Both Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis recently fought on pay-per-view. The problem for the industry: they didn't fight each other.
Since the early 1980s, the heavyweight division has been boxing's glamour division and the main revenue driver for the PPV fight industry. During the 1990s, the idiom was that as the heavyweight division goes, so goes the category.
Unfortunately, through 2000, the heavyweights have struggled mightily both in the ring and on operators' PPV ledger sheets-and pay-per-view has struggled along with them. The weight class has produced only three PPV events this year. None will go down as one of the top revenue generators of all time.
Tyson, seven of whose fights are among top 10 PPV events of all time, drew only 400,000 buys for his Oct. 20 bout against Andrew Golota. Current World Boxing Council and International Boxing Federation champion Lewis barely drew 325,000 buys for his fight against Michael Grant last April. His Nov. 11 defense against No. 1 contender David Tua will be fortunate to match Tyson-Golota's 400,000-buy take.
A greater concern for operators, however, is that these heavyweight PPV fights don't seem to be satisfying the fight-buying public. Lewis' decimation of an in experienced Grant-and his lackluster and boring 12-round decision over Tua-left consumers wanting more for their $45 PPV fee.
Tyson's third-round win over Golota, which Golota unexpectedly quit after the former heavyweight champion roughed him up, drove many angry viewers to call operators and request a refund of their $50 fight fee.
Those fears could be put to rest with a Lewis-Tyson matchup sometime in 2001. For a division in need of a major attraction, the fight is the biggest possible opportunity for the industry.
Despite Lewis' domination of the heavyweight division, he doesn't have the charisma or the in-ring aggressiveness needed to draw enough boxing fans and casual viewers to carry the division on a PPV basis. And with no real marquee up-and-coming contenders to challenge for the title, there aren't many appealing opponents for Lewis.
Tyson, despite his checkered past, still commands an audience, but the fighter isn't the automatic sensation he was in the mid- to late-1990s. His last two PPV performances have left much to be desired among operators.
Tyson also needs a credible opponent to maximize his PPV revenue potential. A third bout against World Boxing Association champ Evander Holyfield could draw significant PPV buys, but the real money is in a Lewis-Tyson fight.
The public wants it. Both fighters have called for it. Now it's a matter of making the event.
The problem is, Tyson and Lewis are under contract to competing PPV networks, so making a fight may prove to be difficult at best.
Showtime Event Television and Home Box Office have spent millions to secure the rights to Tyson and Lewis, respectively, and each is reluctant to let its fighter move to the other side and lose a potential financial windfall.
But if the industry is to give the fans a much-anticipated fight that's worthy of the established $50 price tag, the two networks will find a way to make the fight happen.