The sport of boxing is in desperate need of standout star power. As critical as this pending fourth fight between Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez is, the more renowned Pac-Man must win to keep boxing from sinking in popularity even further in the United States.
With so much focus in America on professional and collegiate football and the emergence of mixed martial arts (and the far better marketed UFC), boxing has fallen by the wayside more and more each year.
It's difficult to determine exactly where boxing falls on the popularity scale of American mainstream sports, but the best projections don't reflect favorably for the sweet science. According to Top10Stop.com and TheRichest.org, boxing doesn't even crack the top-10.
In fact, the latter site rates MMA as high as No. 4. Boxing is still massive on the international stage—tens of thousands of people drop everything to watch fighters like Pacquiao, Saul Alvarez and others do what they do best.
But the star-power problem plagues American boxing even more. There is so much potential for boxing to grow bigger, and it could be coming soon.
According to a report by Yahoo! contributor Paul Magno, boxing is returning to network television this month. Magno goes on to describe at length why the sport left mainstream audiences and was relegated to pay-per-view in the first place:
Back in the mid 70s-early 80s, network TV made the conscious effort to remove themselves from the boxing business. Partly due to boxing's affinity for scandal, partly due to changing times and standards, the decision was made by network executives to distance themselves from the sport, only going back on that decision on very rare occasions.
...Fast forward to 2012 and boxing has become a full-fledged niche sport as the available fan base has dwindled to a fraction of what it used to be.
While that's simply a matter of opinion, Magno's argument has substance behind it—and logically explains why boxing isn't so popular anymore.
Do most Americans even know who Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather are? Even this Pac-Man and Marquez showdown, which is one of the most hotly anticipated fights in recent memory between two of the generation's best boxers, likely goes largely unnoticed by the casual sports fan.
Pay-per-view numbers are still huge, and while the increasing prominence of cable networks has definitely helped the cause, boxing itself has not quite caught up to speed.
Who will win Pacquiao-Marquez IV?
The new TV contract is a step in the right direction to get boxing in the States back on track, yet it doesn't guarantee ratings by any means. It seems as though boxing's heyday has passed, and if it's on mainstream TV without a high demand for it, people won't watch it.
This is going to sound like a ridiculous comparison—perhaps offensive to die-hard boxing fans—but remember when the XFL tried to capitalize on football's popularity with a massive TV deal?
That league dissolved after one season.
All anyone remembers is that Vince McMahon was prominently involved, cheerleaders were unfathomably good-looking and Rod "He Hate Me" Smart had the greatest nickname and resultant jersey in the history of sports.
How about another: Until Rory McIlroy came along, no one cared about golf once Tiger Woods stopped dominating. Even now, very few do, but golf is still more popular than boxing in the United States.
Boxing needs a game-changer to become relevant again in the U.S. If Pacquiao badly loses this bout, it will signal that he is on the decline of his career, making a potential fight with Mayweather less likely despite how amazing it would be.
Without more star power or absolute marketing geniuses to show a cleaner image of the reputedly corrupt sport of boxing, it will be tough for it to post good ratings. The rising popularity of the UFC, spearheaded by brilliant entrepreneur Dana White, will make matters even more difficult.