Last September, something caught me by surprise. It was the week of the fight between a returning Floyd Mayweather Jr. and his handpicked, undersized opponent, Juan Manuel Marquez.
Boxing fans in large part called foul on the matchup, saying Mayweather was too big, taking too easy of a fight, and that the proud and great Marquez was being marched into slaughter for the almighty dollar. Now, before we go further, let me say that yes, that is exactly what it was, and is exactly what happened.
But that fight, which had been postponed from its original July date, did something remarkable in the final week of hype. It picked up a ton of steam in the media and, noticeably to me, in online interest. The resulting PPV buy figure of right around one million was a stunner; such a stunner that when it was first being rumored and reported, several hotly anti-Mayweather dummies absolutely refused to believe that Floyd could come back with such an obviously weak fight and sell that well. But he did, and when the dust settled and I thought about it, that late surge of interest must have contributed at least something. The fight was not being talked up all that well. Then it just... happened.
I noticed something similar but less dramatic in the final steps of the build-up to Mayweather-Mosley this year, which had reported PPV buys of 1.5 million. I did not notice any late interest in Pacquiao-Clottey, which came in around 700,000, which was very respectable and even admirable given Clottey's total lack of name value.
This all dates back to the first of the truly modern "Super-Fights," which came in 2007 when Oscar de la Hoya fought Mayweather. There is a whole new cycle to Huge Event Boxing, and it comes in large part from the rise of HBO's "24/7" program, which started at Oscar-Floyd and has continued on through this fight. Other fights they've given "24/7" treatment to were Mayweather-Hatton, Calzaghe-Jones, Oscar-Pacquiao, Hatton-Pacquiao, Mayweather-Marquez and Mayweather-Mosley. Pacquiao-Clottey did not have a "24/7" series, and of those fights, was the least-bought event on pay-per-view. HBO did a one-shot feature called "Road to Dallas" for that bout.
This one has a lot going for it in terms of sales, and while I don't admire much of it, it's there and it's silly to dismiss that these things might help:
- 24/7. This is a show everyone seems to love. I think it's hammy, but then smug elitists from any interest tend to disagree with what Joe Six-Pack thinks. Rock critics aren't often fans of Nickelback. Movie critics don't adore Paul Blart: Mall Cop. Sometimes you get a perfect storm (The Beatles, Avatar, the first "24/7" which everyone liked), but usually that's not the case.
- Margarito is the baddest bad guy you're ever going to see. He's been branded a cheater. Now he's even more hated by those who hate him. And like any bad guy, he has his fans, too. Mayweather has positioned himself as the bad guy in every one of his biggest fights, and they always sell. It's cliche, but love him or hate him, people pay to see Floyd. Whether that translates for Margarito, who is disliked more for serious offenses than obnoxious personality, remains to be seen, but it's very possible.
- On paper, it's easy to sell this as a potentially action-packed fight. I don't think it will be, really, but again, smug elitist. And even I could argue it should be a very good fight to watch. It's not hard. Pacquiao is a great action fighter and Margarito has a history of putting on good to great fights, too.
- Margarito is Mexican. That might sound weird to those who don't follow boxing much, but Mexicans and Mexican-Americans are well-known to be one of the most loyal sections of the fanbase out there, and are a proven PPV audience. They buy the shows. Bob Arum wouldn't keep running Latin Fury shows if they didn't.
I don't know what I expect this fight to pull in either live (where they've talked up a 70,000 figure) or on PPV (where a million might be a disappointment). The ingredients are there, but the question is whether one of them (Margarito) has just gone bad and is going to ruin the soup.