and Edson Barboza.
Credit to Golden Boy, featuring Canelo Alvarez vs Shane Mosley as the co-main event for Mayweather vs Cotto is a step in the right direction. But this should be the rule, not the exception. All major PPV events should showcase at least one additional marque bout as its co-main event or in its undercard.
2. Get More Behind-the-Scenes Coverage
This is the age of blogging and reality TV - and while boxing has "some"behind-the-scenes action in HBO's 24/7 and Showtime's Fight Camp 360, MMA, most notably UFC, is clearly the master in this category.
The best example is arguably Dana White's infamous video blogs which the UFC uploads to its YouTube account. UFC not only has a 24/7-like production, they also show a lot of behind-the-scenes action such as fighters visiting the doctor after the fight, celebrations, times of stress, arguments, fighters talking smack and many other behind-the-scenes activities. It's what today's fans love to see and boxing needs to catch-up.
The same ol' approach boxing used to appeal to the masses in decades past just doesn't cut it today.
Boxing needs to endear the public to its fighters, trainers, managers and promoters. The sport must allow the public to understand, relate to, like or dislike a fighter's personality and give fans more unchoreographed behind-the-scenes looks at what really goes on.
And while boxing has several such outlets, they aren't enough.
Simply put, boxing needs more behind-the-scenes/reality show coverage.
1. Improve the Fan Experience and Theatrics
Many fans who attend the big boxing matches complain about lull times during the event. There's this dull-type of wait between fights when fans are seemingly twiddling their thumbs waiting for the next fight to happen
On the other-hand, during UFC events fans enjoy a club-like atmosphere with music, theatrical light displays and Octagon girls.
Perhaps that is another reason some say UFC is more entertaining. Even if you're not a fan of MMA or if the fight card bombs, you can still have fun at a big UFC event. Boxing promoters take heed!
And while this might be trivial or frivolous to hardcore boxing fans over 50, it really does matter to the general masses and younger demographics. If boxing is to thrive in the U.S., it simply cannot depend on its hard-core base. The sports needs to generate more mainstream appeal.
So boxing fans... What are your thoughts?
Is there anything you would like to see in boxing that would enhance its appeal in the Unites States?