It’s no 4 million, the ludicrous number Golden Boy Promotions boss Richard Schaefer predicted, but the 1.4 million pay-per-view buys for Floyd Mayweather-Shane Mosley that HBO announced today is a rousing success. It ties Oscar De La Hoya-Felix Trinidad for second in all-time buys for a non-heavyweight fight. It puts Mayweather back in the lead spot for U.S. pay-per-view boxing attractions. And it advances his case as one of the biggest such attractions ever.
As always, there is meaning to be mined from these numbers.
Overall, I think we’re to the point now where we can say boxing doesn’t need the heavyweight division. According to ESPN’s Dan Rafael, there have been six non-heavyweight pay-per-views to reach more than 1 million buys. Mayweather was in three of them, De La Hoya three and Manny Pacquiao two. Coincidentally, those are all fighters from approximately the last decade. All of them came at welterweight or thereabouts. It’d still be nice to have some heavyweights winning fans, but the U.S. obsession with heavyweights is no longer prohibitive.
Four of those bouts — Mayweather-Juan Manuel Marquez, Mayweather-Mosley, Pacquiao-De La Hoya and Pacquiao-Miguel Cotto — came in a recession. All of them might have done better numbers without the recession. For comparison’s sake, keep that in mind.
Although Mayweather-Mosley tied with Trinidad-De La Hoya in buys, Mayweather-Mosley is #2 in revenue behind Mayweather-De La Hoya for non-heavyweight fights, since PPVs cost more now. That means Mayweather is one half of the two biggest non-heavyweight fights, in dollar numbers, ever. Mayweather already ranked #2 behind De La Hoya in all-time revenue. He already ranked #1 in average per fight.
The Mosley fight shows that Mayweather does strong numbers against anyone. Mosley isn’t a major star. Whether you buy his fights because you hate him and want to see him lose, or because you love his villain routine, or because you appreciate his extraordinary abilities regardless of how exciting the fight is, Mayweather has become the box office draw. He used to talk all kinds of junk about how he was the big PPV star before he was, taking credit for the numbers he did with De La Hoya. De La Hoya was the draw then. Mayweather is the draw now.
But it also shows Mayweather does stronger numbers against an opponent perceived to be a true threat. Mayweather-Marquez had the “return of Floyd” angle going for it, and Marquez had some backing from Mexican fans, and that fight had a quality undercard compared to the mediocre undercard we saw on May 1. Yet Mayweather-Mosley did better numbers by 300,000 strong (by itself, a number that would represent a pay-per-view success for most fights) and I’m betting it’s because people took the match-up more seriously.
A couple unknowns: I’d be interested to see the ethnic breakdown of people who bought this fight. It was noteworthy because both men were black Americans, and that audience for boxing had apparently been on a decline. Also, we don’t have the numbers for people who went to see the show in the 415 movie theaters that hosted a showing of the card. That’s potentially thousands more people who saw the show that might have ordered it on PPV.
The number doubles Pacquiao’s last fight, against Joshua Clottey. Clottey was even less of a star than Mosley, by a good margin. The better point of comparison is Pacquiao-Cotto, which did 1.25 million. The best-selling fight where Pacquiao was the main draw still did less than the best-selling fight where Mayweather was the draw. You can ask whether Mayweather would have done 700,000 against Clottey (I suspect he would) and whether Pacquiao would have done 1.4 million against Mosley (I suspect he wouldn’t), but best-on-best, for what we have to date, Mayweather won that head-to-head competition. Cotto has a constituency of Puerto Rican fans that he brought to the Pacquiao fight that Mosley couldn’t and didn’t bring against Mayweather. You can say this gulf is to do with Pacquiao being a foreigner, and maybe it does — but whatever the reason, Mayweather is the bigger star in the United States now.
The Mayweather-Mosley numbers might look better today if Schaefer hadn’t shot his mouth off about 4 million buys. But nobody took that number seriously. This isn’t like with Pacquiao-Clottey, where the fight’s numbers fell short of most everyone’s honest projections and thus prompted a reaction from some (including yours truly) that the numbers were at least a little disappointing. Mayweather-Mosley fell short of the 1.5 million most people expected, but the amount by which it fell short was smaller proportionally than the amount by which Pacquiao-Clottey fell short.
There is good news and bad news in this, for people who filter the universe (as I do) through how much likelier or less likely Mayweather-Pacquiao is to happen. The bad news is that Mayweather could legitimately claim to deserve more than 50 percent of the purse with Pacquiao, based on body of work and recent PPV performance. The purse split wasn’t a problem last time around because they settled on 50-50.
On the other hand, the 1.4 million for Mayweather-Mosley and 1.25 million for Pacquiao-Cotto aren’t so far apart that a 50-50 split is foolish. As when I thought Pacquiao had proven himself the bigger star and I called on Pacquiao to settle on a 50-50 split, I’d call on Mayweather to do the same thing. I’m not saying that because of how bad I want the fight. I’m saying it because it’s close enough to equitable that arguing over who gets 51 percent and who gets 49 percent is so stupid a reason not to fight each other that the best way to solve it is to go 50-50 again.