Last Saturday night I watched Johny Hendricks pull off a fifth round to remember to seal the deal and capture the UFC Welterweight World Title, leaving a disappointed but gracious Robbie Lawler as the number two 170 pounder in the UFC. If that isn’t enough, just twenty four hours earlier, on Friday night, I watched Pat Curran snatch victory from the certain jaws of defeat when, in an effort worthy of Fight of the Year consideration, he forced a tap out from the Champ Daniel Strauss with just fourteen clicks left on the clock in the final round to recapture the Bellator Featherweight World Title that Strauss took from him last year. In addition to those two headliners, both the UFC and Bellator cards were stacked with outstanding fights. Friday’s Bellator 112 featured the opening round of the Welterweight Tournament while the UFC 171 card gave fans a look at rising stars like Tyrone Woodley, Miles Jury, and Hector Lombard. This was all brought to me courtesy of my TV remote in the comfort of my living room! Weekends just don’t get a whole lot better than that…
I grew up a child of the seventies and was a huge fan of boxing. The decade from 1965 through 1975 was the height of the Ali-Frazier-Forman Heavyweight domination. These three former U.S. Olympic Gold Medalists played musical chairs with the Heavyweight Title for more than a dozen years in the post Marciano era. Other characters like Joe Bugner, Jerry Quarry, Jimmy Ellis, and Kenny Norton played supporting roles, but these years belonged to the big three.
The decade of the 1980’s was all about Middleweights; Marvin Hagler, Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, and Roberto Duran. Sure, three of those four cut their teeth at lower weight classes, but when all was said and done, they, and every other averaged sized guy near the top rung on the boxing ladder, found their way to 159 ½ pounds, and boxing fans were treated to a dozen memorable fights during the 80’s!
Times were different back then; technology was a word in the spelling bee. We had three channels on our TV, and their sports departments consisted generally of the home team’s games in, and ONLY in, Pro Basketball, Football, Baseball, and Hockey. Major professional boxing matches were never shown live; one either had to purchase a ticket to the fight (if it was even near his zip code) or purchase a ticket to a “closed circuit television” location somewhere in your state. Closed Circuit events were reserved for the wealthier folks; like nearly all of the kids in my neighborhood, I came from a large family (I am one of six kids.) and our parents weren’t about to pony up hard earned American currency to see a boxing match that was going to be shown three weeks from now on Saturday afternoon on ABC’s Wide World of Sports. But you could bet your Paul McCartney haircut that three weeks down the road every damn kid in the neighborhood, sometimes fifteen or twenty of us, was hunkered down in my mom and dad’s basement eating pretzels and watching last months fight!
The average sports fan back in the sixties and seventies very rarely saw boxing live, either at the event center or on TV. I was an average kid from an average family living in an average town. I was born in 1959 and the first significant professional Boxing match that I ever saw live was the Muhammad Ali v Leon Spinks (their first one) Heavyweight Title Fight in 1978, and that was because it was shown on free TV. The boxing game was suffering and needed a shot in the arm, so Ali came in fat and sloppy and lost a split decision to Spinks; that generated serious PPV numbers when the two met seven months later, and Ali was all about PPV numbers and percentage of sales. It was a rare occasion for a boxing match to be shown live on TV, because there was no Cable TV, no satellite technology, very limited major network TV space available for a fringe sport like boxing, and Al Gore had not yet invented the internet.
One of the major differences between Boxing from yesteryear and current MMA is that Boxing never really thought to build, develop, and market the undercard, which has become a real staple of contemporary MMA. Because all the major news papers, TV networks, and magazines carried just the story of the Main Event, and on significant Title fights only, most of us Boxing fans never really even knew of the term “undercard”. Therefore, we never got to see fighters develop. We really only knew maybe the ten most significant boxers in the world at any given time.
I was a huge fan of Sugar Ray Leonard but, other than the 1976 Olympics, the first time that I ever saw Sugar Ray fight live was when he fought Davey Boy Green in 1980; that fight, seen on regular (free) TV, was a sort of marketing tool used to promote the first Leonard v Duran fight that was set for three months down the road. The fight gave the American viewers their first look at the 1976 Olympic Gold Medalist, and their All-American hero responded by knocking out Englishman Green in a most brutal fashion, thus ensuring a massive PPV for the Leonard v Duran fight. The next time I saw Leonard fight live was five fights and a year and a half later when he met Tommy Hearns for the first time, in 1981. I watched it at a friend’s house, because his dad was a wealthy guy and had this new thing called Cable TV, which was wicked good! In 1979 I saw the Leonard v Benitez fight a few weeks after the fact on tape delay. I “heard about” the Roberto Duran “no mas” event a day after, but I had to wait three weeks to watch it on Wide World of Sports like everybody else.
By the early 1980’s, lots of folks had cable TV, but all major Boxing matches were on Pay Per View, so a dozen or so guys would get together and kick in a few bucks when there was a major event. The 80’s was all about Hagler, Leonard, Hearns, and Duran, and while many of these fights were rather stellar, we only got to see one or two per year. The other weight classes took a back seat to these Middleweight warriors, and without the undercards being used to develop and market younger talent, Boxing fans never really cared about the other thirteen weight classes anyway. Also, because of the promotional cost of putting a fight to PPV, lesser known Main Events were not available to be seen on Cable (or regular TV).
I love the technology that brings quality programming, movies, and sports. Because of it we have access to MMAction on a regular basis that has driven this sport to unprecedented levels in a relatively short period of time. We can thank folks like Bill Gates, Dana White, Bjorn Rebney, and all the fighters that grace out flat screens each week
This coming Friday night we are back at it with Bellator 113, featuring Attila Vegh v Emanuel Newton for the Bellator Light Heavyweight World Title currently held by Vegh. The undercard is stacked with the opening round of the Bellator Lightweight Tournament, featuring the likes of Dave Rickels, Patricky Freire, and Marcin Held. Twenty four hours later on Saturday night, former World Champions Dan Henderson and Mauricio Rua will lock antlers at UFC Fight Night 39 in a fight that, while it may not hold immediate title implications, will be worth the price of popcorn and a six pack. While the undercard does not have the star quality of last weekend’s UFC event, we will be treated to some developing stars as well as familiar faces. So fire up the wood stove, invite the neighbors, and get ready for another weekend like last one…