Where all the big boys at?

Is combat sports is facing it’s very own extinction event — the death of the heavyweight?

The Heavyweight Championship in boxing, MMA and even pro wrestling has always been viewed as a big deal (no pun intended) — boxing’s glory years in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s were arguably down to the likes of Ali, Frazier, Foreman, Tyson, Holyfield and Lewis. MMA too has been afforded riches in talent at the weight class, with the likes of Couture, Fedor and a certain Brock Lesnar (more on him later) who have had massive success and became synonymous with the growth of the sport. The same too can be said of pro wrestling; although purely scripted, the world of pro wrestling has often seen it’s champions a typical shape and size, meaning that “the little guys” have struggled to make impact (with the exception of a select few, of course). There does seem to be a certain change in the ‘new era’ of WWE, as the likes of Seth Rollins and Finn Balor; athletes who would have likely been deemed as card openers back in the 80’s and 90’s, due to their high flying dynamic “cruiserweight” styles, are now seen as ‘the leading lights’ faces of the organisation.

Put simply, the public have a love affair with seeing big dudes knock seven shades out of each other and get amongst it. Brock Lesnar’s physical stature has allowed him to have a very successful career financially within MMA and WWE (told you i’d come back to him!). Brock’s time in the UFC and his return to WWE screens has been ‘must-see’ TV every time! Regardless of what ‘special supplements’ he has been knocking back, Brock is a freak of nature and a complete specimen! Viewers will always gravitate towards that type of athlete, as it’s straight out of a comic book and we are getting to witness a real-life giant move like a lightweight!

Much of Anthony Joshua’s appeal within the boxing world comes down to his athletic appearance and ‘Tyson-esque’ highlight reel knockouts. With the dawn of ‘the AJ era’ brings a concern…what about the rest??? Where is the conveyor belt of talent??? AJ is 26 and still a few years off his prime, but look further down the rankings and there isn’t a lot in the pipeline…The UFC is also facing the same issue, Derrick Lewis is the youngest top tier heavyweight at 31!? I appreciate that the heavyweight division has seen a renaissance of the likes of Werdum, Arlovski and Overeem, but all 3 are approaching the Autumn of their respective careers.

Why is this happening? It’s no real secret that all combat sports pay fairly poorly at entry level, with the average salary in boxing roughly at $40k, $35k in MMA and $31k within kickboxing — for most athletically gifted individuals, this isn’t a massive pull factor.

The UFC is so often seen as ‘the big league’ in terms of an MMA promoter and whilst this has been the case for many of the elite(Conor, Ronda and GSP), the sponsorship structure with the Reebok uniform deal makes it virtually non-comparable to make money during previous years where fighters were able to subsidize their fight money with additional sponsors. Brendan Schaub was one of the first fighters to come out and detail just how much money he was losing on fight night due to lack of sponsors (up to 100k per fight) — ultimately causing some part in his thought process to walk away from the sport…put simply, it’s getting harder for fighters to make money compared with the ‘Big 4’ in the United States.

This isn’t something which has happened overnight, in fact the NFL and NBA’s talent scouts have a proven track record of attracting young talent early on and through college scholarships, clubs have an excellent platform as way of a feeder system. As will always be the case, the dollar is larger and much more accessible in these types of sports and crucially are deemed as ‘safer sports’ (the NFL is currently going through it’s own trials and tribulations with concussions etc, but for the most part it is safer than being knocked unconscious by a punch or submission)

Is there a way of changing this for the world of combat sports?? In my opinion I don’t think the future is all of doom and gloom for heavyweight combat sports…In boxing, the late 70’s mourned the loss of Ali in the ring, until a certain phenom from Brooklyn came to play ‘punch face’ (Tyson)and after his sad demise, Lennox and Holyfield grabbed ‘the brass ring’ in the 90’s/00's. Whilst the remaining 00’s were dominated by the Klitschko brothers, the outlook for this generation, could see many youngsters look up to the likes of Joshua, Ortiz and Wilder. The emergence of Joe Joyce at Rio 2016 is a bright spot (albeit at 30, Joyce needs to be pushed on with his boxing career should he consider a move into the pro ranks). Hopefully we will see the emergence of young, hungry and ambitious fighters in years to come…

Within MMA and in the UFC in paricular, we could soon well start to see further development/talent scouting within this division, with the recent WME/IMG purchase, I would imagine they are looking for the most ‘bang for their buck’ and in part will scour the globe for additional talent, as heavyweights tend to always sell when it comes to the viewing public. There is the renewed hope that Cain Velasquez can stay healthy and finally realise his potential as the most talented heavyweight since Fedor. Whereas Stipe Miocic faces his biggest test in a few weeks when he defends the strap against Alistair Overeem; in a perfect world Stipe will dispatch his opponent and set up a mouth watering showdown with the aforementioned Mr Velasquez! Jon Jones is another to throw into the mix, should he successfully be able to utilize one of his many ‘nine-lives’ and make a triumphant return to the UFC and up to Heavyweight (much depends on USADA of course!) Rico Verhoeven, current GLORY kickboxing champ is another talented, young fighter who may see MMA as his next logical move…

So let’s keep hoping that the big boys make themselves known soon…the public demands it!

Thanks for reading

Leith

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