While boxing is enjoying a renaissance of sorts in Europe, especially Germany, Poland, Russia and the UK, the sport seems to have faded in the U.S.
So has MMA taken the focus off boxing?
Answer: Not so much.
Keep in mind, Floyd Mayweather was the highest paid athlete in the world from 2013-2105 and his rival, Manny Pacquiao, was in the top 10 from most of 2010 to 2015.
And what about the mainstream buzz generated by the movie Southpaw (2015), and the recent box office success of Creed (Rocky 7). Let's face it, Rocky Balboa, Apollo Creed and Clubber Lang are as mainstream as today's world leaders.
Even in Hollywood, no other sport generates as much interest as boxing.
Boxing is ingrained in the public consciousness, and the demand for it, whether in the movies or real life, is strong.
But last month, Andre Ward vs Sergey Kovalev, a real-life Balboa vs Creed match-up of sorts, generated a mere 170,000 buys. Ward vs Kovalev was one of the best match-ups over the last ten years and the biggest, most significant fight of 2016, and one of the most significant in light heavyweight history.
A fight of that magnitude deserved to get at least 1.5 million buys.
Aside from Mayweather vs Pacquiao, boxing pay-per-view buys (PPV) in the U.S. have been weak over the past several years leading some to suggest the sport is dead in America.
... Not so fast.
Illegal streaming and YouTube
How much can the demise of boxing PPV be contributed to illegal streams and the sport's inability to stop those streams as well as post-fight footage minutes after the bout's conclusion?
Let's face it, it's a lot more difficult to illegally access a UFC fight from home. Most of my MMA friends these days either order UFC events or go to a restaurant/bar to watch. (Obviously, many in the restaurant industry will broadcast a UFC event without charging a cover, expecting to profit on patrons' food and drink orders)
Whether they order the fight from home or go to a bar, most UFC fans pay (directly or indirectly) for UFC events.
In boxing these days, not so much. Everyone is looking for a freebie via illegal broadcasts, real-time highlights and immediate full fight posts on YouTube. In fact, one doesn't even have to look anymore.
In some cases, I'd have to stay off Facebook and YouTube to NOT see a big fight. On fight night and Sunday morning, all I see are full-fight video clips and highlights.... And often times, real-time highlights between rounds during the hight.
Why pay if you're getting everything shoved down your throat for FREE?
Is boxing dead in the U.S? No, but this is KILLING the sport.
Fans clamour for the big fights but no one wants to pay. All of this piratingis diminishing the value of big fights, literally.
In the days of Tyson, Holyfield, Chavez and Oscar, fans were "happy" to pay. In fact, when Iron Mike KO'd someone in seconds, we "joked" about losing money.... And proceeded to purchase the next "showcase" without hesitation.
But back then, there was no YouTube or illegal streams.
Perhaps promotional companies should hire someone for 2 weeks (starting 72 hrs before the fight)? Their only responsibilities should be to find illegal streams prior to the bout and illegal broadcasts after it.
170,000 buys for Ward vs Kovalev is embarrassing for the sport. So, is boxing dead?
Let's take a look at some additional Ward vs Kovalev stats.
HBO's Ward vs Kovalev preview has generated nearly 750,000 views on YouTube alone. Keep in mind, that doesn't include those who 1) watched the live broadcast of the show on TV, and posts on other video outlets, such as Vimeo.
This post-fight Ward vs Kovalev Full Fight video on YouTube has nearly 400,000 views. Keep in mind, that doesn't include 1) the tens or hundreds of thousands who presumably accessed an illegal stream or 2) Full Fight posts on other video sites such as Vimeo or 3) Full Fight posts on YouTube that may have been previously removed for violation of copyright.
And other posts containing the actual fight footage have generated a roughly combined 125,000 views (25,000, 49,000, 24,000 and 26,000).
YouTube Ward vs Kovalev fight video, alone, has generated over a 500,000 views.
And that doesn't include those who saw the fight for free a week later on HBO nor does it include the tens or hundreds of thousands who saw the fight live via an illegal stream as well as previous videos that have since been taken down on YouTube or some other video outlet.
Boxing is far from dead in the U.S. as numbers and presumed (hidden) numbers clearly show.
But PPV freedbies, legal and illegal, are killing the sport.