Well, the numbers are in and the Mayweather-Maidana rematch on September 13th did 925,000 pay per view buys.
No, that’s not great but it’s better than any other active fighter could bring if they were fighting a quasi-known entity like Marcos Maidana. Again proof that like him or loathe him, regardless of how many stupid things he does and says out of the ring, Mayweather is by far the biggest star and draw in combat sports. And Mayweather was able to produce those numbers fighting an opponent who he clearly defeated four months ago, one who was nearly an 8-1 underdog on the day of the fight. In fact nobody, at least anybody who has clue-one as to what they’re watching in the ring, gave Maidana a realistic shot to win the fight, yet it was still a successful promotion from start to finish.
The fact that Floyd Mayweather is such a huge star and draw led me to start thinking about how huge of a superstar Muhammad Ali would be today if he were in his prime and fighting the well-known and dangerous contemporaries of his era. Mayweather is a manufactured superstar who had to re-invent himself and needed to fight an empty package named Oscar De La Hoys before anyone really took notice of him and his career. Ali, conversely, was a dynamic personality with incredible magnetism.
Floyd has no natural charisma, none whatsoever. He had to adopt a villain persona a la a WWE heel. Mayweather has been a genius in how he has used social media to highlight his wealth and garish possessions to keep himself in the news. He also is not above commenting, usually stupidly, on things like domestic violence and other things that high profile athletes and celebrities find themselves in the news for.
Floyd’s fights usually aren’t the most thrilling or exciting. Part of that is because he’s so good and the other reason is because Mayweather is selective of who and when he fights certain opponents. Not to mention that he sometimes picks the venue, the referee and the judges along with the gloves the opponent wears. And because of the era that he blossomed during, he’s never once fought in a bout that was scheduled for 15-rounds.
Think about Ali. He was the biggest star in sports history, yet the only access to him for the fans were the newspaper and the wide world of sports and a few late night talk shows. Muhammad didn’t have the benefit of 24 hour cable TV sports stations the likes of ESPN and Fox Sports 1. And there has to be at least two or three 24 hour all-sports talk radio stations in every city in America today, something that wouldn’t emerge until 15 years after Ali’s last title bout. There was no Facebook or Twitter either. The only thing Ali had going for him back then was the coming age of television. He espoused natural charisma and was extremely telegenic. It was also known that Ali’s boastfulness was merely schtick, and even when he said derogatory things about his opponents, with the exception of Ernie Terrell, it was said with a twinkle in his eye.
Muhammad Ali inspired constructive debate on issues and topics such as race, religion, politics, war, sports and salaries among a plethora of other things. Ali stood by his convictions in and out of the ring. And he was also blessed to come along at a time when the heavyweight division was loaded with dangerous foes that were well known and viewed as a serious threat to his dominance, and he fought and defeated every one of them before he turned 36.
Ali was even stripped of his undisputed title for refusing military induction and at one time was viewed as a draft dodger and a bad guy.
However, after a 43 month exile he came back and changed hearts and minds while totally cleaning out the heavyweight division without really experiencing a physical prime. When Ali faced “Smokin” Joe Frazier in 1971 in his first attempt to regain the undisputed title he was stripped of, it was the most anticipated sporting event in history, something that still holds true in 2014. And when Ali went into the ring to confront Frazier, who was at his absolute peak, he also knew that the U.S. supreme court was about to rule on his draft conviction. If he lost the decision to the government, which he did win by an 8-0 vote, he would’ve gone to jail to serve out the five year jail sentence that was handed down to him in 1967. Ali lost a unanimous decision to Frazier that night, and it paved the way for him to solidify his all-time stature and greatness over the next five years.
The first Frazier vs. Ali fight was called “The Fight Of The Century.” It grossed nearly 30 million dollars in 1971 via the live gate of nearly 20,000 in attendance at Madison Square Garden and closed circuit revenues. At that time there were only three venues per state where you could go to see the fight on closed circuit TV. There was no HBO 24/7 or Showtime All-Access to promote and hype the fight. There wasn’t ESPN, who would’ve loved Ali because he was so accessible and willing to give a quote worthy of stirring the pot and providing SportsCenter with non-stop coverage and dialogue. If you think ESPN went over the top with their continuous coverage of Tim Tebow and LeBron James at one time, that would’ve looked like a cavity filling compared to way Ali and his upcoming bouts would’ve been covered by them.
Imagine what kind of coverage sports-talk radio and TMZ would’ve given Muhammad Ali before and after all of his fights? How funny would Ali’s tweets be? And his Facebook page would’ve been a scream… Ali went toe-to-toe with conservative icon William F. Buckley for 90 minutes straight when he was 26 years old, and boxing wasn’t discussed at all. If Ali could hang with Buckley, he would’ve eaten up political commentators like Bill O’Reilly of Fox News, Wolf Blitzer of CNN and Rachel Maddow of MSNBC……..talking about the Vietnam war, Watergate, civil rights, abortion, and whatever else was going on during the years 1965-1975. Ali would be the most sought-after guest in the world in 2014 by all the big sports-talk show hosts in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Miami – and that’s when he wasn’t doing a publicity tour promoting an upcoming bout.
What about Ali the fighter?
Muhammad Ali never ducked a single fighter; he actually sought out the toughest contenders before they were his mandatory because they were a perceived threat. Not only that, he fought them when he had nothing to gain and on many occasions fought them more than once. Ali never made his opponents wear certain gloves or insisted on who worked the fight regarding the referee and judges.
Could you imagine Mayweather as a heavyweight fighting the undefeated George Foreman 40-0 (37), who Ali regained the title from, without making him submit to getting blood tested for performance enhancing drugs twice a day for six months before the fight? What about Mayweather as a heavyweight having to deal with Frazier’s unrelenting aggression and unending stamina for 15 rounds? Floyd would’ve made Joe run a marathon on the morning of the fight.
Not Muhammad Ali. He offered to let Frazier’s and Foreman’s relatives judge their fights against him. And if there were rumors out there that Foreman was using HGH or steroids, Ali would’ve said, “George, you better get extra shoot up on the day we fight – because I’m going to kick you’re a– and the a– of the guy who injects you!” And when Ali fought Foreman, he fought him in a phone booth disguised as a 16 foot ring. This as opposed to Mayweather, who would’ve demanded that the ring be as big as a shopping mall parking lot.
Muhammad Ali always delivered. He didn’t always participate in great fights but many of his high profile bouts were. He always fought the best of the best when the heavyweight division was littered with greats and near greats. And Muhammad never complained about how his opponents stretched the rules during their bout. With the exception of Chuck Wepner’s continuous rabbit punching, Ali never looked to the referee to bail him out of a difficult situation. Ali’s big bouts were also scheduled for 15-rounds and often it was during the final rounds that he pulled out a lot of tough and close fights because of his iron will and stamina.
Ali always had something substantive to say. He was funny and his quick wit had no equal. He never dictated the terms of his bouts and was a real fighter who was gracious in victory and defeat. If Muhammad Ali was around today his nickname wouldn’t be “Money,” it would be “TFR,” standing for “The Federal Reserve,” because only they could’ve cashed his checks after his bouts. If Ali was heavyweight champion in 2014, Floyd Mayweather would be an HBO fighter, fighting at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City in front of a viewing audience of a million plus households, like he was before he re-invented himself during the build up to his fight with Oscar De La Hoya.
Mayweather can probably gross $50 million for fighting Manny Pacquiao in 2015 or 2016, and that might be a conservative estimate. And if Floyd can get that much for fighting Pacquiao, how much would Ali gross if he were fighting Frazier or Foreman with everything being the same? In actuality, $100 million is probably low balling it.
It’s hard to comprehend just how huge of a star and personality Muhammad Ali would be today if he were heavyweight champion.
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com.