At least Ronda Rousey won “Best Female Athlete.” Undefeated boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. walked away with his sixth ESPY “Fighter of the Year” honors this week., topping fellow boxers Manny Pacquiao and Andre Ward, which is no big surprise. However, “Fighter of the “Year” is no longer exclusively reserved for professional boxers.
Ronda Rousey and Jon Jones were among this year’s nominees. Jon Jones hasn’t really had a remarkable year. Rousey is as dominant as ever but her quality of opposition stinks.
What’s baffling is that Chris Weidman was not even considered (he was nominated for “Upset of the Year” but didn’t win that, either). He knocked out Anderson Silva. If that wasn’t enough, he beat him again in the immediate rematch. He also defeated Lyoto Machida by a unanimous decision two weeks ago. That and the two victories over Anderson Silva, who is regarded by most MMA fans to be the greatest fighter of all time, apparently weren’t enough to earn ESPN’s top spot.
In contrast, Mayweather defeated Saul “Canelo” Alvarez in a catchweight bout and followed it up with a close decision victory over 15 to 1 underdog Marcos Maidana. For Mayweather to have won ESPN’s Fighter of the Year award in light of what Chris Weidman accomplished over the past year ought to be a wake up call for MMA fans. MMA is still playing second fiddle to professional boxing.
With all the talk about boxing being dead and MMA being the fastest growing sport in the world, still it was a professional boxer who got named “Fighter of the Year” for beating a pair of chumps. This is not a knock on Mayweather. Floyd did well in selling the Mayweather brand over the past decade and is merely enjoying the fruits of his labor.
However, the UFC and the world of MMA failed to do its part. Everyone’s been too busy promoting the tough guy image, making MMA look like a sport for jerks.
There is no way Mayweather should’ve beaten Chris Weidman had the general public known the magnitude of Weidman’s wins over Silva. But maybe they do know and simply do not care. Either way, something needs to change in the UFC if it ever hopes to one day be considered the king of all combat sports. Apparently, that title still belongs to boxing.
MMA fans might argue that boxing will die once Mayweather and Pacquiao retire. That could be true, but is that MMA’s only hope? Shouldn’t MMA have ascended enough by now to have produced a celebrity that could compete with Mayweather in popularity?
Everybody’s heard of Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard and Mike Tyson. 50 years from now casual fans will still be talking about those guys along with Mayweather and Pacquiao. Boxing can thank its writers for that, as they tend to take their sport way too seriously, almost like a religion. And it’s paid off. Boxing might be viewed as a sport for old timers, but these old timers have been fans since their youth.
The UFC on the other hand, has a reputation of being an “extreme” sport for energy drink-guzzling teens. Joe Rogan is still trying hard to be edgy and thinks it’s cool to cuss during his commentating. The UFC is so heavily focused on appealing to the younger generation that they risk losing the same fans once they turn 40 and realize they’re too old to be an MMA fan.
In boxing you’ll occasionally find a younger fan who’s very knowledgeable about the sport and acts mature for his age. In the UFC however, you’ll see a bunch of older dudes making fools of themselves as they try to act like they’re 20 years younger in order to fit in.
The real problem could be, however, is Dana White. He refuses to allow his fighters to grow bigger than the UFC. He wants to be Vince McMahon. He wants the world to know that the fighters are his subordinates. Guess what? It’s difficult for writers to immortalize chumps that could easily be spit out by Dana White. The sport is only as big as its heroes and legends and Dana White wants to keep them under his thumb.
One of the reasons Fedor Emelianenko is still regarded by some MMA fans as the greatest fighter who ever lived is because he never bowed down to the UFC. He was his own man all the way to the end and preserved his aura of greatness. He never begged to be in the UFC when just about every fighter dreams of fighting in the Octagon. Fedor saw himself bigger than the UFC and would not submit to Dana White. Fedor’s legend is better for it.
The UFC and MMA in general does need a little makeover. It needs to look like a sport for grown ups rather than underage drunks. MMA publications should stop looking like redneck, anti-government gun magazines and should strive to be more like The Ring Magazine. Joe Rogan needs to tone down the screaming and start acting more like a respectable adult in front of cameras rather than some know-it-all who will kick your butt if you disagreed with him.
Still, it all comes down to the individual fighter. Dana White needs to let them get as big as they can. He needs to stop discrediting and degrading every fighter who gets released from the UFC or never signs with the UFC. White recently stated that “business has never been bigger.” If this is as big as it gets for the UFC then Dana White better start looking for a day job.