The most interesting action in boxing often takes place outside the ring. There have been developments on both sides of the ropes in January 2015 that are worthy of comment.
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The Al Haymon Era officially began this month when Haymon Boxing, armed with a reported $100,000,000 war chest in venture-capital funds, put the finishing touches on two time buys.
NBC Sports announced on January 14 that it had entered into an agreement with Haymon that provides for twenty fight telecasts in 2015 (five on NBC on Saturday nights, six on NBC on Saturday afternoons, and nine in prime time on NBC Sports Network).
The NBC commentating team will include Al Michaels and Sugar Ray Leonard, two of the best in the business. There are reports that another elite commentator, possibly Marv Albert, will join them.
The first telecast pursuant to the agreement will come on March 7, when Keith Thurman faces off against Robert Guerrero and Adrien Broner takes on John Molina at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. That will be followed by Danny Garcia vs. Lamont Peterson and, possibly, Andy Lee vs. Peter Quillin on April 11, most likely at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
Both of these cards will be televised on NBC. Thurman, Broner, Garcia, and Quillin will be the favored fighters in more ways than one.
On January 22, a second Haymon Boxing time buy was announced; this one on Spike TV. Thirty-three monthly cards (nine in 2015, twelve in 2016, and twelve in 2017) will be televised on Friday nights, many of them opposite ESPN2 Boxing.
The inaugural Spike telecast will take place on March 13 with Andre Berto vs. Josesito Lopez and Shawn Porter vs. Roberto Garcia. Berto and Porter are considered the house fighters.
Much of the boxing media was frozen out of the press conferences announcing these events. That might be because Haymon had more prominent scribes in mind. Or it might be because he doesn’t want anyone who knows the business boxing asking hard questions in the presence of the uninitiated.
The reaction of competing promoters and television executives left out in the cold has ranged from denial to panic. Some in between these extremes have noted that Haymon now has the burden of selling advertising for programming that advertisers have resisted for decades.
As for fans, there was an ominous signal when it was announced that the April 11 fight between WBA-WBC 140-pound beltholder Danny Garcia and IBF 140-pound beltholder Lamont Peterson will be an over-the-weight non-title bout. That’s Haymon’s way of distributing as many belts as possible among as many of his fighters as possible to keep them happy. Also, presumably, he can pay the fighters a bit less because they aren’t risking their belts.
Haymon is trying to create a sense of inevitability. And he’s spending a lot of his investors’ money to do it. One of many unanswered questions is whether or not the investors will get their money back.
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A lot of people in boxing have free time on their hands and not much to do with it. That’s the most likely explanation for the breathless reporting during the past month regarding the non-fight between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao.
Pacquiao wants the fight. So does Showtime (a subsidiary of CBS Corporation), which would like to dig itself out from under the weight of its $32,000,000-per-fight minimum obligation to Mayweather.
Bob Arum (Pacquiao’s promoter) may, or may not, want it. But by posturing publicly in favor of the bout, he’s ingratiating himself with Les Moonves (president and CEO of CBS Corporation), who banished Top Rank from the network after Arum brought Pacquiao back to HBO following a flirtation with Showtime for Pacquiao vs. Shane Mosley in 2011.
Speculation that Mayweather-Pacquiao would happen peaked on January 14, when HBO CEO Richard Plepler and Ken Hershman (president of HBO Sports) were seen having lunch in a Manhattan restaurant with Matt Blank and Stephen Espinoza (their Showtime counterparts). By most accounts, the meeting went poorly.
There are numerous issues between Showtime (which has an exclusive contract with Mayweather) and HBO (Pacquiao’s network). These issues range from how the commentating team for Mayweather-Pacquiao would be constituted to which network would televise the rebroadcast of the fight a week later.
More to the point; Mayweather’s actions (as opposed to his words) indicate that he doesn’t want the fight. Al Haymon (Floyd’s manager and de facto promoter) might not want it either.
Haymon is accustomed to controlling all revenue streams from Mayweather’s fights. And he’s a secretive guy. Mayweather-Pacquiao would be a joint venture with Top Rank. That means Bob Arum would know what foreign revenue Haymon was bringing in. And vice versa.
Come to think of it; Arum might not like that much either.
This is the only time in memory that the two most prominent fighters in the world have been in the same weight class and didn’t fight each other. There are reports that Moonves has instructed Espinoza to not give dates to Haymon unless and until Mayweather-Pacquiao is made. That would explain why Showtime has so little programming in place for this year.
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Deontay Wilder vs. Bermane Stiverne, contested on January 17, was seen going in as an entertaining match-up between two guys with questionable chins who could punch. Even better, it was unclear who would win.
Stiverne came in at 239 pounds with some extra weight around his waist. For most of the night, he plodded forward without letting his hands go often enough. Wilder used his considerable advantage in height and reach well. Even though Deontay moved away for most of the night, he did so as the aggressor, firing jabs with right hands mixed in. His jab was effective as both an offensive weapon and a defensive shield. The right hands stunned Stiverne at the end of round two and again in round seven.
Wilder had never gone more than four rounds before. By mid-fight, it was clear that Stiverne needed a knockout to win. The only open issues were Deontay’s stamina and his chin. Bermane didn’t do much to test either. Instead, he kept plodding forward, taking punishment and failing to cut off the ring. On the few occasions when he landed something promising, Wilder fired back. The judges’ scores of 120-107, 119-108, and 118-109 were a bit generous to Deontay, but not by much.
With his victory, Wilder claimed the bogus WBC heavyweight belt. The real champion is Wladimir Klitschko. But by besting Stiverne, Deontay established himself as a legitimate contender. He looked better against Bermane than a lot of people thought he would.
Wilder is entertaining to watch. He has the potential to excite people. There’s a big payday waiting for him against either Klitschko or Tyson Fury. Wladimir would be a decided favorite over Deontay. Fury would not.
Wilder-Fury would be a huge event in England. Think Wembley Stadium and the 80,000 fans who attended Carl Froch vs. George Groves last spring. Let’s hope then Deontay opts for Klitschko or Fury in his next fight and not Bozo the Clown.
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The January 24 rubber match between Brandon Rios and Mike Alvarado shaped up at best as an entertaining club fight. The two men had combined to lose five of their previous seven outings over the past thirty-three months, with their only victories coming against each other. There was an effort to brand their trilogy as the second coming of Arturo Gatti vs. Micky Ward. That had no more credibility than likening Harry Connick Jr to Frank Sinatra.
In the weeks leading up to the fight, there was a widespread belief that, at best, Alvarado wasn’t training properly. At the start of round one, he looked like a man who didn’t want to fight. Then he morphed into a human punching bag. His only moment of serious aggression came toward the end of the second round, when he walked away from the action, then turned and whacked Rios in the testicles. In round three, Brandon pounded away without mercy. Following that stanza, the fight was stopped.
HBO commentator Jim Lampley acknowledged afterward, “It was a one-sided annihilation by a well-prepared Brandon Rios against a stunningly unprepared Mike Alvarado. Basically, he wasn’t there.”
“He had nothing, zero,” promoter Bob Arum added.
Boxing fans were spared comparisons with Gatti-Ward in the post-fight analysis.
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The sad story of Jermain Taylor got sadder on January 19 with his arrest on charges of aggravated assault, endangering the welfare of a minor, and possession of marijuana after he fired a gun during a parade in Little Rock honoring Martin Luther King Jr.
Taylor was out on bail at the time, pending trial on charges of first degree battery stemming from an incident last August, when he shot his cousin in the leg. His bail was revoked after the parade incident.
There was a time when Jermain was considered a model citizen, and rightly so. Those days are gone.
“It’s possible that brain trauma from boxing is contributing to this,” Dr. Margaret Goodman (one of the most knowledgeable advocates for fighter safety in the United States) posits. “With CTE [chronic traumatic encephalopathy], you see extreme personality and mood changes. But you wouldn’t know whether that’s the case here without a lot of tests.”
Drug abuse is also believed to be a factor. After Taylor defeated Bernard Hopkins twice in 2005, he left his longtime trainer, Pat Burns, to work with Emanuel Steward, who was assisted by Ozell Nelson. Thereafter, Jermain was introduced to some not-so-healthy aspects of street life.
Taylor reunited with Burns in 2011. Last year, he won a watered-down 160-pound “championship” belt.
“If I sound perturbed,” Burns told this writer last week, “it’s because I am. Jermain was completely against drugs when I first knew him. And now, it’s not just marijuana. It can’t be. Marijuana doesn’t make you crazy like this. I’m told there’s stuff on the streets now that’s marijuana processed in a certain way that’s very dangerous. Maybe it’s that; I don’t know. But he’s out of control. That’s the scary part. The drugs are kicking Jermain’s ass.”
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at email@example.com. His most recent book (Thomas Hauser on Boxing: Another Year Inside the Sweet Science) was published by the University of Arkansas Press.