All of you reading this are boxing fans, probably hardcore ones, and I dare say most of you are rooting for the sport as a whole to flourish. You view the Haymon Takeover, the many moves made this year by the reclusive impresario, such as the placement of boxing on NBC proper, and NBC cable, and SPIKE et al., as being a likely net-plus for the sport, even if you have viewed Haymon’s presence in the game with beady eyes in the recent past.
For many of us, the jury will stay deliberating, and we must see proof positive, in the form of a steady flow of “the best fighting the best” matchups, and only then will we proclaim the Haymon blueprint for a boxing re-boot as a success. Until then, we will assess as we go, and tally in our heads positives and negatives as they are presented to us.
Me, I’m inclined to assess from a place of positivity, as I think that’s simply a smart POV to take on most issues, within boxing and beyond. Like, that March 7 scrap between Keith Thurman and Robert Guerrero, which will run on NBC, on prime time. I suspect and hope mightily that these two hungry hitters will turn in a show which will lure in a boatload of new fans. Casuals and channel-flippers will see trading and an exercise pitting two men attempting to impose their will upon the other, and they will be hooked. Or so I hope…
There are other signs floating about which give me hope that Haymon’s moves will, when tallied up after a reasonable span of time has accrued, allow us to pronounce this effort with two thumbs up. Like naming ex ESPNer Dana Jacobson as the host of the once-a-month SPIKE Friday night fight series. The first “Premier Boxing Champions” event will unfold Friday, March 13 at 9:00pm ET/PT from the Citizens Bank Arena in Ontario, CA, and that’ll be Jacobson’s SPIKE debut. (Spike TV is available in 98.7 million homes, triple the penetration, roughly, of what HBO enjoys.)
I got her on the phone, just after the NYC resident finished a stint on jury duty. Guilty, the guys was. Burglarious intent, pretty larceny. I thought that experience was fitting considering what I foresee to be an element of this slot on her resume: namely, that the bar will be adjusted, arguably, according to her gender. Yep, ladies get judged, oftentimes, with excessive scrutiny, especially in the eyes of some fellas, some of them possessing throwback mindsets which has them assuming gals can’t and don’t possess the same knowledge or passion or mental attributes which lend themselves to being true experts in this field. You can ask Michelle Beadle what she sees in the Twittersphere after she does a hit on the HBO show “The Fight Game.”
It turns out Jacobson has eyes wide open about what hurdles, or mere challenges, will be in front of her as she counts down to March 13, when the first SPIKE show unfolds.
The anchor/reporter has lived in NYC for two years, after telling ESPN she was not going to re-up with them, and relocate herself to the Bristol, CT-region, something of a one-horse town to some people who enjoy a more multi-faceted, diversified culture in which to reside. (Mind you, I’m not here to slam the town or region or the choice of those who decide to go all-in, and do “the Bristol thing.” Each to his own, after all…) Jacobson, who some of you know from the ESPN morning show “Cold Pizza,” told me she pondered long and hard about doing the CT life or going with her gut, and making a go of it in the capital of the world, the sort of place where anything can happen, and often does. I liked that independent streak in her and so I wasn’t surprised, really, when she told me that she is aware that some people might think she’s just parachuting into the red light district of sports, our shared addiction, this theater of the unexpected.
“I’m definitely going to be catching up,” she admitted to me, not pretending that she’s someone who hops from BoxingScene.com, to the TheSweetScience.com, and the other top-grade websites which chronicle the fight game obsessively. “I’m not portraying it any other way! It would be a disservice to say I’ve been so deep into boxing forever. I can’t pretend to know things I don’t know.”
That said, she does have an interest and regard for the sport and a base of coverage to work off of. She worked in Michigan for a long spell and then the Sacramento area, and was dispatched to cover boxing stories regularly. She enjoys, she told me, getting to know the backstories of the hitters, what brought them to this place, and what makes them tick, what might make them compelling to the more casual fight fan who we haven’t been drawing to our sport effectively since Tyson left, and we began featuring our best product behind paywalls. Jacobson’s style spoke to people who watched the ESPN X Games, and she still gets asked about coming back to cover that franchise six years after leaving it. “I can see myself as being a bridge between the ‘addicts’ and ‘newbies,’ she told me. Her interest in the sport has upticked and waned some, she told me, and got an infusion of interest rekindled when she watched “Cinderella Man.” Straight up, her humility impressed me, as when she said, “I know I have a lot to learn” about the day-to-day landscape of the fight game.
Jacobson, like me, is approaching the NBC and SPIKE commitments to the sport with a hopeful eye. “I think this is the right way to do it. There’s no way to tell if people will buy in, of course.”
Some of the naysayers will be inclined to watch through a cynical lens, and will not be shy about that stance on Twitter, of course. “Twitter is tough on everyone,” Jacobson said. “And maybe twice as tough for women.”
For the record, the first SPIKE event will spotlight a Andre Berto vs. Josesito Lopez tussle and a Shawn Porter vs. Robert Garcia tangle. As long as she does her usual level of prep, and adheres to her desire to take the viewer deeper into the life of the athlete, she told me, she knows she will be fine in the court-room of public opinion.
She showed respect to those diehards, the #boxingheads who have high standards and don’t care to have their time wasted by a parachuter who asks a question they deem ignorant, because maybe they are trying to draw in newbies.
This story wouldn’t be complete if I hadn’t asked Jacobson about #MayPac. OK, maybe this was something of a personal test to see how much she was into the day to day zeitgeist…
“Yes, I think they will fight. I can’t believe we are still talking about it after five years. I don’t think the fight will happen in May, though. I think Mayweather will do it, maybe next year. I have no insider knowledge on the subject, however. Floyd, for whatever faults he has, is such a smart marketer. He gets it that even though he and Manny aren’t the same as fighters, the appeal keeps going up, the hype around it is raised.”
For those curious, no, she hasn’t met face to face with Haymon. “No, but I am thankful for this opportunity,” she said. “I think it says a lot for these people. I didn’t grow up loving boxing. But they took a chance on me.”
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