Saturday night in Las Vegas we again saw both the best and the worst of what brands find both intriguing and infuriating. An engaging fighter calling out the best possible opponent for his next fight with little to no assurance the “Fight of the Century” will ever happen. Floyd Mayweather Jr., who has become the boxing marketing and branding machine that Oscar de la Hoya was in his prime (and which he turned into Golden Boy Productions with his partners), continues to grow in stature and flamboyance. His opponent, Manny Pacquaio, continues to be the guy who can make the other half of perhaps boxing’s biggest pay day. Still, the fits and starts, deals and postponements, hype and hoopla that have surrounded the much-anticipated matchup have both confounded and intrigued not just the boxing fan, but the casual sports fan.
In years past, the deal for the fight, no matter how mercurial the opponents or how at odds promoters were, always seemed to get done. The demand for the sport and for the dollar just became too great. However, today we live in different times. The consumer can easily be pulled in other directions. The economic issues of boxing give those looking for elite events a large pool from which to choose from, and the fighters themselves are actually more distracted with issues outside the ring than ever before (Pacquaio is currently running for elected office in his home of the Philippines, which is also effecting the possible date for the fight).
Still, even with all the issues, the way that HBO has been able to present the drama and the buildup to its elite events with its 24/7 series has kept elite boxing on its precarious pedestal. No matter how fragmented the market, the casual sports fan still enjoys the buildup to an elite boxing match.
The UFC has done an amazing job in grabbing a consistent amount of attention and dollars with its high octane MMA events, but the fight fan still craves the bright lights and big city image of elite boxing. It may be less often and certainly is no longer on free TV (an issue which really curtailed boxing’s presence among elite sports) but the big fight still draws. It is also true that elite fighters like Mayweather and Pacquaio have found there way into a growing list of brand partnerships and events, which is more a testament to their personas than to the health of the sport.
Are there other elite fighters that could carry the torch if this elite battle does not come through? It’s tough to say.
If the two fighters do agree to enter the ring later in 2010 or in 2011, would this one fight restore boxing? No. However, the brand value and star power that would glam on would be impressive and could have a Halo effect for the sport.
Would the fight be a litmus test to see if new brands who have been on the fringe will test the waters of fight sports? Possibly.
The fact remains that there are few if any major events that can build buzz like boxing. That build can be both frustrating and debilitating if the fight does not happen, or have a metoric effect if the fight lives up to its hype.