Can 'fight of the century' revive boxing?

Manny Pacquiao throws a right at Floyd Mayweather Jr. during their welterweight unification championship bout on May 2, 2015 at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
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Manny Pacquiao throws a right at Floyd Mayweather Jr. during their welterweight unification championship bout on May 2, 2015 at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Fans and beginners alike from around the world tuned in to watch boxing legends Floyd Mayweather Junior and Manny Pacquiao go head to head this weekend, but experts say the much-hyped fight is unlikely to boost boxing's popularity in the global sports arena.

"As a sports fan, it's a shame to think this could well be the last of the great fights that ever exist. Boxing as a sport globally is in decline," said Paul Krake, founder of View from the Peak: Macro Strategies.

The sport's violence, a lack of generation-defining heavyweight champions and a poor business model are commonly cited as reasons for the sport's waning popularity in the past decade despite its money-making potential. Mayweather is the world's highest-paid athlete and this weekend's match is expected to bring $400 million in gross revenues, keeping in line with the sport's long history of million-dollar fights.

"Mayweather-Pacquiao was labeled the fight of the century, but boxing is not in the top six sports worldwide because it doesn't have a steady stream of events. It lacks a decent injection of sponsorship dollars," said Naveen Menon, partner and head of communications, media and technology practice at A.T. Kearney.

Football, cricket, basketball, tennis, hockey and baseball are among the world's most popular sports in terms of participation, with boxing typically missing from top ten rankings.

The sport is too dependent on pay-per-view distribution models, Menon said, adding that 60-70 percent of boxing's revenue comes from media rights, i.e. paying to watch the programming, compared to 36 percent on average for traditional sports. Because pay-per-view lacks regular subscription services that traditional cable distribution enjoys, it lacks a widespread fan base.

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Moreover, its high price-tag can be a major turn-off. Viewers in North America shelled out $99 for the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight, reportedly the most expensive pay-per-view fight ever.

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Rights holders must find better ways to deliver content with enough value that people are willing to pay for it, echoed Victor Cui, CEO of ONE Championship.

The shift to MMA

The meteoric rise of mixed martial arts (MMA) is also likely to keep boxing in the shadows, experts say, as an influx of gyms, better media coverage regular tournaments make MMA one of the fastest growing sports in the world.

Just last month, former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson advised young, aspiring boxers to focus on MMA instead during an interview with American network Comedy Central.

MMA is popular because it's a rags-to-riches sport, where you can come from being the best in your hometown to a world champion, said Cui of ONE Championship, Asia's leading MMA organization.

Demand is especially fierce in Asia, according to Cui. "Asia is hungry for heroes it can call its own. That has been a big part why we have a 90 percent market share in Asia and why we're selling out stadiums in every country across the region. We deliver heroes that are locally relevant with global appeal, and that's why our fan base is exponentially growing."