MMA has become increasingly popular over the past decade. Some even wonder whether it has now taken over boxing in its popularity. Looking solely at the PPV purchases, it is easy to think that boxing is still more popular than MMA. However, this article explores a number of other measures to determine which is more popular between MMA and boxing.
Boxing has more PPV purchases than MMA and was rated more popular in America by the Washington Post. However, Google Trends suggest that MMA is more popular on a worldwide scale, with many fans in Europe, South America and the Middle East. MMA also has more fans on Facebook, YouTube and Reddit.
You can find these exact statistics below, as well as some reasons why MMA is more popular than boxing. I have also included which fighters earn more between MMA and boxing.
MMA vs Boxing: Popularity Comparison
1. Google Trends consistently show that ‘UFC’ as a search term is much greater than ‘Boxing’ worldwide.
2. UFC and boxing show similar trends in the USA, whereas South America, Europe and the Middle East show stronger preferences for the UFC.
3. Popular forums, such as Reddit, show that MMA is more popular than boxing, with 1.6million members in the MMA Subreddit and 1million members in the boxing Subreddit.
4. Free video content from YouTube favors MMA, with 11.8million subscribers on the UFC channel, 7.9million subscribers on the ESPN channel and less than 1 million on the Top Rank Boxing channel.
5. Facebook shows that the MMAFighting.com page has 2.2million Likes and the UFC page has 2.8million Likes, whereas Showtime Boxing has less than 2 million Likes.
6. The highest-selling boxing PPV (Mayweather vs. Pacquiao) generated 4.6million purchases, whereas the highest-selling MMA PPV (Khabib vs McGregor) generated 2.4million purchases.
7. A small 2017 study was conducted with a sample size of 1,000 people by the Washington Post. This revealed 25% of US adults followed MMA, whereas 28% followed boxing.
Reasons Why MMA is More Popular than Boxing
Boxing Matches are More Prone to Delay
In the UFC, champions must defend their title against any challenger. If they refuse to fight without a valid reason or they take extended leave and avoid a difficult fight, they can be stripped of their title. This then allows others to fight for an interim champion. The fights are set up by the UFC to generate the most public interest, which usually involves selecting a contender from the top five for their weight division.
In boxing, a champion has more control over who they fight. There are politics surrounding contracts with TV networks that prevent two fighters from coming together. There are also several promotional organizations offering to arrange fights between boxers. If a boxer receives multiple offers, this gives them more choice over who they fight.
Unfortunately, this has resulted in many highly-anticipated fights being delayed, causing fans to lose interest. It has also fuelled fan theories that champions will ‘duck’ fights to avoid a difficult opponent, which further reduces the popularity of boxing.
MMA is Easier to Understand
When it comes to understanding who is the reigning champion, MMA is much easier to understand. There is only one major organization, the UFC, which governs high-level MMA fighting. There is only one champion for each of the eight weight divisions in the UFC.
Boxing has four major governing bodies, including the WBA, WBC, IBF and WBO. Each of these organizations has its own champions for 17 different weight divisions. This means that there can be 68 boxing champions at any given time.
To make it more confusing, some champions are awarded ‘Super Champion’ if they hold titles over all four organizations or have defended their title at least five times. Someone else is then able to be awarded the title of ‘Regular Champion’ in that weight division. This makes it difficult for spectators to understand who the true world champion is for each weight division.
Fighters are Difficult to Follow in Boxing
The UFC is broadcast on ESPN, which means that those with access to ESPN have access to all UFC fights. Therefore, an MMA fan can easily follow the career of their favorite fighter through the ESPN network.
In boxing, matches are set up by different promotional organizations and therefore aired on different TV networks. This means that fans may need access to several sporting networks in order to follow the career of any particular boxer. Some of these networks include ESPN, Fox Sports, Showtime, DAZN and NBC.
Is MMA the Most Popular Sport in The World?
MMA and boxing are the two most popular combat sports in the world. However, they still do not surpass non-combat sports. According to the World Atlas (link to website), association football (soccer) is the most popular sport, with an estimated four billion followers.
In comparison, according to IMG ARENA (link to website), there are only around 300million UFC/MMA fans worldwide. This is a very small following compared to non-combat sports. As a result, MMA does not even make the top 10 most popular sports in regards to its fan base according to the World Atlas.
MMA Fighters vs Boxers: Who Makes More Money?
Salary is incredibly variable in MMA and boxing, depending on factors such as popularity, sponsors and who you fight. Overall, boxers have the potential to earn the most money, but MMA fighters have a much better average income.
The best comparison is earnings per fight. The UFC payout scheme means a fighter can earn anywhere between $10k and $3million per fight. There are then bonuses, such as $50k for ‘Fight of the Night’, and money from endorsements. Khabib Nurmagomedov, for example, was able to earn $6million from his fight against Justin Gaethje in UFC 254.
Professional boxing, on the other hand, starts out at around $1,000 per fight for boxers early in their career. With most boxers having less than 10 fights per year, this makes the income incredibly low for those starting out. In contrast, top-tier champions such as Floyd Mayweather Jr., receive millions of dollars in payouts per fight. Mayweather Jr.’s all-time record was reportedly $280 million for one fight, a payout he received from his fight against Conor McGregor in 2017.
However, unless you’re one of the world’s top boxing champions, the average salary of a professional boxer is much lower than that of MMA fighters in the UFC. Professional boxers will earn an average of around $37,500 per year, whereas the average UFC fighter will earn around $148,000 in a year.
Can MMA Overtake Boxing?
Some believe that boxing is still more popular than MMA due to higher PPV statistics. However, this is not always a true representation of popularity considering multiple fans can come together to watch matches from the same account.
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, Google Trends and social media demonstrate that MMA is the more popular sport. These measures are also a more accurate depiction of individual preference, rather than relying on an account that may or may not be accessed by multiple people.
The trends seen on Google also demonstrate that, although there are similar preferences in the US, other areas such as Europe, South America and the Middle East prefer MMA. This highlights the fact that the study done by the Washington Post represents only a small portion of the MMA fan base. Therefore, it is not a true representation of its worldwide popularity compared to boxing.
In regards to PPV, MMA overtook boxing during the lockdowns associated with the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. This could be due to the fact that people could no longer gather together to watch matches from the same account, or due to the fact that the UFC was able to continue broadcasting fights from Fight Island.
Boxing may rise again, but MMA has shown a rapid increase in popularity over the last decade. If this trend continues, it will certainly overtake boxing in all measures of popularity.
Is Boxing Still Popular In The US?
Boxing still has its appeal to the American population. Some people will always prefer the thrill and pace of stand-up fighting compared to the mix of standing and ground fighting in MMA. Many boxing fans do not like the idea of winning through submissions and chokes, and prefer a simpler rule-set, where punches are the only offense.
In addition to this, new interest has been generated with the introduction of YouTubers Logan and Jake Paul. The popularity of both boxing and MMA greatly depends on the talent and personalities within the sport at the time. Conor McGregor has played a large role in attracting MMA fans, just as Mike Tyson’s skill attracted boxing fans. Introducing a YouTuber to the boxing scene may be just what is needed to boost its popularity.
Why Is Boxing Declining
As I mentioned previously, the Covid-19 pandemic did not affect the UFC as much as other sporting events due to the use of Fight Island to host its fighters. UFC President Dana White fought hard to keep the momentum going and work around restrictions to resume broadcasting.
Boxing, on the other hand, was forced into decline as organizers canceled more and more events. The money was no longer available to fund big fights, so fans were no longer able to watch their favorite boxing champions. This then led to a decline in views and many fans choosing to watch MMA for entertainment instead.