By Jake Donovan, photos by Damien Acevedo
Big plans are in store for the partnership between HBO and ESPN, whose boxing synergy began immediately after last week’s announcement. The fourth fight between Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez – which takes place December 8 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas - will mark the first HBO fight in which ESPN will be involved for the entire promotion.
“Nobody has been able to distribute events as well as HBO,” insisted Hall of Fame promoter Bob Arum during Wednesday’s press conference in New York City. “Now that they have teamed up in a partnership with ESPN, that’s just great for boxing. More people than ever will be aware of this event. More people than ever will be able to purchase this event.”
The HBO PPV event will be offered at a suggested retail price of $59.95, making it the most expensive entry of the four-fight series. Top Rank and HBO remain confident, however, that it will go down as the best-selling event of the quartet when all is said and done.
“Fans of all sports love rivalries – Yankees-Red Sox, Lakers-Celtics, Duke-North Carolina (college basketball),” noted Kery Davis, Senior Vice President for HBO sports programming. “Few if any rivalries have been as heated, as intense and closely contested – and for the most part, unresolved – as Pacquiao versus Marquez.
“Ask any fan of the sport and you will get such divergent views considering the result of each fight. I’ve heard pundits say that it should be 3-0 Pacquiao. I’ve heard them say it should be 3-0 Marquez. I’ve also heard them say that all three fights should have been draws. You can sum it up by saying that these two first-time (eligible) guaranteed Hall of Famers have given the very best that boxing has to offer.”
The December 8 bout will take place at the full welterweight limit, as opposed to the catchweight in place for their third bout last November. Marquez (54-6-1, 39KO) has never fought higher than 142 lb, which he weighed for last year’s controversial points loss to Pacquiao as well as his Sept. ’09 near-shutout loss to then-returning Floyd Mayweather.
This entry will be the only fight between Pacquiao and Marquez in which no major title is at stake. Pacquiao was the lineal featherweight champ when the two fought to a draw in May ’04.
Four years later, Pacquiao captured the vacant lineal super featherweight crown with a split decision. The Filipino was an alphabet welterweight titlist for last year’s disputed win over Marquez, which came in front of a sold out crowd at the very same venue that will host the upcoming fourth encounter in December.
Marquez is currently a 140 lb. titlist, but his belt will not be on the line given the welterweight limit in place for this fight. Pacquiao’s alphabet welterweight reign came to an end in June, when he dropped a questionable split decision loss to Tim Bradley, also at the MGM Grand.
Some fighters are bigger than belts and championships. Besides, bragging rights are good enough for a series that has yet to produce a decisive winner through 36 rounds and counting.
“Boxing is on a wonderful roll right now, but it only happens when the best fight the best. On December 8, we will have the very best once again fighting the very best,” notes Davis. “That doesn’t happen unless you have two great warriors like Manny and Juan Manuel willing to put everything on the line, so thanks to them. I can’t wait for the bell to ring to begin round 37.”
Included in HBO’s coverage of the event is a return to the full format for their acclaimed 24/7 series. The past few big events from HBO have offered condensed version of the series, but the network plans to go all in for Pacquiao-Marquez IV.
Also in store is a full synergy packaged being worked out with sister networks within the Time Warner family as well as its newest boxing marketing partner.
“HBO will give a brand new four-part episode of its Emmy-award winning 24/7 series,” Davis announced. “In addition to 24/7, we will announce in the next few weeks other programming assets as we continue to look for ways to capture the energy and passion behind a fight like this.
“We also look forward to working with our sister networks to help expand the reach of programming and marketing efforts. Also this will be the first mega PPV event of our new strategic alliance with ESPN. Look for announcements detailing plans of that venture in the next few weeks.”
Pacquiao (54-4-2, 38KO) currently leads the series, 2-0-1, but enters the fight on the heels of the 12-round loss to Bradley in his only fight of 2012. Marquez has also fought just once his year, a 12-round points win over Sergey Fedchenko in April to make him a title winner in four separate weight classes.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter: @JakeNDaBox