MMA is one of the fastest-rising sports globally in terms of popularity, with the UFC leading the way, miles in front of the competition.
Over the last five years, nine UFC events had more than 1 million PPV (pay-per-view) sales.
That is a huge increase, and the numbers keep rising. With boxing being the most popular combat sport for decades, is UFC more popular than boxing?
MMA (UFC) is still not more popular than boxing. Out of the top 50 PPV sales ever, boxing holds 25 spots, while UFC only has 15. However, boxing viewership rates have been stagnant, opposed to the rising numbers in UFC. If the trends continue, UFC could take over soon.
There is something appealing that MMA promotions (mainly UFC) are doing to attract more audiences.
While boxing still grosses a lot more money and has higher sales collectively (not looking only at the most elite events), the gap is quickly narrowing down and will completely disappear if something doesn’t change soon.
UFC vs Boxing Popularity
Boxing still holds the title of the most popular combat sport in the world.
The fighters get paid astronomic figures compared to any other combat sportsmen.
Also, the fan base is a lot more worldwide, as there are organizations and champions worldwide.
That might be one reason why UFC and MMA are on the rise, while boxing is stagnating, even starting to drop slightly.
Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, where the numbers dropped by as much as 50%.
Why Is Boxing Becoming Less Popular?
Boxing has four central sanctioning bodies, each having its champion: WBC, WBA, IBF, and WBO. Next, there are a staggering 17 weight classes.
When you multiply the number of titles and weight classes, you can have 68 boxing world champions at the same time.
The same weight division can have four different world champions, which diminishes the weight of each title.
The categories are only a few pounds apart, making it easier for boxers to hold titles in multiple divisions. That’s what makes boxing uninteresting at some weight divisions.
The champion has titles to defend in three or four weight classes and simply can’t defend them all, so the fans lose interest. It gets hard just keeping up with who the champ is.
Some people say that politics and corruption are what drives them away from boxing.
It’s not rare to see the best fighters deliberately avoiding each other, as there are multiple sanctioning bodies they can quickly transfer to and avoid an opponent.
They choose to fight inferior competition to pad their record. You’ll see fighters having a 30-0 record and think how awesome that is.
In reality, they never fought the best but chose to maul weaker competition with negative scores, etc.
That can’t happen in the UFC or MMA in general. Even though there are different MMA promotions (Bellator, ONE FC, KSW…), a fighter can’t just walk from one to another to avoid competition.
They are contractually obligated to fight for a single promotion. It’s like a league – you know who your competition is, you know who ranks where and who you have to beat to become a champ.
Why Is MMA (UFC) Becoming More Popular?
The UFC is doing something right, as they are steaming behind boxing and could soon take over the throne.
Besides the fact that people like gore, blood, and brutal knockouts, there’s the technical and the marketing aspect that goes into why popularity is on such an epic rise.
First and foremost, as I’ve already said, there is no dodging the best fighters. If you are the champ, you’ll be forced to fight the toughest challengers.
Yeah, the UFC caught the entertainment bug recently and started to skip rankings and make big money fights, but you can still rest assured you’ll get incredible matchups even in those fights.
You’ll never see a champ maul some poor guy who just came to light in his last fight or two, with obviously inferior skills.
If somebody is challenging the champion, they had to do something to prove they can compete in that matchup.
However, it’s relatively common to see a boxing champion choosing to fight lower competition and avoid the best.
Due to the fights being more competitive, it’s more exciting to see the titles changing hands so frequently. It makes the game so much more entertaining.
Moreover, the UFC only has eight weight classes(plus four women divisions). Fewer divisions mean a more considerable weight difference between them.
But it also means fewer champions, making the sport more competitive. It’s much harder to be a two-division champ in MMA than it is in boxing.
You always know where to find UFC fights, as they are always on their Fight Pass and ESPN.
In boxing, you have, Showtime, DAZN, HBO, Matchroom, and many other platforms that aren’t accessible to everybody.
That can make it difficult for people to follow their favorite fighters, leading them away from the sport.
Another big thing that I believe the UFC is doing right is that they adapted better in sharing their content over social media and the online community.
The fighters know how to put on a show and spark controversy and interest, which people want.
They figured out how to sell fights, and the UFC figured out how to sell fighters to the fans.
Finally, there is this endless debate for decades: which martial art is the best? Well, MMA has come a long way and is the best thing we have to compare martial arts and see how they stack up against each other.
The style difference between fighters can be huge. From boxers, Muay Thai fighters, wrestlers to BJJ fighters, you can finally see the main disadvantages of each of those styles and see what martial art can exploit the most of those disadvantages.
The Bottom Line
MMA and UFC might still not be as popular as boxing, but if the popularity trends continue to go at the pace they are right now, the UFC will eclipse boxing in the next couple of years.