By Keith Idec
LAS VEGAS – Kathy Duva made a passionate plea Thursday.
A day after the official announcement of Mayweather-McGregor completely consumed the event her company is co-promoting, Sergey Kovalev’s promoter implored consumers and media to give the Kovalev-Andre Ward rematch the attention it deserves over the next couple days. Even before the Mayweather-McGregor announcement Wednesday, she sensed that a fight the magnitude of Ward-Kovalev 2 hadn’t gained the type of traction it warrants.
After the drama Ward (31-0, 15 KOs) and Kovalev (30-1-1, 26 KOs) produced during their light heavyweight title fight November 19 at T-Mobile Arena, it’s a promotional predicament Duva didn’t envision for their rematch Saturday night at Mandalay Bay Events Center.
“It seems strange to me,” Duva said during a press conference Thursday, “that the question that I’ve heard most often this week since I’ve arrived from the media is, ‘Why is this not a bigger event?’ Well, this is a big event. This is the best fighting the best, literally. No. 1 and No. 2 in the world, fighting a rematch of a controversial fight, the most controversial fight of last year, both in their primes, both just seven months away from their first encounter.
“They are two of the finest athletes in the world, two grandmasters in the ring, testing their skills and their intellects in a fight that the media and the fans always say they want. Well, this is what we’ve brought you. We brought you what you want.”
The multimillion-dollar question, of course, is how many people will want to buy the Ward-Kovalev rematch? It’s a terrific fight, but this four-fight HBO Pay-Per-View event will cost $64.99 to watch in HD.
That’s a costly consideration when boxing fans know there will be two more prominent pay-per-view shows within a three-week span later this summer (Mayweather-McGregor on August 26 and Canelo Alvarez-Gennady Golovkin on September 16).
The controversial conclusion to their first fight has intensified interest in their 12-round rematch, as has the authentic animosity between Ward and Kovalev.
But their first fight, in which Ward withstood a second-round knockdown to beat Kovalev by the same score on all three cards (114-113), generated roughly 165,000 pay-per-view buys. That disappointing figure wasn’t commensurate with the significance of the matchup – two undefeated fighters who were generally considered two of the top five fighters, pound-for-pound, in the sport.
Public and private bickering between the co-promoters – Duva’s Main Events and Jay Z’s Roc Nation Sports – has made a smooth promotion almost impossible. The fighters also blamed each other Thursday for not doing enough to promote their rematch.
A visibly angry Kovalev left in the middle of the press conference Thursday. Before it started, the Russian knockout artist skipped a scheduled gathering with a small group of reporters.
If the event isn’t a financial success it’ll affect Kovalev more than Ward, the IBF, WBA and WBO 175-pound champion. The former champion will be paid primarily from percentages of pay-per-view and ticket sales, whereas Ward has a guarantee of at least $6 million.
Michael Yormark, president and chief of branding & strategy for Roc Nation Sports, believes the Ward-Kovalev rematch will do better business than their first fight.
“We’re cautiously optimistic,” Yormark said. “Clearly, the story lines are there. The way the first fight ended, two guys that have different styles, two guys that dislike each other, two guys that are ranked in the top two or three pound-for-pound in the world, two guys that are absolutely in their prime. It doesn’t get any better than that.
“And so for the boxing fan, and even for the casual boxing fan, if you’re looking for pure entertainment and a lot of action, this is a fight you’ve gotta buy. There’s no question about that. So with all that being said, we’re optimistic we can grow from our last fight. We expect to grow. I’m not gonna put a number on it, but we feel pretty confident and we’re really excited about it.”
Ideally, both Ward-Kovalev fights would’ve been broadcast live on HBO. Their seven-figure purses made televising those fights live on HBO cost prohibitive for a premium cable network that doesn’t have the budget for boxing or televise as many lives fights as it once did.
The Mayweather-McGregor announcement Wednesday clearly took away attention that would’ve been paid to the Ward-Kovalev rematch by boxing and mainstream media. Duva said the timing of the announcement undoubtedly was strategic because it enabled Showtime Sports, HBO’s biggest boxing rival, to adversely affect an HBO Pay-Per-View event.
Come Saturday night, however, Ward doesn’t think that’ll make much of an impact on how many people purchase his fight.
“At the end of the day, man, I applaud them,” Ward said, referring to Mayweather and McGregor. “I’m glad they got it done. I didn’t think they were gonna get it done. Me, personally, I may be in the minority, but I think it’s a good thing. I mean, the timing of it, you know, we’re in the middle of a fight week. It is what it is. I think the people that were gonna buy our fight are still gonna buy our fight. The people that were gonna come out are still gonna come out. So I don’t feel like it affects me one way or the other, honestly. I mean, I know people can look at it from a different vantage point, but it kind of is what is. It’s not really a big deal to me.
“If [Mayweather] feels like that’s what he wanted to do, he’s in a position where he can do that. He’s earned that position, so you can put one Instagram video out, one Instagram post, and it’s national news for the next two, three days. He’s earned that right and that position. And again, those are things that come with the territory. You’ve just gotta stay focused, man. You can’t be distracted by that kind of stuff. I honestly feel like the people that are gonna buy this fight are still gonna buy it. The people that are intrigued about it are still intrigued. We may have got swallowed up [Wednesday] and it’s obviously out there now, but I think we’re gonna be all right.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.