By Alex Beard (@alex_beard17)
Since Floyd Mayweather’s retirement in September 2015 – ignoring his apparent un-retirement for MMA superstar Conor McGregor – it has been Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez who has emerged as the consensus biggest PPV draw in boxing.
He has fought three times since Mayweather hung up his gloves, achieving good numbers of 900,000 buys opposite Miguel Cotto and 600,000 buys against Amir Khan, while suffering an expected decrease when facing Liam Smith last year – garnering just 300,000 buys. Still, when two of boxing’s pound-for-pound best in Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev met last November they managed only 160,000 buys, which speaks to the marketability and popularity of the cinnamon-haired sensation.
In the 20 months that have passed in the post-Mayweather wilderness, there has really been nobody to challenge Canelo for this cash cow status. The aforementioned Ward-Kovalev encounter did poor numbers, while Gennady Golovkin has failed to emerge as a viable PPV presence. Needless to say, the shoehorned PPV encounter between Terence Crawford and Viktor Postol last July didn’t set the world on fire by any stretch of the imagination.
Instead, a glance across the pond appears to have revealed the first challenger to Canelo’s PPV crown.
Britain’s Anthony Joshua has been earmarked for some time as the man to revitalise the stagnant heavyweight division. In doing so, he has emerged as the Steve Davis to Eddie’s Barry Hearn. The dollar signs have adorned Hearn’s pupils when talking about Joshua for some time now, and the IBF and WBA heavyweight champion’s latest bout with Wladimir Klitschko last weekend has surely tipped him over the edge.
90,000 fans packed into Wembley Stadium – creating a post-war attendance record – to see the coronation of Joshua as the next undisputed star not only of the heavyweight division, but of the entire sport of boxing. And if you believe Hearn, the fight did supremely well on PPV too.
“We broke British box office records on pay-per-view last night. We can’t tell you the number last night because it’s too early but the record was 1.5million for Manny Pacquiao against Floyd Mayweather. Last night we beat that for sure,” the Matchroom kingpin told BBC Radio 5 Live.
Given the attendance figures at the fight and the sheer volume of media attention awarded to Joshua, combined with the cringe-inducing frenzy that he stirs up in boxing’s less-dedicated followers, there is no reason to think that the Klitschko fight didn’t surpass 1.5million buys. This ability to appeal to the masses is what separates Joshua from the likes of Golovkin, Kovalev and Ward – and is the key ingredient in a PPV star.
Canelo, to his credit, possesses that very same trait. He has a nation behind him, with the Mexican fans universally recognised as some of the most passionate in the world. When paired with the right dance partner he has shown he can generate solid numbers, and he’s also more proven as a PPV draw than Joshua.
His fight against Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. this weekend, while not the one that boxing fans wanted, has the potential to surpass his contest with Cotto in terms of PPV buys. By virtue of his surname, Chavez Jr. garners significant attention from those within the sport as well as some of the general public. His heritage helps move the fight out of the boxing bubble and into the sphere of mainstream public interest.
Whether Joshua’s emergence as a money man in boxing will effect Canelo’s is unknown at this point, but the Briton clearly has the potential to move beyond him and cement himself as the next PPV star of the sport.
You could argue that Joshua has already reached his ceiling in Britain. There is nowhere bigger to hold a fight in this country than Wembley Stadium, and after 19 fights it may already be time for Hearn to take his man across the Atlantic to the bright lights of America.
It’s evident that he attracts interest in the US, too. Both Showtime and HBO aired the Joshua-Klitschko fight, a rarity these days, with Showtime’s coverage peaking at 687,000 viewers while HBO pulled in 738,000 pairs of eyeballs. This all coming with the fight being held overseas and not really promoted stateside. Imagine what Joshua could achieve in America when his fights are being held over there and promoted extensively. Surely, a Joshua-Wilder bout is a significant PPV success on both sides of the pond.
Of course, there is probably room for more than one cash cow in boxing – the sport needs as many as it can get if it is to continue its renaissance – but it’s hard to see Canelo remaining in his position as boxing’s premier PPV draw with Joshua’s shadow looming ever larger.by