All the back and forth regarding boxing's ills and MMA's emergence as the dominant combat sport can really be boiled down to one thing: Boxers have autonomy. Mixed martial artists do not. While that independence may be the best thing for the fighters, it's crushing to their industry.
Take Quinton Jackson, who has thrown repeated tantrums over the possibility of a fight with Lyoto Machida. Machida is "boring," Jackson said, and he didn't want to follow up a lackluster performance against Rashad Evans with another deliberately-paced bout. (Jackson may also perceive Machida as a poor match for his style, but you won't catch him saying it.)
What happens? According to MMAJunkie and other outlets, Jackson will fight Machida in November. So much for freedom of choice.
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If Jackson were a boxer, he'd happily arrange for a heavy bag with lungs in order to absolve himself of the Evans bout. After a few "warm-up" fights, he'd get serious again. Actually, had Jackson been steering his own career, he probably wouldn't have taken the Evans fight at all. A year-plus layoff would mean avoiding any real threats until he got his fight legs back under him.
The UFC's business model -- where brand is king and fighters go through the turnstile -- has done an incredible thing: It's taken the ego out of fighting. There is no opportunity to emulate Floyd Mayweather, who enjoys manipulating his business and his fans like marionettes. If you're offered a fight, you take it. If you don't like it, you can sit and spin until you wise up. It's how athletes wind up with 16-7 records. There's no padding; every fight is against a killer. It's the league approach. The AFC champions don't sit down to negotiate a deal to meet the NFC in the Super Bowl. They just do it.
In the context of MMA and the climate the UFC has provided, it would be absurd. The sport has created an environment where everyone fights anyone, regardless of how protective someone feels about his record or reputation. The inmates do not run the asylum.
Ironically, this was boxing's MO 60 years ago. The good fights happened when audiences were ready for them. Today, careers aren't made so much as manipulated. There's no organization with any level of authority over fighters, which is why Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao can get bogged down in levels of bureaucracy that smothers interest. Will fans buy their next respective fights? Probably. Will any of them prefer them over a Mayweather-Pacquiao showdown? Hardly.
This degree of control is not necessarily good for athletes, particularly when they feel pressure to fight hurt or take bouts outside their pay grade. (It's safe to say Velasquez won't make nearly as much for the Lesnar bout as Lesnar will, a far cry from the constant arguing over even purse splits in boxing.) Fighters have become cattle, their careers steered by forces with a primary interest in making money first and coddling second.
The UFC may not be a managerial entity, but it's effectively their role in booking fights. Jon Jones is being brought up slowly; Jackson is thrown to the wolves. The actual managers are left to negotiate sponsorship deals and fax contracts. Say "no" to the UFC enough times and watch what happens.
It would be nice to champion fighters' rights and moan that promotions have too much power -- but the alternative is boxing's chaotic mess of a business. These fighters fight. Boxers talk. And fans aren't listening.