There’s a running debate continuing in boxing right now as to whether Mayweather-Pacquiao was good for the sport overall or just good for those involved. While the event was a huge success in terms of most all objective measures, some folks just can’t wrap their heads around how the superfight being seen by so many casual boxing fans could be a good thing for the general promotion of the sport. After all, Mayweather-Pacquiao was no Hagler-Hearns. Heck, it wasn’t even De La Hoya-Mosley. It was more like Rigondeaux-Donaire or Canelo-Lara.
Count HBO Sports president Ken Hershman, though, among those who believe the fight was a good thing for boxing. Hershman and company partnered with longtime rival Showtime to telecast the fight, the most watched pay-per-view boxing event in the history of the sport.
“I think it was great for the sport,” said Hershman. “Obviously, it transcended the sport. It transcended sports overall and became a cultural event. It exposed a giant audience—a new audience—to boxing, and to the spectacle of it.”
Hershman admits the fight itself wasn’t exactly what everyone hoped for once the bell actually rang. Where some boxing writers, such as The Sweet Science’s Frank Lotierzo, connected the dots before the two fighters ever touched gloves in the center of the ring, others such as—well, me—believed Pacquiao would give Mayweather the fight of his life.
He didn’t. While Pacquiao was competitive with Mayweather in the early rounds, by the end of things it was pretty clear Mayweather deserved the nod on the scorecards, though some folks were probably correct to tally scores a little closer than the three judges at did.
Hershman said he was glad the fight happened, and even gladder he wouldn’t have to answer all those questions from the media about whether the two fighters would ever face each other like he had to do for six long years before the fight was finally made.
“The fight wasn’t the most scintillating fight that we had hoped for, but it certainly performed on all the levels we expected and blew through every record.”
Mayweather-Pacquiao obliterated just about every benchmark possible for all things that matter in a boxing promotion. In fact, Mayweather and Pacquiao were recently named the top two earners among all athletes in sports this year by Forbes. Ponder that for just a second or two. Two boxers will make more money this year than LeBron James, Tiger Woods and Roger Federer.
Moreover, the fight received unprecedented media coverage from mainstream news outlets. It was unlike anything any fight fan under the age of 40 had ever experienced. Boxing finally got it’s due, even if it was just for a short period of time.
“All of that is great for the sport, and it was great to see boxing on the front pages for the right reason: because the Super Bowl of fights took place.”
Hershman said the fight was better in person than maybe it looked on television, something corroborated to this writer after the fact by many people in attendance that evening. In fact, some smart boxing people sitting ringside that night, including legendary fighters Shane Mosley and Evander Holyfield, actually thought they had witnessed a Pacquiao upset at the time.
“It felt, for the first six rounds at least, a little more competitive than people maybe thought watching on television. But that’s not unique to his event. That’s just part of the sport.”
Hershman enjoyed the bout for what it was, both for the elite level of boxing on display that night inside the ring, but also for the chance to finally move past the never-ending hoopla of it all, something the boxing community at large had endured for six long (and frankly sometimes insufferable) years.
“Not every fight is going to be Canelo-Kirkland or Golovkin-Monroe. There are just different art forms about it.”
Perhaps most interesting to those who wonder how the bigwigs in boxing think and operate, Hershman confirmed HBO’s strategy of using the event to highlight their current roster. He said the May 2 fight was intentionally surrounded on the boxing calendar—both leading up to and after the fact—with HBO’s most elite boxing stars in order to expose those fans who were tuning into the sport for maybe the first time, or at least the first time in a long while, to the likes of Canelo Alvarez, Gennady Golovkin and Roman Gonzalez.
“We made every effort to capture as many casual fans as possible around that time period,” Hershman told me for a recent Bleacher Report article. “That’s why you saw that run of boxing we put on leading into Mayweather-Pacquiao and then coming out of it, because we knew there would be a halo effect from that fight.”
So while some people might believe the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight wasn’t all that great for the sport (folks such as Golden Boy Promotions president Oscar De La Hoya believe the fight did more damage than good), it’s clear HBO sees things a little bit differently. For Hershman and company, Mayweather-Pacquiao wasn’t just a boon for those involved in that promotion, but one for the overall health of the sport as well.
HBO’s uptick in viewership numbers seems to support Hershman’s view. It will be interesting to see if the network can keep the torrid pace it’s set through the first half of the year, one which already saw three of their live fights grab more viewers than any live cable TV fight from the previous year.
Can HBO keep the causal fight fans it lured into the boat after Mayweather-Pacquiao is ever further in the rearview mirror? Will the rise of Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions series help or hinder the cable giant’s efforts? Are HBO fighters Alvarez and Golovkin really the superstars HBO hopes they are?
It will be fun to find out.
Kelsey McCarson also contributes to Bleacher Report, The Sweet Science and Boxing Channel.