Are you paying for tomorrow night's Mayweather-Pacquiao pay-per-view? If you're reading this right now, you probably are. And if you're a boxing fan at all, you should! It's a huge event between two of the best fighters in the world, arguably once again the two best, and the two biggest stars of this generation in boxing.
But know this: for your $100 HD PPV purchase, you are getting one fight that's going to be worth your time. Usually, you get four fights in total. Generally, you get one, maybe two fights worth your time, but for $50-70, not $100. This time, there are only three fights on the card, counting the main event. And with the effort put into the co-feature bouts from the promoters, that might be for the best. Even if we wind up with some significant dead air, at least you can flip over to the Clippers vs Spurs game or something.
Short breakdown of Mayweather's tricky Lead Right
Boxing's pay-per-view undercards have been largely awful for a long time now. It's because promoters figured something out: not enough people care about the undercard's quality for it to matter, or for it to make financial sense to essentially waste a good fight that could headline its own TV card, making its own money, on a show that is sold by its main event alone.
The last time we saw a really great matchup on a PPV undercard was in 2013, when most of us were stunned that Danny Garcia vs Lucas Matthysse was made the co-feature to Mayweather's fight with Canelo Alvarez. That fight sold 2.2 million, second-best ever, and broke the record for both live gate in Nevada and pay-per-view revenue, as it had a substantially higher PPV price tag than Mayweather's 2007 fight with Oscar De La Hoya, which came in at 2.48 million buys and at the time had previously held the revenue record, as well.
That was an anomaly. After that, it was back to business as usual. In April 2014, when Pacquiao fought Timothy Bradley a second time, the undercard was ripped to shreds before the fight, though we argued that it wasn't that bad, and that it would be better than the Mayweather-Maidana undercard coming a few weeks later, which featured names like Amir Khan and Adrien Broner in tune-up fights.
The battle between those cards was one of solid matchmaking without names (Top Rank's Pacquiao-Bradley bill) against a claim to the "most expensive undercard ever" with big names taking on mediocre opponents (Mayweather and Golden Boy's lineup). The Top Rank show was better, but was it good enough? Not for a lot of people.
The argument here comes from diehard fans who shell out money for HBO subscriptions and Showtime subscriptions, watch fights on ESPN2, NBC Sports Network, and FOX Sports 1, plus now NBC, CBS, Spike, truTV, and BET. They want quality when they are asked to pay even more money.
Unfortunately, there just isn't enough true demand for promoters to go that extra mile. One could argue that Garcia-Matthysse helped the Mayweather-Canelo card reach the heights that it did as a business venture, but it's just as easy to assume that they could have replaced that fight with an industry standard non-event in the co-feature slot and sold the same amount of pay-per-views. It's not like Danny Garcia or Lucas Matthysse are pay-per-view draws without that main event. If anything, it was something of a gift to the fans who had complained about these shows forever.
The late, great comedian Patrice O'Neal had a bit on one of his stand-up specials, the album Mr. P, where he talked about escalating gas prices that reminds me of why these cards are put together the way that they are. (If you want to hear the whole bit, go here -- the part I'm talking about starts at around 2:26, and be very aware that it's very, very NSFW, with plenty of blue language and all-around vulgarity.)
The point is this, as O'Neal put it: "What you really gonna do?" And that's how it holds up here. If you're a boxing fan, casual or extreme, what are you really gonna do? Not watch the biggest fights out there in glorious high-definition on your big TV with your nice sound system? You paid for all that stuff to enjoy the things you enjoy to the highest level that you can enjoy them. Are you going to refuse to pay for a fight you want or even feel you need to see, just because the first couple hours don't really interest you much?
Some people may say that yes, that's exactly why they don't order pay-per-views. Not enough bang for the buck. It's a legitimate stance. But there aren't enough of those people to make a sizable enough dent in the sales for these shows. If promoters were taking a hit from making bad undercards, they would change the way they do things. They clearly see no reason to change the way they do it.
All of that is a lead-up to saying something quite simple: the Mayweather-Pacquiao undercard sucks. It really, really sucks. It sucks bad.
Mayweather Promotions and Top Rank agreed to promote one televised undercard bout each. Top Rank decided to go with Vasyl Lomachenko (3-1, 1 KO), an extremely talented young fighter with an amazing amateur background, two Olympic gold medals, and two world title fights already under his belt -- a tough loss in his second pro fight to Orlando Salido, and a win over Gary Russell Jr in his third pro fight, which netted the Ukrainian the WBO featherweight championship. (That's the same Russell who smoked Jhonny Gonzalez to win the WBC belt in March, too.)
No one is denying that Lomachenko is a terrific fighter, someone who has all the tools to be a pound-for-pound star for many years to come. He's ambitious, well-schooled, and an amazing talent. But he's facing Gamalier Rodriguez (25-2-3, 17 KO), a fringe contender from Puerto Rico whose best win is over Orlando Cruz. Odds for the fight are huge in Lomachenko's favor, as they should be.
Top Rank's Bob Arum explained his thought process in an interview with SB Nation's Luke Thomas this week. "I wanted to showcase him," Arum said of Lomachenko, "and he's fighting a real tough Puerto Rican guy."
"Real tough" in boxing terms is often code for "we have no other way to sell this opponent as a viable threat to our guy."
Arum added, "I wasn't necessarily interested in some name against some name, I thought this was a great opportunity that the public see Lomachenko." He's right, it's a great opportunity for exposure. Lomachenko will be seen by a lot more people than he has been so far in his pro career. And enough people know so little about Lomachenko or his opponent that the expected walkover win will probably look more impressive than it is. That is a time-tested strategy in boxing: make a star with the least risk possible, selling the fighter to the most people with the least knowledge of what they're watching.
Arum also had thoughts about the fight that Mayweather Promotions put together for the card, which will feature super bantamweight titleholder Leo Santa Cruz in a waters-testing fight at featherweight against Jose Cayetano, an unknown Mexican fighter who lost in his last bout. Santa Cruz (29-0-1, 17 KO) has gone from all-action fan favorite to one of the most consistently criticized fighters in the sport over the course of two years. Everyone agrees he can fight, but the matchmaking of his last few bouts has been atrocious.
"They took Santa Cruz, who is a very good fighter, and they put him with some guy who's lost two out of the last three fights, or whatever," Arum said, getting in a dig at a team that remain his promotional rivals, even though they're doing business for this fight. "That was their business, and that was their call. That was not something I had a veto over."
Cayetano (17-3, 8 KO) has lost two of his last four, to be exact, and the pair of wins between those defeats weren't exactly the sort that indicate he's a threat to Santa Cruz, who continues to claim he wants fights with the likes of Guillermo Rigondeaux, Carl Frampton, and Scott Quigg, only for his team to instead give us Cayetano, Jesus Ruiz, and Manuel Roman in his last three bouts.
In reality, though, the Santa Cruz fight isn't that much different than the Lomachenko fight. It's an even worse matchup on paper, but it's the same idea: expose Leo Santa Cruz to another big audience, one that largely won't know that the guy he's fighting isn't in his league and shouldn't be in the ring with him at this stage of his career. It will work well enough, and the upside is, the promoters spend as little money as they need to spend on these undercard fights, while raking in truck loads from the main event.
The good news about this undercard is that it probably won't be the worst of the modern super-fight PPV undercards. In 2008, when Pacquiao fought Oscar De La Hoya, Top Rank and Golden Boy came together to put on an excruciatingly lousy series of mismatches. That night, we were treated to Juan Manuel Lopez stopping Sergio Medina in one round, Victor Ortiz getting rid of Jeff Resto in two rounds, and Daniel Jacobs finishing Victor Lares in two rounds. After the farcical matchups panned out to be as bad as they could possibly have been, people involved with the fight acted surprised that they wound up with so much TV downtime.
That night, Manny Pacquiao's one-sided slaughter of De La Hoya made the undercard totally irrelevant. The big main event wasn't a competitive fight at all, but it was such an amazing story that people got to be awed by the performance of a new superstar.
Will Mayweather-Pacquiao make up for its own dreadful undercard? Probably. Even if the fight isn't a classic, it's likely that the buzz of the fight will carry over enough. This is too big of a fight for any lingering bad taste about the prelim fights to hang around too long.
So that's why the undercard sucks tomorrow night. You don't have to like it, and you shouldn't like it, but what you really gonna do? You have to see The Fight. So you pay.