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Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Boxing-MMA card doesn't make much sense


Let's get one thing straight before this blog goes any further: This is not, I repeat NOT, a boxing-versus-mixed martial arts debate. As I have said almost to the point of wanting to vomit, boxing and MMA are different sports.

They both have their place. They both have quality athletes and events. They can co-exist. Some folks might even enjoy both sports.

I'm not one of the folks who enjoys both sports, however. I obviously love boxing and follow it closely and am not an MMA fan. Sure, I'll watch a clip here or there and I've certainly heard of the biggest stars of the sport, but it's just not my thing. So sue me.

I've got nothing against MMA, nor do I have an issue with those who are as passionate about it as I am about boxing. I simply elect not to watch MMA or follow it. And I certainly understand and respect those MMA fans that don't give a crap about boxing.

So it was with a bit of skepticism that I listened to John Wirt, the hard-working CEO of Roy Jones' promotional company, Square Ring, explain the details of the March 21 pay-per-view card they were planning. On that card, Jones will come back from his lopsided loss to Joe Calzaghe in November to face Omar Sheika in his hometown of Pensacola, Fla. I wasn't surprised to hear that at all, because I had already heard about it and reported it during the studio portion of last week's "Friday Night Fights."

What did take me a bit by surprise was when Wirt said the card would include a combination of boxing matches and MMA fights.

It's not an entirely alien idea, since I've seen it done on some small cards before, just not at a major level or on pay-per-view. While I certainly wish Jones, Wirt and all the folks at Square Ring success with their experiment, I just have a hard time seeing it work in a meaningful way, and here's the reason:

As a consumer of boxing, I have no interest in viewing MMA, especially when I am asked to ante up pay-per-view money. If I'm paying cash to watch TV, you can be damn sure I don't want to watch something I won't even watch for free, and I'm sure the MMA crowd probably feels the same way about having boxing matches infest their MMA events. Having both combat sports on the same card might actually drive fans of each away if they feel cheated by having the other sport taking up space on the telecast, one they are being asked to pay for.

Even if you love both sports, which lots of people do, I'm not sure it will work. I love baseball and football, for example, but when I sit down to watch a baseball game, I want to watch the game. I don't want to watch three innings of baseball and then a quarter of football. If I want to watch football, I watch football and don't expect the game to be interrupted by a few innings of hardball.

The idea of mixing boxing and MMA on the same event might make sense in theory, but in practice it risks alienating fans of both sports.

Oscar De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions came to that realization last fall. When I was in Las Vegas in September to cover the Juan Manuel Marquez-Joel Casamayor lightweight championship fight, Golden Boy and MMA promoter Affliction called a news conference to announce a partnership between the companies that would mark Golden Boy's entrance into MMA and Affliction's into boxing. The first joint venture between the companies, Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer announced, would include boxing and MMA matches.

At the news conference, Affliction vice president Tom Atencio said, "We're looking to put together top MMA fighters as well as top boxers in one night. I think the two worlds have finally merged, and this is a perfect example."

There was a lot of talk about introducing boxing fans to MMA and vice versa. That's nonsense. If you are a fan of either sport, you already know about the other one and have undoubtedly made a decision about whether you are interested in the other one.

That is the conclusion Golden Boy and Affliction came to. Stung by intense criticism over the idea of having both sports on the same pay-per-view card, it was quickly scrapped with little fanfare.

I asked Golden Boy officials about the decision a couple of months later and they said they had decided that, upon further review, they didn't think it was such a hot idea after all.

So the first card co-promoted by Golden Boy and Affliction, Saturday night's "Day of Reckoning" pay-per-view at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., which is headlined by the Andrei Arlovski-Fedor Emelianenko fight, will not feature any boxing matches. Just MMA bouts.

At the same time, about 40 miles away at the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles, Golden Boy and Top Rank are promoting Antonio Margarito and Shane Mosley, who will do battle for the welterweight championship in front of an expected sellout crowd of more than 18,000 and millions watching on HBO. And there won't be any MMA bouts on the card.

That's the way it should be.