EDMONTON - Boxing’s once and forever ‘Man of the Ear’ has a theory that’s well worth a listen.
Four-time world heavyweight champ Evander Holyfield — whose lobes were memorably masticated by Mike Tyson in 1997 — attributes the sport’s current also-ran status to the preponderance of pay-per-view mega cards.
Coming from a guy whose 14 PPV fights have triggered 12.6 million buys worth a cool $543 million US, that’s quite a statement.
Holyfield ranks No. 3 on boxing’s all-time list of PPV leaders, trailing only Tyson (12 fights, $545 million) and Oscar De La Hoya (18 fights, $610.6 million), but unlike those two, he’s still in there pitching.
His rematch with Franz Botha, slated to take place later this year in South Africa, will likely be a PPV offering because Botha — who’s also promoting it — has guaranteed Commander Evander $1 million.
The conflicting priorities didn’t prevent the former champ from waxing nostalgic about the old days during a visit to the U.S. Olympic trials in Alabama last week.
“What’s hurting boxing is that they’re not putting it on free television anymore,” Holyfield told the website AL.com.
“When you put anything on television, it represents somebody. Every person that gets out there represents somebody.
“I remember in 1976, for me it was the Spinks brothers. When they won the gold medals and folks talked about the Spinks brothers, that represented my type of family. We weren’t a very educated family either, but we worked hard. We followed directions.
“The Spinks brothers didn’t speak very well, but they won gold medals — and that represented something.”
While it may sound like Holyfield is being just a wee bit hypocritical, he’s also absolutely correct.
Today, free TV is not what it was in 1976 … or even in 1996. And while it’s ludicrous to fantasize about Manny Pacquiao or Floyd Mayweather showcasing their talents on ABC or CBS, there’s definitely room to move meaningful bouts back into the rotation on non-premium networks. In other words, not on Super Channel, HBO or The Fight Network.
In Canada, we’re fortunate to regularly see boxing on TSN and Rogers SportsNet — the latter of which has done an excellent job on shows from Edmonton — but for the most part, their coverage is tape delayed.
Both networks could take a cue from Holyfield’s assertion that the best way to grow viewer interest — and increase advertising revenue — is to go the live route, showcasing up-and-comers as they advance through the rankings.
From a network standpoint, boxing is still one of the cheapest sports to televise, and the cost difference between live and taped coverage isn’t crippling.
If boxing is to be resuscitated, however, it needs more than exposure on free TV to an audience that’s already predisposed to watching it.
In order to grow, the sweet science must attract new fans — the way mixed martial arts has so brilliantly done by saturating the airwaves with offerings like The Ultimate Fighter.