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How To Make $200 Million By Getting People To Punch Buttons

When Muhammad Ali fought George Foreman in the famous “Rumble in the Jungle” in Kinshasa in 1974, the purse was a world record $5 million for a punishing night’s work. Now what promises to be the richest fight in history could make $200 million before a punch is thrown.

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Boxing is already big business and now TV moguls in the United States have found a way to increase revenue even more through pay-per-view (PPV)—the system where a television audience can purchase a sporting event, to view via private telecast. Everyone ordering the event can view it at the same time. The sporting event—in this case, boxing—can be purchased at the punch of a button using an on-screen guide or an automated telephone system.

These days, the success of a boxing event is judged by the PPV sales. A boxer is gauged by his ability to pull in the armchair fans, as well as his record in knocking out opponents.

The undefeated Floyd Mayweather jnr said in a statement after he defeated Oscar De La Hoya: “I give the fans everything I have with the best competition and exciting fights. I must be doing something right as they keep buying my fights and I appreciate their tremendous support. It feels good to be able to generate such a great interest in the sport.”

So how have the numbers been looking for blockbuster fights?

Mayweather’s fourth-round knockout of Victor Ortiz to reclaim the WBC welterweight title on September 17, 2011, at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, generated 1.25 million buys—translating to $78.44 million in domestic PPV revenue, Golden Boy Promotions announced after the fight. HBO PPV sales tied for third place in the all-time non-heavyweight PPV sales.

So how do these numbers compare with Mayweather’s rival, Manny Pacquiao? The Mayweather-Ortiz sales equaled those of Pacquiao’s 2008 fight with Oscar De La Hoya and matched those for the Pacquiao-Shane Mosley fight in May 2011. But PR sales for Mayweather-Ortiz beat both in revenue generated, only because it sold for a higher price of $59.95.

Comparing Mayweather with Pacquiao in terms of common opponents, the undefeated American is miles ahead. Mayweather’s blockbuster PPV figures for the 2007 fight with De La Hoya tops the charts with a record 2.45 million buys. The Mayweather-Mosley fight in 2010 brought in 1.4 million sales.

The only time that Pacquiao has edged Mayweather in terms of common opponent was with Juan Manuel Marquez. The promoter, Bob Arum, announced that the controversial Pacquiao-Marquez III fight brought in 1.4 million sales, well above the figure of 1.1 million for the Mayweather-Marquez fight in 2009.

The Pacquiao-Marquez III fight, near the end of 2011, was supposed to increase the stakes for the much anticipated Mayweather-Pacquiao bout. The Filipino was supposed to annihilate the third division Mexican world champion to set up the mouth-watering matchup with Mayweather. Had that happened, the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight was expected to break all-time records and become the biggest grossing fight in boxing history. If the Mayweather-Ortiz fight totaled $78 million with 1.25 million PPV sales, the Mayweather-Pacquiao bout would easily gross well over $200 million with PPV sales, for the first time surpassing the three million mark.

With talks of a rematch between Pacquiao and Marquez in May, we may have to wait a little longer for the biggest clash in our lifetime. Let’s hope it happens before both boxers are way past their boxing, and PPV-pulling, prime.

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