When people say ‘I’d pay to watch that guy’, it means the world. As we’ve learned more than not recently, boxing is a business first. Andre Ward, despite being considered by most knowledgeable boxing people as the top P4P fighter in the world not named Floyd Mayweather, has simply not become a star. His most recent HBO fight against a reasonably legitimate contender showcased both facts clearly. The performance was sublime, the audience numbers were sub-par. Partially driven by his lack of raw finishing power, his reliance on the intricacies of the finer elements of the sweet science rather than a brawling mentality, and to some extent how good he is (his fights are often one-sided even against fellow world title holders), Ward hasn’t elevated himself to must-see-TV. There’s a reason he still isn’t headlining PPV cards despite being an unquestionably elite talent. And if you’re not bringing in the big PPV revenue to promoters’ pockets, then it’s even harder to land the superfights that can define a career/legacy. The ‘A Side’ fighter has such high risk in fighting an outstanding boxer that doesn’t bring as much to the table money-wise. Hell, Rigo can barely find a televised fight and he’s one of the best pure boxers in years. The point here is simply that being exciting isn’t just a feather a fighter can put in his/her proverbial hat. It’s a ticket/key to becoming a star in boxing.
For the last few years, Manny Pacquaio (pictured above in Chris Farina-Top Rank photo) wasn’t just arguably the best (at minimum second-best) boxer in the world. He was also the most exciting fighter in the world. Look, I love the grace and excellence that Floyd Mayweather brings night in and night out, but he has never been as exciting as Manny.
Why we choose to tune in and watch certain fighters is on a case-by-case scenario. The reason I think Manny Pacquaio was more must-see TV than Floyd Mayweather, Jr. was simply his style. As a younger fighter, he was so aggressive (almost to a fault) that you saw action and knockouts generally uncommon for the lighter weight classes. When he ripped through Mexican legends like Marco Antonio Barrera, you started to wonder just how good this explosive fireball from the Philippines could become. And on a night like the ones he had in his third fight with Erik Morales or against Ricky Hatton, when he really put everything together, he was so good that you wondered where he would rank as an all-time great when it was all said and done. The way he shot up in weight and kept dominating bigger men with different styles made me tune in to see that sparkplug go to work. Throw in a perfect adversary in Juan Manuel Marquez to bring out the best in him and be a stylistic nightmare for him led to 4 all-time great fights. The result was a must-see PPV star.
With Floyd, things are different. He has done such a masterful job over the years of promoting his fights and creating pre-fight drama that many people tune in just to see him lose. The other piece of his record-setting PPV buys comes from people tuning in to see greatness (or to make sure they don’t miss it). There is no doubt in his mastery of his craft, and there’s no telling when we’ll see another fighter with the type of talent and wizardry that leads to such one-sided fights that they’re boring. His style surely doesn’t lend itself to brawls or action fights to please the masses, but people tune in to see a generational icon. Myself included.
If Manny doesn’t look incredibly explosive against Brandon Rios, he’ll be all the way off the must-see list. It’s not like his fights immediately leading up to the Marquez KO were barnburners. With the rise of champion-caliber fighters with knockouts as their primary method of victory (Golovkin, Kovalev, Stevenson, etc.), people are getting used to seeing exciting fights—thank god. Rios is there for Manny to use as a canvas to re-launch his career as a PPV star. If he doesn’t, Top Rank will put more of their promotional weight into the upcoming stars rather than their fading one. If not Manny, then who?
For my money, Ruslan Provodnikov has won over my heart as the single most must-see TV in the sport. Fortunately for both Provodnikov and fans, HBO is getting behind Ruslan. We can expect additional promotion (more than you’ll see for Andre Ward or RIgo’s respective next fights) for his next fight to increase his popularity/recognition amongst casual fans. And believe me, Ruslan Provodnikov won’t be on anyone’s Top-10 P4P list. Then again, neither was Arturo Gatti.
For what it’s worth, a close second to Provodnikov in terms of being must-see TV is Gennady Golovkin (more upside as a fighter as he could very justifiably/deservedly be in anyone’s P4P lists), but with GGG we know he’s going to maul his opponents. There’s no ‘theatre of the unexpected’ until he fights someone like Sergio Martinez. With Provo’s lack of discernible defensive skills (or desire to employ them), you don’t know how his fights will end or even if he will be the winner. What we do know about his fights is that they’re going to be fan-friendly.
The element of ‘honesty’ is one that the HBO commentary team kept referencing when it came to Provodnikov in his bout with Mike Alvarado. His honesty outside of the ring in terms of promising wars (and then subsequently backing it up in the ring) and his candor in assessing the likelihood that his career will be short-lived given his style is incredibly compelling. His words carry weight. He knows exactly what he’s getting into, and he doesn’t promise a brawl to talk up a fight. He promises a brawl, to go out on his shield, and to turn a prize fight into a battle of wills because he means it. It’s not just speaking with conviction to intimidate an opponent. It’s just the only way he knows how to fight. As a fan, I can only hope that his career lasts longer than he expects, he finds a worthy adversary, and that more casual fans tune in to see him fight so they can re-confirm why boxing is such a spectacular, dramatic, and unique sporting attraction. I’ll tell you this…when Ruslan Provodnikov fights, I’ll be watching. It’s must-see TV.
I’ll also be buying the Pacquaio-Rios scrap this Saturday. Even though I expect a one-sided drubbing in a mismatch in Manny’s favor, I can’t promise I’ll watch the next one if he doesn’t lure me back in with a special performance.
On record: Pacquaio TKO11 over Rios
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Who will win the Sergey Kovalev vs Andre Ward fight?