Megafight promoters add layers of intrigue

It never was about one big fight — even though it easily could have been, and few would have complained.

But the promoters of Saturday night’s junior middleweight megafight at the MGM Grand Garden between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Saul “Canelo” Alvarez saw an opportunity to sell boxing beyond the hard-core fans. So they took a page from the Ultimate Fighting Championship playbook and added two more world title fights to morph it into one of the best fight cards Las Vegas has seen in years.

In addition to the main event, which will be fought at a catch weight of 152 pounds and have both fighters’ junior middleweight titles at stake (Mayweather’s WBA belt, Alvarez’s WBC belt), WBA-WBC junior welterweight champion Danny Garcia (26-0, 16 knockouts) defends his titles against hard-hitting Lucas Matthysse (34-2, 32 KOs). Also, Las Vegas’ Ishe Smith (25-5, 11 KOs) defends his IBF junior middleweight title for the first time when he meets Carlos Molina (21-5-2, six KOs).

“That was the objective once we made Floyd-Canelo,” said Leonard Ellerbe, Mayweather’s co-manager and CEO of Mayweather Promotions. “We wanted to give the fans excitement.”

The retail price for the Showtime pay-per-view telecast is $64.95 ($74.95 for high definition), which is higher than normal. Most boxing pay-per-view telecasts are between $50 and $60.

And while the two undercard title fights add depth to the event, it ultimately might not translate into additional pay-per-view buys. Showtime’s Stephen Espinoza had said as much earlier this summer. He’s hoping that the casual boxing fans who buy the fight are entertained throughout the telecast by Smith-Molina and Garcia-Matthysse enough that they will be repeat customers.

Mayweather’s audience goes beyond boxing. His appearance on “Dancing With the Stars” in 2007 and his participation in “WrestleMania XXIV” in 2008 gave him exposure beyond boxing. Those who watched him in those endeavors appear also to have tracked his fights. For his six fights since the Oscar De La Hoya bout in 2007, Mayweather’s pay-per-view numbers have averaged more than 1 million.

“Looking back on it, the strategy to cross Floyd over into mainstream events was the best thing we ever did,” Ellerbe said. “I see where Floyd was in 2007 and what his star power was then, and he’s a much bigger star today.”

So does that mean Mayweather-Alvarez can break the pay-per-view record of 2.5 million buys set when Mayweather beat De La Hoya?

“I think there’s a chance,” Ellerbe said. “But I believe 2 million buys is very much a possibility. You’ve got Canelo, who is a star in Mexico and is loved by the Mexican people, fighting on Mexican Independence Day weekend against Floyd, the greatest fighter of his generation and one of the greatest of all time. I think the demographics are in place to make for a huge number” of pay-per-view buys.

Mayweather said a record still can be established even if 2.5 million buys isn’t reached. That fight, which HBO televised, cost $55 and generated $136 million in revenue

“It didn’t cost as much to buy the pay-per-view when I fought Oscar in 2007,” he said. “So we could break the record financially even if we don’t get to 2.5 million” buys.

Mayweather (44-0, 26 KOs) had to agree to add the other world title fights to his card. And he sees it as an investment in boxing’s future.

“If you give people great fights, they’ll want more. They’ll come back,” Mayweather said. “You have three great fights, and the fans are going to get their money’s worth.”

Still, in the end, it’s all about Mayweather. His fans will buy the fight to see him try to remain undefeated. His detractors want to see Alvarez (42-0-1, 30 KOs) be the person to hand Mayweather his first professional loss. He’s the one with the multimillion dollar, six-fight deal with Showtime. He’s the face of boxing these days. He’s the one with the legacy.

“With or without the other fights, we were going to do what we’re going to do,” Ellerbe said. “People are going to be buying the pay-per-view to watch Floyd Mayweather. It’s as simple as that.”

Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-22913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.