A few days back, social media circles were abuzz with the possibility of a clash we thought would never happen- UFC superstar Conor McGregor (who recently got his boxing license) vs boxing legend Floyd Mayweather. Though Mayweather shot down the rumors through his Twitter account, it may be likely that it is all part of the hype train chugging up to a possible fight between the two champions. If the unholy clash indeed happens then one can be certain that both McGregor and Mayweather would agree only on terms and conditions that would be incredibly lucrative for both. The fight would undoubtedly be the richest PPV in the history of professional sports, spurred by heightened interest from fans of both sports, garnering record views and broadcasting contracts running into astronomical figures. This arouses our curiosity – which boxing matches have been the most expensive in history? Let’s have a look!
Note: This may not be a subjective list since we have not taken into account any effects of inflation, increase in population levels and the impact of social media- all of which have made recent events much bigger than PPVs in the past.
10. Manny Pacquiao vs Juan Manuel Marquez III (November 2011)
PPV buys- 1,400,000 PPV Revenue- $75 million
This was the third fight between Filipino boxer (and current politician) Manny Pacquiao and Mexican boxer Juan Manuel Marquez for the welterweight championship. Held at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada, this fight garnered a 1.4 million PPV buys, and a total revenue of $75 million. Pacquiao won the bout through a majority decision (114-114, 115-113, 116-112) that was marred by controversy since Marquez fans were of the view that their guy was the deserving winner. Pacquiao earned a $22 million from the fight while Marquez took home a purse of $5 million.
9. Mike Tyson vs Evander Holyfield I (November 1996)
PPV buys- 1,590,000 Revenue- $77.9 million
Controversy’s favorite child and the official bad man of boxing Mike Tyson and Evander ‘The Real Deal’ Holyfield faced off in their first bout for the World Boxing Association (WBA) heavyweight championship at the MGM Grand Arena in Paradise, Nevada. This was also Tyson’s first defense of his championship that he had won earlier in September. On the other hand, Holyfield had a string of losses since his return to boxing in 1995. The fight, however, turned out to be a stunning upset when Holyfield thoroughly outclassed and dominated Tyson, knocking him out in the sixth round. Earnings were quite a contrast though, with Tyson as the reigning champion taking home $30 million while Holyfield made $11 million.
8. Evander Holyfield vs George Foreman (April 1991)
PPV buys- 1,400,000 Revenue- $80 million
In a fight billed as ‘The Battle of the Ages’, reigning undisputed heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield went head-to-head with boxing legend George Foreman, who was soaring on a popularity wave as well as an unbeaten 24-0 record ever since he came out of a decade-long retirement in 1987. Held at the Convention Center in Atlantic City, New Jersey for the WBA, WBC, IBF and Lineal Heavyweight championships, the bout generated massive buzz for its time. It is particularly remembered for the seventh round, when both Holyfield and Foreman launched devastating punches but managed to hold their ground till the very end. Holyfield was adjudged the winner by unanimous decision (116–111, 117–110 and 115–112) but Foreman won all-round plaudits for giving a tough fight to his much younger adversary. The payouts were also high, with Holyfield taking a guaranteed $20 million and Foreman $12.5 million.
7. Mayweather vs Shane Mosely (May 2010)
PPV buys- 1,400,000 Revenue- $94 million
King of PPVs and undeniably one of the greatest boxers ever, Floyd Mayweather has his name to nearly half the richest boxing fights held till date. His welterweight non-title fight with Shane Mosley took place at the MGM Grand Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, and was attended by heavyweight legends such as Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson. This fight was also significant in that it was the first time that both boxers underwent Olympic style drug testing, at the insistence of Mayweather. Regarding the fight, Mosely started off strongly, but Mayweather fought back in the later rounds to come out tops, winning by unanimous decision (119-109, 119-109, 118-110). Mayweather made $22.5 million from the fight (plus additional bonus from PPV subscriptions), while Mosely took home $6.7 million.
6. Mike Tyson vs Peter McNeeley (August 1995)
PPV buys- 1,550,000 Revenue- $96 million
Mike Tyson was arrested and convicted of rape in 1991, for which he served three years in prison. The bout between Tyson and Peter McNeeley, dubbed ‘He’s Back’ had a lot of hype, especially because it marked Tyson’s return to professional boxing and also because of McNeeley’s famous quote to wrap Tyson in a ‘cocoon of horror’. The fight itself hardly lasted two minutes, during which McNeeley was knocked down twice, and then subsequently disqualified after his manager stepped in to avoid his fighter taking any more damage. It was a shame, for it seemed that the fight could have been much longer. Tyson received $25 million while was entitled to McNeeley got $540,000, of which 1/3rd was going to his manager Vinny Vecchione. His actions, however, meant that he had to forego his share.
5. Mike Tyson vs Evander Holyfield II (June 1997)
PPV buys- 1,990,000 Revenue- $100.2 million
Probably one of the most infamous and bizarre fights in boxing history, Mike Tyson vs Evander Holyfield for the WBA championship at the MGM Grand Arena is remembered for Tyson biting off part of Holyfield’s ear and getting disqualified and losing his boxing license for some time. As a result of the incident, the fight, billed as ‘The Sound and The Fury’ was later on dubbed as ‘The Bite Fight’. Despite all the controversy, the fight was a major PPV success, drawing in nearly 2 million buys with a revenue of $100 million. The bad blood between the two fighters also thankfully ended later on, with Tyson apologizing to Holyfield and the two becoming close friends after retirement.
4. Mike Tyson vs Lennox Lewis (June 2002)
PPV buys- 1,950,000 Revenue- $112 million
Lennox Lewis was the last undisputed heavyweight champion and his highly anticipated bout with Mike Tyson would see him cement his credentials as the most complete fighter in the division. Held at the Pyramid Arena in Memphis, Tennessee, Lennox’s title defense fight had a lot of hype going around, mainly due to a brawl between the two camps during a press conference aimed at promoting the fight. PPV numbers were expectedly huge though ticket sales were initially slow due to a price tag of $2,400. A crowd of 15k+ nevertheless showed up for the fight, in which Lewis decisively knocked out Tyson in the 8th round to regain his title. Both boxers took home a purse of $17.5 million each, while the gross PPV revenue was $112 million.
3. Mayweather vs Oscar De La Hoya (May 2007)
PPV buys- 2,480,000 Revenue- $136 million
Floyd Mayweather vs Oscar De La Hoya for the WBC light middleweight title was held at the MGM Grand Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada and was the most profitable boxing match for its time. Tickets were sold out under 3 hours, breaking the record held by the Tyson-Holyfield rematch in 1997. The fight generated a whopping 2.4 million PPV buys, with around $136 million in revenue. Although De La Hoya lost the fight to Mayweather via split decision, he made a gargantuan sum of $52 million, while Mayweather earned $25 million.
2. Mayweather vs Canelo Alvarez (September 2013)
PPV buys- 2,200,000 Revenue- $150 million
Mayweather is a big draw for PPV superfights and his light middleweight championship bout with Canelo Alvarez was yet another spectacular success. Held at the MGM Grand Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada (this seems to be a really popular venue for all PPV fights), Mayweather won the fight through a majority decision and also taking home a purse of $41.5 million, in addition to PPV sales.
1. Mayweather vs Pacquiao (May 2015)
PPV buys- 4,600,000 Revenue- $410 million
It has been long said that a Floyd Mayweather vs Manny Pacquiao fight would the holy grail of all PPV fights, if it were to come to fruition at all. A fight between the two had been on the cards as far back as 2009, but disagreements between the camps of the two boxers had made it difficult to make it a reality. In 2015, however, negotiations were finalized, all issues (including drug testing, purse share, location etc) sorted out and expectations were sky high for a blockbuster match of the century. Aptly billed as ‘The Fight of the Century’, Mayweather vs Pacquiao was held at…yeah you guessed it, the MGM Grand Arena at Vegas. Total PPV buys for the bout were a monster 4.6 million and the revenue amounted to nearly $410 million. The fight, won by Mayweather by unanimous decision, drew criticism from viewers and experts alike for being a damp squib, especially Mayweather’s strategy to go for a defensive stance, making it somewhat boring to watch. Based on a 60/40 sharing agreement for $300 million, Mayweather took home $180 million while Pacquiao took a purse of $120 million. That’s more than what many top league football stars earn in their entire lifetime!