An undefeated, seemingly invincible champion meets their ultimate foe and stylistic counterpart to decide the sport’s champion in the heart of Las Vegas, bringing the world together in front of their television sets, laptops, and mobile devices for a glimpse at the action.
It sounds like what should have happened and what many expected to go down between boxing’s Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao back on May 2. Instead, the one bout that truly lived up to the billing and hype was Holly Holm’s stunning second-round knockout upset of Ronda Rousey at UFC 193 last month. For casual fight fans, the action and stunning conclusion of Rousey-Holm was a far more satisfying viewing experience than the tactical battle, billed as "The Fight of the Century" between two veteran welterweights.
Yet, while the UFC world sits on its hands waiting for Holm vs. Rousey II and as a rematch between Mayweather and Pacquiao seems highly unlikely, the latter sport has much more to fall back on as we turn to 2016.
UFC can certainly build on the laurels of Holm’s upset and the overall success of its fall event. The affair raked in more than one million pay-per-view buys, according to Yahoo Sports, and stands as the second-largest event in UFC’s 20-year history, sitting only behind UFC 100 back in 2009.
That event featured stars Brock Lesnar and Frank Mir vying for the heavyweight crown, and welterweights Georges St-Pierre and Thiago Alves, not to mention future champion Jon Jones in the preliminary card -- all a bevy of top competitors who could draw from their own fan bases.
But UFC was able to surge past that group of all-stars to set a new single-night attendance record of 56,214 in Melbourne, Australia’s Etihad Stadium, also ranking fourth in live gate at $6.79 million, all for one bout between two women, one of whom was relatively unknown and expected to fall to the champion in the first round like all the others.
However, UFC may be heading for an extended quiet period. Irishman Conor McGregor has built a fervid and traveling contingency with every bout, but he's just one fighter. As for Rousey and Holm, a rematch isn't expected to take place until at least July.
And if money is all we’re basing a sports’ success on, then boxing blew away most of UFC’s combined records simply from Mayweather and Pacquiao’s PPV draw, a reported $400 million in television revenue alone.
That’s where boxing can fall back on a long list of champions and contenders from all weight classes who have slowly risen behind Mayweather’s dominance. The master defensemen provided another snoozer against Andre Berto in September, and he finished his career undefeated at 49-0 with few signs of returning to the ring other than to boost his ego with a 50th victory to overtake Rocky Marciano's 49-0 record.
But Mayweather's departure opens up 2016 for his main rival, and others. Filipino superstar Pacquiao should return to the ring once again after he recovers from shoulder surgery and should see a big payday with his loyal fan base. Pacquiao is expected to retire after his next fight, which means an extra dose of hype for fight fans who have followed his illustrious career.
There’s also presumed pound-for-pound king and knockout artist Gennady "GGG" Golovkin soaring up the middleweight ranks and daring any timid challenger to step inside the ring. The Kazakh star has grown in popularity and his potential title bout with Mexican superstar Canelo Alvarez would almost certainly be the most talked about fight of the year.
Then there's also flyweight power-puncher Roman Gonazalez, super middleweight Andre Ward and his expected bout with Sergey Kovalev, and of course the rematch between new heavyweight champion Tyson Fury and previous titleholder Wladimir Klitschko. Waiting in the wings is Deontay Wilder, who is emerging as the best American heavyweight in years. A fight between the winner of Fury-Klitschko II and Wilder could possibly happen in the later part of the year.
All are worthy of following in Mayweather’s footsteps and capable of carrying boxing into the next decade. Meanwhile, UFC has to wait nearly eight more months before maybe the biggest rematch of its history finally comes to the octagon. There is also a wait for McGregor to find a quality opponent.