With several highly-anticipated fights across the worlds of boxing and MMA expected to take place in 2021, there could well be some new records set for the number of pay-per-view buys.
We have taken a look at the biggest pay-per-view fights in the history of combat sports so far to set the standard that the next generation of super fights would have to reach.
The make-up of the 20 fights with the most reported views has changed considerably in the last decade.
For a long time, the classic 2007 bout between Oscar de la Hoya and Floyd Mayweather – which established the latter as a boxing superstar – stood alone with 2.5 million buys. Mayweather was far from done though and currently features in five of the 20 biggest pay-per-view fights, but more on him later.
Prior to the ascent of ‘Money’, another boxer was arguably the biggest draw in the world of combat sports. Mike Tyson’s 1997 rematch with Evander Holyfield – the infamous ‘Bite Fight’ – took the crown from the original contest with two million buys. A third Tyson fight – this time against Lennox Lewis – went close to surpassing this tally five years later.
Pay-per-view fights: Boxing vs UFC
Boxing’s status as the dominant producer of successful pay-per-view fights began to be questioned in 2009 when the 100th UFC event drew in a paying audience of 1.6 million; the same amount that had watched the first clash between Holyfield and Tyson.
This proved to be no flash in the plan, with half of our top 20 now accounted for by UFC events.
One of the principal driving forces behind the commercial success of UFC was Conor McGregor, who features in eight of our 20 most-watched fights. This includes the third most-watched bout of all time – his 2018 defeat to Khabib Nurmagomedov after almost two years away from the Octagon.
His appeal had already extended beyond the world of MMA though. The second most-purchased fight to date was McGregor’s professional boxing debut against Floyd Mayweather, which had secured a whopping 4.3 million buys a year earlier.
This ambitious crossover bout had been heavily promoted and united the two men who between them have featured in all of the five biggest pay-per-view fights.
Mayweather tops the bill
It is Mayweather who has the final word. Despite headlining fewer of our top 20 than McGregor, his 2015 fight against Manny Pacquiao holds the all-time record with an estimated 4.6 million pay-per-view buys.
This contest was six years in the making and ended up being delayed a further 45 minutes as networks struggled to cope with a late surge of demand.
It is difficult to predict whether another combat sport will ever match the appeal of boxing and MMA, but the threat to the established order may come not from another code but from another source of contenders.
In 2018, 1.3 million people paid to watch two YouTubers – KSI and Logan Paul – contest an amateur boxing match.
While the technical quality fell short of a Mayweather masterclass, there was sufficient interest for a rematch on professional terms a year later.
Whether this proves to be a one-off remains to be seen, but the evidence suggests that individual personalities are a huge factor in convincing the public to part with their cash.
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