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UFC Overcomes Obstacles To Deliver In Boston

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BOSTON — One of the more bad-blooded battles at the UFC this week didn’t involve fighters. Instead, Boston city council president Steven Murphy waged war against the mixed martial arts organization, supporting a petition that would ban minors from UFC events, even if they were accompanied by adults.

UFC president Dana White claimed that Murphy had a vendetta against the company due to the influence of the Las Vegas culinary union, which is embroiled in a dispute against Station Casinos, a group run by the UFC’s co-owners Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta.

Murphy denied that he had any knowledge of the culinary union, saying the UFC’s cage fighting product promoted anti-social behavior. But that didn’t sit well with White.

“This Murphy guy is a stereotypical politician. He’s a bad guy… typical liar politician,” argued White.

If White seemed annoyed with the situation it was because the UFC was staging an event in Boston on Saturday that was the highlight of the launch-day for the Fox Sports 1 network, a channel available to 93 million US homes.

Further local resistance against the UFC came from the enforcement of a previously ignored state law requiring all fighters to obtain social security numbers, a difficult task given that many of the organization’s competitors are not US residents. The implementation of the rule seemed strange given that the UFC had an event in Boston without any such headaches in 2010.

Even though it has existed for nearly 20 years, the UFC has not received complete mainstream acceptance and MMA remains illegal in New York. White says that opposition in New York is also driven by the culinary union dispute. The increased mainstream exposure of the UFC following its television deal with Fox makes it a bigger target for interest groups, which is further augmented by the company’s reported $2 billion valuation.

Despite all the hindrances, or “gnats” as White called them, the Boston public ultimately rallied behind the UFC on Saturday, with a crowd of 12,539 (including some of the folks pictured above, who didnd’t seem to care that UFC didn’t find it smooth sailing in putting this card together in Boston) turning up at the TD Garden to generate $1.53 million in gate revenue. Moreover, some of the states most notable figures, namely New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Boston Celtics CEO Wyc Grousbeck, were cageside to lend their support.

The attendance was down from the 15,575 that resulted in a $3 million gate in 2010. A key factor was likely the absence of a title fight on Saturday’s card. The larger problem for the UFC is that as its brand has gained greater exposure, its number of star fighters has diminished. Crossover names such as Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Randy Couture, Tito Ortiz and Brock Lesnar have departed, while its current leading draw, Georges St Pierre, has been plagued by injury. Some critics argue that the UFC has become overexposed and its popularity has peaked. White counters that the number of big name stars is a cyclical issue and not a problem with its model. He believes that given further promotion new big names will emerge.

“We promoted some of those guys [Couture, Ortiz, St Pierre] for years and years before they became big,” he said. “We’ll see it happen again in time.”

While Saturday’s card may have lacked star power, it compensated with an array of competitive matches involving some of its most talented fighters. In all there were 13 bouts that saw exciting action and outstanding performances. There were upsets [Chael Sonnen’s submission of Mauricio Rua and Travis Browne’s knockout of Alistair Overeem] and impressive displays from charismatic young fighters [Conor McGregor and Michael McDonald] who could potentially become big draws for the company.

In the absence of crossover stars the UFC must stage big cards that are loaded with competitive matchups. But when there are a larger number of dates to fill there is a strain on the top talent. The company is in a difficult situation as it wants to build its brand and gain greater acceptance, while avoiding a watered-down product.

Time will tell whether the UFC’s model of increasing exposure is sustainable enough generate increased long-term popularity. Its ratings on Fox will be scrutinized, but White isn’t too concerned about Saturday’s figures, noting that the launch of a new channel takes time to resonate with the public.

On Saturday the UFC put on the best card it possibly could and as White accurately summarized the event: “Here is all I care about: we delivered tonight.”

Ronan Keenan can be contacted at ronankeenan@yahoo.com or on Twitter @rokeenan

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2015 Fight of the Year – Francisco Vargas vs Takashi Miura

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The WBC World Super Featherweight title bout between Francisco Vargas and Takashi Miura came on one of the biggest boxing stages of 2015, as the bout served as the HBO pay-per-view’s co-main event on November 21st, in support of Miguel Cotto vs Saul Alvarez.

Miura entered the fight with a (29-2-2) record and he was making the fifth defense of his world title, while Vargas entered the fight with an undefeated mark of (22-0-1) in what was his first world title fight. Both men had a reputation for all-out fighting, with Miura especially earning high praise for his title defense in Mexico where he defeated Sergio Thompson in a fiercely contested battle.

The fight started out hotly contested, and the intensity never let up. Vargas seemed to win the first two rounds, but by the fourth round, Miura seemed to pull ahead, scoring a knock-down and fighting with a lot of confidence. After brawling the first four rounds, Miura appeared to settle into a more technical approach. Rounds 5 and 6 saw the pendulum swing back towards Vargas, as he withstood Miura’s rush to open the fifth round and the sixth round saw both men exchanging hard punches.

The big swinging continued, and though Vargas likely edged Miura in rounds 5 and 6, Vargas’ face was cut in at least two spots and Miura started to assert himself again in rounds 7 and 8. Miura was beginning to grow in confidence while it appeared that Vargas was beginning to slow down, and Miura appeared to hurt Vargas at the end of the 8th round.

Vargas turned the tide again at the start of the ninth round, scoring a knock down with an uppercut and a straight right hand that took Miura’s legs and sent him to the canvas. Purely on instinct, Miura got back up and continued to fight, but Vargas was landing frequently and with force. Referee Tony Weeks stepped in to stop the fight at the halfway point of round 9 as Miura was sustaining a barrage of punches.

Miura still had a minute and a half to survive if he was going to get out of the round, and it was clear that he was not going to stop fighting.

A back and forth battle of wills between two world championship level fighters, Takashi Miura versus “El Bandido” Vargas wins the 2015 Fight of the Year.

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Jan 9 in Germany – Feigenbutz and De Carolis To Settle Score

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This coming Saturday, January 9th, the stage is set at the Baden Arena in Offenburg, Germany for a re-match between Vincent Feigenbutz and Giovanni De Carolis. The highly anticipated re-match is set to air on SAT.1 in Germany, and Feigenbutz will once again be defending his GBU and interim WBA World titles at Super Middleweight.

The first meeting between the two was less than three months ago, on October 17th and that meeting saw Feigenbutz controversially edge De Carolis on the judge’s cards by scores of (115-113, 114-113 and 115-113). De Carolis scored a flash knock down in the opening round, and he appeared to outbox Feigenbutz in the early going, but the 20 year old German champion came on in the later rounds.

The first bout is described as one of the most crowd-pleasing bouts of the year in Germany, and De Carolis and many observers felt that the Italian had done enough to win.

De Carolis told German language website RAN.DE that he was more prepared for the re-match, and that due to the arrogance Feigenbutz displayed in the aftermath of the first fight, he was confident that he had won over some of the audience. Though De Carolis fell short of predicting victory, he promised a re-vamped strategy tailored to what he has learned about Feigenbutz, whom he termed immature and inexperienced.

The stage is set for Feigenbutz vs De Carolis 2, this Saturday January 9th in Offenburg, Germany. If you can get to the live event do it, if not you have SAT.1 in Germany airing the fights, and The Boxing Channel right back here for full results.

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2015 Knock Out of the Year – Saul Alvarez KO’s James Kirkland

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On May 9th of 2015, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez delivered a resonant knock-out of James Kirkland on HBO that wins the 2015 KO of the Year.

The knock-out itself came in the third round, after slightly more than two minutes of action. The end came when Alvarez delivered a single, big right hand that caught Kirkland on the jaw and left him flat on his back after spinning to the canvas.Alvarez was clearly the big star heading into the fight. The fight was telecast by HBO for free just one week after the controversial and disappointing Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao fight, and Alvarez was under pressure to deliver the type of finish that people were going to talk about. Kirkland was happy to oblige Alvarez, taking it right to Alvarez from the start. Kirkland’s aggression saw him appear to land blows that troubled the young Mexican in the early going. Alvarez played good defense, and he floored Kirkland in the first round, displaying his power and his technique in knocking down an aggressive opponent.

However, Kirkland kept coming at Alvarez and the fight entered the third round with both men working hard and the feeling that the fight would not go the distance. Kirkland continued to move forward, keeping “Canelo” against the ropes and scoring points with a barrage of punches while looking for an opening.

At around the two minute mark, Alvarez landed an uppercut that sent Kirkland to the canvas again. Kirkland got up, but it was clear that he did not have his legs under him. Kirkland was going to try to survive the round, but Alvarez had an opportunity to close out the fight. The question was would he take it?

Alvarez closed in on Kirkland, putting his opponent’s back to the ropes. Kirkland was hurt, but he was still dangerous, pawing with punches and loading up for one big shot.

But it was the big shot “Canelo” threw that ended the night. Kirkland never saw it coming, as he was loading up with a huge right hand of his own. The right Alvarez threw cracked Kirkland in the jaw, and his eyes went blank. His big right hand whizzed harmlessly over the head of a ducking Alvarez, providing the momentum for the spin that left Kirkland prone on the canvas.

Saul “Canelo” Alvarez went on to defeat Miguel Cotto in his second fight of 2015 and he is clearly one of boxing’s biggest stars heading into 2016. On May 9th Alvarez added another reel to his highlight film when he knocked out James Kirkland with the 2015 “Knock Out of the Year”.

Photo by naoki fukuda

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