Evander Holyfield's days as a heavyweight champion-and a major pay-per-view draw-are all but behind him. "The Real Deal" lost his share of the title to John Ruiz during Showtime Event Television's March 3 pay-per-view event, which failed to draw 200,000 buys.
"We had high hopes for this event and it didn't materialize," said Showtime Event Television executive vice president of corporate strategy and communications Mark Greenberg, who said the bout generated around 185,000 buys. Industry executives, however, place that figure at around 160,000.
Either number falls well below that of a typical heavyweight PPV event and well short of expectations for Holyfield. Four of the 10 biggest PPV events ever were fights featuring the four-time heavyweight champion, including the top two most lucrative PPV events in history.
But Holyfield was awarded a controversial decision in his first bout with Ruiz, and the rematch failed to create any buzz among PPV subscribers.
One East Coast PPV executive said Holyfield's PPV marketability had waned going into the Ruiz event.
"He hasn't been very successful in recent years and his first fight with Ruiz wasn't very exciting," said the operator. "Boxing fans didn't connect with this fight, especially at $45 [the suggested retail price]."
Nonetheless, SET was hoping to draw Hispanic viewers by touting Ruiz's chance of becoming the first Latino world heavyweight champion. Greenberg believes the increased focus on Ruiz has provided him with more exposure, which will make it easier to promote him in future fights.
It's unclear, however, whether Ruiz's next fight will appear on PPV. Greenberg didn't rule out a possible Holyfield-Ruiz III event from China later this year.
"It depends on a number of variables in the marketplace," Greenberg said. "There are a number of things going on in PPV-the business is more complex than it was-so we'll have to see what happens."
The disappointing performance of Holyfield-Ruiz doesn't bode well for the PPV boxing category, which continues its struggle to recapture its record-setting revenue prowess of the late 1990s. Currently, only two non-heavyweight events are scheduled for the first half of the year: the April 7 featherweight fight between former champion Naseem Hamed and top-rated Marco Antonio Barerra; and a tentative May 12 bout that matches World Boxing Association middleweight title holder William Joppy and World Boxing Association and International Boxing Federation junior middleweight champion Felix Trinidad.
Though potential PPV fights featuring welterweight champion Shane Mosley, former welterweight champion Oscar De La Hoya and a middleweight unification series are on the horizon, the industry may be hard pressed to match the nearly $120 million in PPV boxing revenues generated in 2000.
Revenue prospects could change for the better, however, if the industry can secure a Lennox Lewis-Mike Tyson heavyweight championship event. But at press time, negotiations between the two camps and their PPV networks remain stalled, sources said.
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