Back To The Future: Wrestling Takes Boxing to the Mat


In the early 1980s, pro wrestling was king of thepay-per-view ring, while boxing -- still relying on closed-circuit for the lion'sshare of its revenues -- was relegated to second-class status. The most recognizable PPVpersonalities were Hulk Hogan, Mr. T and others that appeared during the World WrestlingFederation's popular Wrestlemania series.

Boxing promoters began to recognize PPV's revenuepotential in the early 1990s, and the sport eventually surpassed wrestling as PPV'scash cow. Mike Tyson replaced Hogan as PPV's top draw, and boxing cards regularlygenerated revenues in the $35 million to $75 million range.

Wrestling, meanwhile, slumped, as cable operators began toput more marketing dollars behind fights and wrestling failed to create mega-stars tocarry the torch from Hogan.

As the cliché goes, what goes around, comes around.

Today, wrestling -- fueled by new talent and an aggressivenew player in Turner's World Championship Wrestling outfit -- is poised to reclaimits PPV crown from a boxing genre that's in shambles.

Trapped by its own success, boxing promoters are unable toafford the high purses that marquee fighters are now seeking to set lucrative PPV fights.The result: Only two midsized PPV-boxing events are scheduled in the first six months ofthe year and, short of a miracle Tyson comeback, there's not much hope for any $100million events before 1999.

Meanwhile, wrestling is flourishing. The genre has alwaysprovided operators with modest and steady revenue, but recent WWF and WCW events havedrawn buy-rates over 1 percent -- numbers similar to what an Oscar De La Hoya fight draws.

With a mix of new and established stars -- including Hogan-- wrestling has been able to recapture baby boomer wrestling fans, who had tired of the"sport," as well as winning over younger, teen-age fans.

Wrestling has even stolen boxing's biggest attraction.The WWF will feature Tyson as an "enforcer" for the main event of its March 22 Wrestlemaniashow. Translation: about an extra 150,000 to 200,000 buys over last year's total ofmore than 250,000 sales.

Wrestling has been able to resurrect its future by taking apiece of its past, while increasing awareness through aggressive marketing on its varioussyndicated shows. Boxing, on the other hand, has suffered from the same unfortunatedisease that is crippling other professional sports -- greed and complacency. Through allof boxing's success in the mid-1990s, fighters and promoters have forgotten what madeit successful in the first place: good, competitive fights between the most popularfighters in the game.

Now, boxing is faced with trying to sell noncompetitivefights, featuring overpaid, over-the-hill or untested fighters, with no major starswaiting in the wings to take over the reins.

Most industry observers believe that boxing is cyclical andthat it will eventually return to PPV glory. Operators can only hope that its return willbe as strong as wrestling, and as quick as possible.