Spin it however they like, but when HBO announced that they were going to condense the Manny Pacquiao-Chris Algieri 24/7 series into just one thirty-minute episode, it spoke volumes.
When it comes to the upcoming November 22 pay-per-view from Macau, the best idea is to cut costs, stop the flow of corporate revenue, and hope things aren’t a total bust. HBO knows this and is acting accordingly, despite what they’re willing to say in public.
HBO execs are playing it cool, pretending like the scaled down 24/7 is really little more than an effort to keep the product fresh. But actions speak louder than words. Since when is less promotion ever a viable angle in pushing a fight– unless the idea is that the less the public sees of this impending craptacular, the better.
“We recognize that Manny Pacquiao has been featured nine times on 24/7,” HBO Sports’ executive producer Rick Bernstein told Jake Donovan of Boxingscene. “We want the show to continue to evolve and develop new storylines…We feel we have an opportunity at producing something special with the 24/7 dedicated to Pacquiao and Algieri, classic underdog versus defending world champion setting.”
A typically vacuous corporate answer for a question different from the one that should be asked.
The truth may be that, despite the trumped up media tour where supposedly legions of female fans swarmed the scene in pursuit of a fighter who was, literally, little more then a New York club fighter as of nine months ago, the reality is beginning to set in. Nobody cares about this bout, nobody thinks it’ll be even remotely competitive, and nobody is eager to see it.
If Brandon Rios as a B-Side, with a half-dozen premium cable main events and a well-established reputation as a fan-friendly fighter behind him, could only help draw 475,000 buys with Pacquiao in a similar Macau-staged PPV, just imagine how hard it will be for Algieri to generate any buyer interest.
Algieri’s one HBO showcase was the disputed split decision against Ruslan Provodnikov that earned him this golden ticket to Pacquiao. In that bout, which 54% of polled media saw Provodnikov winning, the undefeated fighter from Huntington, New York gave a less-than-scintillating performance, no matter how you chose to score the bout. Early on, after surviving two first round knockdowns against the hard-charging Russian and WBO junior welterweight champ, Algieri appeared almost frantic in not engaging in anything resembling combat– picture someone fleeing from an angry hornets’ nest. By rounds seven and eight, though, Algieri settled into a groove and boxed his way around his flat-footed rival. Still, there wasn’t much of an effort on Algieri’s part to do anything more than survive and keep Provodnikov off him.
The title-winning performance would’ve been a decent start point for a slow rise to the top for Algieri. He did survive a monstrous threat and managed to show some true grit and resolve in doing so. But there was nothing there that indicated he could move from jousting with second tier fighters on ESPN2 to the Super Bowl of boxing.
But because promoter Bob Arum had run out of viable options for his Filipino money machine, the aged promoter rushed to shove the square peg into the round hole and began to tout Pacquiao-Algieri as a modern day Dempsey-Tunney.
Then, there was the trumped up “world” press tour, where the effort was made to play it as though Algieri had taken the world by storm, rather than slightly edge out a flat-footed brawler. Pacquiao, himself, looked disinterested and actually began the media tour with an uncharacteristic skepticism.
“I saw his fight with Ruslan [Provodnikov],” Pacquiao told reporters. “He took a lot of bad punches from Ruslan but he’s tough…He can box. I’m not saying he’s really good but he’s not bad. He’s okay.”
Trainer Freddie Roach would express his surprise at Algieri getting the call from Arum.
“It surprised me [Algieri getting the Pacquiao fight] because I actually think Ruslan won that fight. [Algieri] got beat up a little bit,” said Roach, who was the chief second in Provodnikov’s corner for the Algieri bout.
Within a few hours, though, the quotes had been expunged from the public record and replaced with almost the exact opposite sentiment.
“Chris Algieri fought an exceptional fight in June to win the world title from Ruslan Provodnikov,” Pacquiao now said in the re-write. “I am impressed and intrigued by his scientific approach to training and boxing. He may be the smartest and the fittest athlete I have ever faced and that makes him the most dangerous.”
But try as Top Rank/HBO might, nobody is buying a Super Bowl where the Seattle Seahawks defend their Lombardi trophy against the Arena League champion Arizona Rattlers.
And now its time to start cutting costs and accept the fact that whoever is going to buy this PPV will do so without the massive promotional push. Pacquiao certainly has enough of a built-in fan base that he can probably bring in a good 350-450K all alone, regardless of the opponent, even for a show based outside the United States.
The good news for Pacquiao is that Saul “Canelo” Alvarez is back with HBO and Canelo’s promoter, Oscar De la Hoya, is back on speaking terms with promoter Bob Arum. A Canelo-Miguel Cotto showdown in May could, later that year, bring Manny his first true blockbuster in quite awhile.
With some possible blockbusters brewing on the network, HBO no longer has to toss buckets of money in the hopes of turning a nice, moderately talented kid from an affluent suburb into something he is not.
Instead, it looks like the idea is to sit on that money and anticipate a 2015 that, if played right, could register a knockout blow against their seemingly disoriented and vulnerable premium cable rival.