Making the ‘big fights’ is the key to UFC’s ongoing success

Once upon a time there was a golden age for boxing. Most of us weren’t there for it but we all would pay our hard earned money to sit under the learning tree and listen to the all-time greats from the 1920’s – 1960’s tell tales from inside the twenty-by-twenty ring.

With any sport or performing art it runs in cycles though. It evolves, declines, rises and in some cases dies altogether.  Ultimately the decline in the popularity of the sport dubbed ‘the sweet science’ comes down to the almighty dollar.

When boxing grew astronomically, so did the purses. Suddenly the biggest names in the sport went from competing in the shadowy carnival  tents and dingy gyms in North America to the bright lights of the biggest venues with thousands of spectators turned away at every gate.

With entertainers of any sort, obviously what comes next is managers and promoters. Before you knew it, there were 47 championships in each of the 104 weight-classes and making the fights that the fans wanted to see became an impossible task.

Throw in tales of corruption and promoters protecting fighters and you have all the right ingredients for a sport to fall on its face.

Whether fair or not, boxing and mixed martial arts will always be compared side-by-side. At this point and time with the young sport it seems that under the guidance of UFC figurehead Dana White they have made all the right moves in righting the wrongs made in the rival sport.

Since Zuffa, the parent company to the UFC grabbed a stranglehold on the sport and gobbled up all its competition all the best fighters reside under the same roof. No longer did a lion’s share of the top-ranked stars battle in the land of the rising sun, they all worked for the Nevada-based organization.

Suddenly all the fights that fans salivated about and fantasy debated on message boards in the heyday of the Pride-versus-UFC  rivalry were possible and right at your fingertips.

Up until this point the UFC are yet to make a wrong step in growing this sport to be a global dynasty but we are quickly approaching a time when the athletes and fighters that the UFC employ are going to be bigger and more important than the UFC brand.

Jon Jones is the most important person on the UFC roster. While Anderson Silva and George St. Pierre might be bigger box office draws at this point and time, they are both thirty-something-year-old men and won’t be defending their titles on pay-per-view forever.

Jones might be the person who carries this promotion on his back for the next decade. His youth, his aura and his Mike Tyson-like ferocity are quickly making him a must-see attraction.

Sports media have shied away from this sport for the large part. While ESPN and other major publications will give front-page coverage to the biggest events, anything below that gets lost in the shuffle. Whether that is because they don’t want to be associated with the sport or because it hasn’t reached the right level of popularity, well, that depends who you ask but  the Nike poster-boy is a star they can get behind.

If Jones wasn’t making waves inside an eight-sided fighting circle where do you think he would be? In all likelihood he would probably be in the National Football League like his brothers, Chandler and Arthur. With his God-given abilities even the most jaded detractor of the sport cannot deny that real athletes fight in this sport that goes a long way in removing the stigma of big-bellied bar-brawlers inhabiting the fighting circles.

Last Saturday the UFC middleweight champion went 20-pounds north into Jones’ territory to meet Stephan Bonnar. Despite all the disadvantages Silva clowned Bonnar, made him look like a fool before crushing his sternum with a powerful, perfectly-timed knee and finishing him off with ground-and-pound without breaking a sweat.

At 37-years-of-age there is a lot of talk about how long Silva has before he walks away, he claims to have five-years left in the tank but whether he can continue to be the unstoppable force that we will mythologize at 42 is questionable.

The ‘super-fight’ idea has been thrown about for years. While it might just be a source of debate for some, putting together these fights are the key to mixed martial arts avoiding the traps that boxing fell into.

The UFC middleweight king is placed right in the middle of two of them with 170-pound champion George St. Pierre and 205-pound champion Jon Jones is his crossroads. The Brazilian has been clear that his third trip to light-heavyweight last weekend would be his last, either he would remain at middleweight to defend his throne or take the trip to challenge St. Pierre.

His boss disagrees though he wants Jones vs. Silva, stating “I will fly down here, I’ll lock myself in a room with Jorge [Guimaraes], Ed Soares and him, and I’ll make this fight,” he said, referencing Silva’s managers.

Dana White is a man that, for the most part, gets what he wants.

It’s clear that the UFC President is going to back up a truck full of hundred-dollar bills and unload them onto the pound-for-pound king’s front yard and do everything in his power to make this fight happen.

A fight with Silva meeting St. Pierre or Jones would be the biggest in mixed martial arts history and up there with the biggest in all of combat sports. While the generations above you tell stories of Muhammed Ali meeting Joe Frazier or “Sugar” Ray Leonard against Tommy Hearns, you will tell your children about these fights.

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