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Boxing's surprising popularity among American sports fans has a catch

·Combat columnist
·4 min read
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Pay-per-view sales are, just like elections, all about name recognition. If a promoter is trying to sell a fight, it’s all about whether the public recognizes the fighters involved.

Name recognition, or lack thereof, may explain why the second fight between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder on Feb. 22, 2020, did fewer than expected pay-per-view sales. The fight sold roughly 800,000 on PPV, though an official number was never announced.

That was far below most expectations, which put it at slightly over a million. Promoter Bob Arum was openly predicting over 2 million sales.

The results of a recent Harris Poll conducted with 2,072 American adults between May 21 and May 23 show boxing’s surprising popularity but also the lack of name recognition for either heavyweight.

Harris asked those American adults, “Do you consider yourself a fan of the following sports?”

Not surprisingly, football was the leader with 62 percent of the respondents indicating they were fans. Baseball and basketball were each at 49 percent, with boxing at 33 percent, MMA at 30 percent, hockey at 29 percent, tennis at 27 percent and golf at 26 percent.

The survey did not ask about either soccer or auto racing.

It then asked if the fans had heard of a series of 20 fighters, which included social media personality Jake Paul. Eight of the fighters listed are retired and 12 are active.

Retired fighters took the first six spots. Mike Tyson’s name was recognized by 89 percent of respondents. Muhammad Ali’s was second with 88 percent, followed by Floyd Mayweather at 79 percent, Sugar Ray Leonard at 74 percent, Oscar De La Hoya at 69 percent and Evander Holyfield at 68 percent.

Manny Pacquiao, who fights Errol Spence Jr. on Aug. 21 in Las Vegas, was the most recognized name by respondents among active fighters, coming in at 52 percent.

Rounding out the list is Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. at 50 percent; Fury at 37 percent; Roy Jones Jr. at 36 percent; Paul at 32 percent; Canelo Alvarez and Ryan Garcia at 26 percent; Wilder at 24 percent; Terence Crawford at 21 percent; Anthony Joshua at 19 percent; Gennadiy Golovkin and Gervonta Davis at 17 percent; Errol Spence Jr. at 16 percent and Teofimo Lopez at 15 percent.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 15: Tyson Fury interacts with the crowd during the press conference with Deontay Wilder at The Novo by Microsoft at L.A. Live on June 15, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)
Tyson Fury interacts with the crowd during the news conference with Deontay Wilder at The Novo by Microsoft at L.A. Live on June 15, 2021, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

The next question was asked only of people who identified themselves in the first question as boxing fans. It took that same list of fighters and asked which was their favorite.

Ali and Tyson tied for first at 51 percent. Mayweather was at 41 percent, Pacquiao at 29 percent, Leonard at 26 percent and Holyfield at 25 percent.

De La Hoya led the rest at 22 percent, followed by Jones at 20 percent, Chavez at 15 percent, Fury and Alvarez at 14 percent, Garcia and Wilder at 11 percent; Joshua at 10 percent; Paul, Crawford, Golovkin and Davis at 8 percent; Lopez and Spence at 7 percent, and none of these at 4 percent.

But going into the demographics, Alvarez was first among Hispanic fans at 35 percent, with Chavez at 25 percent and De La Hoya at 24 percent.

The survey also asked respondents if they’d ever heard of six matches, ones that were recently held or were scheduled.

The survey found that Tyson’s bout last year with Jones was heard of by 44 percent of those polled. Mayweather’s bout with Logan Paul came in at 40 percent. Jake Paul’s match with Ben Askren was at 30 percent. Fury versus Wilder was at 29 percent, though it only specified a rematch for the heavyweight title and left open whether it was their 2020 fight that Fury won or their upcoming July 24 bout.

Alvarez’s fight with Billy Joe Saunders came in at 23 percent while the undisputed super lightweight title bout between Jose Ramirez and Josh Taylor came in at 19 percent. The fight was held on May 22, in the middle of the survey period when it was getting the most media attention.

The good news for Fury-Wilder III promoters is that heavyweights were clearly the most popular fighters as a whole in the survey. Fury specifically was the second-most recognized name among active fighters, according to the poll respondents. Among boxing fans, he was the second-most favorite fighter among active boxers, behind only Pacquiao.

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