Top Rank promoter Bob Arum took a bit of a gamble when he struck out on his own to put on the Manny Pacquiao-Jessie Vargas pay-per-view card Nov. 5 without the support of HBO, Pacquiao's longtime broadcaster, which declined to be involved because of its commitment to Saturday's Sergey Kovalev-Andre Ward light heavyweight title bout.
The network did not want to put on two HBO PPV events in the same month, but Arum said he had little choice but go on Nov. 5 to work around Pacquiao's time off from his responsibilities as a senator in the Philippines, a post he was elected to in May.
This week, Arum told ESPN that his decision to have Top Rank produce and distribute the event on its own was successful. The Pacquiao-Vargas fight sold "around 300,000, probably a little more" pay-per-view buys, he said.
"It did about the same as Pacquiao-[Timothy] Bradley," Arum said of the third fight between the rivals that took place in April and was produced and distributed by HBO.
"So if it did about the same as that fight, why do I need HBO to be involved? Why do I have to pay them a percentage when we can do the same thing on our own?"
In the immediate aftermath of Pacquiao-Bradley III, Arum said the fight generated between 400,000 and 500,000 buys, "but it will be closer to 400,000 than 500,000." Arum deemed the Pacquiao-Bradley III number disappointing, and it wound up doing considerably less.
Arum said he did not have precise numbers yet for the Pacquiao-Vargas pay-per-view sales because "one thing we can't do is get a handle on all the numbers as quickly as HBO can. They have that down pat, but we'll learn. That said, the numbers are still coming in and we're pleased. We had a good show, we put on some entertaining fights, and we made money, the fighters made money, so that's good."
During the lead-up to the fight, which took place at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Arum said they needed to do about 180,000 pay-per-view buys to break even.
Although Vargas was not a well-known opponent and nobody expected Pacquiao to generate the seven-figure pay-per-view sales he did during his heyday a few years ago, Arum said he thought one reason the fight would wind up doing about 300,000 sales is because consumers knew that without HBO's involvement that there would be no delayed broadcast on the network a week later. Arum also said he was aware that because fans can easily find live streams on social media, it likely robbed the event of hundreds of thousands of buys.
"It's always been a problem, but it's gotten worse," Arum said. "It's stealing, and it's not just a Pacquiao fight. It's Canelo [Alvarez] fights. It's UFC pay-per-views. We have our attorneys working on things."
Pacquiao came out of a brief retirement after the third Bradley fight and the Senate election to easily outpoint Vargas to regain the welterweight belt he lost to Floyd Mayweather Jr. in their May 2015 blockbuster that broke all boxing box-office records, including a record 4.6 million pay-per-view buys for the joint HBO/Showtime event.