ESPN is all-in on UFC

May 29, 2007 1:47 AM

UFC had its ultimate exposure last week, gaining live coverage on ESPNews of the Chuck Liddell-Quinton Jackson weigh-in and a Sports Illustrated cover.

Another low blow for oldtime boxing.

"Ultimate Fighting draws a much younger crowd," said Dave Pemberton, race and sports book manager at The Rio. "I’m not sure it will pass boxing in terms of betting, especially when there are fights involving Oscar de la Hoya. He is far and away the top draw in the sport."

Pemberton said he wasn’t sure that UFC will pass boxing in terms of betting, but that there has been a rise in public appeal due to a lack of quality matchups in the fight game.

"A big money fight will still do much better than UFC," he said. "We just haven’t seen many. Floyd Mayweather can’t bring in the kind of draw by himself that Oscar can. I know the guys here at the Rio are hoping for a Mayweather-de La Hoya rematch. The first fight, coupled with Cinqo de Mayo and the Kentucky Derby, was a big day for the house."

GamingToday is only concerned with the wagering aspect and not the fact UFC has suddenly caught the national media’s attention at boxing’s expense. However, with a possible plan for ESPN to show UFC fights previously relegated to outer limits cable stations such as Spike and FX, it can only help narrow the pugilism gap.

And boxing only has itself to blame.

"UFC is popular because boxing is falling off," said John Avello, the noted director of race and sports at Wynn Las Vegas. "The sport (boxing) is at a low right now. Something else came along that is more exciting and it has embraced by boxing followers."

Avello compares UFC with the World Series of Poker in terms of rising popularity and NASCAR with regard to its promotion and marketing.

"Remember UFC and Pride are now one organization," Avello said. "Pride is extremely popular in Japan. I like it. The guys are tough and it’s a well-run sport. UFC is building the type of momentum NASCAR did a few years back. We have put up a lot of matches for betting purposes. Liddell-Jackson will do well as long as it can be viewed. They brings pretty good action. It’s not nearly that of de la Hoya, but not many are."

The handwriting was on the wall when Marc Ratner, longtime and highly respected chairman of the Nevada State Boxing Commission, jumped ship and went to the UFC.

So long as boxing promoters schedule boring bouts like last week’s Spinks-Taylor snooze and avoid fights the public wants to see like Taylor-Pavlik, we’re going to continue seeing fans shifting their allegiance to the UFC.

Stars such as Liddell, Tito Ortiz and Ken Shamrock are replacing boxing’s most recognizable draws because Don King and Bob Arum can’t put quality fights together and nobody can keep up with these alphabet letter titles.

Boxing fans love betting fights and the more exposure UFC will start receiving from ESPN will further educate the public and promote betting action. Maybe boxing will have to recognize UFC and book Liddell against say Hopkins for a monster pay-per-view deal.

Mergers happen. Remember in Super Bowl 3 when Joe Namath and the Jets brought credibility to the American Football League after beating the heavily favored Baltimore Colts. Boxing needs to do something, otherwise Liddell or new champ Quinton Jackson will become the next "Golden Boy."