Gary Shaw is certain of it. He thinks boxing still has it over mixed martial arts in one specific way. He has no doubt that when a megafight occurs, when a Manny Pacquiao steps into a ring and faces a Ricky Hatton, when so many movie stars show up that Denzel Washington is relegated to the 15th row, when the lights are blinding and the buzz deafening, the advantage still falls to boxing.
“On its best day, MMA can’t match the glamour of a huge boxing event,” Shaw said.
What about all the other days?
“They’re kicking our ass.”
Shaw knows both sides. He is president of Gary Shaw Productions and began his career in boxing as inspector for the New Jersey Athletic Control Commission. He was once chief operating officer for Main Events.
He also dived into MMA as part of the EliteXC venture that introduced mainstream fans to such fighters as Kimbo Slice and Gina Carano before the company became yet another crushed into financial ruin while trying to compete with the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Just another bug smeared on the UFC’s windshield.
Shaw fit with MMA like Dana White might with a convent. It wasn’t a good match. Read some of the blog comments about Shaw’s endeavor with EliteXC, but prepare yourself for a novel of four-letter words. Chuck Palahniuk kind of stuff, only not nearly as brilliant.
But here’s the thing: Shaw was involved with the sport long enough to understand why, in terms of sheer popularity, the UFC has sprinted past boxing in Olympic time. He loves boxing, has devoted his life to it, wants more than anything for it to again matter on a global scale. He’s also not blind.
Shaw spoke about the giant lead MMA has created over boxing while in town last week to promote a card at Primm Valley Casino Resorts, where rising super welterweight Alfredo Angulo on Friday recovered from his first professional loss in May with a second-round knockout of Gabriel Rosado.
A few of Shaw’s main thoughts on how boxing might narrow the gap:
1. Matchups. It continues to be a leading reason UFC gains status among fans. Records don’t matter. Resumes aren’t as important as the likelihood of a thrilling fight. In boxing, you bring a promoter someone with a 15-8 record, and you better duck before finishing the sentence.
“Losses don’t mean anything in MMA, but in boxing they’re devastating,” Shaw said. “I get asked all the time about boxers, ‘Is this a make-or-break fight for his career?’ You never get asked that in MMA. Nobody cares. They just want to see good fights.
“How am I supposed to build the popularity of a boxer among fans if the next time they see him on television is more than a year or maybe never because he lost a fight?”
2. Pace and enthusiasm. In this manner, a UFC event compares to the Indy 500. Most boxing cards compare to a local soap box derby.
Shaw would prefer to have women dancing through aisles at boxing matches. Music blaring from speakers. One ring girl after the other. Less time between fights.
“Television doesn’t want to change for boxing, but we need to bring more energy to our events and move things quickly like UFC does,” Shaw said. “I’d have fans taking pictures and give $500 for the best photo of the night. I’d have women dancing with the media.”
(OK, so we never said he was sane.)
“The UFC attracts its demographic because it’s one fight after the next,” Shaw said. “We in boxing have announcers up there speaking to the crowd too much, all this waiting around, and while all that is happening, there is no fight and you’re asleep.
“MMA fights with 4-ounce gloves and boxing with 8 and 10 ounce, all under the same commission rules. They have a lot more knockouts than we do. That’s exciting for fans.”
3. Branding and red tape. To make a good fight, Shaw must leap over the hurdles of another promoter, sanctioning bodies and TV executives. The UFC has no hurdles. It owns the sport. It does as it pleases.
It also is a culture defined by clothing lines. When was the last time you saw boxing being promoted in the same T-shirt billboard way that MMA is?
Answer: You haven’t.
“I don’t think MMA will ever crush boxing because we’ve tried to kill ourselves and haven’t succeeded,” Shaw said. “We can’t even commit suicide the right way.
“We could do a lot more to help ourselves, and we need to. UFC is a great brand. All the credit and respect to them. But there is so much more we as a sport can do to make boxing better. It’s nothing personal. MMA has it over boxing right now. It’s up to us to try to change that.”
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He also can be heard weeknights from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. on “The Sports Scribes” on KDWN-AM (720).