A buyer's guide to paying for punches

Starting this weekend, and ending with the week of June 25, comes a stretch of three-plus months of intriguing, high profile boxing match-ups.

On Saturday night, Manny Pacquiao battles Erik Morales at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nev.

On April 23, across the strip, ESPN and Main Events bring an enticing quadruple-header from Caesars Palace.

On May 14, Felix Trinidad takes on the difficult challenge of Winky Wright.

To cap it off, in late June, Arturo Gatti faces Floyd Mayweather Jr. in Atlantic City, N.J.

In between there are two other pay-per-view cards featuring a bevy of Latin stars such as Marco Antonio Barrera, Rafael Marquez and believe it or not, Julio Cesar Chavez.

That's six pay-per-view events in a 15-week period. There have been many years in the past when an entire calendar year didn't have this many pay-per-view shows. In 2002, there were just four major events (Lennox Lewis-Mike Tyson, Barrera-Morales II, Fernando Vargas-Oscar De La Hoya, Morales-Paulie Ayala
and one smaller show featuring Paul Spadafora).

To view all of these events live on television would cost approximately $250. And there are talks for a pay-per-view telecast featuring Bernard Hopkins in mid-July.

Shelling out money for this sport's biggest events is an accepted – if unfortunate – part of being a boxing fan.

But when is it too much? Has the business of boxing hit market saturation?

"I'm not really concerned because I think the public, with discerning fashion, will decide which fights are worth their money," said HBO Pay-Per-View executive Mark Taffet a few weeks ago in Beverly Hills, Calif., during the national media tour to promote Trinidad-Wright.

"A number of the fights that we are presenting, we're very confident are going to be not just worth their time but their money. And we have no problem with our schedule – March, April, May and June in that regard."

There used to be a time when 'pay-per-view' was synonymous with only the biggest and best fights the game had to offer. That is no longer the case, as exemplified by Barrera's bout against the unknown Mzonke Fana.

Why are boxing fans being forced to shell out money to see a fight that would have a hard time being accepted on "Boxing After Dark"?

"There's a lot of reason you do pay-per-view fights," Taffet said.

"Sometimes you do them because they're mega-fights; it's the way to maximize revenue. Sometimes you do fights because promoters need dates and in their estimation, the amount of pay-per-view revenue is greater than the other alternatives and they have to fulfill their commitments to fighters.

"And when you have a long relationship with promoters and fighters like we do," Taffett said, "you help out, and if distributing a pay-per-view fight helps the people with whom we do business, we do it."

Taffet believes that this busy period is nothing unusual.

"We have three events in that time period, there's probably two others," he says. "There have been periods where there may have been this many events before, where there have been four or five events in a two- or three-month period.

"What it does is, it forces the public to make decisions. Also, some of these events are more targeted than others; promoters are aware of that. They go after different market niches and if everybody does their job marketing, then the public will find the events that are appropriate for them."

In other words, in a sport that is already marginalized, promoters now find niches, within a niche.

"It's different customers now," explains Bob Arum, who is promoting this weekend's fight and the May 28 show featuring his Latin stable from the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

"March 19 is obviously the same customer as May 28. The Winky Wright-Felix Trinidad fight – which I think will do very well – doesn't make that much of an impact on my market."

And Arum makes no bones about who makes up his "market."

"My market and my marketing plan is totally, totally geared towards the
Hispanics. Every advertising dollar that I spend is geared towards the
Spanish market."

It's different strokes for different folks. But is there still too much pay-per-view?

"There seems to be a glut of it," says Showtime's boxing czar Jay Larkin,
whose network will be distributing the May 28 event. "But it's
interesting; it could work out. Pay-per-view could be a niche outlet for
boxing if it's marketed correctly. For example, the fight we're doing in May,
it's a West Coast fight; we're not going to spend a lot of time and money
investing and marketing that fight in the East Coast.

"That's a West Coast fight; Bob knows how to do that better than anybody else, how to target the marketing, and I think if we do more of these smaller pay-per-view shows, where you're not giving these ridiculous guarantees out and you're targeting your audience, you can do very well."

But Arum, who rode the popularity of Oscar De La Hoya to some of the most lucrative pay-per-view events in the history of boxing, admits, "It would be better if we had no pay-per-view and we had all of these events on HBO, Showtime or even better than that, on network television. But there's just so much that can be
absorbed, so you got to, unfortunately, differentiate, take your best product and put it on pay-per-view.

"That is not good for boxing."

It could be too much of a bad thing.

The Lineup

Date, bout: March 19, Manny Pacquiao vs. Erik Morales
PPV Price: $44.95
Positives: Quite simply this is one of the premier matchups of 2005, featuring two high-profile boxers who couldn't be in a bad fight if they tried. The undercard is solid as it features two title fights, with WBA 115-pound champion Martin Castillo facing the respected Eric Morel and Hussein Hussein
taking on Jorge Arce for the interim WBC flyweight title.
Negatives: None, really, unless you want to nit-pick the softie who will be picked out for Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.
Rating (out of a possible 5): 5.

Date, bout: April 9, Marco Antonio Barrera vs Mzonke Fana
PPV Price: $39.99
Positives: Well, it still would beat a night of hockey or soccer. Wouldn't it?
Negatives: Right off the bat, this event lacks a lot of credibility in light of the fact that Morales (who just lost to Barrera in November) is facing Pacquiao and Barrera is facing this anonymous boxer. Also the undercard (Fernando Montiel vs. "Choko" Hernandez, Juan Lazcano vs. Justin Juuko) is less than thrilling. Not much bang for the buck at nearly $40.
Rating (out of a possible 5): 0.

Date, bouts: April 23, Antonio Margarito vs. Kermit Cintron, Juan Diaz vs. Ebo Elder,
Jameel McCline vs. Calvin Brock and David Estrada vs. Shane Mosley
PPV Price: $29.95
Positives: This is your proverbial "fight fans, fight card." Any one of these matchups would be good enough to be on HBO or Showtime and all are compelling, intriguing bouts. Anyway you look at it, it's a fun night of pugilism. And the biggest selling point is the price, $29.95, which is nearly $10 cheaper than the pay-per-view event that takes place two weeks before it.
Negatives: While there are four nice fights, none could be considered a marquee matchup. It reminds me of a pitching staff with five hurlers who could all win 12-15 games, but doesn't have a Randy Johnson or a Pedro Martinez. But then again, couldn't a staff like that win a lot of games?
Rating (out of a possible 5): 4.5.

Date, bouts: May 14, Winky Wright vs. Felix Trinidad
PPV Price: $49.95
Positives: Another appealing matchup that has the tricky Wright taking on the power-punching Puerto Rican. You can never go wrong when two of the best pound-for-pound performers meet up in the ring.
Negatives: If there are any, you just hope Don King puts a fight on the undercard that is more appealing than Zab Judah-Cosme Rivera. What happened to the days when you saw Azumah Nelson scrapping with Jeff Fenech on King's undercards?
Rating (out of a possible 5): 5.

Date, bouts: May 28, Jesus Chavez vs. Carlos Hernandez, Rafael Marquez vs. Ricardo
Vargas and Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. and Jr.
PPV Price: $39.95
Positives: Chavez-Hernandez could be a barn-burner and Rafael Marquez is always fun to watch with his heavy hands and sometimes shaky chin.
Negatives: Yes, the last hurrah of "JC Superstar" should pack'em in at the Staples Center, but should he, or his opponent, Ivan Robinson, really be fighting at this stage of their lives?
Rating (out of a possible 5): 3.

Date, bouts: June 25, Arturo Gatti vs. Floyd Mayweather
PPV Price: $44.95
Positives: While most believe this might not be an even matchup, it is a fight that will hold plenty of interest to boxing fans. Both boxers have had plenty of exposure on HBO, while Gatti brings a huge fan base. Mayweather's "black hat" persona might actually help this promotion. Also with Main Events and Top Rank involved, look for a pretty decent undercard.
Negatives: The question is, just how many people will fork over more money to see a fight in which one guy is so heavily favored over the other? Also, speaking of money, will boxing fans have any left to spend by this point?
Rating (out of a possible 5): 4.