Why has boxing been dominating the UFC in 2023?

It's been a long time since boxing has so clearly gotten the better of the UFC but there's no question that 2023 is boxing's year.

By: Nate Wilcox | 2 months ago
Why has boxing been dominating the UFC in 2023?
IMAGO | ZUMA WIRE by Adam DelGiudice

Has Boxing been kicking the UFC’s butt all year?

About a month ago I was watching Luke Thomas’s live chat and he was making a larger point about the UFC’s control of the MMA industry and how it has led to “boxing kicking MMA’s butt this year.”

That inspired me to reach out to my old Vox media colleague Scott Christ of Bad Left Hook to get his assessment of why that might be:

“Boxing has, for once, done a pretty good job of putting together fights people actually want to see,” Christ opened. “Tank Davis vs. Ryan Garcia had massive commercial appeal and was also an intriguing matchup even to fans who don’t really like either guy. Finally getting Spence vs. Crawford done was also huge.

“But boxing always has the really big fights a few times a year,” Christ continued. “This year the key has been something else. Fights like, for instance, Haney vs. Lomachenko may not have had the casual appeal for huge box office, but they kept the core audience invigorated, which is an often overlooked aspect of any fight sport’s success. Boxing has seen that with a fair amount of matchups this year, and that keeps people interested and talking week to week.

April 22, 2023, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA: Gervonta "Tank" Davis celebrates his win over Ryan Garcia after knocking Garcia out in the 7th round.
Gervonta “Tank” Davis celebrates his KO win over Ryan Garcia. IMAGO | ZUMA WIRE by Adam DelGiudice

“From what I’ve been able to tell,” Christ elaborated, “this has been an unusual year for UFC where they haven’t kept that core audience truly engaged week to week. Given how long UFC has deserved credit for doing exactly that, a dip was probably inevitable.

“Basically, boxing has lucked into the sort of thing UFC usually specializes in. I say ‘lucked into’ because as much as I’d love to project this trend for boxing continuing into 2024, I’m very cautious about that. We’ve seen the sport get hot and hit some nice peaks in this century, but then the same old problems crop up again and halt the momentum,” Christ added.

“Boxing is not changing its stripes as a business, and it is a business well before it’s a sport. The same people are still “in charge of” everything major. It still just takes one little offense to someone’s ego to sink a big fight that really should be made and produce a ripple effect that sinks several other potential bouts.

“So my gut feeling, unfortunately, is that things will more likely than not lean back toward ‘normal’ for boxing in 2024, while UFC will hope to get their juice back a little bit, and should be able to do so. I’d love to be wrong, but boxing does remain a mess, it’s just been a better-organized mess than usual in 2023,” Christ concluded.

Why might that be? Monopoly vs competitive ecosystem

MMA: UFC Fight Night-Las Vegas, May 30, 2020; Las Vegas, NV, USA; A general view inside the UFC APEX prior to UFC Fight Night. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Bottari Zuffa via USA TODAY Sports, 30.05.2020 14:00:01, 14354013, MMA, UFC Fight Night, NPStrans PUBLICATIONxINxGERxSUIxAUTxONLY Copyright: xJeffxBottarix 14354013
The UFC Apex Center IMAGO | USA TODAY Jeff Bottari for Zuffa

While Scott has a lot of strong points—and history on his side—there are some reasons to wonder if things really will go back to ‘business as usual’ in the near future. Here’s Luke Thomas’s argument which makes a case that a bounce-back for the UFC in 2024 might be less than likely:

UFC supporters say: ‘Won’t (fighters winning the class action suit) just turn MMA into boxing? And the answer is yes. I mean, not like exactly like boxing. But yes, it would change the architecture, so that it much more closely matched (boxing),” Thomas opened.

“There are a lot of people who think that would be a horrible thing. They say, ‘Oh, my God, look at the state of boxing. Why would we want any of that?’”

Luke’s response came down to this:

“The current UFC model has a lot of benefits for the consumer and a lot of negatives as well. But the reason why (boxing has a superior model) is because that is a model …where power is much more evenly distributed, which makes the kind of monopolization that you see in the MMA industry impossible,” Thomas stated.

“Let’s just be clear about this boxing is kicking MMA’s a** this year. No, that’s not common. Usually, it’s very much the other way around,” he continued.

“But right now, people talking about how unhealthy the boxing industry is, people talking about how ‘oh, it’s just a dying sport.’ These are just mfers who don’t have the faintest idea of what they’re talking about,” Thomas railed.

“If you don’t like the sport, just watching it is boring to you or you much prefer MMA or something else. Fine. I’m not trying to ask you to like it. But what I am asking you is… do you really think long term, this kind of single firm concentration in the market is ultimately what’s going to make it healthy?” Thomas concluded.

A quick survey of Google Trends gives some quantitative data to shore up Luke claim about boxing kicking the UFC’s a** this year:

garcia tank
canelo 287
jake nate
crawford 290

MMA has lost its mojo as a fighting style that sells

Boxing: Jake Paul vs Nate Diaz Aug 5, 2023; Dallas, Texas, USA; Jake Paul reacts after the win against Nate Diaz in a boxing match at American Airlines Center. Dallas American Airlines Center Texas USA, EDITORIAL USE ONLY PUBLICATIONxINxGERxSUIxAUTxONLY Copyright: xKevinxJairajx 20230805_krj_aj6_0029
Are we tired of watching MMA fighters lose to this guy yet? IMAGO | USA TODAY by Kevin Jairaj

The fight business slavers after marquee matchups. Fights that will SELL. That means fights that the average normie will at least consider paying to see. That means factors like skill level, sporting significance and rankings don’t matter. 

Recent years have shown us that style of fighting doesn’t matter. The UFC boom deceived many into believing that mixed martial arts was the secret sauce that appealed to a new generation of fight fans. But the success of celebrity boxing featuring Jake and Logan Paul and other internet influencers puts the lie to the MMA hype.

Bare knuckle boxing emerging as the last best payday for many beloved MMA veterans is another sick and sad kick in the teeth to those of us who believed in cage fighting’s potential to emerge as the next great fight sport. 

The UFC has monopsonized the sport of mixed martial arts. That means they are the only market for top-shelf MMA talent and yet they often outright refuse to deliver the fights fans want.

The UFC monopoly is already failing to deliver the biggest matchups

June 17, 2023, Atlanta, Georgia, USA: Atlanta, GA - June 16: Francis Ngannou and Jon Jones face off during PFL Atlanta 5 on June 16, 2023 at the Overtime Elite Arena in Atlanta, Georgia. Atlanta USA - ZUMAp175 20230617_zsa_p175_005 Copyright: xAaronxLitzx
This is the matchup MMA fans want to see. IMAGO | ZUMA WIRE by Aaron Litz

I’ll let Luke Thomas close this out:

“I know a lot of folks say (that with the UFC’s monopoly) we get all the big fights that we want. With the UFC you get many of them. That’s true (but) you don’t get all of them,” sizzled Thomas.

“What is stopping the UFC from making Jon Jones versus Francis Ngannou today?

“Nothing. Nothing.

“They could make it absolutely right now they are refusing to make it for the consumer because again, they don’t want to do any co-promotion,” Thomas elaborated.

“This is a clear example of a market leader avoiding making a fight that there is genuine consumer demand for in order to protect their larger interests,” Thomas clarified.

“They’re choosing not to (book Jones vs. Ngannou) and this I think will only get worse over time. You know, monopolies are not known for delivering long-term on what the consumer expectations are. What they’re known for, is having such control that they can make industry stagnant and sclerotic. And that’s why you want to break them up — to diversify the industry to make more competition and actually in this particular case, to give birth to competition (in MMA),” closed Thomas.

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About the author
Nate Wilcox
Nate Wilcox

Nate Wilcox is the founding editor of BloodyElbow.com. As such he has hired every editor and writer to work for the site. Wilcox’s writing for BE is known for its emphasis on MMA history, the evolution of fighting techniques and strong opinions. Wilcox developed the SBN MMA consensus rankings which were featured in USA Today from 2009 to 2011. Before founding BE, Wilcox was a political operative working for such figures as Senators John Kerry and Mark Warner and an early political blogger. He is the co-author of Netroots Rising, a history of the political blogosphere from 2003 to 2007. Wilcox also hosts the Let It Roll podcast on music history for the Pantheon Podcast Network.

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