A Review: Premier Boxing Champions
On the evening of Saturday, March 7th, those sitting in front of the television were treated to something that hasn't happened in decades: boxing in primetime on network television.
Al Haymon, a manager/advisor in the sport of boxing, bought airtime on NBC to showcase fighters in what has been titled Premier Boxing Champions (PBC). Together, Haymon and NBC put together a slick production featuring celebrity commentators, a big social media campaign and plenty of advertising to help build up the fights. In the main event, we saw Keith Thurman handily win over Robert Guerrero, and the undercard featured Adrien Broner easily taking a decision over John Molina Jr.
What This Could Mean for Boxing
As a real boxing fan, as opposed to a fair weather fan, I have a lot to say about this event. I'm familiar with all there is to love about boxing, and unfortunately all there is to despise. But after sleeping on it, and several long discussions with my husband, I've come away a little excited for one of the many possible futures for boxing.
At first glance, this event seems a little odd. What businessperson buys airtime to showcase an event on network television? Essentially, Haymon is paying NBC to air boxing, and this only makes sense if Haymon is some gazillionaire with money burning a hole in his pocket. But Haymon is a businessman, so making a profit is front and center. When you buy airtime, you're taking the burden off of the network to go out and find sponsors. So we have to ask: Is this venture sustainable?
But that thinking is short-term. We have to think long-term. What possibly could be Haymon's angle here?
Well, there are several angles, and for the sake of brevity I'm just going to focus on the most promising (believe me there's an angle here that results in the PBC as a sanctioning body…please, just no).
So, let's say that the first year of PBC on NBC is a success. Quality fights combined with a slick production bring in a slew of new fans to the sport. Now, these new fans aren't willing to pay an extra dime for premier cable packages or PPVs. They're satisfied with what they get on NBC. Sponsors start knocking on NBC's door–they have products to sell and have taken notice that there's an audience to sell to, and because of the slick production that's kept to a PG rating they're not scared to buy ad space.
So where do fighters want to fight? On a premier channel, where they'll fight in front of the boxing fans that are tried and true, but a small group? Or on network television in front of the masses and the true fans? Obviously, you go where the people are, and that's on network television. It doesn't take too much for me to see a big move away from HBO and Showtime to network television.
Essentially, what will happen over time is that PBC on NBC becomes king of the hill so to speak, and everything else peters out until all we're left with is PBC. At this point, PBC is now the equivalent of the NFL, MLB, NHL, etc. and Al Haymon is the commissioner.
This is kind of what I've always wanted. Imagine it: one champion in each weight class, the fights that need to happen actually happen, one set of rules for all. It's blissful.
The key to this is the first year of PBC being a success. What does that look like? It looks like new fans, and a lot of them. The influx of new fans here has to be substantial.
What Worked and What Didn't
So, what worked last night and what can NBC and company improve upon?
The production was slick. It felt big–like a real sporting event. We had familiar faces for our commentating team: Al Michaels and Marv Albert, both talented sports broadcasters, albeit a little rusty when it comes to boxing. We also had members of the boxing community on the commentating team: Sugar Ray Leonard, Laila Ali and BJ Flores all lended authenticity to the event. The quality of what we saw on our screens was great; we weren't dealing with dropped feeds or losing high definition. NBC also went all out with the sound: Hans Zimmer was hired to try and give this event a feeling of importance and expectation (you shouldn't really notice the soundtrack at these types of events, but hey, maybe the first time we heard the score for the NFL on FOX it was abrasive too).
They spared no expense in setting up the venue. Remember the Friday Night Fights where we could barely hear Teddy Atlas and Joe Tessitore because the ring itself was rocking and banging under the weight of the fighters? None of that on Saturday night. The ring was great, the lighting was great and all the extras (ring-walk ramps, Al Michaels' desk, screens) were of good quality.
The time of the event. Boxing has tortured us tried and true fans for years, forcing hardworking Americans to stay up much later than necessary. Guess what boxing? Your fan base isn't teens and twenty-somethings without jobs. NBC began their broadcast at 7:30 central time. When the event was over, I actually stayed up longer chatting about what happened instead of hurriedly brushing my teeth and falling into bed. You want people talking about your event.
The main event was a good fight. Sure, after seeing the sleep-inducing match that was Broner vs. Molina, the main event seemed like the greatest fight ever. But after sleeping on it, I think we can all agree it was a fun fight that Thurman easily won. (Please disregard this tweet from me last night: GREAT FIGHT! To my credit, I originally had three exclamation points on that, and scaled it back to just one.) New fans got to see two fighters who were active most of the rounds, a knockdown, and by the end, Guerrero found a way to get inside and give us some fun action. Oh, and let's not forget: THE HEMOTOMA.
Choosing to forgo the ring card girls was a good choice as well. There's no way you're bringing in the masses while reducing four women to a few body parts. Out of all the major sports, boxing is the worst when it comes to objectifying women.
Last night there were no belts. This plays into the scenario above, where PBC becomes the equivalent of the NFL, MLB or NHL. Either PBC is going to become another sanctioning body with a belt to sell, or they become the only game in town. That's the only choices given the fact that they refused to showcase the WBA belt Saturday night.
There was a lot to fix in this production too.
Marv Albert was clearly very rusty. He had trouble seeing the specifics of the action. What I mean by that is this: He could see that there were punches, but he couldn't see what kind of punches they were (jab, uppercut, hook, who cares!?) and if they were even landing. I could never call a fight–there's no way I could keep up with the speed of the action. But this is Marv Albert's job, so he definitely needs to spend some time watching fights and calling them, preferably on his own time and not on mine.
NBC might want to take their commentating team to some local shows for practice. If I were them I would get in some real time for my commentating team, and even try out different combinations. Maybe Laila Ali needs to be part of the play-by-play team. Maybe Al Michaels should also join that play-by-play team and we lose Marv Albert. Maybe Sugar Ray Leonard is the guy you can pull in when you want and ask some questions, but he's not there the whole time. Maybe you actually put a mic on Steve Farhood because he has more knowledge of boxing as a commentator than all five of the other people combined. Just some ideas. And can you imagine the stellar marketing move it would be to have Laila Ali as one the main commentators? Granted, she would need to be good at it, but if she could pull it off–wow.
If you're going to have former boxing champions as commentators you should probably spend some time at the beginning of the broadcast teaching your new fan base who they are. Unless I'm talking to someone in their sixties, no one I talk to knows any names in boxing except Ali, Tyson, Foreman, Holyfield and Mayweather. I'm not even exaggerating.
The ring walks came across as odd. I didn't mind that the fighters were alone. I get why NBC wanted this–they needed to exercise control, and I think we can all agree that ring walks have gotten a little out of control as of late. To be honest, I don't come to boxing for ring walks, so this isn't really a deal breaker for me. What NBC has to fix, is the fact that the night's ring walks stuck out like a sore thumb. You can't have that. An alternative might be to show the television audience a video of the fighter rather than he/she walking to the ring.
Adrien Broner. Do I even need to say anything else? Wow. Why would you take what's on the bottom of the boxing barrel and showcase it for new fans on network television? Unless Haymon is planning on hiring a life coach for Broner, let's have less of him on NBC. Actually, let's just have none of him on NBC.
The fights themselves could have been better. I don't know if Al Haymon made these fights, but I'm assuming he did, and I think we can all agree that matchmaking is not his forte. The main event turned out to be a solid bout for new fans. You got a knockdown, some blood and lots of activity. I would have appreciated an undercard with two bouts that included well-matched fighters instead of named fighters. I don't care if their records are 15-10, give me two guys whose styles give us fireworks and I'm happy. If the future of PBC is Haymon boxers fighting tomato cans, you can count me out, as well as the rest of America because they're not tuning in for that. Remember, for them these aren't even “name” fighters–they don't know who these guys are!
All in all, I think we can agree that PBC has the potential to be good for boxing. At the very least, it will just be more of the same, and in that case I'll still be here week in, week out watching guys leaving it all in the ring.