It’s official. HBO announced that Floyd Mayweather – Juan Manuel Marquez hit the 1 million number in pay-per-view buys. That is a shockingly high number. And it means a good deal.
The first thing it means is that boxing isn’t dead. Consider that every lazy-minded sports journalist in America keeps saying, “Mixed martial arts is on the rise, boxing is dead.” Consider that the UFC put on an event that same night, and the scuttlebutt is that it generated 350,000 to 500,000 buys. Dear stupids: Stop saying that now.
The second thing it means is that Mayweather, the “B-side” in some ways in his previous two pay-per-view showings, is a certified pay-per-view star. Maybe there are reasons to question that still, given that the Mexican fan base dominated the crowd in Las Vegas Saturday, but it’s not something I question anymore.
Allow me to explain what I mean by all this in a bit more detail, and touch on some related subjects.
I promised before the fight, and I’m sticking to it, not to gloat that if boxing beat the UFC on a single night, boxing was now the bigger sport. I said Mayweather-Marquez isn’t boxing putting its best foot forward, and I understand from UFC fans that the card they put on wasn’t one most people were excited about. All I said it would mean if Mayweather-Marquez beat a UFC event was that boxing wasn’t dead. And it’s all it means. If mixed martial arts was so potent and boxing was so dead, any MMA event would beat any boxing event, right? I’m a little shocked at how many more PPV buys Mayweather-Marquez did, if the UFC rumors are to be believed, but it doesn’t change my commitment not to gloat about boxing’s superiority, because I don’t think this proved that.
But I want to say it a few more times.
Boxing isn’t dead.
Boxing isn’t dead.
Boxing isn’t dead.
There. Now, for the LOVE OF GOD, will sportswriters stop suckling at the teat of faulty conventional wisdom?
Mayweather really wasn’t the main attraction two years ago when he and Oscar De La Hoya broke the record for pay-per-view buys — 2.4 million — and he arguably wasn’t the main attraction when he did 850,000 or so against Ricky Hatton. Still, I predicted in the neighborhood of 700,000 buys against Marquez, because the fight was largely viewed as a mismatch, which it obviously proved to be, and because I recognized that Mayweather was the biggest name in American boxing and he had crossed over to the mainstream. I actually was erring on the high side, though; I wouldn’t have been stunned if it had done 500,000.
So, wow. Good one, Mayweather. Even if you take into account the Hispanic audience, I don’t think that explains these kind of numbers. Marquez had never done anything close to that, generating 400,000 with Manny Pacquiao in 2008 in what was the record for a fight below lightweight, but you figure a lot of those 400,000 were pro-Pacquiao fans. When Marquez fought a lesser star, Joel Casamayor, I don’t think it broke 100,000.
No, one way or the other, Mayweather was the major draw on Saturday. A lot of hardcore fans don’t like him very much because his choice of opponent leaves something to be desired, but a good number of hardcore fans love to watch him put his almost magical level of talent on display against anyone. Maybe he draws a lot of people who dislike him and just want to see him get beat. I think he draws a lot of black fans, too, because when “Mayweather” was a trending topic on Twitter after the fight, I clicked to see what people were saying, and a lot of those people were black. And the casual fan has HEARD OF Mayweather, and casual fans buy fights not because they hear about a good fight coming up, but because a boxer they know is fighting. If the general sports fan was disappointed by the outcome, it didn’t show much; the other day on Sportscenter, 41 percent of poll respondents voted Mayweather’s knockdown of Marquez the “Image of the Week.” (Did I mention that boxing wasn’t dead?) Furthermore, as GG points out in the comments below, the “Floyd is back” storyline probably sold a few homes as well.
I think some of the success here also has to go to two things: Golden Boy Promotions busted its ass promoting this fight. Admittedly this kind of thing catches my eye because my antenna is attuned to any mention of boxing, but I saw advertisements everywhere. I mean, everywhere. The “24/7” show on HBO always helps, and there were basically two straight weeks of press conferences toward the end. And the undercard probably played a role too. For once, there was an undercard to look forward to, and my personal take on the anecdotal evidence suggested to me that there were people who weren’t interested in Mayweather-Marquez were buying the card anyway because of the fights beneath the main event.
Take this into account, too: We still don’t know how many people went to see this fight in movie theaters. There were 170 movie theaters that showed the card, and I’ve heard accounts from people who went to watch the fight that way that varied from “there were 30 people in my theater” to “I couldn’t get in because it was sold out.” Also — the fight was available on closed-circuit. Certainly, the live gate was a bit of a disappointment, with thousands of tickets going unsold and many being comped. Golden Boy may brag about how good the live gate did compared to the UFC, but get real — that’s got to be because the tickets were so much more expensive, because UFC’s crowd in Dallas was bigger.
There is a down side to all this, as good as it is for signs that boxing’s got a pulse. One is that this is going to make Mayweather-Pacquiao a much harder fight to make, because both men have big egos and are saying they won’t take a 50-50 split. Pacquiao did comparable numbers against Ricky Hatton to Mayweather. We’ll see how Pacquiao’s PPV buys go on Nov. 14 — it could either weaken or strengthen either man’s case. Pacquiao-Cotto is a much better fight on paper than Mayweather-Marquez, and Cotto brings the Puerto Rican audience and Pacquiao’s getting the kind of cache in America that gets him mentioned in Jay-Z songs. But 1 million is a lot of buys. I don’t know if Pacquiao-Cotto can top that.
The other downside is that — and I say this with no hostility toward Mayweather at all, as I’ve grown tired of the “Mayweather sucks” vs. “Mayweather is awesome” debate that has consumed this site for a good week — Mayweather may see this as a reason to continue not to fight the best available opponents. Even if you’re a Mayweather fanatic, you had to recognize that Mayweather-Marquez was essentially a tune-up. Hardcore boxing fans wants to see Mayweather fight a proven welterweight now, a Shane Mosley, a Paul Williams, the winner of Pacquiao-Cotto. It’s because we know he’s an excellent fighter, and we want him to prove his mettle against the top-flight guys out there. My fingers are crossed that Mayweather, who makes no bones about loving the cash, sees that he can make so much more of it fighting, say, Mosley, than he can fighting someone below that level, either in weight or ability.
Today, though, things are looking really good. Really good.
(Mayweather-Marquez replay on HBO Saturday night, if you missed it.)