After months of being pummeled by suggestions that boxing is dying, Floyd Mayweather Jr. gave his sport a big boost on Friday by delivering a higher-than-expected pay-per-view result for his Sept. 19 fight in Las Vegas with Juan Manuel Marquez.
HBO released figures showing that Mayweather's one-sided victory over Marquez following a 21-month absence sold 1 million on pay-per-views and accounted for $52 million in pay-per-view revenue.
That figure does not include the proceeds from tickets sold at movie theaters around the country, which Golden Boy Promotions chief executive officer Richard Schaefer said were at about 80 percent capacity.
Fighting for the first time since announcing his retirement on June 6, 2008, Mayweather won 33 of 36 scored rounds against Marquez, who had been ranked No. 2 on the Yahoo! Sports pound-for-pound rankings entering the fight.
Many critics, including rival promoter Bob Arum and Ultimate Fighting Championship president Dana White, predicted the fight would perform poorly. Arum suggested Mayweather would make no money after he paid an existing tax debt, paid his expenses and his taxes due on his current purse. White repeatedly vowed UFC 103 would outsell the boxing card.
The Mayweather-Marquez results trounced UFC 103, which was on pay-per- view the same night. Though the UFC does not release its pay-per-view figures, indications from industry sources are strong that the boxing card had a better than a 2-to-1 advantage.
Schaefer suggested UFC 103 barely topped 100,000 buys. He said the performance of Mayweather-Marquez clearly established Mayweather as the successor to Oscar De La Hoya as the industry's pay-per-view king.
"To all the non-believers who have been saying that Floyd Mayweather is not a draw, hopefully, this will silence them," Schaefer said. "Floyd Mayweather has proven with these numbers that he's the No. 1 pay-per-view star in the business.
"I said all along my goal was to break 1 million homes and so many people said I was nuts and thought it was just hype or that I didn't know what I was doing. Media members kept talking about boxing is dying, but we knew what we had and we stayed the course and in the end, we have been vindicated."
UFC 103 was the company's fourth pay-per-view in a 10-week stretch, beginning on July 11 with UFC 100. Mayweather-Marquez was the first major boxing event since Manny Pacquiao's win over Ricky Hatton on May 2.
Still, few in boxing other than Schaefer were willing to predict such lofty numbers for the Mayweather-Marquez bout. However, it turned out to be one of the most successful pay-per-view events in the sport's history.
White continuously boasted that his card would best the Mayweather card at the pay-per-view box office. He said UFC 103 did far more than 100,000 buys, but he conceded that boxing scored a heavy victory.
White said he thought before the fights, a home run for Mayweather-Marquez would have been 650,000. But he said Friday he had been hearing from his contacts that the fight may have reached as high as 1.6 million.
"I'm an emotional guy and if we'd only have done 100,000, or barely above 100,000, I would be suicidal," White said. "Bottom line, we did a good number and we still got our asses kicked. What they did was phenomenal and I'm happy for them. This was our fourth pay-per-view in two months (actually 10 weeks) and we still did a great number, but this was only their second all year.
"We honestly thought we'd do our number and that if they knocked it out of the park, they'd do around 650,000. We are ecstatic with the number we did, but they did a huge, huge number."
Mark Taffet of HBO Pay-Per-View said there have been more than 10 and fewer than 20 boxing matches in history that have reached or exceeded 1 million sales. Mayweather's May 5, 2007, bout with De La Hoya in Las Vegas holds the record at 2.44 million.
Taffet said the fight drew well across all ethnic groups, through all demographics and across the country.
"Very clearly, Floyd Mayweather is a major attraction," Taffet said. "The sport of boxing is in the midst of one of its great eras. There are a crop of welterweights who have the ability to deliver great matchup after great matchup and that will continue for as far as the eye can see.
"Boxing is Monday morning water cooler talk now and that's what you strive for. There is a tremendous vitality in the sport and we're reaching younger fans and newer fans and that is indicated by Floyd's terrific performance."
In his last fight prior to announcing his retirement, Mayweather sold 920,000 pay-per-views for a Dec. 7, 2007, match against Ricky Hatton.
He also fared better than Pacquiao against common opponents. Pacquiao's fight with De La Hoya sold 1.2 million. His fight with Hatton did 850,000 and his rematch with Marquez sold 405,000, according to HBO Pay-Per-View figures.
Schaefer questioned the legitimacy of UFC pay-per-view results that were leaked. He said HBO is a publicly traded company that would face serious repercussions for releasing false numbers. The UFC, he noted, is a private company with no such concerns.
"I think the UFC and boxing should be able to co-exist and work together in this thing that we call (combat) sports," Schaefer said.
"I don't want to talk (expletive) about the UFC. But Dana White can't do an interview without knocking boxing. If he thinks we're idiots and don't know anything about the pay-per-view business, I'll make him a challenge.
"I am willing to hire one of the top three accounting firms, at my expense, and do an audit of his pay-per-view results. They are nowhere near what is put into the public. There is talk that UFC 100 did 1.6 million, but it barely broke a million. I am willing to pay to have the audits done to prove this."
White said he would not allow anyone other than fighters with a contractual right to do so to audit his numbers.
"Do you think I'm (expletive) crazy?" he said.
But he said he thought that the success of the UFC has forced boxing promoters to be better. He called himself a huge boxing fan and said he is pleased if he can help make the sport he grew up following closely better.
He said the success of the two shows on the same night shows the interest in combat sports.
"I'm a true boxing fan and I'm happy for them, but what that number they pulled shows is the promise of combat sports," White said.
"We're kicking ass on pay-per-view. This was their second (major) pay- per-view. We do 13 a year, plus we put fights on free TV. Clearly, combat sports are more alive now than they've been in a long time.
"This shows that people are willing to stay at home on a Saturday night and watch a good fight. Do I think they delivered a good fight?
No. I think Mayweather is the best boxer in the world, and maybe one of the best of all-time, but that was a (expletive) fight. The thing we deliver is consistency, where once a show we give you that, 'Holy (expletive),' moment and you turn off the TV happy."
Schaefer said he thought boxing promoters and the UFC shared common interests and could benefit from working together.
"I would love to sit down with Dana White and the Fertittas (who are the UFC's primary owners), who I hear are very nice, first-class people, and see if there are ways we can work together to make the (combat) sports space, the fight space, even bigger," Schaefer said.
In a statement released by his publicist, Mayweather said he was "humbled" by the card's pay-per-view success. He also hinted at big fights in the future.
"I returned to boxing to fight the best, and that's what I intend to do," Mayweather said in a statement.