Source: USA TODAY
LAS VEGAS — Welterweight king Floyd Mayweather Jr. remains undefeated and unbowed after he hopelessly outclassed another would-be challenger to his boxing throne.
After the 147-pound king cruised past challenger Robert Guerrero during the weekend, Mayweather reiterated his intention to quit the business within 30 months. While no one was surprised, that confirmation deprives the sport of its singular bona fide major pay-per-view television attraction. Boxing always has thrived on talented, charismatic fighters with drawing power.
Wobbled for decades, boxing continues to fight for its financial life as one of America’s oldest traditional sports. Lack of substantial sponsor support by major U.S. corporations continues to create headwinds for the industry. Television networks find it difficult to attract major sponsors.
So do promoters, although Golden Boy Promotions CEO Richard Schaefer said the involvement of O’Reilly Auto Parts, Valvoline, AT&T and Corona Extra in the MGM-hosted Mayweather-Guerrero promotion demonstrated the sport’s economic viability.
Nonetheless, “Boxing is not growing in the United States,” Top Rank Chairman Bob Arum, citing research by Scarborough Sports Marketing, told USA TODAY Sports on Sunday. “Boxing still exceeds mixed martial arts and wrestling, as far as the fan base. But if you look closer, those figures are distorted by the fact that, overwhelmingly, Hispanics favor boxing, as do African-Americans.
“The leaders of industry view it from the (perspective) that there is diminished interest in the white community for boxing. That permeates everything.
“Look at the people who run corporations. What is their most important function? Job preservation. They don’t want to innovate; they don’t want to take chances.”
But signs exist that the worst might be over for the industry, particularly on an international basis, where there is growth, most notably in Asia.
“Boxing is in better position now than 10 years ago when it had its own recession,” said light-heavyweight champion Bernard Hopkins, a minority partner in Golden Boy Promotions.
“But when will we get the next superstar?” asked Hopkins, who, at 48, became the oldest world title-belt holder in history in March. “Maybe there’s one around the corner. But so far nobody has proven to bring in the (pay-per-view TV sales) that Floyd has.”
Unbeaten contender Saul “El Canelo” Alvarez, 22, a potential opponent for Mayweather in September, might be that guy one day. So, too, could be Adrien Broner, the 23-year-old undefeated lightweight. Asked if he would one day graduate into becoming a pay-per-view headliner, the Cincinnati native replied: “Of course I will. I’ve got it all. I’m entertaining.”
That was a couple of hours before he launched into an obscenity-laced description of Mayweather’s victory during a post-fight news conference.
Meanwhile, the biggest potential blockbuster fight — Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao — probably never will be consummated. Pacquiao, the aging Filipino superstar now fading after back-to-back defeats, suffered a frightening face-plant when he was knocked out with one punch by Juan Manuel Marquez last December.
To complicate matters, Mayweather said Pacquiao would need to cut out Arum as “middle man.”
Meanwhile, the heavyweight division — once the sport’s unquestionable bellwether — remains marginalized. Does any general-interest sports fan know one heavyweight champion Klitschko brother from the other despite the Ukrainian brothers’ combined 105-5 record? Or that Wladimir successfully defended his title in Germany last weekend?
“There just aren’t any good heavyweights,” said former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield. “You have the small guys but, in America, pretty much all we have is Mayweather.”
Perhaps even worse, the often-discussed “cold war” between Top Rank and Golden Boy Promotions further diminishes the number and quality of matchups.
Meanwhile, the competitive field among combat sports— namely, boxing vs. mixed-martial arts — continues even though their audiences are quite divergent. As Hopkins observed, “They kicked our ass early on — and guess what? It woke the sleeping giant.
“Now, (boxing) has a pulse after being in intensive care for a stint,” he said. “We weren’t sure we would come out of the coma. People were ready to pull the plug on boxing. But we’re alive.”
Indeed Forbes’ list of the highest-paid athletes in the world last year had four boxers, including No. 1 (Mayweather, $85 million) and No. 2 (Pacquiao, $62 million). Other boxers on the list were Wladimir Klitschko ($28M) and Miguel Cotto ($19M). Only Mayweather was born in the U.S.
Globally, boxing is anything but banished to a neutral corner.
From audience and sponsor perspectives, the sport remains immensely popular in other corners of the world, including Spanish-speaking countries, Europe and Canada. A promising developing market is China.
In April, Arum promoted his first fight card in China when two-time Olympic gold medalist Zou Shiming, a 31-year-old flyweight, made his pro debut at the Venetian Resort in Macau. The fight was broadcast to millions. Top Rank will feature Zou Shiming, the most-decorated amateur boxer in Chinese history, on a July 27 card in Macau.
Arum, who plans to soon announce the signing of an Olympic medalist from Japan, said he will do more shows in China, the Philippines and Singapore in 2013.
While South America has been spotty, last week’s Sergio Martinez-Martin Murray middleweight championship in Buenos Aires, Argentina, drew more than 50,000 fans at an outdoor stadium.
Next month, in the biggest fight in Canada since “The Brawl in Montreal” between Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran in 1980, former world champions Jean Pascal and Lucian Bute will tangle. The fight, to be televised by HBO, already is a sellout with more than 22,000 expected at the Bell Centre.
Showtime has launched a direct attack at HBO’s dominance in the sport for decades with its signing of Mayweather to a lucrative deal worth at least $200 million. And, last year, NBC and CBS ventured back into televising live boxing with one-off shows. “We’re going to need network TV to get back into the fray — that’s our farm system,” said trainer Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, a former light-heavyweight champion.
But Arum disagreed: “That never will happen until somebody steps up and says … well, they’re not going to step up because why would they step up when they see a diminished demand among white Americans?
“Look at the numbers. The reason boxing exceeds mixed martial arts and wrestling in popularity is because of the overwhelming support of Hispanics and blacks. It is no longer a white man’s sport.
“The picture in the United States is not overwhelmingly good. The picture on a global basis is sensational.”