Lewis Is No Meal Ticket

Many boxing observers and some cable operators were hoping the April 29 Lennox Lewis-Michael Grant heavyweight-championship fight would help to return the heavyweight division to its previous marquee status.

Neither fighter was particularly popular among fans. But with very few bright up-and-coming stars within the division, the fight was expected to be at least competitive enough to infuse some renewed interest among heavyweights.

Operators were hoping to build momentum within a division that's struggled to regain the pre-eminence it enjoyed during the 1990s, when Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and George Foreman delighted and entertained fans both inside and outside of the ring.

Instead, the fight further sunk the heavyweights into the preverbal boxing abyss. Grant turned out to be a highly overrated and inexperienced pretender to the heavyweight crown, suffering an embarrassing second-round knockout at the hands of Lewis in the main event of a mostly noncompetitive pay-per-view fight card.

Now, boxing and the PPV industry are left with the difficult task of marketing a relatively uninteresting heavyweight champion in Lewis.

Regardless of how the Grant-Lewis fight performed on PPV, it's almost guaranteed that Lewis' next fight will be on Home Box Office, unless he fights Tyson.

To be fair to Lewis, he doesn't have the strong and appealing competitors who propelled Tyson and Holyfield to record PPV heights. Unfortunately for Lewis, Holyfield has been in too many wars, and Tyson, Foreman, Andrew Golota and Riddick Bowe are either retired or well past their primes.

Meanwhile, the current crop of heavyweight contenders-David Tua, Wladimir Klitschko, Johnny Ruiz and Ike Ibeabuchi-are barely recognizable to hard-core boxing fans, much less casual viewers.

Ironically, Holyfield-the most successful PPV performer ever-was tagged with the same boring-personality label that inhibits Lewis.

The difference, however, is that when Holyfield entered the ring, fans knew they would get an exciting fight worth the $40 to $50 price tag. Lewis has yet to capture boxing fans' imaginations with his ring savvy, even though he's been one of the more successful champions in the past decade.

Even when Lewis fought Holyfield in two 1999 bouts, he was unable to win the respect of the public with two uninspiring performances, although the fights drew a combined 2 million PPV buys.

It will be difficult for Lewis to carry a PPV fight on his own, and TVKO will be hard-pressed to find an opponent worthy of a PPV date for the champion.

Fortunately for the industry, there are some promising fighters in the lower-weight categories that can generate significant PPV revenue for the industry. Fights featuring Oscar De La Hoya and Felix Trinidad have the potential to approach heavyweight PPV buy-rate territory.

But one only has to look at the top 10 most lucrative PPV events ever to see how important the heavyweight division is to both the sport and to PPV-and how much both are suffering these days.

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.