The sport of boxing has had more than its share of black eyes both inside and outside the squared ring. Unscrupulous promoters, fighter perp walks and bad judging decisions have haunted the sweet science for as long as boxing fans can remember.
The controversial decision marring last night’s Manny Pacquiao-Tim Bradley Jr. fight was one of those events that could hurt the sport and the pay-per-view boxing category. Pacquiao, arguably the pound-for-pound PPV boxing champion over the past three years along with Floyd Mayeather Jr., lost a split decision to the undefeated Bradley despite winning at least eight or nine rounds on the unofficial cards of most viewers and ringside observers. But the opinions that ultimately counted were those of the actual fight judges, who voted Bradley the winner in a questionable, at best, split decision.
The fight’s outcome all but destroyed any chance of a Pacquaio-Mayweather fight — the one fight boxing fans have been clamoring for – until at least mid 2013. Pacquiao and Bradley promoter Bob Arum has indicated that Nov. 10 has already been reserved for a Pacquiao-Bradley rematch. If Pacquiao should win, then a potential rubber match between the two fighters could take place in early 2013.
More devastating is the effect the fight’s ending will have on PPV boxing’s future. The category has been hurt by other controversies – the 1997 “bite fight” rematch between Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield, and Mosley’s disputed 2003 rematch win over Oscar De La Hoya immediately come to mind.
But the sport and the PPV boxing category survived those potentially ruinous events and eventually came back to thrive.
In fact, the category has been on a roll the past two to three years with both Pacquiao and Mayweather filling cable, satellite and telco company coiffures with 1 million buy-plus PPV events generating high, eight-figure revenue returns.
This year the PPV industry had already begun to build up momentum and good will with viewers during the May 5 Floyd Mayweather-Miguel Cotto fight. Despite a record-high retail price of $60 for standard definition and a whopping $70 for the high definition feed, most of the more than 1.5 million viewers felt they got their money’s worth from the card. The undercard featured an entertaining, if not lopsided win for up and coming welterweight champion Canelo Alverez over veteran former champion Shane Mosley.
In the main event, a game Cotto took the fight to the undefeated and mainly unchallenged Mayweather over 12 competitive rounds in which “money” Mayweather was bloodied and marked.
Event distributors were hoping for the same kind of PPV performance from Pacquiao-Bradley despite the close date proximity to the Mayweather-Cotto bout. Pacquiao-Bradley may very well break the 1 million buy mark, but the negative reaction to the controversial decision may outweigh the event’s financial benefits.
Pacquiao’s split decision loss left a bad taste in many observers’ mouths. A Vancouver Sunroundup of athletes and celebrity comments illustrated how much contempt and outrage there was for the decision.
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers tweeted the decision “ is horrible. Unreal. Ridiculous. Stupid. Bogus. Etc. That fight wasn’t close and I was pulling for Bradley,” while Oscar De La Hoya said, “Bradley should have given the belt and announce victory to [Pacquiao] right after the decision.”
Even more damaging were comments from pop star Justin Timberlake, who wrote “I cannot believe what I just saw… Please tell me they read that decision wrong… #Rigged.”
With the Ultimate Fighting Championship and the mixed martial arts category pinning down young viewers, boxing can ill afford to suffer through another attack on its image and reputation. If viewers question the value of a product, they won’t buy it and will look for other options.
Hopefully the Pacquiao-Bradley decision won’t push people out of the PPV boxing ring.