HBO announced Friday that Manny Pacquiao-Miguel Cotto did 1.25 pay-per-view buys over the weekend, giving boxing its first year where two fights hit the 1 million mark since 1999. Here’s where I’d normally say, “Take that, ‘boxing is dead’ automatons!” but everybody finally seems to get it. I can, at least for the time being, remove the chip from my shoulder (even though I insist it was a fact-based chip). Boxing isn’t dead, and, rather, is resurgent. And this is merely more proof of it. In fact, it’s exceeding even my own hair-afire pronouncements.
There hasn’t been a week like this for the public perception and visibility of the sport since I began writing about boxing in 2007, the year boxing’s turnaround really kicked into gear, and really, going back further than that. The Associated Press wrote this week that “the sport is returning to the popularity level it enjoyed in the early 1980s,” and it was plausible.
Pacquiao-Cotto is not the only reason, mind you. But it’s certainly contributed very, very heavily. What Pacquiao-Cotto might beget – a welterweigh showdown between Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather – is fueling a hefty percentage of the buzz around the sport. Pacquiao-Cotto eclipsed the other biggest fight of the year, Mayweather-Juan Manuel Marquez, which did about 1 mil even. And it did huge business at the live gate, too, surpassing Mayweather-Marquez on that count as well.
That two men who don’t speak English as their first languages and don’t live in the continental United States could combine to produce a fight of this size is tremendous. What Pacquiao does – and, to a lesser level, Cotto does – transcends whether someone is a hardcore boxing fan or not, transcends even language. Free Darko put it very well: “As I watched Pacquiao/Cotto surrounded by a large extended family whose knowledge of boxing ranged from encyclopedic to nil, all of whom responded to Manny’s space-and-time defying combos with the same oohs and aaahs (admittedly, unorthodox technique and cultural affinity played some role here), it dawned on me: There exists a type of athlete so crackling, inventive, and forceful, and elemental, that they become the great equalizer.”
I think there exists a type of FIGHT that does that, too, like say an Israel Vazquez-Rafael Marquez III, at least based on my own experience. And I don’t think boxing is dependent on one or two big names to thrive. But damn, it sure does help. Because if Vazquez-Marquez III happens and few sports fans with passing interest in boxing know those fighters, then it’s a bit like the tree falling in the forrest with no one around. And damn, ain’t it something that a (formerly) tiny Filipino could captivate the United States like this? I say that not with any disdain for Filipinos, only for the United States’ tendency to exclusively embrace sports heroes that hail from within its borders. Someone said recently there hasn’t been a foreign-born boxer this big in the United States since Roberto Duran, which takes us back to the 80s again.
And I don’t think the numbers lie: Pacquiao is a bigger star than Mayweather at this point. (Bug spray to defend myself against the obligatory “you’re a hater” comments: Mayweather is a great fighter, and a big star, whether I like him or not.) I confess that Mayweather’s surprisingly strong box office showing against Marquez had me doubting who was the bigger star. But 1.25 million pay-per-views is more than 1 million. An $8.84 million gate is more than a $6.84 million gate. Mayweather can say, as he’s been saying, “I didn’t have no dance partner.” But two answers, Floyd: 1. You hyped Marquez’ ability to sell tickets as the reason you fought the lightweight champ as opposed to, say, a real welterweight like Shane Mosley: “He got a country behind him! A country! A country! Mexican and black fighters have been dominating the sport, and you always get your biggest fights when you match the two together.” 2. If you want a better dance partner, get a better dance partner next time. Your choice of dance partner after 2002 is the worst thing about you, buddy.
But I don’t want to shortchange what Mayweather brings to the table. Pacquiao’s the bigger star, but Mayweather’s a huge star in his own right. The idea of Pacquiao-Mayweather has generated a ton of this week’s heat. On Monday on ESPN, the highlights from Pacquiao-Cotto were the “Top Play.” On Wednesday on ESPN, Pacquiao-Cotto was voted the “Image of the Week” on Sportscenter. But sticking with the same channel, when Pardon The Interruption discussed boxing Wednesday , it was Pacquiao-Mayweather that the PTI boys debated, and when Jim Rome brought up boxing Wednesday – it was jut a couple months ago that I saw a show where Rome and his guests declared boxing dead, by the way – he brought up Pacquiao-Mayweather. And just this week, Mayweather was a guest booked to be a guest but was bumped from George Lopez’ show, which is doing better ratings than I might have imagined.
The idea of these two men fighting each other is enough that Yankee Stadium is interested in hosting it; political guru James Carville is trying to bring the fight to New Orleans; Jerry Jones wants the fight in the new Cowboys Stadium; and Las Vegas, eager to keep its foothold in boxing, is even talking about building a 30,000-capacity outdoor stadium for the fight. Major sponsors like Pepsi and Subway are flirting with getting involved.
Big, big stuff. We’re talking about very likely the biggest-money fight ever. These are fine days to be a boxing fan, friends. Fine days indeed.