Jack Johnson. Sugar Ray Robinson. Joe Louis. Muhammad Ali. Ray Leonard. Tommy Hearns. Such names built the foundations on which boxing stands today and paved the way for modern day fighters such Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather. A once great sport that even now, with it’s lack of depth in comparison to yesteryear, holds a mystical status for most people. The Average Joe may not be able to differentiate a champion from a contender or a rising talent, but offer a little jolt of pre-ﬁght drama and most will tune in to see a ripped eyebrow, crushed nose, bulbous eye or if they’re lucky, a convulsion or two. For decades our archaic blood-lust has kept us on the edge of our seats as we watch two humans drive their clenched ﬁsts into each others skulls until their brain stem is traumatized sufﬁciently to disconnect the ﬁghter from their consciousness. A couple of thousand years ago in Southern Italy it was spears, swords and tridents we watched being forced into their opponents, but we’ve evolved just enough to at least allow our entertainers to survive the show (sometimes).
With the advent of videogames, so came the inevitable boxing simulation, Atari Boxing on Atari 2600 was the ﬁrst boxing game ever made and came on the heels of the ﬁrst Rocky ﬁlm. It consisted of an aerial view of the ring where a white ﬁghter and black ﬁghter slugged it out in robotic fashion, interestingly, you could only control the white ﬁghter. The game set in motion a slew of boxing games that will live in infamy for many and reside in the upper-echelons of gaming’s greatest titles. None will forget the indelible mark left by Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!, where you controlled Little Mac against the gargantuan foes of Bald Bull, Mr. Sandman and eventually the Iron-man himself, Tyson. It’s candy-pop approach to the Sweet Science has left it ranked as one of the greatest games ever and exhibited quite emphatically the mass appeal the sport has for gaming audiences around the world.
Most recently, EA Sports have held the rights to the most prominent boxing franchise on the market, Fight Night (formerly Knockout Kings). As close to simulation as any game preceding it, the franchise has sought to recreate not only the presentation, training and licensed boxers of the sport but also quite dramatic career modes that reveal the more seedy and corrupt side to the squared circle. Since it’s inception in 1998, the franchise has sold over 20 million units worldwide and continues to evolve with the recently released Fight Night Champion, which broke boundaries with it’s innovative Career Mode. The franchise’s future looked promising but in the shadows lay a sleeping giant, whose coming awakening spelt doom for the Fight Night franchise and her many fans – the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).
Few will be unaware of the Boxing vs. UFC argument. Which is better? Whose ﬁghters are better? Will one sport destroy the other or may they exist in a common market where parity is attained in the same way WWE and Boxing has for generations? Although Boxing’s ﬁgures for Pay-Per-View sales destroy those of the UFC’s, the battle is far from over in the videogame arena, as the UFC’s demographic serve perfectly to elevate them into monopolistic despotism.
Boxing has always had a far reaching, broad ranging demographic. Starting originally with an overwhelming white fan-base with men such as John. L. Sullivan and Jack Dempsey, legendary African-American Warriors like ‘Papa’ Jack Johnson and ‘The Brown Bomber’ Joe Louis introduced the African Diaspora to the ring, who paralleled their struggle for basic human rights in the US with their brothers ﬁghting their way to the apex of a whitedominated sport. Primo Carnera and Rocky Marciano reintroduced Italians to a more humane version of combat that once ﬁlled their Coliseum thousands of years before whilst Julio Cesar Chavez stirred the warrior spirit amongst the indigenous of half the land we now call America. Boxing’s pinnacle, no doubt, reached it’s highest point under the transcendence of Muhammed Ali and since then, has maintained a steady ﬂow of support of fans from all ages and ethnicities.
The UFC meanwhile, has maintained a younger audience (18-35 age range) and at least according to Boxing Promoters Bob Arum and Lou DiBella: “Whiter”. Herein lies the key to UFC’s domination of the videogame market – the average global age of videogamers is mid-late 20’s, 48% of boxing fans are 35-49. This data would suggest that the average UFC fan is also a prime contender to play videogames and much more likely to buy a videogame of his preferred sport than the 35-49 year old boxing fan that just watched Floyd spank Cotto.
EA picked up on this sometime ago with their ill-fated, although very admiral attempt at entering the MMA scene with EA: MMA. With most of their ﬁghters based on the Strikeforce roster, which was soon absorbed by the UFC, EA’s new venture seemed dead-in-the-water, that was until THQ gave up the license to the UFC and EA quickly swooped in.
Since its inception in 2009, the UFC: Undisputed franchise has sold 7.27m units worldwide and done a fantastic job of recreating the UFC experience through THQs access to the UFC brand, although the ﬁghting mechanisms for the game were lackluster, it was evident the game had laid strong foundations for the franchise to build on. The game’s deﬁciencies and unnecessary annual release-dates effected sales and surprisingly, THQ voluntarily sold the license to EA, something EA had coveted for sometime. When EA made the announcement at this years E3, MMA gamers around the globe cheered for what in theory seems like an incredible partnership, as the playability and intuitive controls of EA: MMA were far superior than it’s UFC rival, adding a vast roster and authentic presentation could spell a fantastic ﬁghting game. As the cheers died down though, the nervous grumblings of the boxing fans ﬁlled the air as they asked themselves, ‘Will EA make another Fight Night?’
EA Canada had been responsible for the last two games in the franchise, Fight Night Round 4 and Fight Night Champion, introducing the revolutionary physics engine that allowed for tangled arms, deﬂected punches, in-ﬁghting and true defensive play, their work had become vital to the health of the franchise and fans waited with baited breath to hear some announcement on whether EA Tiburon (the developers of EA: MMA) would develop the new UFC game, potentially leaving EA Canada free to develop another boxing game. Then the news came. EA Tiburon will be developing the new NBA Live and EA Canada will develop the new EA-UFC love-child, to add insult to injury, Brian Hayes, Lead Developer at EA Canada tweeted a picture wearing a UFC T-Shirt and a smug grin with his thumb raised arrogantly into the air.
The Fight Night franchise has just walked onto a potentially knock-out blow. 1! 2! 3! Will EA pour resources into two games that could cannibalize each other’s sales? 4! Does EA have the inclination or the resources to stretch into two ﬁghting games? 5! Does the fact UFC is so well branded convince EA to let another developer pick up the Fight Night Series? 6! With Floyd and Manny soon to retire, does the lack of a clear marketable star make dropping the series a no-brainer? 7! Could Dana White have implemented a clause that disallowed EA from developing a boxing game? 8! Will the only virtual boxing experience be limited to boxing your little sister on the Wii? 9! Boxing struggles laboriously to one knee.
Post contributed by Stuart Mario. Questions for the author? Send an email to email@example.com.