Just when the pay-per-view industry was ready to write off the sport of boxing, along came the Dec. 2 Felix Trinidad-Fernando Vargas fight.
Though most industry observers believed the matchup had a chance to become the fight of the year, no one thought of it as the PPV industry's inevitable boxing event of the year. In a year that included fights involving heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis, former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson and former welterweight champion Oscar De La Hoya, it took a bout between two highly regarded but not-well-known fighters to propel the category into 2001.
Not even Trinidad-Vargas distributor TVKO expected the fight to draw its impressive 520,000 buys and become the second-biggest PPV boxing event of the year. Prior to this fight, Trinidad's only mark in PPV was against the industry's "golden boy," De La Hoya. In fact, Trinidad's March 2000 PPV fight against then super welterweight champion David Reid failed to draw much attention from PPV boxing viewers.
Vargas-despite his flashy style, Olympic background and championship status-had never headlined a PPV event.
Yet boxing fans believed that this fight was worthy of the high $45 price tag, despite getting burned twice in the last two months by two non-competitive heavyweight PPV events.
Though the fight's PPV performance didn't match those of past De La Hoya fights, it did prove to concerned operators that consumers will pay top dollar for a boxing event, if they feel it's competitive and has the potential to be exciting.
If not for Trinidad-Vargas, the year would have been known for two disappointing Lewis bouts against overmatched opponents, and Andrew Golota's third-round no mas
act in his fight against Tyson. Neither of those fights opened up the possibility of future PPV fights in 2001, with the exception of Tyson-Lewis, which most industry observers believe will never happen.
But the excitement and positive vibes left after the Trinidad-Vargas fight conjures up thoughts of several potential PPV matches for next year. Trinidad, now considered one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world, has a number of lucrative PPV opportunities. He could battle De La Hoya in a rematch of their controversial fight, or challenge recent De La Hoya conqueror Shane Mosley.
He could also move up to the super middleweight division to fight current pound-for-pound "champion" Roy Jones Jr. in a huge PPV showdown.
Despite getting knocked out by Trinidad, Vargas' marquee value has increased significantly as well, also providing him with future PPV opportunities.
Heading into 2001, Trinidad-Vargas may have given the industry the momentum it needs to best this year's poor $116 million revenue take. Only time will tell.
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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.