Floyd Mayweather in the Fight of His Life ... with the UFC

On September 19, Floyd Mayweather will make his return to boxing after almost a two-year absence. He’ll be fighting two hungry and motivated opponents that night – Juan Manuel Marquez in the ring, and the Ultimate Fighting Championship in the ratings. And though no one in boxing would dare to challenge the skills of the great Marquez, given the fact that he’ll be fighting a good three weight classes above his natural weight, well, the UFC just may prove to be Floyd’s more formidable foe. ↵

↵Mayweather’s fight with Marquez was supposed to go off at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on July 20, but Mayweather postponed the bout due to what remains a mysterious rib injury. Many boxing pundits opined that Floyd might have manufactured the injury in order to push the bout back due to sluggish ticket sales and the overall malaise that has surrounded Vegas during this recession summer. ↵

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↵So the bout was rescheduled at the MGM Grand for September 19, when it will be broadcast live on HBO pay-per-view. Of course, there will be another big-time PPV fight card that same night, UFC 103, which is taking place at the American Airlines Center in Dallas and headlined by Rich Franklin vs. Dan Henderson. ↵

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↵It’s the first time in history that a major mixed martial arts card will be competing with a big-time boxing match on pay-per-view. Granted, neither event is gigundous. It’s not as if you have UFC 100 going up against De La Hoya/Mayweather. But the fact of the coinciding pay-per-view cards will still garner a lot of media investigation, especially because the plotlines involved are thick, and all center on that enigmatic, tempestuous braggart known as Money May. ↵

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↵After a dubious stab at retirement, Mayweather is returning to boxing purportedly to reclaim his status as the sport’s pound-for-pound king from the upstart Manny Pacquiao, who is currently boxing’s consensus pound-for-pound best. Since the announcement of Mayweather/Marquez, which came at a press conference on the morning of Pacquiao’s stunning knockout of Ricky Hatton in May, even casual boxing fans have been electrified at the eventual possibility of a winner-take-all pound-for-pound showdown between Pacquiao and Mayweather. ↵

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↵To this point, there have been no formal negotiations between the two camps about making this fight (none reported anyway), but the informal negotiations that have taken place via the media have been hot and heavy, with both sides insisting that their man is the best fighter and biggest draw in the sport and therefore should command the lion’s share of the money when and if a Pacquiao/Mayweather fight goes down. ↵

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↵In terms of the actual boxing, each has a compelling claim to top dog status, but when it comes to the question of drawing power, right now Floyd would seem to have the better argument. After all, Pacquiao and Mayweather share two prior opponents – Oscar De La Hoya and Ricky Hatton. Each fought them back-to-back, respectively – Mayweather in 2007 and Pacquiao in December of ’08 and then May of this year. All four bouts were broadcast on HBO PPV, and a comparison of the numbers gives a decided advantage to Mayweather. His bout with Oscar did a record 2.4 million PPV buys (making it the biggest boxing match of all time) while Pacquiao’s did 1.25 million, and his bout with Hatton did 915,000 buys while Pacquiao’s did 850,000. ↵

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↵Of course, even more than most things, boxing is a “what have you done for me lately?” universe, and while Mayweather has sat out his dance card since December of 2007, Pacquiao has turned himself into a marquee pay-per-view draw. Once could even argue that Pacquiao’s 850K against Hatton is more impressive than Floyd’s 915K when you adjust the scale for the down economy. ↵

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↵Either way, it goes without saying that the numbers for their next fights are going to be very significant to any negotiations that might take place between them. And on that front, Floyd appears to be skating on thin ice. Pacquiao’s next fight was announced this past week – he’ll face Miguel Cotto on November 14, also at the MGM Grand in Vegas. This news was greeted with almost universal exhilaration from the boxing community and the fight is already a hot topic of debate all over the internet. ↵

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↵Meanwhile, Mayweather/Marquez has failed to capture the imagination of even the hardcore boxing audience. While no one connected with boxing in any way would ever disrespect the skills of Marquez, the fact that he is facing such an oppressive weight disadvantage in the fight makes it a less than compelling narrative. Granted, there are nearly two months left until fight night, but still, this event is simply not generating the kind of buzz that presages a massive PPV bonanza. HBO’s Mayweather/Marquez 24/7 likely will help with that, and no doubt Floyd has some crazy antics up his sleeve to draw attention to the fight, but nevertheless, if I were to wager on the pay-per-view over/unders right now, I’d put Pacquiao/Cotto at a mill and Mayweather Marquez at 500K, with the caveat that 500K is a very generous number. ↵

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↵Especially when you factor in the x-factor of UFC 103. September 19 promises to be a watershed night for both boxing and MMA, because it’s a night that will provide some hard numbers toward an investigation of whether the two sports are directly competing for fans or not. There’s been some low-level, ill-defined war of words between boxing and MMA for years now concerning who’s tougher, who would beat who in what, which is more popular, etc. And it’s fitting that Mayweather should be at the center of the upcoming storm, because he has a long history of shooting off his mouth about the UFC, questioning the skills of its combatants, likening them to “animals,” and most recently making this bizarre racial argument for the entire existence of mixed martial arts: ↵

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↵⇥“In boxing, we know who's dominating. Black fighters and Hispanic fighters is dominating in this sport. And this is not a racial statement but no white fighters in boxing that's dominating, so they had to go to something else and start something new." ↵
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↵I’m not going to go into the reasons that this is a ridiculous, ignorant and offensive thing to say (and Floyd, if that’s not “a racial statement,” then what the hell is?). It’s not worth wasting my precious typing energy refuting something so plainly stupid. I only bring it up to illustrate the ways in which Floyd has shown himself to be more than willing to hit below the belt where mixed martial arts is concerned. ↵

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↵But now, MMA has a chance to hit him back, and hit him where he lives. Maybe it will turn out that there is no relative impact on the pay-per-view numbers of Mayweather/Marquez and UFC 103, and we can all conclude that the much ballyhooed competition between boxing and MMA for the fight fan’s dollar is a red herring. Or maybe not – maybe each event will take a perceived hit at the box office, or one more than the other. Or maybe, as has been suggested on the blogs for a few weeks now, the UFC will move UFC 103 to Spike and really mess with Floyd’s world. ↵

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↵As it stands right now, the UFC 103 card is relatively weak, and it’s hard to imagine many boxing fans that generally would buy Mayweather/Marquez deciding to jump ship to the UFC for such a lukewarm roster of fights. But if it were free? If fans can save 50 bucks in this economy, still get a good Saturday night of bloodlust, and then check out the May/Marquez replay on free HBO the following week? That seems like a situation that definitely could negatively impact the PPV numbers for Mayweather/Marquez. ↵

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↵And those numbers aren’t shaping up to be that good to begin with. The fact is that if Floyd/Marquez does somewhere in the neighborhood of 200-300K in PPV buys, it’s a tremendous embarrassment to Mayweather win, lose or draw, and a huge obstacle to his future success at the negotiating table. On that score, Marquez is only one of the fights Floyd will be waging come September. The other is with those “animals” in the cage, and right now, I got that fight at even money. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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