Football, baseball, and basketball are America's major sports and deserve the majority of the media coverage, of course
, but it is astounding to me how little play ultimate fighting, an enormously popular sport among young men, gets in the mainstream media. (ESPN radio host Colin Cowherd
continues to rail against ESPN and Sports Illustrated for ignoring the UFC; he makes the salient point that it is not the media's job to promote sports as much as cover events that are of interest to people.) Among combat sports I find boxing more aesthetically intriguing, and I tend to agree with Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach who told me recently: "It’s painful to watch these guys punching like girls. When they get on the ground it gets boring and slow and they get tangled and it's slow. They don’t have good [boxing] technique. The sport, I just can’t get into it. I don’t know, but it's probably because I have been in boxing so long." Roach is a boxing man through-and-through yet he has trained boxing to mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters and knows the sport well enough to realize that MMA attracts large crowds. I must admit I prefer boxing, too, but I have grown to appreciate ultimate fighting. When I reported a piece
a couple years ago for TIME
(check out Robert Gallagher's excellent photo essay
from the story) about the UFC I came away impressed; I was given a lot of access to the fighters and management, and I studied the fighters in the dressing room doing their pre-fight routine and I watched some bouts ringside (UFC legend and current heavyweight champ Randy Couture graciously sat with me and explained strategy), and I thought the fighters had decent athleticism, and the passion and intelligence of the fans went against the prevailing attitude that the sport's spectators were blood-hungry grunts. Boxing still has the lore and it can capture the public's imagination in spurts (the Mayweather-De La Hoya fight on May 5, for example), but it has become, sadly, a complete mess. The UFC is well run and the other day it bought out
Pride, its main rival, which will only make the sport bigger. There is obviously an audience for the UFC, which has made light heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell and Jenna Jameson-dating fighter Tito Ortiz into household names. Can you name more than two belt holders in boxing?