With MMA (mixed martial arts) being a pretty big deal now it only seemed natural that the sport would get its own video games—of above adequate quality.
In the early 2000s right as the MMA boom was taking off, the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championships) had a few games for PlayStation 2 and Xbox. These games weren’t the best-developed titles and things didn’t really look good for MMA in the gaming arena until 2003’s Pride FC from THQ. Of course, that was the only decent swing at the sport on sixth-generation consoles.
The start of a 3D boxing video game era
Meanwhile, boxing games had been doing pretty prior to the fifth generation. Out of the start of the console 3D-era there was Ready To Rumble and Knockout Kings. It wasn’t hard to see why a boxing game would be solid when a company like EA was handling it. While sweet science has several elements within its own realm, it isn’t as multi-layered as MMA. As a matter of fact, boxing is a component of MMA.
The reason for the brief history lesson into MMA and boxing video games is because there was a question presented to me a while back: why are there more MMA games than boxing games now. While the exploding popularity of MMA and boxing either flatlining where it is or declining—depending on who you ask—there’s also other reasons for it and most of it revolves around licensing.
There are many regional MMA promotions all over the world and in those countries where MMA has a foothold, there are maybe two to four significant MMA promotions. These promotions are organized like wrestling promotions or team sports leagues with each fighter being a team for instance. Basically, you have a stable of fighters signed to this one banner to fight on whatever shows two to maybe four times a year. The promotions oversee their titles and who can compete for what.
Restrictions from commissions or committees
Boxing has commissions or committees. These commissions oversee the titles associated with them and there’s a worldwide ranking system. A boxer who wins one commission’s belt could be eligible for another commission’s belt.
That brings us to licensing. A company like EA could pick up UFC and produce an annual franchise using fighters currently under contract to that MMA promotion. 2K could do the same with some other MMA company.
EA is known for the Fight Night boxing series which evolved out of Knockout Kings—the franchise uses many real-life boxers, but since there are no organizations that these boxers are signed to, you get these dream rankings: prime Ali, prime Foreman, prime Lennox Lewis are fighting current generation boxers. Back in the Knockout Kings days you even had Marciano and the Brown Bomber.
On top of that, EA can’t use official commissions so you have the EABC (EA Boxing Commission) or EABA (EA Boxing Association) for example. All of that translates into how a company can structure their game. Sports titles thrive on organizations/promotions. While it would just be easier to update the rosters online and get back to us in two years when significant improvements have been made to the franchise, having this structure warrants making another game the following year.
There are ways to make it so that boxing games warrant annual releases (another article for another day, folks), but as it stands the sport just doesn’t have the built-in structure that would make it worth putting out annual Fight Night games.
In short, FIFA and NFL can go years with annual games that haven’t seen large mechanics changes from the last couple in the franchise without the Mutant League/Blood Bowl-Esque change boxing video games would need structurally