For one night, boxing packs more punch than its upstart rival

Eric McErlain Sports Blogger
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Late on Saturday night, there was a moment or two when I seriously considered plunking down $65 to watch the pay-per-view rematch between Manny Pacquaio and Juan Manuel Marquez. But in the end, thinking that I’d been had one too many times by professional boxing’s hype machine, I reluctantly switched off the television and put down the remote in favor of getting a full night’s sleep ahead of a Sunday morning business trip.

And while it’s clear now that I missed out by skipping the fight, it seems as if a whole lot of other Americans are making the same sort of choice. Why do I say that? Because while the Pacquiao-Marquez rematch was sitting behind a $65 firewall on cable and satellite, Fox was giving mixed marital arts an hour of prime-time exposure.

According to the network, its one-hour broadcast of a championship match-up between Cain Velasquez and Junior Dos Santos (a fight Dos Santos would win in a first-round technical knockout) generated 5.7 million viewers on Saturday night. According to Fox, that was 800,000 more viewers than a 2008 event that was aired by CBS and a record for any network broadcast of mixed martial arts.

So what set of fans got their money’s worth on Saturday night? It would be hard not to argue that boxing’s faithful came out ahead on points. Sure, they paid $65 per television set — and undoubtedly in many cases there were multiple viewers for each paid admission — but in exchange they got 12 rounds of championship boxing where the outcome was actually in doubt until the end. Meanwhile, UFC fans got a little more than a minute of action, a result that could hardly be termed as terribly satisfying.

Still, in the long run, it’s hard for me not to see UFC eventually eclipsing the boxing game. Simply put, I’ve been burned one too many times, walking away with the distinct impression that I should be asking for my money back. And while the pull of the sweet science remains powerful — if anyone asked me to attend a fight in Las Vegas in person, I might actually hitchhike my way West — that’s based on some ancient memories of a sport that doesn’t seem to exist anymore.

Eric McErlain blogs at Off Wing Opinion, a Forbes “Best of the Web” winner. In 2006 he wrote a “bloggers bill of rights” to help integrate bloggers into the Washington Capitals’ press box. Eric has also written for Deadspin, NBC Sports and the Sporting News, and covers sports television for The TV News. Follow Eric on Twitter.