Even though boxing and MMA are both combat sports, a generational gap exists with its fan base.
MMA fans tend to be younger, Generation Y-ers, while boxing fans are still predominantly baby boomers and Generation X-ers. In the end, however, it’s fighting, and both sports would benefit from stealing a bit of what the other does right, to grow the fan base.
No matter how cool MMA is among young men, or slick the production values, older 40-something boxing fans aren’t going to “get it” unless it feels more familiar. MMA has a big base of 18-25-year-old fans who grew up listening to Joe Rogan, not Jim Lampley. MMA makes sense to them because that’s all they know. But even though mixed martial arts has “art” in its name, most fight fans over 40 tend to think boxing is more of an art than “ultimate fighting.”
For a boxing traditionalist, one of the strangest things about MMA is the length of the rounds. For boxing fans, 5 minutes is an eternity.
Boxing rounds are three minutes long. At its best an MMA fight will last 25 minutes, whereas a boxing match can last 36 minutes. Traditional boxing fans are used to a longer, more sustained battle among men who have the endurance to last 30 or 36 minutes. Boxing fans typically tune out in an MMA fight as soon as the fighters hit the ground and it turns into a wrestling match.
How much more exciting would MMA be to the cynics if the rounds were 3 minutes instead of 5 and non-title fights were 5 rounds instead of 3? Title fights could be 9 rounds of three minutes.
In the recent Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva vs. Mark Hunt fight, would there have been a finish if those guys got to rest after three minutes? It’s not like they fought every minute of the 5 rounds. In fact, there was a lot of mutual hugging and resting in the latter half of the rounds.
It’s also foreign for boxing fans to see fighters get knocked down and not have a short break to recover. In boxing, after a fighter is knocked down he has about 8 seconds to get up. The ref will count, then talk to him to see if he can continue. Great fighters have been knocked down, but thanks to the 8-count, have survived. Larry Holmes, Muhammad Ali, Oscar De La Hoya, Evander Holyfield and other greats have come back from knockdowns. One of the great arts of boxing is to see how fast a fighter can clear his head in those 8 seconds when the referee is counting. For boxing fans, it also feels more humane to know a fighter has a chance to recover, but if he can’t he doesn’t have to get hit in the face another three times before the fight is really over.
There is no count after a MMA fighter goes down, so the only way to survive if you are out is to grab your opponent and attempt to hold on for dear life until you recover. Is that an art or an act of primal instinct? What if an MMA fighter could be allowed one standing 8 count per round?
When older fans complain about MMA, it’s not always simply because they are old and “don’t get it.” If somebody created a sport similar to baseball, but it was only three innings, all outs had to come consecutively in an inning, oh, and the diamond was now a rectangle, it would be difficult to immediately understand.
MMA should try to embrace some of the good things about boxing as it looks to perfect mixed martial arts in the mainstream.