By Jake Donovan
Manny Pacquiao’s ring return served its purpose only in that it put the former eight-division champion back in the win column for the first time in more than two years.
Beyond that, his near-shutout of Brandon Rios may wind up having done more harm than good.
Speculation continues to run rampant over how well – or poor – the November 23 pay-per- view event drew, airing live from CotaiArena at the Venetian Macao in Macau, China. Reports from Top Rank’s offices suggest figures in the vicinity of 500,000 units sold, which – even if accurate – would make for his lowest pay-per-view output since his June ’08 lightweight belt winning effort over David Diaz.
Some have reported – without attribution – numbers as low as 350,000 buys. Early returns from industry insiders have the event tracking anywhere from 400,000 to 475,000 units sold.
The fight marked Pacquiao’s first in 50 weeks, when he was knocked out in the 6th round of his unforgettable fourth fight with Juan Manuel Marquez. The bout drew accolades as 2012’s Fight of the Year, also scoring 1.15 million pay-per-view buys.
It was also the second consecutive loss suffered by Pacquiao, who six months prior fell prey to creative scoring as Tim Bradley was awarded a split decision in a massive upset. The event sold 700,000 units, which was considered a major disappointment at the time for a Pacquiao event, matching that of his March ’10 win over Joshua Clottey.
The bout with Clottey came as a consolation to the fallout of the biggest fight ever to be left at the negotiating table.
Pacquiao was engaged in negotiations to face Floyd Mayweather Jr., back when both were considered the best two fighters in the sport and its two biggest draws. The two sides were thought to have reached terms, only for the deal to fall apart over a dispute surrounding random drug testing.
It was the closest the fight ever came to materializing, with years of posturing as both sides continued to laugh all the way to the bank.
Those days continue for Mayweather, who is just three months removed from the most lucrative pay-per-view event in boxing history. His 12-round points win over Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez – however strangely scored it was – pulled in 2.2 million viewers for a record-shattering revenue total of nearly $150 million in pay-per-view sales alone.
The event marked Mayweather’s second with Showtime after spending 14 years on HBO, capturing titles in five weigh classes over that time. News of his jumping ship to Showtime made an immediate splash, but with expectations set exceedingly high considering his guaranteed purses exceeding $30 million.
His first fight under a six-fight deal with Showtime was a 12-round points win over Robert Guerrero in May. The delay in getting the fight signed, combined with Mayweather’s questionable approach to marketing the event and Guerrero’s untimely arrest for illegal weapon possession and general lack of notoriety, resulted in the pound-for-pound king underwhelming at the box office.
A true number was never produced, though the event was more about introducing Mayweather as the face of Showtime than it was intended to line everyone’s pockets. Despite falling short of one million units sold – the lone occasion Mayweather failed to hit that figure in six pay-per-view events since returning to the ring in 2009 following a faux retirement – it still did well enough to top the combined total of Pacquiao-Rios and Bradley-Marquez, HBO’s two big pay-per-view events of 2013.
The exclusive rebroadcast of Pacquiao’s win over Rios generated just over one million viewers last Saturday on HBO, despite airing ahead of a live boxing doubleheader which peaked at more than 1.35 million viewers.
There are arguments to be made that the pay-per-view event taking place overseas were the greatest cause for the underwhelming output. Also, the rebroadcast came during Thanksgiving weekend, and also with the knowledge that the 12-round welterweight wasn’t remotely competitive.
However many buys are ultimately tallied for Pacquiao’s latest pay-per-view headliner, it’s clear that interest is slowly waning as his career has been in a holding pattern for the past three years.
The thrill of fighting in Cowboys Stadium was offered as a backdrop to matchups that hardly piqued the interest of the boxing public. The same theme proved to play out in Macau, though proving to be a one-and-done as Pacquiao – a Filipino icon fighting in Asia for the first time in more than seven years – is already slated to return to the states, with a hold placed for the MGM Grand on April 12, his targeted ring return.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as the Records Keeper for the Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and a member of Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox