The start of a new year means different things to different people. For me, it means another go at carving off that stubborn padding around my midsection. Also, another season of ESPN's Friday Night Fights.
Yup, FNF is back for another go, kicking off Friday on ESPN2. This is the 12th season for the franchise, and the new cycle kicks off with a Roman Karmazin/Dionisio Miranda middleweight scrap from Glendale, CA. The 37-year-old ex IBF junior middleweight champ is looking to get back into the title shot picture, and will be opposed by a 27-year-old Colombian bomber, Miranda (20-4-2, 18 KOs). The Russian will be favored, as he's on a three fight winning streak, and Miranda was dropped and stopped by Giovanni Lorenzo in February, before rebounding with a June TKO win over a 2-19 foe. The winner will receive a mandatory title shot against IBF titlist Sebastian Sylvester of Germany.
Now, I'm unafraid to admit that I welcome FNF with open arms; at my age, Fridays are no longer a day to be celebrated with wine, women and song. Tuning in to Teddy's rants against soft commissions and mismatches, hearing Tess's boundless enthusiasm, soaking up Brian Kenny's keen insights and smoothly delivered recaps of the sports' ups and downs and periodic clashes with Floyd Mayweather is an integral part of being a true-blue fight fan. That said, if you'll recall a few years back things looked pretty bleak for FNF. The sport's fanbase was aging, advertisers shunned the sweet science, and it looked like the budget for boxing at ESPN might get reduced to rubble. But here we are in 2010, and FNF will unfurl 29 boxing cards in 2010 on Fridays. Yes, the sport keeps on rolling, despite being relegated to a deathbed regularly, and even seems to be on an uptick, with a transcendent megafight to be announced any day now.
TSS chatted for a spell with ESPN's Doug Loughery, director of programming and acquisitions, who oversees the company's boxing. (Note of disclosure: I do work for Disney/ESPN.)
Loughery said this year’s studio portion of the telecast will feature a rotating quartet of analysts: Bernard Hopkins, ESPN.com columnist Dan Rafael, Bernardo Osuna and BJ Flores. Brian Kenny will primarily serve as host from the studio. Tess and Teddy will be ringside calling the action. The kickoff time will float around, from between 8:30 to 10:30, so act accordingly with your DVR.
Loughery sounded pumped about the new season, and mentioned that all the action will be presented in high def.
"Boxing's one of those sports where fans can benefit from HD, they can see the sweat, blood and spit," he said.
Loughery was refreshingly BS free in our chat. He pegged the FNF product as being a "developmental place" for boxers. "They come on ESPN and take a step to where they can make more money in other places," he said.
Speaking as a fan, I asked Loughery if there might be an uptick in the budget, so we fans could see bigger names in more meaningful bouts.
"I'm a realist," he said, and then admitted that an aging/aged fanbase, and lack of advertising enthusiasm does limit somewhat the company's involvement in boxing. Past reports have pegged the per show budget in the $30,000 range, and while Loughery wouldn't confirm an exact figure, he said that was in the right ballpark for this season as well.
So, does Loughery see any upward creep in the age of the fans, and the overall popularity of pugilism?
"Yes, and remember five or six years ago, the whole property was on the verge of going away. There was significant belt tightening. But we've got a group of promoters and boxers who understand the situation, understand there isn't a whole lot of money out there. This is a place to grow fighters, and you may take a short term loss to make a long term gain."
Here's a rundown of some of the upcoming weeks of action. As always, bouts are subject to change.
FRI 1/15/10 9:00 PM Adailton DeJesus (24-4) vs. Juan Carlos Burgos (23-0)
Demetrius Andrade (8-0) vs. Frankie Santos (17-8)
FRI 1/29/10 10:00 PM Jesse Brinkley (34-5) vs. Curtis Stevens (21-2)
Raymond Serrano Jr. (11-0) vs. Ron Warrior Jr. (13-2)
FRI 2/5/10 8:30 PM Joey Hernandez (15-0) vs. Ed Paredes (23-3)
Guillermo Rigondeaux (4-0) vs. Cuauhtemoc Vargas (15-2)
FRI 2/12/10 10:00 PM Ji-Hoon Kim (19-5) vs. Tyrone Harris (24-5)
FRI 2/19/10 9:00 PM Shawn Porter (12-0) vs. Russell Jordan (15-6)
FRI 2/26/10 9:00 PM Antonio Escalante (22-2) vs. Miguel Roman (28-6)
In a continuation of a theme from last year, Loughery hopes to see hot crowds, in jumpin' venues; that benefits promoters, because they will take in more revenue from tickets, and the producers, because channel flippers are more likely to stay stuck to a fight taking place in front of jazzed rooters. "I hear from promoters, 'I lose money on shows,' I understand them," he said. "So we put our best foot forward with hot crowds in an arena.
Looking further ahead, Loughery is pumped for 2011, when one or two cards will be shown in 3D. ESPN 3D will showcase a minimum of 85 live sporting events during its first year, beginning June 11 with the first 2010 FIFA World Cup match. Viewers will need to pick up special glasses. "I think this is something that can move boxing," he said. "I don't think there's any other sport you can get closer to than boxing.
Other events to be produced in 3D include the 2011 BCS National Championship Game, college basketball and football contests, up to 25 World Cup matches and the Summer X Games.
ESPN snapped up some events and put them on ESPN Classic last season; will this occur in 2010?
Yes, and no, Loughery said. Classic will be concentrating on old school material, so if and when ESPN scoops up a bout, you'll be more likely to see it on ESPN360.com. They almost nabbed the Dec. 11 Jean Pascal/Adrian Diaconu rematch but that fell out because of a technical issue.
Who will win the Sergey Kovalev vs Andre Ward fight?