Love in Boxing is Often Blind (All Money Ain’t…)
From week to week boxing’s most devoted fans fiercely show love or spread hate – with rarely any semblance of consistency
Look, I’m not trying to go entirely into my ‘complaints with boxing’ bag. And for the most part, I genuinely believe most of the business teams in boxing are trying to do the best that they can do to put on compelling bouts. Unfortunately, getting some of the most captivating match-ups made is tantamount to getting an important piece of legislation passed in our nation’s capital.
In both worlds, we as fans or supporters, remain loyal to the figures that we like or approve. In effect, we’re okay being lied to by folks for which we hold a high degree of fondness. No such people would ever take advantage of our love of their product.
While I could unleash a hailstorm of serious issues with boxing, its promotional entities, the sanctioning bodies and the network or platforms; I’ll just focus on one expectation.
What happened to a credible B-side for a Pay Per View card?
Trust, I could carry own about questionable A-Sides, or abysmal undercards, but I did just say one expectation.
Years ago I recall the two names in a Pay Per View bout unquestionably justifying an additional cost beyond the monthly subscription for a premium cable network to see an elite fight. The names above the bout’s tag line were “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler vs “Sugar” Ray Leonard, for example, for match-up dubbed “The Super Fight” in April 1987.
Okay, so prior to that marquee fight Leonard had only fought once since his first retirement in 1982. But, we’re talking about a 1976 Olympic gold medalist nicknamed “Sugar”, and if I have to tell you about his achievements prior to the fight versus Hagler – just stop reading.
In the 1990s Mike Tyson’s popularity and the prestige of the “Heavyweight champion of the world” left few people complaining about Pay Per View prices. Well, there was, “$60 for a fight that may not last a minute?”, from aging fans who watched 14 rounds of The Thrilla in Manila.
Iron Mike was truly “Don’t Blink” boxing.
The promise of explosive violence for fighters weighing 200 pounds and up has always sold well. Unfortunately, NFL and NBA contracts exploded and bigger athletic men in the United States found ways to secure bigger bags without the threat of eating an unseen uppercut.
I feel obligated to pause to mention 1999’s Oscar De La Hoya vs Felix Trinidad as a highly successful box-office PPV between two undefeated Welterweights. The make-up of fighters with viable PPV histories is diverse in terms of weight division and ethnicity.
Now back to where I was going.
Let’s get to the 2000s, and the emergence of Floyd “Pretty Boy” Mayweather Jr. – or the revenue-generating “Money” portion of his career. Now, for his 2005 PPV – “Thunder & Lighting” – Arturo Gatti entered the fight with six losses. However, Gatti’s resume boasted of his 2-1 trilogy with Mickey Ward. He also was the defending WBC Super Lightweight champion, and Mayweather worked his way into the bout via the eliminator process. On fight night Gatti could muster very little to dispel Mayweather’s pre-fight claims the late champion was little more than a C+ club fighter.
In 2007 Mayweather checked the box for two prominent names in all caps for a PPV fight – Oscar De La Hoya-Floyd Mayweather Jr. The pairing represented selling points such as Olympians, sterling resumes, past PPV buy-rates, the launch of HBO’s award-winning 24/7 behind-the-scenes series, De La Hoya trainer Floyd Mayweather Sr.’s dilemma, and Mayweather Jr.’s debut at Super Welterweight – his fifth weight division – to challenge for De La Hoya’s WBC crown.
More on the eye-catching last names in all caps thing.
Mayweather fought Carlos Baldomir (43-9-6, 13 KOs) a fight before De La Hoya. In January 2006, Baldomir unexpectedly won a unanimous decision over three-belt undisputed Welterweight champion Zab Judah. The Argentine only paid the sanctioning fees to claim the WBC title in The Ring magazine’s 2006 Upset of the Year. Mayweather unified the green belt with his IBF title (won from Judah in April 2006) in their non-competitive fight.
In another PPV versus an unlikely opponent, Mayweather faced another Argentine, Marcos Maidana, for both of his 2014 dates. To get the coveted Mayweather call, Maidana dropped “the next Floyd Mayweather Jr.”, Adrien Broner, twice and tripped up Cincinnati, Ohio’s flamboyant Welterweight in just his first defense of his WBA title.
In his subsequent high-profile May bout versus defensive wizard Mayweather, Maidana’s rugged, unpredictable style resulted in a 114-114 card in the majority decision loss. His surprising success and dogged effort against the “May-vinci code” helped him book the immediate rematch in September.
Mayweather obviously added legitimate all caps opponents with the last names of Mosley, newly-named 2022 Hall of Famer Cotto, a young Canelo Alvarez, Pacquiao and then the swan song combat sports crossover bout versus UFC superstar Conor McGregor.
If you still harbor umbrage with opponents, or their timing, like Victor Ortiz, Juan Manuel Marquez, Robert Guerrero or Andre Berto; trust, I understand.
However, Money Mayweather’s receipts – across the board – leave little room for argument regarding his PPV track record. Most of us willingly paid the $44.95 (Judah), $55 (De La Hoya), $74.95 (Alvarez in HD) and $99.59 (Pacquiao in HD). No reminder needed for those who couldn’t help themselves with the McGregor bout.
Fast-forward to the match-ups we’re paying for the last few years – with $74.95 somehow becoming the standard PPV price tag. Nobody even questions how some of these fighters are started at this price point. I just walked you through how Mayweather took big risks to gradually establish.
Next, we’ll look at Mayweather protégé Gervonta “Tank” Davis briefly. Davis assumed PPV headliner status with his October 2020 clash against Leo Santa Cruz – a multi-division champion. The Baltimore, Maryland power-puncher’s breakout performance came in January 2017 when he demolished then unbeaten IBF Super Featherweight champion Jose Pedraza in seven punishing rounds.
Davis’ viewership numbers and ticket sales in Baltimore and adopted hometown Atlanta, Georgia are undeniable. But, Davis hasn’t fought a full world champion currently within his division since Pedraza. In his last two bouts, Junior Welterweight Mario Barrios and Lightweight Isaac Cruz both held Top 10 rankings in their respective divisions.
What cachet did either of those fighters, as B-sides, bring to the table to justify a $64.95 or higher PPV price?
More importantly, have we signaled to promoters and networks that we are fully onboard with paying solely to see the A-side in action?
I understand PPV price tags as a necessity when a promoter’s trying to pay De La Hoya and Mayweather. Or Hagler and Leonard. Hell, somewhat begrudgingly for Spence Jr. and Porter. I mean, I actually watched undefeated WBA and WBC Welterweight champions Danny Garcia and Keith Thurman, respectively, live on CBS in March 2017.
I don’t want to pick on 27-year old Davis. Nor do I really want to single out Premier Boxing Champions. Maybe the names on their roster validates the number of PPV cards they’ve presented the past 2-3 years. Future first ballot Hall of Famer Pacquiao fought Thurman and Broner. Both fights required PPV. Both Mikey Garcia and Danny Garcia had held titles in multiple divisions before their fights against Welterweight king Errol Spence Jr.
Let’s say I stand down with my problem with boxing. And I willingly accept that the Garcias, for example, both qualify as legit “all caps worthy” PPV B-sides. Can I at least question the strength of some of these undercards?
Exactly how much are we paying to see some of these A-side fighters?
If I look back, undefeated Danny Garcia defended his unified 140-pound title versus Lucas Matthysse on Mayweather-Alvarez in 2013. In contrast, for Spence vs Danny Garcia in December 20, Super Welterweight prospect Sebastian Fundora (15-0-1, 10 KOs) stopped Habib Ahmed in two rounds in the co-main.
I guess I should’ve been satisfied with David Benavidez versus a badly overmatched J’Leon Love, with Luis Nery and Chris Arreola also in action, when Mikey Garcia debuted at Welterweight against Spence in March 2019.
I know this exercise is exhaustive, and I’ll try to end it here. For the highly anticipated PBC/FOX and Top Rank/ESPN jointly-promoted rematch and trilogy bouts between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder, the only world title fight was WBO Super Bantamweight champion Emmanuel Navarrete versus Jeo Santisima.
Heavyweights Efe Ajagba and Frank Sanchez did fight on the trilogy card. Some fans may have been ecstatic about the rematch between Heavyweights Robert Helenius and Adam Kownacki. Both of the final Wilder vs Fury fights included some glimpses of hopeful future talent for PBC or Top Rank, but one still got the sense that the sentiment was viewers should’ve been content with the main event. That expectation was certainly satisfactory for the rivalry’s heated conclusion.
Lastly, another championship fight was not included on WBO Welterweight champion Terence Crawford’s Nov. 20 career-defining 10th round technical knockout versus two-time Welterweight champion Shawn Porter. Crawford’s struggles with achieving respectable PPV buy rates is the lone L of the Omaha, Nebraska native’s career.
Top Rank CEO Bob Arum tried to do fans a solid by offering a $69.99 price point – in addition to working with PBC to secure Porter as the opponent. Arum expressed his awareness of fans shelling out money for Fury-Wilder 3 in October and the undisputed Super Middleweight championship Canelo Alvarez-Caleb Plant ($79.99) on November 6.
However, a subscription to ESPN+, or the Disney and Hulu bundle, was required to purchase Crawford-Porter. No other PBC fighters fought on the card, and Top Rank basically went with the “here are a couple of our guys to watch for in the future” approach.
Indisputably, times have changed. The majority of boxing just isn’t must-see.
I said in the beginning, I believe most of boxing’s decision makers are giving an earnest effort to deliver quality fights. Perhaps some more so than others, and at different times. What can we really expect when fights with the sport’s highest expectations fall 000,000s buys short when buy rates are (or aren’t) reported the following week?
For the magnitude of the trilogy between series winner Fury and Wilder, the fights had buy rates of less than 400,000 in Dec. 2018, between 800,000 and 850,000 Feb. 2020 and under 600,000 in October.
Arum routinely touted projections of one million buys for each of the last two fights. With five decades of experience promoting fights, Arum also threw out 500,000 as a minimum buy rate for Porter-Crawford per Boxing Scene’s Jake Donovan. In a November 24 Ring TV piece, sportswriter Joseph Santoloquito reported Pound-For-Pound champion Crawford’s big victory failed to surpass 150,000 buys.
For context, according to a 2011 Bleacher Report article, Mike Tyson-Evander Holyfield II reached 1.99 million buys in 1997. In another prominent marquee Heavyweight clash, Lennox Lewis-Mike Tyson sold 1.97 million in 2002.
I am a little bitter about the legitimacy of today’s PPV B-sides – with a view that many are undeserving. Other than holding the final piece of the Super Middleweight title puzzle for Alvarez, what had Plant done during his 23-month reign as IBF champ?
At any rate, I’m not going to punch the Arums, Haymons, Hearns and De La Hoyas while they’re down on a knee. With the aforementioned numbers I just mentioned, perhaps this is just another aspect of how time, as in era and not father, is undefeated.
Mayweather assumed his “Money” moniker for the final act of his history-making career. Like most of the noteworthy names throughout the history of boxing, once unable to amass new accolades inside the ring, the names of most become tarnished to some degree. As boxing once again finds itself tangling with updating or reinvention, at least in terms of delivering value, maybe some will respect that all ‘Money’ wasn’t bad.
Featured image by Mikey Williams/Top Rank