THERE is a reason why Top Rank Promotions head honcho Bob Arum is comparing the upcoming mega duel between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr. to the March 1971 classic between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. For one, no ‘super fight’ in recent years has lived up to expectations and one really has to look back to the good old days, when fighters fought primarily for the honor of proving who between them was the better pugilist, to find a decent comparison.
In a way, the guaranteed million-dollar purses now associated with boxing has damaged the sport. While marquee matchups continue to be made, the pairings do not really produce the expected fireworks. Majority of these 'super fights' end up with the boxers running away with the money to the chagrin of boxing fans who showed up at the arena looking to be part of a fistic extravaganza. You thus can’t help but agree with old-timers like former middleweight champion Jake 'Raging Bull' LaMotta who loves to tell everyone that pro boxing no longer produces fighters like it used to. Boxers today continue to talk tough, but they cannot walk the talk. Boxers have become too ‘corporate,’ preferring to run away with the profits instead of giving the fans the fight they craved and paid for. Yes, today’s 'super fights' are nothing more than huge get-rich scams.
A cursory glance at the list of the biggest 'super fights' in boxing over the last 15 years readily shows that most of these self-proclaimed Fights of the Century turned out to be huge disappointments. In 1999, undefeated welterweight champs Felix Trinidad and Oscar De La Hoya set a then record (for a non-heavyweight fight) US$64 million sales in pay-per-view (PPV) subscriptions. The fight, however, left a bitter taste in the mouth. De La Hoya got off to a huge start only to back off in the remaining rounds thinking he already had the fight in the bag. Trinidad ended up winning a majority decision. Dig this: Boxing fans did not pay hard-earned money just to see a champ go on cruise control in the latter rounds because he thought the result was a foregone conclusion. In the good old days, the fighter ahead on the scorecards would have gone for the jugular.
In 2002, heavyweights Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis finally faced each in the ring in a fight that grossed around $112 million in PPV sales. Lewis administered a one-sided beating and a washed-up Tyson fell in eight rounds. Tyson never had a chance and the fight was dismissed as a pathetic joke.
In 2007, De La Hoya again found himself in a super fight opposite Mayweather Jr. De La Hoya took home in excess of $50 million in a fight that drew over $130 million in PPV revenues. The fight was a snore-bore, with De La Hoya starting like a house on fire and again fading in the end. You’d think De La Hoya had learned from the Trinidad fight, but he just had to taper off once more. Mayweather Jr. again fought in spurts and got away with a disputed decision.
In 2011, Pacquiao’s decision over ‘Sugar’ Shane Mosley drew roughly $75 million PPV buys. Mosley was a huge disappointment. After getting a taste of Pacquiao’s power, Mosley went on grab-and-hold mode the rest of the way. Mosley took home in the vicinity of $5 million but lost the respect of boxing fans for his lack of bravado. Pacquiao bankrolled $20 million, but his marketability started taking a hit because of the lackluster fight.
In 2013, Mayweather Jr.’s super welterweight fight with Mexican Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez drew a whopping $150 million in PPV revenues, with the former getting in excess of $40 million. The fight was a complete dud, with Mayweather Jr. teaching a very raw and tentative Alvarez a neat boxing lesson.
Boxing fans are hoping that Pacquiao and Mayweather Jr. will deliver and finally bring an end to the long-running list of disappointing 'super fights' in pro boxing. This fight took five years to make and the ticket prices alone are already hitting the roof. Arum claims that when the rosin settles, both fighters could end up splitting $300 million in PPV profits. It is imperative though that the fight delivers the fireworks because boxing cannot afford another huge letdown. Pacquiao-Mayweather Jr. will either save boxing or convince many that the sport’s days are really numbered.