LAS VEGAS -- The biggest day in boxing this year and the biggest in 12 months began as many other big days the sport has had over the past 12 years: with Floyd Mayweather dominating the headlines.
The problem was Mayweather wasn't fighting Saturday. He's retired, hasn't fought in over a year and hasn't faced a professional boxer in over three years.
Mayweather, 41, was the top story on most sports shows and websites Saturday morning before the much-anticipated rematch between Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin because he posted a video on his Instagram talking to Manny Pacquiao, 39, at a music festival in Tokyo alongside the caption, "I'm coming back to fight Manny Pacquiao this year. Another 9 figure pay day on the way."
Boxing purists, journalists and just about anyone with professional ties to the sport laughed off the prospects of a rematch after the first match was a colossal in-ring letdown following years of hype and setbacks. That's fair, but the fact is, many casual fans could list only Mayweather and Pacquiao if you were to ask them to name two boxers who have fought within the past 13 months. That's why the thought of Mayweather returning to the ring for one more fight against Pacquiao was a top story while the boxing world was focused on Alvarez and Golovkin.
GGG 'absolutely' wants third fight with Canelo
Gennady Golovkin says he still feels like a champion after losing to Canelo Alvarez and is interested in a third fight.
Alvarez and Golovkin delivered in the ring on Saturday night with an exciting, close fight that was better than their first and left many fans hoping for a third fight next year. The problem with it being close and going to the scorecards again, however, is many fans once again left with an empty feeling, believing that Golovkin had won the fight but was once again denied a victory for the second time in this rivalry that seems destined for a trilogy. If you're a Golovkin fan who has had their heart broken twice after believing your fighter won, how excited are you for a third fight?
Even Golovkin seemed indifferent to a third fight in the immediate aftermath of the loss. "Under the right conditions, yes," he said when asked about a third fight. "I'm not going to say who won tonight, because the victory belongs to Canelo, according to the judges. I thought it was a very good fight for the fans, and very exciting. I thought I fought better than he did."
Many casual fans know Alvarez and Golovkin at this point but are not invested enough to want to pay $84.95 to watch them face each other on pay-per-view. Their first fight did 1.3 million pay-per-view buys, and Saturday's rematch should do around 1.5 million buys. Contrast that with a record 4.6 million buys when Mayweather fought Pacquiao in 2015. When Mayweather came out of retirement last year to face UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor, they pulled in 4.3 million pay-per-view buys, the second most ever. Mayweather's fight against Oscar De La Hoya is third on the list at 2.4 million buys, and fourth is Mayweather's bout against Alvarez in 2013, at 2.2 million. No pay-per-view fight has done over 2 million buys without Mayweather's name attached to it. Quite simply, no one brings in the masses for a fight quite like Mayweather even if it is viewed as a money grab -- which last year's fight against McGregor, who had never boxed professionally, clearly was.
Mayweather is the king of pay-per-view in a sport that really has only one big pay-per-view fighter at the moment. Alvarez is able to consistently draw 1 million pay-per-views for his fights, but he's all alone in that stratosphere. Golovkin is barely a pay-per-view draw without Alvarez. Golovkin's previous fight in May against Vanes Martirosyan was on HBO instead of pay-per-view, and his previous pay-per-view fights against Daniel Jacobs and David Lemieux did 150,000 and 170,000 buys, respectively. If you look at the landscape of boxing, Alvarez and Golovkin are the only two who have been on pay-per-view regularly. The rest of the best pound-for-pound boxers like Vasiliy Lomachenko, Terence Crawford, Errol Spence Jr., Keith Thurman, Mikey Garcia and Srisaket Sor Rungvisai aren't pay-per-view fighters yet. Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev, two of the best pound-for-pound boxers, faced off on pay-per-view twice, with the first fight doing 160,000 pay-per-view buys and the second fight doing just 130,000 pay-per-view buys. Both fights struggled at the box office as well, with T-Mobile Arena half full for the first bout, causing the rematch to move to the smaller Mandalay Bay Events Center with less than 7,000 tickets sold.
The biggest reason that boxing can't move on from Mayweather, even if most in the sport desperately want to, is because boxing hasn't been able to find its next big star to make people want to move on from Mayweather. Alvarez is the closest thing the sport has to a megastar, but he still has difficulty becoming a crossover, mainstream star in the United States, as he only speaks Spanish. Mayweather and McGregor showed how important the gift of gab is in promoting a fight and selling yourself, and that's hard to do when you're speaking through a translator who's interrupting you after every other sentence. Outside of Alvarez, however, boxing doesn't have a current fighter who can even sniff 200,000 pay-per-view buys on their own. Think about that when asking why people care so much about a 41-year-old retired boxer who drew over 4 million buys in two of his past three fights.
A Mayweather-Pacquiao rematch won't draw 4.6 million pay-per-view buys again, but even it did, about half that number it would rank as the third- or fourth-biggest pay-per-view fight ever and give Mayweather a spot in each of the top five pay-per-view fights. A fight of that magnitude with that kind of worldwide spotlight is actually good for boxing. It might not end up being a great fight, but that's boxing. Not every fight is a going to be a fight of the year candidate, and not every decision is going to be unanimously liked. Every fight isn't going to be a back-and-forth thriller for 10 rounds before ending in a decisive knockout. Sometimes you leave disappointed and wanting something more.
Boxing needs an Alvarez and Golovkin trilogy next year, but it could also use a Mayweather-Pacquiao rematch. You don't have to hate the latter just because you're looking forward to the former. There's no doubt that boxing needs to build a new group of pay-per-view fighters, but until it does, there's nothing wrong with watching Mayweather and Pacquiao go at it again in December while we wait for Alvarez and Golovkin to face off one more time in May. Boxing needs more big nights like Saturday, not less.