By Keith Idec
Boxing promoters, television executives and boxers themselves typically shy away from predicting pay-per-view numbers before fights take place.
Dana White wasn’t at all hesitant to discuss such business Wednesday. UFC’s president is certain that the Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Conor McGregor fight will shatter combat sports’ record for pay-per-view buys – roughly 4.6 million purchases of the disappointing Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao fight in 2015.
“The numbers are tracking huge,” White said as part of a conference call that first featured McGregor. “We’re gonna do the numbers that everybody’s been talking that we’re gonna do. The line in Vegas is – the over/under is 4.9 million [pay-per-view buys]. Everything is tracking right now to say that we’re gonna kill this thing. It’s looking really good.”
That’s obviously an impressive statement when you consider no boxing match other than Mayweather-Pacquiao has exceeded the approximate 2.4 million buys produced by the Mayweather-Oscar De La Hoya fight in May 2007. McGregor’s rematch against Nate Diaz in August 2016 is believed to be the most-watched pay-per-view event in UFC history (roughly 1.65 million buys).
Based on the intense interest in Mayweather-McGregor – even among curious consumers who are certain it’s a much greater mismatch than the ever-shrinking odds on the 12-round, 154-pound suggest – White cannot envision a scenario in which McGregor’s crossover from mixed martial arts to boxing doesn’t help smash every revenue record associated with combat sports.
Like Mayweather-Pacquiao, it’ll cost $99.95 to watch Mayweather-McGregor in HD on pay-per-view. The face value for tickets to the August 26 card at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas ranges in price from $500 to $10,000.
“There’s tons of big fights that I’ve been involved with, but obviously nothing as big as this,” White said. “This is the biggest event ever in combat sports history. It is the most distributed event in pay-per-view history. You can get this fight anywhere. This thing is in like over 200 countries on pay-per-view. And, you know, boxing doesn’t usually do a lot of digital [pay-per-view business], and you can buy this thing through ufc.tv, and, you know, through the Showtime app, Sony, Apple, etcetera, you can buy the thing. If you’re in Manhattan or you’re on a desert island somewhere, if you have Wi-Fi, you can buy this fight.”
White considers UFC fights involving McGregor and Ronda Rousey, Chuck Liddell-Tito Ortiz and Anderson Silva-Vitor Belfort among the biggest in which he has been involved. None of those fights in UFC’s comparatively brief history can compare with Mayweather-McGregor, particularly among casual sports fans who haven’t been able to avoid the fight on television, on social media and elsewhere on the Internet, on sports talk radio and in newspapers.
“[I’ve been involved in] tons of big fights that had a big-fight feeling, but this is the biggest fight ever,” White said. “It’s tracking right now to be the largest commercial pay-per-view in the history of pay-per-view. It’s the most distributed pay-per-view event in history. The list goes on and on of records that this thing will break.”
Several thousand extremely expensive tickets to Mayweather-McGregor reportedly remain available through TicketMaster and on the secondary market. The fight still is expected to shatter combat sports’ record for ticket revenue (nearly $72.2 million for Mayweather-Pacquiao).
White isn’t simply surprised by how immense this event has become. He’s still stunned they were even able to put it together, something he considered an impossibility when Ireland’s McGregor mentioned it to him for the first time last year.
“I think the first time I remember the Mayweather thing was those guys were going back and forth,” White recalled Wednesday. “I was like, ‘This is crazy that Conor and Mayweather are talking smack to each other right now.’ Then Conor told me he wanted to fight him and I was like, ‘What?! Why? What’s the point of even talking about this? That guy’s never gonna fight in MMA.’ And he’s like, ‘No, I wanna box him.’ And I was just like, ‘All right, well, that’s crazy.’ And again, it’s one of those things that I thought would never happen. Forget about the whole, ‘What would the rules be?,’ all that other [stuff]. I was like, ‘We’d never get a deal done with these guys. It would be impossible to get a deal done.’
“Then the first time this thing even started to get serious was I was on ESPN and I threw out, ‘I’ll tell you what, Floyd, I’ll give you $25 million.’ And then TMZ got him somewhere and he hung his watch out the window and said, ‘You see this watch?’ And I don’t know what that meant. The watch was $25 million? I don’t know. But that’s what started the negotiations, when I put out the $25 million offer.”
If Mayweather-McGregor generates the type of profits White expects, the 29-year-old McGregor could join the 40-year-old Mayweather in earning nine figures from this fight. Mayweather made nearly $300 million from the Pacquiao fight, but this is foreign territory for McGregor, who hasn’t forgotten that it was just five years ago that he competed before about 500 people in an MMA match in London.
“Well, it depends on obviously what the fight does,” White said regarding McGregor’s final take from the fight. “But Conor’s gonna make a lot of life-changing money, money that’ll change his family’s life forever.”
White continues to predict that McGregor will pull off a huge upset and knock out Mayweather (49-0, 26 KOs), who hasn’t fought since he easily out-boxed Andre Berto in September 2015. Whatever happens in the ring a week from Saturday night, White is certain this spectacle has been a positive endeavor for both boxing and mixed martial arts.
“I believe that this is good for combat sports,” White said. “It’s like when Mayweather-Pacquiao did the numbers that they did, I was like, ‘Wow!’ First, I said, ‘Good for them.’ I was like, ‘That sets the bar. That shows me that if you have the right fight, at the right place, at the right time, you know, people are willing to watch.’
“I knew once this thing started to materialize that this fight was gonna be so much bigger worldwide than any fight that had ever happened. Conor has a very big following in places like Brazil and places like Australia, obviously Europe, so I knew that worldwide that this would be the biggest. And I was right. This thing is the biggest event that has ever happened to combat sports. This fight will reach over a billion homes worldwide.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.