By Oliver Chan
On Saturday night, the sport of boxing goes head-to-head with MMA. No, I’m not talking about another freak-show like when the horribly overpaid James Toney fought the latest guy to be called out by Steven Seagal. (“Anybody seen Randyyyyy? Ah?”) I’m talking Pacquiao/Marquez IV vs. Diaz/Henderson. While the events aren’t really going head-to-head, per se — UFC on Fox starts at 8 p.m. ET, and should be finished by the time Manny and Marquez step into the ring on the HBO pay-per-view broadcast — how viewers tune in this Saturday will speak volumes of the current state of both sports.
In one corner, you have the UFC with a stacked card, but still struggling to live up to the hype as far as ratings go. In the other corner, you have boxing, the aging champ of combat sports. While struggling to stay relevant, it is still a dominant force with two bankable stars who won’t fight each other.
It is no mistake that the UFC has put together a PPV-worthy card to be aired free to the masses. You’ve got a title fight in what is arguably the most competitive weight class in the sport. You also have two legends of MMA taking on two young up-and-comers taking on the sport by storm. Come to think of it, the Penn vs. McDonald and Rua vs. Gustafsson fights are perfect analogies of what MMA is to boxing right now.
UFC on Fox will have a head start on the Saturday prime-time schedule, but Pacquiao vs. Marquez has the advantage of being “appointment viewing.” In other words, fight fans already planning on ordering the PPV bout are more likely to start switching over from the UFC on Fox regardless of whether or not the UFC lightweight championship has been determined. On the flip side, the UFC card has something that Pacquiao/Marquez does not: drama.
Studies show that fight fans, specifically MMA fans, are drawn to the drama aspect over the violence aspect of the sport. Does the UFC on Fox card have drama? You bet your ass it does. You have one title fight in what is arguably the most competitive weight division in MMA and two bouts featuring legends of the sport taking on the rapidly rising young-blood of MMA.
Meanwhile, boxing has scrapped together a meaningless fourth match-up between Marquez and Pacquiao. The fight doesn’t even have any title implications on the line. This fight is coming off of the huge black-eye (pun intended) on the sport of boxing in the form of the controversial Bradley/Pacquiao decision in June. Why Pacquiao’s next fight wasn’t an immediate rematch for the WBO Welterweight Title still escapes me. If it was, Pacquiao/Bradley II would have been a much better draw and stand a much better advantage over the UFC on Fox this Saturday. But alas, the gods of common sense will dictate otherwise.
Nate Diaz and Benson Henderson need to put on a great performance this Saturday. They need to keep viewers engaged and forget about switching over to the PPV event that will overlap the UFC event, when the Pacquiao vs. Marquez supporting card begins at 9 p.m. ET.
Come Monday, it will be interesting to see how the numbers play out. Will the UFC poach some of boxing’s PPV orders? Or will we see a steep decline in TV ratings during the main-event as viewers switch over to see Pacquiao vs. Marquez IV? Will we see a changing of the guard, or will it be business as usual? To me, the biggest story on Saturday does not involve anyone fighting, but which sport will be victorious with TV viewers — the aging legend, boxing, or the rising star of combat sports, MMA?