Boxing: Alive & Still Not Kicking

Is boxing really dying?

Matt Hamilton investigates.

It has reached the level of almost accepted wisdom that it is. Let’s look deeper into the numbers, historical statistics and attempt to gauge whether the sport many people still love dearly is on its way out. An analysis of this variety can not help but touch similar – in terms of nature of event & means of interacting or selling their product – with the world of Mixed Martial Arts.

Date Event PPV Buys
1 7/11/2009 UFC 100 1,600,000
2 7/3/2010 UFC 116: Lesnar vs. Carwin 1,160,000
3 12/30/2006 UFC 66: Liddell vs. Ortiz 2 1,050,000
4 5/29/2010 UFC 114: Rampage vs. Evans 1,050,000
5 10/23/2010 UFC 121: Lesnar vs. Velasquez 1,050,000
6 11/15/2008 UFC 91: Couture vs. Lesnar 1,010,000
7 8/8/2009 UFC 92 1,000,000
8 12/27/2008 UFC 94: St-Pierre vs. Penn II 920,000
9 1/31/2009 UFC 101 850,000
10 3/27/2010 UFC 111: St-Pierre vs. Hardy 850,000
Mike Tyson KO'd

Was boxing KO'd with Mike Tyson?

Boxing PPV record # of buys: 

1. Oscar De La Hoya vs. Mayweather 2,400,000 in 2007.

2. Evander Holyfield vs. Mike Tyson II 1,990,000 in 1997.

3. Lennox Lewis vs. Mike Tyson 1,970,000 in 2002.

4. Mike Tyson vs. Evander Holyfield I 1,590,000 in 1996.

5. Mike Tyson vs. Peter McNeeley 1,550,000 in 1995.

6. Floyd Mayweather vs. Shane Mosley 1,400,000 in 2010.

=6. Oscar De La Hoya vs. Félix Trinidad 1,400,000 in 1999.

=6. Evander Holyfield vs. George Foreman 1,400,000 in 1991.

9. Mike Tyson vs. Frank Bruno II 1,370,000 in 1996.

10.  Manny Pacquiao vs. Shane Mosley 1,300,000 in 2011.

From the above we see that only 7 UFC promotions have solicited 1,000,000 or more PPV buys. Boxing? 17. Granted the question posed, “Is boxing dying” should have more to do with the recent past and present than what an internetless 1991 were willing to pay to see George Foreman post-Rumble in the Jungle Pre-Grill take on the “Real Deal” Holyfield.

Thus, a fairer metric might be – # of promotions or events that have garnered 800,000 or more buys in the last 3 years for each sport. That query returns the following results for each:

Boxing: 6

The UFC: 8

That the UFC has experienced an explosion in popularity is undeniable. Is this, though, an attack on boxing’s core supporter base? Can the two sports co-exist and both grow from strength to strength alongside one another? The UFC‘s ability to tap into the tech-savvy demographic & era frankly puts the sport of boxing and its marketing tentacles (across the board) to shame.

One does though note that any fans boxing may have lost to the sport of MMA are generally or were generally never likely to develop into the most hard-core variety of boxing fans. An analogy true to my African roots might be useful here – that of the Buffalo; as the herd gets smaller it is the weaker/less committed fans who are lost. The devoted remain devoted – and the passion is passed down from one generation the next.

Against the ropes“; “Don’t count him out“; “Come out swinging“; “Saved by the Bell” are all boxing derived terms that have gained widespread usage in everyday language & are a signifier of the place the sport holds in society – that of simultaneous barometer; analogy & voyeuristic entertainment come expression en masse of collective pent up rage.

Mike Tyson Tattoo
Continued societal fascination in Mike Tyson

Within the mainstream I’d be inclined to view boxing as experiencing a cyclical ebb; nothing more. Certainly nothing of the terminal variety.