This past Saturday, Manny Pacquiao won another trilogy against a top-caliber opponent when he defeated Timothy Bradley in their rubber match on HBO pay-per-view. For Pacquiao, it was a return to action after an eleven month layoff, and the win over the highly skilled Bradley signalled that Pacquiao has not faded much when it comes to in-ring performance.
Pacquiao is such a huge star that there were probably a million questions surrounding his return. Would his shoulder hold up? At 37, had he lost a step? Has he lost some of that hunger? Is this his last fight? Would he come back to fight Floyd Mayweather Jr? How many pay-per-views will he sell?
That last one is a fair question. Pacquiao has long been considered a box-office attraction. In 2012, when he met Bradley for the first time, the fight attracted 890,000 pay-per-view buys. The 2014 follow-up generated roughly 800,000 buys.
The first numbers are coming in for this past weekend’s fight and the numbers are down considerably. Promoter Bob Arum spoke prior to the rubber match about having 700,000 buys as the goal, but early numbers have this fight coming in closer to 450,000 pay-per-view buys.
The live show was spectacular, as to be expected when HBO and Top Rank collaborate. The live crowd of 14,665 was boisterous and loud and the fight did reach that “big fight” type of atmosphere Vegas is famous for. But a shrewd observer would also notice that 14,665 falls short of a sell out at the MGM by about 1k.
The question further extends itself. Pacquiao and Mayweather Jr did an unprecedented 4.4 Million pay-per-view buys. That record will stand for a generation, probably for more than a few generations. But can anyone come close? Pacquiao versus Bradley III did roughly the same amount of buys as Pac-man versus Brandon Rios and Pac-man versus Chris Algieri. What is clear from Pac-man’s weekend numbers, is that he is not the guy anymore.
Scrutiny will fall next on the upcoming May 7th HBO pay-per-view promoted by Golden Boy featuring Saul “Canelo” Alvarez taking on England’s Amir Khan. If you listen to GBP’s Oscar De La Hoya, Alvarez is the “heir” to Mayweather’s throne as the top draw in boxing. Alvarez and Mayweather did a strong 2.2 million buys when they met in September of 2014. When Alvarez met Miguel Cotto in November of last year, they drew 900,000 buys, and Cotto is also considered to be a top tier draw. If Alvarez is “The Man” now, boxing certainly has lost a few tax brackets off the top.
Another interesting number that has popped up regarding boxing pay-per-views is the emergence of England’s heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua. Fighting in the U.K. in a market one-sixth the size of the American market, early numbers reported by ESPN’s Dan Rafael have Joshua’s bout with Charles Martin drawing over 400,000 pay-per-views.
Perhaps Pacquiao will stick to his word and remain retired, in which case that question becomes moot. But if he returns, who would you pay to see Pacquiao fight to close out 2016? And how many pay-per-view buys will “Canelo” do versus Amir Khan?