Pay-per-view heavyweight fights are back -- sort of.
Heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield will defend his title June 6 against unheralded
Henry Akinwande, while former heavyweight champion James "Buster" Douglas will
continue his comeback against lightly regarded Lou Savarese June 25, marking the first
heavyweight PPV fights of the year.
While operators will gladly take the fights, neither will
come close to filling the void that has left the PPV-event field fairly barren thus far in
1998. In fact, some operators are concerned that the two events combined will only barely
surpass the 700,000 buys generated by last month's Wrestlemania.
The Holyfield-Akinwande fight will be the first major
heavyweight PPV bout since November's Holyfield-Michael Moorer fight. Showtime Event
Television, which is distributing the event, is pricing it at $39.95. The network,
however, would not go into detail about operator splits.
Although defined as a "midrange" fight, Jay
Larkin, senior vice president of Showtime Sports and Event Programming, said its
performance will depend on how aggressively operators promote the event.
"When Holyfield gets into the ring, he should generate
significant interest, but, in reality, this is a mandatory [title defense], and Akinwande
doesn't have the recognition that we would like," Larkin said. "But with
the way that the deals are set, combined with the dryness of the category, we hope that
the industry sees this as a way to make a lot of money."
Two weeks later, TVKO will feature the Douglas-Savarese
fight. The network is working on an undercard bout featuring welterweight champion Yoryboy
Campas and former champion Dana Rosenblatt, said Mark Taffet, senior vice president of
TVKO, which is pricing the fight at $29.95.
While thankful for the events after a very slow start to
the year, at least one operator said neither fight will pad PPV budgets.
"We are so far behind projections up to this point,
and we still don't have a major PPV-boxing event to hang our hats on," said one
top five MSO PPV executive. "Holyfield will draw a few viewers, but without Tyson or
[Oscar] De La Hoya, we don't have a chance for a major payday."
Another top 10 operator said he is considering shifting
marketing dollars from boxing toward wrestling.
The World Wrestling Federation and World Championship
Wrestling "provide events and consistent PPV revenues 12 months out of the year;
there's something to be said about that, compared with the uncertainty of boxing
matches," he said.
Indeed, the PPV-boxing scenario doesn't look very
promising in the second half of the year, either. A major Holyfield-Lennox Lewis
heavyweight-unification fight seems unlikely, and De La Hoya, still recovering from a
wrist injury, is expected to fight Campas in a midrange PPV event in September.