‘Khan’ We Settle for Second Best?
By Tyson Bruce
Just like every other sport boxing is constantly changing and evolving. One of the most pronounced changes of this generation is the shift towards premium cable and major PPV events. As a result of the proliferation of cable television, boxing currently operates as a niche sport viewed primarily on HBO and Showtime. Boxing resurfaces as main stream sport with a handful of PPV fights each year, usually involving the sports two biggest stars, Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao—albeit not against each other. This trend has resulted in untold riches for the sports biggest stars but it also means they fight far less often. In order to make a PPV profitable it takes at least four months of intensive promotion and exposure.
Floyd Mayweather, the sports number one star, is currently holding the boxing world hostage while he decides who he will fight next, Marcos Maidana or Amir Khan. Mayweather has also come under heavy scrutiny because of the perceived mismatch that either of these matchups would represent. Just a generation ago it was not uncommon for the best fighter in the world to fight three or four times a year. With Mayweather, however, we are lucky if we get to see him fight more than once. In fact since 2008 he had fought just twice a year on just two separate occasions. When he does fight it comes with a stiff 60-70 dollar price tag. As result, the selection of his opponents comes under an unprecedented level of scrutiny.
About four months ago when rumors began to surface about Amir Khan potentially getting the next crack at Mayweather the boxing community was justifiably outraged. Khan has lost two of his last five fights and was badly knocked out inside of four rounds by junior welterweight kingpin Danny Garcia. In his most recent outing Khan looked utterly dismal against the ancient and undersized Julio Diaz, getting knocked down and holding on for dear life in the final few rounds. That based off this performance he could be rewarded by fighting the best boxer on the planet is ridiculous even by boxing standards.
Perhaps as a result of the vocal backlash against Khan as the potential opponent, Marcos Maidana, fresh off his upset win over the highly regarded Adrien Broner, was also thrown into the mix. Whether this was done simply to fabricate the idea that some debate was involved or there was genuine concern over selecting the best quality opponent is anyone’s guess. But let’s not kid ourselves, Maidana is made to order for Mayweather—maybe even more so than Khan. Maidana is far too crude and slow to pose even a mild risk to Mayweather’s unblemished record. After all, Khan did manage to narrowly outpoint Maidana in 2010.
However, if we are basing this decision off merit then Maidana unquestionably deserves the fight over Khan. Maidana is a rejuvenated force under the guidance of Robert Garcia and is riding perhaps the best win streak of his entire career. His last three victories against Jesus Soto Karass, Joesito Lopez and Adrien Broner all came against top ten ranked contenders. The only fighters Khan has beaten in the last two years are Carlos Molina (not the good one) and Julio Diaz, neither of whom are even close to being in the top fifteen of the division. Even though no one with even a remote knowledge of boxing would give Maidana a snowballs chance in hell of beating Mayweather, the matchup is still tolerable because Maidana is so entertaining to watch. He’s as honest and likable of a character as can be found in the sport and the idea of him getting a massive payday has a certain appeal.
If Mayweather fought on a more consistent basis then the idea of him fighting Khan or Maidana is not such a bad thing. Both guys are respectable, entertaining prizefighters that have had many successes in the ring. If he had even three fights a year instead of just one or two then a slightly softer touch against a Maidana or a Khan would be more than acceptable. That, alas, is not the reality of what we are dealing with here. Mayweather will likely fight in May and September barring any unforeseen event such as an injury or God forbid a loss. So, is it really fair to ask the average boxing consumer to shell out 250 bucks for a nosebleed seat or 75 dollars for a PPV?
On a more practical level is it even viable from a business perspective? It is thought that it takes at least a million PPV buys for Showtime to even break even with Mayweather’s mammoth 30 million dollar guarantee and we all saw the stark polarity of the success rate between the Guerrero and Alvarez fights. In the era of failed optimism for a potential Mayweather-Pacquiao super-fight it takes two guys to sell an expensive PPV. Gone are the days when Pacquiao and Mayweather could fight no-hopers and do over a million PPV buys because it no longer represents a measuring stick for a potential clash between the two titans. The fights now have to be major attractions in and of themselves.
In an interesting publicity stunt Mayweather recently put up a pole on his twitter account where he ask the fans to vote for who they would like to see him fight next. Despite the fact that virtually every independent poll (including ESPN and fightnews.com) had Maidana as the landslide winner, Khan somehow managed to win the Mayweather twitter poll by 60-40 percent margin. The poll isn’t likely to determine the actual opponent anyway, but instead will likely serve as “proof” that they went with the more popular choice if and when Khan is selected as the opponent.
One of the major reasons Mayweather and his team favor Khan is the perceived financial advantage he brings because of his UK fan base. This, however, may be a miscalculation as Khan had never been a ticket seller in North American and doesn’t possess the sort of nationalistic following that a Ricky Hatton or a Saul Alvarez does. If anything Khan seems to have as many haters in England these days as he does fans. Khan has been highly outspoken about how his hand speed and athletic style will present a look that Mayweather has never seen before. But really, if someone as slow as Breidis Prescott and Julio Diaz can get to Khan than so can Mayweather. While Floyd is far from Sonny Liston when it comes to punching power he has more than enough to dent Khan’s fragile chin. It is very possible that Khan may have the worst chin of any top ranked fighter.
The fans will have to decide whether second best is good enough to spend their hard earned dollars on. It’s possible given the excitement that Maidana and Khan usually bring to the ring that either fight could be very entertaining. If Mayweather, who is often derided by critics for his careful selection of opponents, does choose Khan then it will represent the most dubious opponent selection since he cherry picked a welterweight title belt from Zab Judah after he was coming off a loss against Carlos Baldomir. Then again, isn’t every Mayweather opponent a let down if his name isn’t Manny Pacquiao?