Mayweather vs. Pacquiao: Another Fight that Will 'Save Boxing'?

The May 2 bout between the unbeaten Floyd Mayweather (47-0, 26 KO’s) and Manny Pacquiao ( 57-5-2, 38 KO’s) is shaping up to be the largest grossing boxing match — live gate and pay per view — in history. If there are such things as “superstars” in boxing these days, these guys are it.

Both have outsized personalities and are skilled, deadly fighters. But boxing aficionados, of which there are fewer and fewer over the years, are pinning their hopes on the idea that this fight will be “the one” — the fight that puts boxing back in its proper place as a major spectacle in America.

It is a forlorn hope, based on the fantasy that televised sports hasn’t reached the saturation point yet, and that there is room for a sport where two men stand in a ring trying to beat each other’s brains out.

Boxing can still put on a show. There have been several memorable fights over the last couple of decades, including the epic Oscar De La Hoya vs. Pernell Whitaker bout in 1997 and Pacquiao vs. Miguel Cotto in 2009.

But boxing has largely fallen off the radar in America, banished, for the most part, to secondary sports channels. Whether it’s been a fall off in talent, the rise of Mixed Martial Arts as a bloodier, more action-packed alternative, or simply the fact that there are so many other sports to watch when boxing is on, ratings for boxing on TV has fallen precipitously.

NBC is trying an experiment with a weekly bout broadcast live on Saturday night. The premiere didn’t do too badly:

Premier Boxing Champions pulled in 3.4 million viewers on the night, making it the most watched boxing broadcast since 1998. They also did a 1.08 rating in the coveted 18-49 demographic, making NBC #1 amongst the big 4 networks in this group.

The show was headlined by Keith Thurman vs. Robert Guerrero in a dramatic fight, and also featured Adrien Broner vs. John Molina, Jr. in a snoozer.

One other statistic worth noting: the show saw a steady rise throughout the broadcast, with an increase every half hour, culminating in a 4.2 peak for the last half of the main event.

How did those numbers compare to MMA on Fox?

The most recent UFC on Fox show, UFC on Fox 14 headlined by Alexander Gustafsson vs. Anthony Johnson, pulled in 2.82 million viewers, a definite notch below the PBC show. That was the high mark for the UFC in some time. UFC on Fox 13: Dos Santos vs. Miocic saw a significantly lower 2.27 million viewers, which was consistent with their most recent shows.

The highest rated UFC on Fox show remains the first ever event (Velasquez vs. Dos Santos I) which drew 5.7 million viewers back in 2011. Overall, only 4 of the 14 UFC on Fox events have beaten this PBC show in terms of viewers – none more recent than UFC on Fox 6: Johnson vs. Dodson in January 2013 (3.77 million).

For Mayweather vs. Pacquiao, tickets for the MGM Grand will start at $1700 and may go as high as $7500 face value. Pricing for PPV hasn’t been worked out yet, but many observers predict a record $100 for the privilege of viewing the fight and the undercard. The total take from the bout — gate, PPV, closed circuit on the Vegas strip — will shatter the record gross of $150 million for the Floyd Mayweather vs. Saul Alvarez in 2013.

It says something rather pathetic about the state of boxing in America, that two 38 year old fighters with their best bouts behind them, are being touted as the saviors of the sport.

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