Floyd Mayweather Jr. becoming pay-per-view king

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Floyd Mayweather Jr. was once boxing’s pound-for-pound champion, and now he’s evolving into its pay-per-view king as well.

Mayweather’s victory over Juan Manuel Marquez last weekend generated an impressive 1 million pay-per-view buys, HBO Sports announced Friday. The robust result confirms Mayweather’s once-debatable superstar status in a sport that thrives on big names in big events.

The bout at the MGM Grand Garden in Las Vegas on Sept. 19 generated a remarkable $52 million in pay-per-view revenue at its $49.95 suggested price, making it the highest-performing event this year. It’s just the fifth non-heavyweight event to generate 1 million buys on a list headed by Mayweather’s split-decision victory over Oscar De La Hoya in 2007, which had a record 2.44 million.

Most credited that performance to De La Hoya, the sport’s top pay-per-view draw before his retirement this year. After leaving boxing for 21 months at the top of his skills, Mayweather appears ready to fill the void left by De La Hoya with a love-me-or-hate-me persona that interests even casual sports fans.

Still, 1 million buys even surprised HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg.

“I’m going to say it’s unexpected, but there was always a side of me that knew it was crossing over,” Greenburg told The Associated Press. “You have to give some credit to Juan Manuel Marquez’s Hispanic fan base, but beyond that, Floyd Mayweather has established himself as a star in the sport. All his work with ‘Dancing With the Stars’ and the WWE and (HBO reality show) ‘24/7’ has established an image that Floyd projects and that people are interested in.”

HBO and Golden Boy Promotions attempted to reach new markets for boxing with a pastiche of Internet events, marketing tie-ins and public appearances. HBO also saw a ratings spike for the four-part “24/7” series leading up to the fight, suggesting Mayweather’s persona and fighting skills were the main draw for that surprising number of fans.

“There’s no question he’s got a little bit of that Muhammad Ali in him from the ‘60s,” Greenburg said. “There were a lot of people that wanted to see his mouth shut as well, and you can’t take your eyes off him.”

Mayweather’s previous fight against Ricky Hatton in December 2007 generated 920,000 buys before Mayweather took a break during which he danced on network television, pretended to wrestle on cable, and took endorsement deals that raised his profile — although nobody knew just how much until now.

Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer anticipated impressive numbers for Mayweather-Marquez on Thursday, saying the fight went “through the roof.”

“It’s big, very big,” Schaefer said. “A lot of people didn’t believe us. Maybe I’ve gained a little credibility with my predictions. Most importantly, I hope the world realizes when we release these numbers that Floyd Mayweather, love him or hate him, is today — without any question, no ifs, ands or buts — the No. 1 pay-per-view star in the world.”

The pay-per-view sales apparently weren’t even harmed by Golden Boy’s decision to show the fight in 170 movie theaters around the country, a strategy that worried Greenburg. Schaefer said the fight played to about 80 percent capacity in theaters, which were once a regular site for closed-circuit boxing shows.

Mayweather-Marquez also scored what’s likely to be a clear victory over the pay-per-view telecast of UFC 103, which is thought to have generated only a fraction of HBO’s 1 million sales. UFC 103 was a fairly minor card on the league’s calendar, yet the two so-called “combat sports” rarely go head-to-head on pay-per-view.