Pay-per-view boxing has been around since Muhammad Ali took on Joe Frazier in the classic ‘Thrilla in Manila’ back in 1975. It’s become second nature over the years to air the biggest fights on this platform as it rakes in millions of dollars for each event. This list deals with the top 10 pay-per-view boxing matches of all time ranked on the revenue generated. There have been a few instances where fights broke into the top 10 on actual buys, but didn’t crack the list because they were sold at a lower price.
These are the top 10 highest-grossing PPV boxing matches based on U.S. sales. It’s difficult to rank them any other way since worldwide broadcasting revenues would have to be considered and there are also millions of illegal streams operating for the big fights. The cost for each bout often varies and if inflation is considered some of these contests would move up the list.
Individually, Floyd Mayweather Jr. has been the biggest PPV star over the years as he’s generated approximately $1.3 billion in total revenue from 19.5 million buys. He’s followed by Manny Pacquiao at $1.2 billion on 19.2 million buys, Oscar De La Hoya at $700 million on 14 million buys, Evander Holyfield with $550 million from 12.6 million buys and Mike Tyson at $545 million from 12.4 million buys.
10. Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs Shane Mosley
Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather took on ‘Sugar’ Shane Mosley in a non-title welterweight bout at a sold-out MGM Grand Garden Arena in Sin City back in May of 2010. Mosley got off to a fast start and nailed Mayweather with a perfect right hand in the second round. ‘Money’s knees buckled, but he remained on his feet and then took over for the final 10 rounds. He ended up winning a wide unanimous decision at 119-109, 119-109 and 118-108 and improved to 41-0 at the time while Mosley fell to 46-6. The fight ended up with 1.4 million buys in America for a revenue of $78.3 million. Mayweather took home approximately $40 million for his night’s work while Mosley had to make do with $6.7 million.
9. Evander Holyfield vs George Foreman
Big George Foreman was on the comeback trail in 1991 after taking a 10-year hiatus from 1977 to 1987 following his loss to Jimmy Young. He was fighting for all the marbles when he took on Evander Holyfield at the Convention Center in Atlantic City since Holyfield was the Undisputed Heavyweight Champion of the World. The fight was billed as ‘The Battle of the Ages’ as the champ was 28 years old at the time with a perfect 25-0 record while Foreman was 42 and had a 69-2 mark. Foreman was attempting to become the oldest heavyweight champion in history, but fell just short by dropping a unanimous decision by scores of 117-110, 116-111 and 115-112. Ring Magazine hailed the seventh round as the Round of the Year and the fight made $80 million from 1.45 million buys. Foreman, who outweighed Holyfield by 50 lbs, was guaranteed $12.5 million while the champ was promised $20 million. Foreman would go on to claim the IBF, WBA and Lineal titles in 1994 when he stopped Michael Moorer in the 10th round.
8. Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs Miguel Cotto
Fans were hoping to see Floyd Mayweather take on Manny Pacquiao back in 2012, but the two couldn’t agree on terms. Many critics believed Mayweather was simply waiting until ‘Pac Man’ grew longer in the tooth. Instead, he ended up putting his unbeaten 42-0 record on the line against the recently-retired Miguel Cotto of Puerto Rico, who was 37-2 at the time. The fight, which was billed as ‘Ring Kings,’ took place on May 5th at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas with Cotto’s WBA Super Junior Middleweight Championship belt on the line. Mayweather was the WBC Welterweight Champ at the time. Mayweather beat Cotto by scores of 118-110, 117-111 and 117-111 to take his title in a competitive fight and walked away with a guaranteed $45 million while Cotto was paid $8 million. The fight itself raked in $94 million from 1.5 million pay-per-view buys.
7. Mike Tyson vs Peter McNeeley
Nobody really knew who Peter McNeeley was when he climbed through the ropes to meet Mike Tyson on August 19th, 1995. He was seen as a sacrificial lamb to the top-ranked heavyweight in the world, but 1.55 million fans spent a total of $96 million on the fight on pay-per-view since it was Tyson’s first bout in four years. He’d been inactive due to a three-year prison stint for rape and the fight was billed as ‘He’s Back.’ Tyson was the former champ with a 41-1 record while McNeeley was a journeyman, but had a decent mark of 36-1. McNeeley went right after Tyson at the opening bell, but was dropped inside 10 seconds. It was all over at the 1:29 mark of the first round when McNeeley was floored again and his manager jumped into the ring, causing his fighter’s disqualification. Tyson would go on to reclaim the WBA and WBC Championships while McNeeley went 11-5 before retiring in 2001.
6. Mike Tyson vs Evander Holyfield II
Just over a year after beating McNeeley, Tyson was back in the ring against Evander Holyfield. Tyson had beaten Frank Bruno for the WBC Title and Bruce Seldon for the WBA Crown in the meantime and the WBA Championship was on the line against Holyfield. However, Holyfield stopped him in the 11th round to take the WBA Belt. The rematch was held seven months later at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Vegas on June 28th, 1997 and 1.99 million fans bought it for a total of $100.2 million. The contest was billed as ‘The Sound and the Fury’ with Tyson entering the ring at 45-2 and Holyfield at 33-3. It turned out to be one of the most infamous spectacles in sporting history as Tyson was disqualified for biting a chunk out of Holyfield’s ear and spitting it to the canvas. All hell then broke loose after the incident and Tyson’s license was revoked for just over a year and he was fined $3 million.
5. Mike Tyson vs Lennox Lewis
Five years after ‘The Bite Fight’ against Holyfield, Tyson faced off against reigning WBC, IBF, IBO and Lineal Heavyweight Champ Lennox Lewis of England. Tyson had gone on a rampage in a prefight press conference and the bout ended up in Memphis Tennessee on June 8th. It was originally scheduled for April in Las Vegas, but that town’s commission didn’t want anything to do with Tyson after his antics at the press conference. The contest racked up $112 million with 1.97 million pay-per-view buys and was the highest-grossing boxing match at the time. Lewis (39-2-1) decked the bloodied and battered Tyson (49-3) twice in the eighth round and the fight was halted with 35 seconds to go in the stanza. Ring Magazine named it as 2002’s Knockout of the Year.
4. Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs Oscar De La Hoya
In today’s era with most boxing matches being sold for about $100 a pop, the 37-0 Floyd Mayweather vs 38-4 Oscar De La Hoya tilt would definitely be higher on this list. The fight went for $55 and pulled in 2.48 million buys for a revenue of $136 million. It took place on May 5th, 2007 at Las Vegas’ MGM Grand Garden Arena and De La Hoya was the star attraction back then as he was the WBC Junior Middleweight Champion. He also took home $52 million compared to $25 million for Mayweather. The fight sold out in three hours and the live gate of $19 million was a new record for a boxing match. The scrap was a close, spirited affair which resulted in a split decision win for Mayweather by scores of 115-113, 116-112 and 113-115. A rematch was in the cards, but De La Hoya ended up retiring in 2009.
3. Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez
Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez of Mexico was seen by many to be the heir apparent to Floyd Mayweather and believed the torch would be passed to him when they met on September 24th, 2013 in Las Vegas. Although Alvarez was just 23 years old he had already fought 43 times as a pro and like Mayweather he was unbeaten. Alvarez was 42-0-1 at the time while Mayweather was 44-0 and the bout was billed as ‘Who’s the One?’ Canelo’s WBA and WBC Junior Middleweight titles were on the line and he lost them by a majority decision with the scores being 116-112 and 117-11 for Mayweather along with a controversial 114-114 draw. The fight made $150 million from 2.2 million buys and Mayweather was paid $41.5 million before his percentage of PPV sales.
2. Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs Conor McGregor
While many believed the Floyd Mayweather vs Conor McGregor battle of August 26th, 2017 would top this list, Showtime released a statement on December 14th which said it had 4.3 million buys. It also sold over a million more in the UK to set a new record in that nation and the live gate at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas was $55,414,865.79. Mayweather was trying to up his unbeaten record to 50-0 while mixed martial artist McGregor of the UFC was boxing for the first time as a pro. McGregor of Dublin, Ireland outboxed Mayweather early on, but ran out of gas before being stopped in the 10th round. The exact revenue wasn’t announced, but the fight was sold for the same price as Mayweather vs Pacquiao and had 300,000 fewer buys. However, Mayweather’s final cut will be about $300 million with McGregor’s being approximately $100 million.
1. Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs Manny Pacquiao
When it comes to the highest-grossing pay-per-view event and boxing match of all time then Floyd Mayweather vs Manny Pacquiao is the king of the ring. The contest was held May 2nd, 2015 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas and resulted in 4.6 million buys for a revenue of $410 million with the live gate being $72 million. Pacquiao of the Philippines entered the ring at 57-5-2 and fought with an injured shoulder. He dropped a unanimous decision by scores of 116-112, 116-112 and 117-111 and Mayweather went to 48-0 with the win as he took Pacquiao’s WBO Welterweight Title. The fight was a long time in the making and ended up being a bit of a disappointment due to Pacquiao’s injury and Mayweather’s defensive style. In total, it’s believed the fight grossed well over $600 million with the exact purses for each boxer being debatable. Let’s just put it this way, they each earned an obscene amount of money.