Less than a year and a half ago, Manny Pacquiao was a part of the highest grossing event in boxing history when he squared off with Floyd Mayweather, a bout years in the making and one that many thought wouldn’t become a reality. With a $99.99 price tag, the pay-per-view broadcast set revenue records with over 4 million buys that translated to $410 million in PPV revenue alone.
There was such a level of anticipation for the fight a few years before it actually happened and the time frame to cash in on a showdown of boxing’s two biggest stars was closing so finally after years of political jousting between the two sides, the contract was signed. The fight itself was considered a flop, as a record number of viewers tuned in and saw Floyd defensively dodge his way to a lackluster decision win. I’ve said it before and I will say it again, anyone that was shocked at Floyd’s masterful technique to avoid damage either hasn’t watched him fight previously or they don’t know anything about boxing.
However, the biggest fight in nearly a decade was a disappointment and shrapnel from the blunder affected bouts several months later.
In September of 2015, “Money” Mayweather signed on for what was promoted as his retirement fight, but it was met without much fanfare and the pay-per-view numbers were the lowest Mayweather offering in a decade. Andre Berto is a solid pro, but was no real threat to Floyd and after the $100 disappointment, fans weren’t willing to pay to see another glorified exhibition from the technician that held championships in five different divisions. One of the most decorated careers in the history of boxing didn’t receive a fond farewell from the boxing public, but rather a clear message that their PPV dollars could be used more effectively elsewhere.
Earlier this year, Manny returned to the ring to complete his trilogy with Timothy Bradley, a contest that I described as being unnecessary in an article prior to the event, and the results proved that description to be correct. Bradley won a very suspect decision in their initial fight (not Bradley’s fault, he didn’t score the fight) before Pacquiao dominated the score cards to win the rematch.
There was no realistic reason to believe that Bradley had a chance to defeat Manny in a third fight and boxing fans didn’t, as the PPV buyrate was called, “terrible” by promoter Bob Arum after considerably low numbers were reported. Manny defeated Bradley easily via unanimous decision and earned $20 million for his most recent performance in the ring. Arum, one of the godfathers of the promotional game, didn’t get quite the same payday and when asked about the fight, he confirmed to ESPN that his company lost money on the event because the low buyrates didn’t cover the expenses.
Again, the effects of the Floyd/Manny debacle surfaced months after their super fight, this time the message was directed at Manny. After his $100 million payday in 2014, it was revealed after the fight that Pacquiao fought with an injured shoulder, and didn’t disclose it to the Nevada State Athletic Commission before the bout, which is a requirement. Boxing fans thought they were deceived and ripped off when they ordered the most expensive fight in the history of the sport. The injury required surgery and it was a successful procedure, but Pacquiao’s credibility among boxing fans has yet to be completely repaired.
Earlier this month, in a somewhat shocking statement after he announced that he will fight Jessie Vargas later this year, Pacquiao revealed that he decided to return to the ring because boxing is his main source of income. Manny explained that he supports and helps many family members so he can’t rely on his income as a public official. At 37, Manny Pacquiao has earned a few hundred million dollars during his career and signed for his 67th professional bout, it’s almost unthinkable that he has to fight because he needs the money, but it has happened before so it’s possible that he becomes another cautionary tale in sports.
The 27-year-old Vargas is a decent prospect, garnering a record of 27-1 with his only loss a unanimous decision when he squared off with Timothy Bradley in June of 2015. The problem in terms of the drawing power for a Pacquiao/Vargas event, is that nearly all of his 27 wins were against unrecognizable competition, and most of the general public doesn’t know the name Jesse Vargas, leaving the aging Manny responsible for the bulk of pay-per-view orders.
The fight announcement was met with a lukewarm reception at best and last week, in a once unthinkable decision, HBO decided not only to pass on the fight, but also dropped Pacquiao from his contract. Bob Arum again addressed lackluster Pacquiao news when he confirmed that HBO did indeed decline to host the contest, citing their already scheduled Andre Ward/Sergey Kovalev bout two weeks prior to the Manny fight as the primary reason for the dismissal. But, the most basic reason the premium cable channel passed on the deal is that they already have a drawing card with two undefeated fighters set to clash in an anticipated match-up, why would HBO risk losing money on another Manny-branded broadcast?
It’s almost stunning to say this, but Manny Pacquiao, one of boxing’s top draws just a few years ago, doesn’t have a distributor or a contract for his next professional fight.
The echos of the Pacquiao/Mayweather post-fight reception can still be heard.
Promoter Bob Arum stated that he would talk to Showtime and ESPN about the Pacquiao/Vargas bout. But, considering the low numbers for Manny’s last pay-per-view contest, are fans be willing to pay to watch him fight a mostly unknown opponent? As counter productive as it might sound, airing the November 5th fight on broadcast television and collecting the ad revenue from the commercials might be the safest financial option for the event. There’s no question that the show would draw major ratings and generate considerable ad revenue, but who knows how Arum will choose to distribute the fight?
If anything, these latest developments prove that in many ways, Manny Pacquiao is damaged goods and after the super fight debacle, the general public isn’t willing to spend many more dollars on watching his career. The record books will show that Manny Pacquiao vs. Floyd Mayweather was the highest grossing event in the history of boxing, but each fighter’s legacy also paid a price when their fight disappointed a record audience
Until next week