Since the beginning of 2007, there have been 41 pay-per-view boxing cards – including the upcoming Manny Pacquiao-Brandon Rios bout on Nov. 23 – broadcast by either HBO or Showtime.
Slightly more than 60 percent of those cards, 25 of 41, have included either Floyd Mayweather Jr., Pacquiao or Miguel Cotto, the sport's signature stars. In the last three years, including Pacquiao-Rios, one (or both) of those three have headlined 73 percent of the pay-per-view shows (11 of 15).
That, though, is about to change, and it's a sign of the industry's health and development of new stars.
Boxing can't rely solely on one or two mega-stars to survive over the long-term. Mayweather is nearly 37, Pacquiao will soon turn 35 and Cotto celebrated his 33rd birthday on Tuesday.
The ends of their careers are within sight, and they'll leave a huge void when they're gone.
It's not all gloom and doom in the business, though, because contrary to a widely held opinion among the non-boxing media, several new high-profile stars are emerging.
On Monday, Canelo Alvarez announced he'll fight three times in 2014, all of them on pay-per-view, coming on March 8, July 26 and Nov. 22.
Alvarez is only 23, but is clearly one of the sport's biggest names already. When he no longer has to share the spotlight with Mayweather, Pacquiao and Cotto, he'll clearly climb to No. 1.
It's unusual for a boxer to announce his schedule so far in advance, particularly when he's fighting on pay-per-view, but Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer said Alvarez did so in order to guarantee himself three fights next year. If he waited until the Mexican holiday Cinco de Mayo in May to fight for the first time in 2014, it would have been difficult to guarantee him three fights, Schaefer said.
All three Alvarez bouts figure to be lucrative and, depending upon the opponent, should sell in the 400,000 to 1 million range, Schaefer estimated. Possible opponents for his March 8 bout are Cotto and Sergio Martinez. If either of those gets the fight, it will be a mega-event for certain, particularly if the choice is Cotto.
Since 2007, Cotto has appeared on pay-per-view seven times. He fought Zab Judah and Shane Mosley in 2007, Antonio Margarito in 2008, Pacquiao in 2009, Ricardo Mayorga and Margarito in 2011 and Mayweather in 2012. He has averaged 646,000 sales in those seven bouts, all of which except for the Mayorga fight were done by HBO.
Alvarez has similar potential as a pay-per-view star, perhaps better if he learns to speak fluent English and resumes his winning ways.
"Floyd Mayweather is not in Canelo's plans for 2014, because Canelo is looking to go out and establish himself as his own pay-per-view fighter," Schaefer said.
As 2014 progresses, it's likely that Adrien Broner and Andre Ward will make their pay-per-view debuts as well. Neither of them appears to be a lock to be a big seller on pay-per-view the way that Alvarez seems to be, but they each have a lot going for them and one or both could hit it big.
Ward is arguably the second-best boxer in the world behind Mayweather, gets consistently good exposure as an expert analyst on HBO and is a well-spoken, likeable guy.
He hasn't been a highly exciting fighter for much of his career, but he's slowly developed. His victory over Chad Dawson last year is the kind of performance that will help win over fans and transition him onto pay-per-view.
Broner is more of a marketing product now than finished fighter. He still has plenty of questions about him as a fighter that have yet to be answered and his erratic behavior could turn off many potential buyers.
There is little question, though, that Broner has both the talent and the personality to put things together and become a pay-per-view star. He was supposed to debut as a PPV headliner on Dec. 14 against Marcos Maidana, before Golden Boy and Showtime switched at the last moment. He'll now headline against Maidana on regular Showtime on that date.
With a win in that bout, Broner will be ready for pay-per-view in 2014.
Julio Cesar Chavez easily could do big numbers on pay-per-view if he takes his job seriously. He along with Broner, Alvarez, Cotto and Bernard Hopkins have been the biggest draws on premium cable the last two years.
If Rios beats Pacquiao next month, that figures to turn him into a pay-per-view attraction.
The point is that fighters who are good enough to sell 300,000 pay-per-view buys on a single fight, which generates between $15-$18 million in gross revenue depending on the price, is a star in the sport.
And looking into 2014, it appears there are a number of those type fighters around who aren't named Mayweather, Pacquiao or Cotto.
It's a sign that the sport is ready for the time when its biggest names finally walk away for good.
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