By Keith Idec
They might as well call Cotto-Kirkland “Made For Failure” on the promotional posters.
That’s how little financial sense it makes to try to force a Miguel Cotto-James Kirkland pay-per-view event on already-frustrated fight fans tired of being asked to pay extra for shameless money grabs that don’t belong on this expensive platform. This junior middleweight matchup is the antithesis of Mayweather-Pacquiao (before we actually witnessed it), in that this is a fight boxing fans largely neither want nor need to see.
It is on the verge of being finalized because Roc Nation Sports must meet its inordinate financial obligation to Cotto as part of the multi-fight promotional contract he signed with Jay Z’s company in March 2015.
The very idea of this probable February 25 fight wouldn’t seem as ill-conceived if Cotto-Kirkland was offered live on HBO or another network. Making it a “World Championship Boxing” main event would eat up too much of HBO Sports’ 2017 boxing budget for airing it live on the network to make fiscal sense, either, but at least fight fans wouldn’t be asked to pay $65 or $70 to watch it.
Truth be told, Cotto-Kirkland likely will develop into a fun fight to watch.
Puerto Rico’s Cotto is 36, an old 36 based on the amount of brutal battles he has experienced during his Hall-of-Fame, 15-year pro career. Cotto (40-5, 33 KOs) also will come off a 15-month layoff if the fight takes place on its proposed date at the Dallas Cowboys’ training facility in Frisco, Texas.
Kirkland (32-2, 28 KOs), of Austin, Texas, hasn’t fought since Canelo Alvarez viciously knocked him out in the third round of their May 2015 fight in Houston. That means Kirkland won’t have fought for 21 months by the time the bell rings that night at The Ford Center at The Star.
But when Ann Wolfe works with Kirkland, as the intense trainer will do for the Cotto contest, the powerful southpaw is a completely different fighter. Even if Kirkland has to spend part of training camp taking off a lot of weight, Wolfe will have him in the type of mental and physical condition necessary to make a fight against Cotto compelling.
The Kirkland that stopped Glen Tapia and Alfredo Angulo, assuming that Kirkland still exists at 32, should be able to force even this cautious Cotto that Freddie Roach has rewired into a fight full of memorable moments.
Nevertheless, coming off a disastrous 2016, making Cotto-Kirkland a pay-per-view fight displays a complete lack of awareness of just how much this niche sport’s most powerful people have alienated its fatigued fan base.
Roc Nation Sports was involved just last month in a complete pay-per-view failure. You’d think the company’s executives would’ve learned an invaluable lesson after Andre Ward-Sergey Kovalev, an important light heavyweight title bout between undefeated fighters on everyone’s pound-for-pound list, barely drew 160,000 buys.
If that poor pay-per-view performance didn’t convince them that this economic model is beyond broken, what will?
Boxing fans simply don’t want to pay $65 or $70 every other month to watch fights they feel could or should be made available as part of their premium-cable subscriptions. HBO Sports’ smaller boxing budget has made it more difficult to air as many fights live on the network as it once did, but promoters pricing themselves off of the network isn’t helping develop good will among what’s left of the sport’s fan base, either.
The easy answer, naturally, is to remind cost-conscious fight fans that the best form of protest would be to ignore Cotto-Kirkland. Don’t buy it. Hit them where it hurts.
Some simply won’t watch it. They’ll just wait for the replay the following Saturday.
Many, though, will find various ways to watch the live version of Cotto-Kirkland, and even more deserving events, without paying for the privilege.
Piracy is a bigger problem than ever for promoters and television distributors, perhaps pay-per-view boxing’s biggest obstacle.
Sources have confirmed to BoxingScene.com that more than 200,000 people were watching one crystal-clear stream of the Manny Pacquiao-Jessie Vargas fight for free on Facebook Live on November 5. That stream and others like it cost Bob Arum’s Top Rank Inc., which promoted and distributed that event, millions of dollars.
Ward-Kovalev also was watched on Facebook Live, though it is not known if had quite the adverse effect on the buy rate for that fight as it did for Pacquiao-Vargas.
Piracy could be an insurmountable issue even for fights that belong on pay-per-view. Not that it makes piracy acceptable, but organizers of fights that aren’t pay-per-view worthy are almost daring viewers to find alternatives to watch those events.
That brings us back to Cotto-Kirkland.
Even if it weren’t scheduled within the immediate aftermath of a catastrophic calendar year for the sport, it shouldn’t be a pay-per-view event. Alvarez-Kirkland was a live HBO bout, so why would a fight between two guys the Mexican superstar defeated within the past year-and-a-half cost extra to watch?
When you consider what could occur in the months following Cotto-Kirkland, it makes even less sense.
It’s possible that Cotto-Kirkland could be the first of five pay-per-view events in consecutive months next year. That’ll depend on whether Gennady Golovkin-Danny Jacobs, if it even materializes, airs on HBO, HBO Pay-Per-View or elsewhere.
Regardless, if Alvarez’s next fight takes place on May 6, as expected, it’ll be a pay-per-view headliner. Pacquiao’s next appearance obviously will be a pay-per-view main event, whether it comes in the form of a Mayweather rematch – a big if, obviously – or against another opponent.
Then there’s the immediate rematch Ward is contractually obligated to give Kovalev. That could come as early as April, or as late as June.
Ward-Kovlev II obviously belongs live on HBO, not HBO Pay-Per-View. But again, the purses Roc Nation Sports has guaranteed Ward could make it difficult to keep the Kovalev rematch away from pay-per-view.
These are all moving parts, of course, with dates and platforms for each event largely dependent upon placement of the others.
As we get closer to 2017, and apparently a finalized Cotto-Kirkland deal, the one thing we know for sure is that this fight doesn’t belong on pay-per-view.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.