LAS VEGAS (AP) - For those who keep score on the business of sports, Saturday night's best fight isn't in a ring in Vegas or an octagon in Dallas.
It's in living rooms, movie theaters and even iPhones, where people across the continent must choose between the best in boxing and mixed martial arts.
Floyd Mayweather Jr.'s comeback fight against Juan Manuel Marquez is happening on the same night as UFC 103, headlined by a bout between former champions Rich Franklin and Vitor Belfort. The so-called "combat sports" rarely schedule major cards head-to-head, and this collision only occurred because of an injury to Mayweather that delayed his fight two months.
"I don't think going on the same night as boxing is a good thing," said UFC president Dana White, a longtime boxing fan who gleefully points out the sport's foibles. "When I was a kid, (Don) King and (Bob) Arum used to go head-to-head on pay-per-view all the time, and I hated it."
Yet for one night, there will be an extremely inexact way to measure the relative popularity of the two sports through pay-per-view buys.
Golden Boy Promotions CEO Richard Schaefer, who has relentlessly plugged Mayweather as boxing's pay-per-view king, is confident Mayweather-Marquez will outsell UFC 103, perhaps 2-to-1. White
isn't so certain, and UFC's yearly pay-per-view numbers dwarf boxing's totals, largely because White believes the UFC puts on more big events with more entertaining fights.
"We don't have any problem with the UFC being on the same night, because our sport is strong," Golden Boy owner Oscar De La Hoya said. "We don't wish them any problems, but we have a great product in this main fight and in our sport in general. What happens (with pay-per-view buys) isn't going to change what we do. We do our thing, and they do theirs."
Mayweather has been quiet about this intersport matchup in recent days, but he rarely misses a chance to trash mixed martial artists as unimpressive athletes who couldn't handle the rigors and athleticism of boxing. White is only too happy to respond.
"People like to start this war between the UFC and boxing, but here's the reality: No matter what happens on Saturday night, boxing is in trouble," White said. "(MMA) continues to grow every year. We're up from where we were last year (even) in this horrible economy. This thing is getting bigger. It's not getting smaller."
And even most boxing promoters would have to agree the UFC seems to know more about how its young audience consumes media.
Some of UFC 103's preliminary bouts are available on regular cable television for the first time, hoping to entice viewers to the pay-per-view card. They also can be viewed on UFC.com, Yahoo! or an on-demand UFC cable outlet. A few particularly tech-savvy fans could even watch UFC 103 on their iPhones with a new app that will allow them to buy the card for $44.99. The 99-cent app also provides access to a small library of UFC content.
But boxing isn't sitting still, either.
While the UFC is all over the small screens, Mayweather and Golden Boy went to the big screens, putting the fight in 170 movie theaters on closed circuit around the country, with prices from $12.50 to $15. The promoters and HBO have spent $20 million promoting the bout, including an effort to raise awareness of the fight with Mayweather's fans through social networking sites.
Although both sports publicly downplay the importance of this head-to-head matchup, there are a few signs that both Golden Boy and the UFC care about the final pay-per-view score.
With the UFC showing some of its undercard fights for free on cable, Golden Boy compiled a surprisingly impressive undercard to HBO's pay-per-view broadcast, putting sometime headliners Zab Judah, Chris John and Michael Katsidis on the slate. Judah has dropped off the card, but John's WBA featherweight title bout with Rocky Juarez and the all-action Katsidis' meeting with Vicente Escobedo are two of the better fights on recent boxing pay-per-view cards.
White insists boxing's biggest flaw is evident in its biggest fight Saturday night, with Mayweather a heavy favorite against the tough but undersized Marquez. When UFC fans reacted lukewarmly to a proposed rematch between Rich Franklin and Dan Henderson for UFC 103, White swiftly replaced Henderson with Belfort.
"Nobody is asking to see this Marquez fight," White said. "They want to see the (Mayweather-Manny) Pacquiao fight. Marquez is too small. Maybe he can beat Floyd, but the reality is probably not. We're on the same night, but we'll see what happens Monday when they count up the pay-per-views."
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