ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
When we learned this week of the death of former heavyweight boxing champion Joe Frazier, we were, of course, reminded of his trilogy of memorable fights with Muhammad Ali. We were also reminded of how little attention, comparatively speaking, is paid to boxing these days.
So tomorrow, when two big current day competitors stage their third big fight, the names don't quite resound the way they once did. Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez square off for the welterweight title and sportswriter, Stefan Fatsis, joins us now to talk about the modern day business of the old sweet science.
STEFAN FATSIS, BYLINE: Hey, Robert.
SIEGEL: Boxing certainly doesn't enjoy the mass appeal that it did in the 1970s when Ali and Frazier met, but it's still a big business and Pacquiao and Marquez are big names. Tell us about them and tell us about their rivalry.
FATSIS: Well, they're welterweights now, 144 pounds max. Obviously, not heavyweights like Ali and Frazier. Pacquiao is the favorite, 32 years old. He's a congressman in his native Philippines. He's won titles in eight different weight divisions. He's going to take home about $30 million from tomorrow night's fight in Las Vegas.
Marquez, 38, from Mexico. He's going to earn around 5 million. Their two previous fights are considered classics. The first was a controversial draw in 2004, the second a controversial split decision for Pacquiao that ended with blood pouring from above the eyes of both boxers. Marquez is convinced that he won both fights, of course.
SIEGEL: So if this is a huge bout for our times, what does this fight say about the current state of boxing?
FATSIS: That it is in, once again, need of redemption and it always is this way in boxing. The last two fights that drew a lot of attention were abominations. In September, you had this bizarre end to a fight between Floyd Mayweather and Victor Ortiz. Ortiz head-butted Mayweather and then what looked like a lull in the fight while Ortiz was being reprimanded, Mayweather knocked him out.
And then, last month, Chad Dawson essentially body-slammed 46-year-old Bernard Hopkins to end that fight. But boxing goes on. Just check out the HBO schedule for the Pacquiao-Marquez fight. A full night of coverage tonight, then six more hours of programming tomorrow before the actual fight on Pay-per-view, $64.95 for high definition, $54.95 for standard def, Robert.
SIEGEL: Not that cheap. Do they expect a lot of people to order it?
FATSIS: Probably about a million or so and that does show how much boxing, for all the concerns about shady promoters and lousy fights and the sport's inherent violence, that boxing can still thrive with these big events. And I think it is worth comparing to its rival, mixed martial arts, which makes its debut on live network television tomorrow night on Fox, it's very much the king of Pay-per-view. Even compared to boxing, UFC does about 15 events a year, but its last few events have shrunk to under 300,000 in terms of Pay-per-view buys from a peak of 1.6 million.
Even so, though, it still doesn't have the cache of a big fight like Pacquiao-Marquez. That's going to fill Vegas with fans, including apparently 60 or so of Pacquiao's fellow Filipino congressmen.
SIEGEL: And Pacquiao-Marquez - even it is no thriller in Manila.
FATSIS: No. Four decades on, Ali-Frazier remains the standard for boxing rivalries. The fight in Manila in 1975 was the third and final of their bouts and, along with the first one, which was at Madison Square Garden in 1971, is considered among the best ever.
Frazier's death reminds us not only of their epic professional and personal rivalry; Frazier took his hatred of Ali with him to the grave. He was never able or willing to forgive or forget the inexcusable race-baiting and name-calling that Ali deployed to pump up their rivalry, whether he meant it or not nobody really knows at this point, but either way, it did cast a shadow over Frazier, who would be defined in relationship to the more calculating, the more gregarious, the bigger showman, Muhammad Ali.
SIEGEL: OK. Have a good weekend, Stefan.
FATSIS: You, too, Robert. Thanks.
SIEGEL: Stefan Fatsis joins us most Fridays to talk about sports and the business of sports. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.