The future of boxing faces an ultimate challenge: What's next?

The future of boxing faces an ultimate challenge: What's next?

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LUBBOCK, Texas -

For more than a century, boxing has been the juggernaut of combat sports.

But now, the industry faces its biggest fight yet with the emergence of mixed martial arts, and specifically, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).

With faster-paced, three-round fights that often end in knockout or submission, it has started to close the gap on boxing.

From 2002 to 2005, boxing outpaced the UFC's top selling fights by 2.5 million buys, but in 2016, the UFC featured five PPVs that attracted over a million buys, while boxing had zero.

One of the biggest indicators of this shift: Social media and brand promotion.

The UFC Twitter account has more than 7 million followers, compared to the one million followers combined from several official boxing accounts.

Earlier this year, ESPN announced a five year, $1.5 billion deal to stream the UFC on its platforms, putting the sport directly in network competition with boxing, which has been a featured series on ESPN since 1998.

Joshua Lara, the head coach at Lubbock Boxing Club, said the sport is losing its knockout power.

"It's not as advertised as it used to be. I remember watching and seeing posters everywhere for fights coming up. I think it comes down to that the average person probably won't see it unless they just like boxing. MMA is out there all of the time. It's on networks that people see all time, there's drama, and they're creating a lot of hype behind these fighters for what they are," Lara said.

As this social media attention to mixed martial arts grows, Lara said the boxing industry must find a way to match the UFC's promotion to the next generation of fighters.

"It's a kind of sport that requires a lot. It demands a lot from you physically and emotionally. Boxing is such a passion-driven sport and it demands so much of you. Boxing, and fighting in general, takes a lot of discipline and working technique. It's not the most exciting to do," Lara said.

In fact, Lubbock Boxing Club owner Rosie Barker said the future of boxing depends on the next youth movement.

"It's like a wave. It will come up and then it will go down. So at some point, it calms down and then you have some really good fighters coming in, they start promoting and then all of a sudden, the fights starting coming back up," Barker said.

For 10-year-old Lubbock boxer Roman Lorenzi, it is not just his dream to turn pro, as he said each time he puts on the gloves, it is a reminder that boxing is the best thing for his future.

"You're staying away from the bad kids because you're in here most of the time, and you don't get influenced as bad as the other kids do because you're around good people all of the time," Lorenzi said.

Lorenzi said it did not take long to see that boxing was better for his safety inside the ring, as well.

"I see some MMA fighters and this one fighter had his foot go out of socket because he kicked a dude's knee. I'm not really scared of it, and I'm not really scared of doing a sport in general, but I am scared of getting hurt in the sport," Lorenzi said.

The sport is statistically falling behind the UFC on several fronts, but depending on a combination of young fighters like Roman and an increased promotional presence, boxing could have a counter-punch up its sleeve in the coming years. 

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