Biggest fight out there
Floyd Mayweather (pictured) retired as the sport's pound-for-pound king last year. If he un-retires to fight current pound-for-pound best Manny Pacquiao can he and “the PacMan” combine to become pay-per-view kings? Photo / Tom Hogan/Hoganphotos.com
Here’s a fun little fact about the pay-per-view business: No boxing match without either Oscar De La Hoya, Mike Tyson or Evander Holyfield has ever broken the million-buy barrier domestically.
While the notion can’t be entirely dismissed that De La Hoya will continue to fight and will somehow find a way to hit the million mark again, odds are that if boxing is going to produce another fight that sees seven digits, it’s going to do so without any of the top three PPV attractions of all-time involved.
So how do you make a fight that matters to the mainstreamÔÇöwhich is what you have to do in order to sniff a million buysÔÇöwithout any of the superstars who have carried boxing in the pay-per-view era?
You hope that the quality of a fight, and not just the name recognition of a fighter, can sell to the general public. And then you go out and make the best fight possible.
As we enter 2009, that fight is Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao. And it has something going for it that quite a few other million-buy boxing events didn’t: It’s a matchup that requires absolutely no defending.
De La Hoya vs. Pacquiao, the biggest seller of 2008, had to be defended against criticism that it was a size mismatch (which was proven untrue).
De La Hoya vs. Mayweather, the biggest seller ever, had to be defended against criticism that it was more business transaction than actual fight and a hyped-up probable bore (which was proven mostly true).
The first Tyson-Holyfield fight had to be defended against criticism that Holyfield was washed up and had no chance (which was proven untrue).
Lennox Lewis vs. Tyson had to be defended against criticism that Tyson was washed-up and had no chance (which was proven mostly true).
Mayweather-Pacquiao simply can not be criticized. Both fighters are in their primes. If we consider the temporarily retired Mayweather an active fighter and rank him pound-for-pound, this fight gives us, in whichever order you prefer, the No. 1 and No. 2 fighters on the planet. Nobody can call the fight a mismatch; rather, it will engender wild, passionate, intelligent and equally divided debate over who will have the edge in the ring.
But before we get too far ahead of ourselves and start planning out who’s bringing beer and snacks to whose house for the PPV party, there are two important obstacles to overcome.
First, there’s the little matter of Mayweather needing to un-retire.
David Mayo, the boxing scribe for Mayweather’s hometown Grand Rapids Press, broke the news shortly after Pacquiao beat De La Hoya that Mayweather had begun talking seriously to his adviser, Leonard Ellerbe, about a return in ’09.
“I think it’s 90 percent that Mayweather fights in 2009,” Mayo told THE RING last week. “I think when he announced his retirement for the first time after the [Carlos] Baldomir fight in 2006, in his mind, he meant it. But then the Oscar thing came so quickly that he couldn’t say no because it was such a big deal, and then the [Ricky] Hatton thing so quickly after that, and again he couldn’t say no. But he and I talked for a while in March of ’07, before the De La Hoya fight, and even then, he wanted to get away. He wanted a long break, a long vacation. I think in his way of thinking, retirement was the only way to get us off his back. It was his way of taking a vacation. It bought him that time.”
Thirteen months have passed since his last fight, and “Money” is ready to come back from his vacation, presumably in the fall, as long as the right fight is out there. And that brings us to obstacle number two. Pacquiao is undoubtedly the perfect opponent, but the Filipino is closing in on a deal to face Hatton on May 2, and a Hatton win over the reigning pound-for-pound king changes the equation.
To some observers, the likelihood of the British “Hitman” winning is remote; they see Pacquiao’s blinding speed handcuffing Hatton the same way it did De La Hoya.
But others see Hatton as the favorite. A few weeks ago, former welterweight champ Carlos Palomino told THE RING’s Michael Rosenthal, “At 140 pounds, I think Hatton is too strong for Manny. He’d put way too much pressure on Manny.” And three-time Pacquiao foe Erik Morales told Mexican newspaper Esto, “Hatton has a good punch and he’s fast. I can bet you that he wins.”
If Hatton does win, Mayweather’s attention could shift to him, but we’ve already seen that, we know how it ends, and while it would sell well in Britain (their December ’07 meeting netted 1.4-million PPVs in Hatton’s homeland), American fans would be lukewarm on the idea. Their first fight generated 875,000 buys domestically. A rematch might not hit 500,000.
The true fight fans’ fight, the one that can realistically sell a million PPVs in the U.S., maybe even 1.25-million like Pacquiao-De La Hoya did, is Mayweather vs. Pacquiao for the undisputed pound-for-pound crown.
Can you do those kinds of numbers without De La Hoya? It depends how much of De La Hoya’s glow was absorbed by the last two men to beat him. Just by fighting De La Hoya, by sharing a “24/7” buildup with him, by having their faces on billboards next to his, Mayweather and Pacquiao went from names only fight fans knew to names recognizable to the “SportsCenter” crowd.
And, again, they didn’t merely fight De La Hoya. They both beat De La Hoya. A win over De La Hoya can potentially be the springboard to the “A”-list, and pairing two fighters on the verge of that status may prove to be a winning formula. At the least, it’s the best formula there is in the post-Oscar-Tyson-Holyfield era that we’re entering.
“I absolutely think that Mayweather-Pacquiao is the biggest United States domestic pay-per-view seller in boxing today, without question,” Mayo opined. “Mayweather-Pacquiao is a fight fan’s fight. It’s not a glitterati fight. There’d be great appeal and I think the fight would do well. It’s the best fight that could be made in boxing today.
“But as for whether it’s a big record-breaker, I don’t necessarily see that.”
In other words, even though it’s a more appealing fight all-around than Pacquiao vs. De La Hoya, Pacquiao vs. Mayweather would be hard-pressed, especially in the current economy, to reach the 1.25-million buys that 2008’s top-selling fight garnered. The challenge of selling a non-heavyweight fight to the masses without De La Hoya is a stern one.
Unless the masses deserve more credit than we’re giving them.
This is boxing’s equivalent to Kobe vs. LeBron one-on-one. It tells us who is the very best in the world.
And maybe a fight like that, where every ounce of hype is accompanied by a pound of substance, could be just the kind of event that the mainstream has actually been waiting for.
ÔÇó I officially have a fighter I’m rooting for now on the fourth season of “The Contender.” Alfredo Escalera Jr., if you can reference “Coming To America” while you trash-talk, you have my support.
ÔÇó I don’t know the details behind why the Puerto Rico Boxing Commission suspended Hector Camacho Jr. I don’t know if it was justified or not. And I don’t care. Any move that keeps Camacho out of the ring is a move I support.
ÔÇó What does the fact that Antonio Margarito-Miguel Cotto beat out Israel Vazquez-Rafael Marquez III for Fight of the Year in the fan polls on both THE RING’s Web site and ESPN.com tell you? That there are a whole lot of households out there with HBO but not Showtime.