The pundits say the May 2 bout between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, Jr. will be the last “big fight” we ever see. But the boxing odds tell us the sport will thrive by growing horizontally, not vertically.
Quick: What was the last marquee boxing match that really captured your attention? Was it the Floyd Mayweather-Oscar De La Hoya fight in 2007? Maybe Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson in 2002? Or perhaps you’re old-school enough to plant your flag on all those great fights from the early ‘80s involving Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, Marvin Hagler and Roberto Duran. Whatever the case, the buzz surrounding Saturday’s bout (9:00 p.m. ET) between Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao is that we’ve reached the game’s end boss. No more big fights after this.
There could be some truth to that. However, before you put on your sandwich board that says THE END IS NEAR, let’s take a step back from the hype machine and think about where the sport of boxing is today, and where it’s headed. One look at the boxing odds tells us there’s plenty of interest outside of Mayweather-Pacquiao: As we go to press, there are 10 other fights coming up in May that you can add to your boxing picks. Supplies aren’t exactly running low.
Over the Hills and Far Away
It all depends on your point of perspective. If you happen to live in North America, then it may look like boxing has been dying a slow death for quite a while. Mixed martial arts has largely taken over the combat sports marketplace; the UFC is operating a virtual monopoly, avoiding the issue of “alphabet soup” champions holding multiple belts from multiple promotions, which devalues each title. And those “Fight of the Night” bonuses give the athletes direct incentive to keep things interesting inside the Octagon.
But if you live in North America, you might not be privy to how the sport of boxing has grown elsewhere. As Top Rank’s Bob Arum said to USA Today back in 2013, “(the) picture in the United States is not overwhelmingly good. The picture on a global basis is sensational.” Consider the growth we’ve seen across the board in places like Macao, where Pacquiao defended his WBO welterweight title against Chris Algieri last November. Or in Europe, the home of the top fighters from the five heaviest weight classes, including heavyweight champ Wladimir Klitschko.
The Global Village
Rather than the death of boxing itself, what we might be seeing this Saturday is the death of a business model. As we discussed while looking at the boxing props for the number of PPV buys the Fight of the Century will generate, it’s unlikely the sport will be able to keep cranking out events with high price tags when so many people can jump on the Internet and watch a free online stream, legal or otherwise. The music industry certainly hasn’t been the same since Napster. As with audio, so with video. Information wants to be free.
On top of that, Mayweather may not have done the sport any favors on this side of the pond by fighting only once or twice a year, and often against opponents who are past their prime. It’s a smart move from his perspective, both from a health and a financial standpoint. But Mayweather’s scorched-earth policy means there’s a shortage of marquee names to replace him once he retires in September.
Again, though, that’s a local issue, not a global issue. There are plenty of fighters around the world generating tons of interest in boxing. If you’re interested in betting on the sport, and you’re willing to look beyond the fishbowl of “big time” events and personalities, you’ll have ample opportunity to get your money in after Mayweather and Pacquiao finish dancing this Saturday night. It’s a small world, after all.