DALLAS -- In the weeks leading up to Sept. 19's dueling pay-per-view events, words have been exchanged by many of the particulars over whether boxing or UFC will have the bigger night.
Most of the verbal war has been waged by boxing headliner Floyd Mayweather and UFC President Dana White, who of course doubles as the his company's lead hype man. Not surprisingly, UFC 103's headliners Rich Franklin and Vitor Belfort have been stone silent on the issue. Boxing promoter Bob Arum, who infamously badmouthed MMA fans as "skinheads watching guys who look like skinheads," might want to take note of the two men atop the card.
Franklin and Belfort are American and Brazilian, respectively, and are highly thought of around the sport. The main reason for their sterling reputations lie in the fact that neither man is a trash-talker. Both approach their work as top-level athletes, treat their fans respectfully and speak eloquently about their sport and their lives. Simply put, they are pros inside the athletic arena and gentlemen outside of it.
At the weigh-ins on Friday afternoon, the two both calmly walked up to the scale at the Dallas Convention Center, weighed in, waved to the fans and shook hands with each other before doing the customary faceoff posedown. There were no words exchanged, no pull-apart brawl, nothing but two athletes treating each other with mutual respect.
The only blip on the radar was Belfort not making weight on the first try, checking in at 196.25 for the 195-pound catch weight fight. Belfort was given two hours to make weight, and was expected to have no trouble dropping the excess. Meanwhile, in Las Vegas, Mayweather weighed in two pounds over the agreed-upon 144-pound limit. The difference is Belfort will lose the weight; Mayweather won't bother. In boxing, the stars set the rules and some have little regard for their opponents.
"It's a competition sport, and we have a lot of respect for each other," Belfort explained at a Thursday press conference. "I guess I find a way to separate things. There's time to be a lion and time to be a sheep... We're going to be two lions facing each other. There's a lot of respect, but it's a competition with rules and we're both trying to overcome each other."
Added Franklin, who checked in at 195 on the nose: "I don't think I can fight a nicer guy than Vitor, but I don't think it'll stop me from throwing punches and looking to win the fight."
Contrast this with Mayweather, who constantly insults MMA athletes and recently insisted that he wasn't the biggest sports star in the U.S. because of his race. Apparently he has forgotten that the title of "biggest sports star in the U.S." is currently held by Tiger Woods, and that Mike Tyson had no problem captivating the sports universe during his heyday as boxing's heavyweight champion. (It should be noted that his opponent, Juan Manuel Marquez, has always conducted himself as a pro.)
For all the back-and-forth bluster between White and Mayweather, which has at least served to make more people aware of the events, the UFC President isn't exactly thrilled to be sharing the night's spotlight in competition. Because the fact of the matter is that even though many believe there are a limited number of fans who are passionate about both boxing and UFC, those few will still have to make a decision of which event to buy. And that means one side will lose out.
"I think going against boxing head-to-head sucks, but here we are," White said.
That said, industry insiders are expecting Mayweather-Marquez to scratch out a win in the battle for eyeballs. But that doesn't mean boxing is poised to rebound in the pay-per-view wars. In fact, White noted that this year, UFC is on track to beat boxing and WWE combined in pay-per-view buys.
"Here's the reality: whatever happens on Saturday, boxing is in trouble," White said. "This thing grows every year. We're up over last year. The show we did [Wednesday] in Oklahoma, it's like a 22-minute flight from here. We had 7,500 people there on a Wednesday afternoon. Now we come to Dallas and we're going to have 15,000 more."
Somewhere in Las Vegas, Mayweather is probably saying something else outrageous in hopes of garnering more attention for himself, his fight and his future. Maybe it's just hype; maybe he really believes it. Either way, he's a bit like a broken record; capable of beautiful music but now more of an annoyance. In Dallas, Franklin and Belfort speak softly and let their fight sell itself.
So can Franklin and Belfort top Mayweather and Marquez? At least in one way, they already have.