With Showtime and Golden Boy staging an eleven-city press tour to promote the September meeting between Floyd Mayweather and Saul 'Canelo' Alvarez, I decided to attend the Washington, D.C. stop last Tuesday. I can say without the slightest bit of hesitation I've never seen anything like what I witnessed. That's true in terms of media attendance, fan enthusiasm and generally the heightened atmosphere. Mind you: this was for a press stop to promote a future fight in a city that wasn't hosting any event other than that day's press conference.
To get a better sense of why that was happening and to understand what it all meant, I briefly spoke with the President of Showtime Networks, Stephen Espinoza. We tried to make sense of the insanity we witnessed, but more importantly, question whether MMA fans would be willing to watch and pay attention to this spectacle on a platform that once housed high-level MMA.
Espinoza argues that while Showtime hasn't closed the door on MMA, an event of this magnitude might be able to keep MMA fans engaged on the channel while the network looks to expand their combat sports portfolio.
What was that in Washington, D.C.? I don't think I've ever been part of a press conference that was that pleasantly rowdy. Have you ever seen anything like that?
This might be the most boisterous and energetic press conference I've ever been to and I've been to plenty of De La Hoya press conferences and plenty of Mike Tyson conferences. I've never seen anything like this. I know we're only two days in, but it is two days of just rabid fans at every stop.
Fans who wait for hours in the heat and don't complain at all. It's crazy.
Why is all of this happening the way it is?
We've known that Canelo is this phenom on the verge of stardom. He's got this growing hysteria. That's really the best way to describe it. He's such a phenomenon. There's really no way to explain why his fans are as enthusiastic as they are, why he's got such widespread support. He's just the darling of the entire Mexican and Mexican-American community.
Now that's he's beginning to get more mainstream exposure, his charisma and everything is beginning to carry itself. You combine that with the star power of a Mayweather and it's not a multiplier; it increases exponentially. It's sort of a chemical reaction when you got those two huge sources of fan enthusiasim and charisma together. It explodes.
Do you think it's a fair argument to say fans have been desperate for a mega fight for a long fight?
Absolutely, absolutely. Unfortunately boxing has missed opportunities on a couple of occasions lately to get the mega fight. This is some pent up demand. There's all kinds of signs of that, from the enthusiasm of the venue of the MGM to the early closed circuit sales to the bars to the restaurants. The anticipation, the excitement is incredible.
I was personally involved in De La Hoya-Mayweather, which turned out to be the biggest pay-per-view of all time by a wide margin. The level of excitement and enthusiasm this early, it wasn't even close to this during De La Hoya-Mayweather. I'm not saying that we're necessarily going to break the pay-per-view record, but I'm saying it wasn't this crazed enthusiasm this early when you had those two mega stars fighting a few years ago.
It seems that more than hardcore MMA fans are interested in this fight. Why is that? Is it because of the grandeur of the fight?
My take is that there's one common trait that most if not all combat sports fans share and it's that feeling of adrenaline. They're the goosebumps that you get before the opening bell, during the walkouts for the main event. Being part of the crowd and feeling some of that mob mentality. With as many fights as I've been to, I still get goosenbumps at various points, particularly during walkouts.
I think it's not really the form of fighting that necessarily attracts any particular, although fans have their own preferences. But underlying all of that, it's sort of, we're all adrenaline junkies and we're looking for that high, that experience, that euphoria you get in an arena packed with screaming fans.
Fifty-five thousand Canadians screaming for GSP or forty-thousand people in San Antonio cheering for Canelo. It's the same thing. We're all just looking for that experience, that energy that comes from a really well-matched, competitive fight regardless of the form of combat.
You've stated Showtime has not yet closed the door on MMA content. As a stop-gap, do you think something of this magnitude engaged on the Showtime platform?
I think so. I think what we established with boxing and Strikeforce and what we're continuing now is that we are the home of high-level combat sports. It's been Strikeforce in the past and boxing all along, now it's just boxing. We're looking to get back into MMA or some other form of combat sports, conceivably. But I think what we want to become known as is the home of high quality, exciting combat sports, period, regardless of what it is.
It's a bit of a different market than in 2007. It's a different audience you're pulling from. Do you have a sense of where pay-per-view sales could end up?
You make a very valid point. De La Hoya-Mayweather promotion was in some senses a perfect storm. You had good guy-bad guy, you had Floyd starting to come into his own and Oscar really at the peak of his popularity. Really a lot of factors which won't be replicated necessarily for this fight. And viewing habits and division of people's attention is much greater, much different than it was back then.
Having said all that, the answer to that question changes every day. After a day like today and yesterday, I think we could break the pay-per-view record. I'm just as caught up in the hysteria as everyone else. On my more reasoned days, I think it could be among some of Floyd's better pay-per-views short of that crazy record. 1.5 million or higher. I know I just gave you a huge range, but it's really hard to put a finger on when you've got a phenomenon like this. Where does it start? Where does it end?
If I was to talk to a MMA fan who had read the headlines and asking what all the buzz was about, and asked me why they should watch this fight, what would be the best argument to make?
I think this could be the most exciting event that they ever watch and it could be one of the most memorable. We have a guy who has been dominating a sport for 15 years. Floyd was Fighter of the Year in 1999, I believe. He's been Fighter of the Year several times since, but we forget how long he's doing it. We have a guy who has been dominating a sport for 15 years and this could be the one where he finally faces the guy who's going to beat him.
That's an historic moment. You don't want to sit out the Mayweather pay-per-view where he gets knocked out.