KOVALEV-WARD PPV NUMBERS — It was said in this space that it was the best fight that could be realized in boxing. Both guys were legitimate world champions and undefeated. Moreover, they were in their respective primes. Sure, Canelo Alvarez versus Gennady Golovkin has much more sizzle, but not nearly the authentic substance. Sergey Kovalev and Andre Ward, with all due respect to Adonis Stevenson, are the class of the light heavyweight division, whereas Stevenson has been a ghost since he was seven days out from his last bout.
Even during the run up to Kovalev-Ward, there was constant chatter clamoring for an announcement suggesting Alvarez-Golovkin was in the works and close to being finalized. This strikes me funny, because in my eyes there’s no intrigue regarding a manufactured showdown between Canelo and GGG. And the reasons for that are plenty. I’m not convinced Alvarez is even the top junior middleweight in boxing. If he were to fight Demetrius Andrade or one of the Charlo brothers, I see him no more than even money to come out on top….and being a betting man, I’d have no trepidation betting he moves up to 160 before touching gloves with Andrade. As for the other half of the ticket, Golovkin has some unfinished business cleaning out the middleweight division. If and when Alvarez and Golovkin meet, I’m more than moderately confident GGG will stop Alvarez inside of 10 rounds.
The biggest ingredient needed constituting a super fight is the degree of difficulty in building a solid case for one fighter over the other. Match any two names in boxing right now and I can make a cogent case for fighter-A beating fighter-B. However, when Kovalev-Ward was announced, it was the hardest boxing match for me to handicap in a long, long time, perhaps going back to the first meeting between “Smokin” Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali. When Ali and Joe signed to fight, I was only 12, but still couldn’t picture either guy losing. I eventually went with Frazier because of Ali’s inactivity fighting twice after a 43-month exile. As for Kovalev-Ward, I didn’t make an official pick but was leaning towards Kovalev for the same reason I went with Frazier, due to Ward’s sporadic ring activity in the three years before the fight.
Recently the PPV numbers for Kovalev-Ward were released, and they were disappointing. Before touching on them, let me refresh your memory on what the other PPV fights of this year did……
April 9th, 2016 Pacquiao-Bradley III (Between 400-500k)
May 7th, 2016 Canelo-Khan (under 600k)
July 23rd, 2016 Crawford-Postol (Between 50-60K)
September 17th, Canelo-Smith (a little under 300k)
November 5th, 2016 Pacquiao-Vargas (a little over 300K)
November 19th, 2016 Kovalev-Ward (160K)
Leading up to the bout, Main Events CEO Kathy Duva said she would’ve “shot off fireworks” if the fight did more than 250,000 buys. Well, with 160,000 PPV buys, there will be no fireworks. It just goes to show that when it comes to sports and entertainment, sizzle far outsells substance. The only bouts that out-sold Kovalev-Ward were those featuring Manny Pacquiao, who is yesterday’s news and on the decline, and Canelo Alvarez, who fought two mismatches and is the most over-hyped fighter in combat sports.
The above is another layer of proof that boxing fans love to pay for junk. Pacquiao fought Timothy Bradley this year and the fight garnered nearly half a million buys – despite boxing fans having a pretty good idea what was going to happen after having seen them face each other twice before. In Pacquiao’s second bout, he fought Jessie Vargas, a fighter who is a level below him and the fight doubled the amount of buys for Kovalev-Ward. And then there’s Canelo. He fought a fighter in Amir Khan who is really at his best fighting two weight classes below him, and that bout did 600K. Then four months later he fought Liam Smith, who 90% of the 300k fans who bought the fight, probably never saw fight.
Then in the last big fight of 2016, and the most compelling fight of the last three or four years, Sergey Kovalev and Andre Ward got together to resolve their conflict as to who is the premier light heavyweight in boxing. There was no social or political commentary, no bar fights or run-ins with law enforcement and no domestic disputes from them. They were respectful to each other during the entire promotion. The boldest either got during any interview was promising victory on November 19th.
Sadly in our society, freak shows and WWE-style antics draw fans in large masses in contrast to substantive competition. Every novice fan in the world knew who was going to win between Pacquiao vs.Bradley/Vargas. Yet Manny’s shrinking relevance and the memory of how special he once was, overruled common sense and they wrote the check. Canelo fought a little guy and then a fighter who had no shot to beat him, yet because fans have been told Alvarez is the biggest star in boxing with the retirement of Floyd Mayweather, they wrote two more checks, never looking back, knowing the result of both of his bouts long before the opening bell.
The takeaway is that sizzle and flash trump authenticity and substance in boxing. Just keep telling the fans how great the crap tastes and eventually they’ll nod in agreement — evidenced by the amount of fans who paid to see Pacquiao’s and Canelo’s glorified public workouts.
The Kovalev-Ward bout had no shot to be a financial blockbuster due to the fact that both fighters lack charisma. Compounding the problem was that both promoters knew the limitations of their fighters outside of the ring and ignored it. Kathy Duva and Roc Nation assumed that the legitimacy of the matchup between two undefeated near-greats in their prime was enough to sell the fight on its own…..but they were wrong!
That is very disheartening. Both Sergey and Andre deserved better. Somewhere during the promotion, Kovalev and Ward should’ve been pulled aside by the people advising them and told….”This is the first time you’re the main event of a PPV card. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, we must give the fans multiple reasons to buy this fight. Just finding out who the winner will be isn’t enough.”
Imagine how much more attention the fight would’ve drawn had either Kovalev or Ward done or said something out of character towards the other. Kovalev could’ve said “Andre Ward is boring, nobody wants to watch him fight.” Why try to repackage Sergey as an altar boy when he can be thuggish? Conversely, Ward could’ve said, “Sergey, you made your rep beating a 50-year-old Hopkins. You haven’t defeated anybody” — anything to stimulate more interest in the bout. If Roc Nation can’t sell Ward’s story, they should get out of the business. Anybody should be able to sell Ward by educating the public.
Both promoters made a mistake that, love him or hate him, Don King never would’ve made. Had King been promoting the fight, he would’ve oversold it, and probably pushed the envelope with manufactured antics. He may have turned some people off during the process, but the fight would’ve been more of a financial success.
Fans can cry all they want about the best fighters not fighting the best. Now you know why they don’t. Kovalev vs. Ward was the most legitimate big fight in years and the fans, who paid for junk in four of the other five PPV boxing matches during 2016, sat on their hands and didn’t purchase it. I blame the promoters who thought the fight could make it on its own merits without icing the cake with showbiz BS. Too bad that it didn’t; the fighters more than did their jobs.
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Frank Lotierzo can be reached at GlovedFist@Gmail.com