The rollout of Premier Boxing Champions continued on March 13 with Haymon Boxing’s inaugural show on Spike.
First the fights, which were contested at Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario, California.
Shawn Porter (24-1-1, 15 KOs) was coming off a majority-decision loss to Kell Brook, but had impressive victories over Paulie Malignaggi and Devon Alexander in his two fights immediately preceding that defeat.
Roberto Garcia was the intended ‘B-side” opponent. But Garcia failed to appear at the weigh-in and was replaced by Erick Bone of Ecuador. To make Bone’s task more difficult, he was called upon to take a long flight to California one day before the bout. Porter stopped him at 2:30 of round five in a lackluster fight.
Then, despite the fact that it was Friday the 13th, Premier Boxing Champions had a stroke of luck. Because Porter-Bone ended early, Chris Arreola vs. Curtis Harper was inserted in the telecast as a swing bout.
Arreola entered the ring weighing 262 pounds, 23 more than for his last fight. Harper was a blubbery 265. The assumption was that Curtis would get whacked out early. He’s a club fighter who was taken the distance by Jamal Woods (5 wins in 21 fights) in his last outing, a six-round bout in Arkansas. That assumption was further bolstered in round one when Harper was decked by a right hand and rose on wobbly legs, looking like 265 pounds of Jell-O.
But Arreola was woefully out of shape. And Harper had the mindset, if not the skills, of a good fighter. The bout devolved into two huge guys staggering each other back and forth in what resembled a barroom brawl highlighted by a POP-CRASH-POW seventh round. Arreola won a 76-75, 77-74, 78-73 decision, the latter score being a bit too kind to Chris. It did not speak well for his showing that he was pushed to the limit by a nomadic clubfighter. But it was highly entertaining television.
Then came the main event: Andre Berto (29-3, 22 KOs) vs. Josesito Lopez (33-6, 19 KOs).
Berto is Exhibit A for how Al Haymon was allowed to distort the decision-making process at HBO in an earlier era. Andre was a two-time national Golden Gloves champion, a bronze medalist at the 2003 World Amateur Championships, and a 2004 Olympian (representing Haiti as a consequence of his father's dual citizenship). He turned pro in 2004, and was ESPN’s 2006 “prospect of the year.” Thereafter, Berto was on HBO too many times against soft opponents for inflated license fees with less-than-enthusiastic viewer response. No longer a “star of the future,” he entered the ring on March 13 having won two fights since 2010.
Lopez is a game fighter who has trouble getting by world-class opposition. He beats the guys he should beat and loses to the fighters that he’s expected to lose to. His marketability was built on a 2012 outing against Victor Ortiz in which Ortiz (ahead on points) retired after nine rounds because of a broken jaw. In Josesito’s next two fights, he was knocked out by Canelo Alvarez and Marcos Maidana.
Berto-Lopez was a fast-paced spirited fight. Lopez was ahead on the scorecards in round six, when Andre landed a sharp right hand that staggered Josesito. Then Berto hit him again, and Lopez went down. He rose, was knocked down for the second time, and referee Raul Caiz Jr. stopped the fight.
Insofar as the production of Premier Boxing Champions on Spike is concerned, the most readily apparent difference from PBC’s fights on NBC is the announcing team.
Dana Jacobson, a former ESPN Sports Center anchor who has hosted a variety of sports radio and television shows, opened the Spike telecast. Later in the evening, she was paired with Thomas Hearns. Hearns was a great fighter. He’s not a great commentator.
Scott Hanson, known primarily for his work as an NFL Network host, was the blow-by-blow announcer. Jimmy Smith (a veteran of Spike’s Bellator MMA telecasts) and Antonio Tarver (an expert analyst for Showtime Boxing before he tested positive for illegal performance-enhancing drugs) served as analysts. Nigel Collins had an off-camera role, unofficially scoring the fights.
Smith made the most credible commentating contributions to the telecast. When Hanson told viewers that Bone was in shape to fight Porter because he’d been working in the gym, Smith correctly noted, “There’s no such thing as fighting shape if you’re not getting ready for a fight.” (EDITOR NOTE: Bone in fact was getting ready for a fight, sometime in April, against foe TBD.) Smith also picked up nicely on an apparent ankle injury suffered by Bone just before he was stopped by Porter. There should have been a follow-up on Bone’s medical condition later in the telecast but wasn’t.
Overall, the announcing team devoted too much energy trying to sell the concept of Premier Boxing Champions. Phrases like “a new era in boxing” and “a new day for boxing” were repeated more than necessary. If the fights are good, viewers will figure it out. If the fights are bad, viewers will figure that out too.
A few more observations . . .
The fighters’ ringwalk music written by Hans Zimmer isn’t effective. I know it’s branding for PBC. But it takes away from the individuality of the fighters and has the homogeneous feel of a television game show. Ditto for the staged visuals of the combatants walking to the ring. That kind of entrance works for Wladimir Klitschko because he’s Wladimir Klitschko. None of the fighters we’ve seen so far on Premier Champions Boxing has a legitimate claim to being King of the World.
As with the March 7 NBC telecast, the ring announcer and roundcard girls were out of sight on Spike.
Once again, there was no mob in the ring before and after each fight. Once again, thank you, Al Haymon.
The 360-degree overhead ring camera was used less often on Spike than on the NBC telecast. In this instance, less is better.
As was the case on March 7, the ring ropes were black instead of red, white, and blue. That effectively highlighted the fighters.
PBC also introduced a new toy on the Spike telecast: a miniature camera installed on a headband worn by referee Jack Reiss during the first fight of the night. But contrary to its billing, the “ref cam” didn’t show viewers “what the referee sees” because it follows the referee’s forehead, not the referee’s eyes.
Where broader business issues are concerned; the past week has seen a flurry of press releases and comments by interested parties on all sides regarding PBC’s March 7 NBC telecast. Many of these statements have been evocative of the spin-doctoring that follows a presidential debate.
If Keith Thurman vs. Robert Guerrero is a “fight of the year” candidate, then 2015 will be a bad year for boxing. Guerrero won two rounds at most and was outlanded 211-to-104. He fought courageously and there was drama in round nine as to whether or not he’d survive. But boxing fans aren’t calling for a rematch.
The key talking points regarding the NBC telecast have revolved around ratings (which will dictate how much advertising is sold in the future – which, in turn, will be crucial to the success or failure of Haymon Boxing).
Team Haymon sent out a press release that declared, “The PBC on NBC telecast averaged 3.4 million viewers, ranking as the most-watched professional boxing broadcast in 17 years (“Oscar De La Hoya’s Fight Night” on FOX, 5.9 million, March 23, 1998).”
This implied to the uninitiated that De La Hoya fought on March 23, 1998. He didn’t. It was a Top Rank show, and the main event was Yory Boy Campas versus Anthony Stephens. Oscar (who was then with Top Rank) lent his name to the promotion.
Also, on October 15, 2005, NBC televised a live fight card headlined by Sergio Mora versus Peter Manfredo that drew 8,000,000 viewers. But Team Haymon and NBC say that doesn’t count because the telecast was the finale of a TV reality show.
Let’s put these numbers in perspective.
On May 11, 1977, Ken Norton fought Duane Bobick on NBC on a Wednesday evening in prime-time. As reported by Carlos Acevedo, that fight earned a 42% audience share and was watched by 48,000,000 people.
Obviously, those were different times. So let’s leave it at this for the moment. The advertisers will sort out the ratings. Either the audience for PBC will grow or it won’t. Boxing fans should hope that it does. But significant growth won’t be easy to accomplish.
The mainstream media is drooling over Mayweather-Pacquiao. Television networks, Internet sites, newspapers, and magazines that haven’t covered boxing for years will be on hand. But that might not translate into broader support.
By way of example; on March 7, the New York Times sports section listed fifty “TV highlights” for that day in its “Sports Calendar.” Premier Boxing Champions on NBC was not among them. Nor did the Times list PBC’s Spike card among the more than thirty “TV highlights” on its March 13 sports calendar.
And a few more thoughts in closing . . .
Berto-Lopez was for the “interim WBA world welterweight” title. Mercifully, that wasn’t mentioned during the Spike telecast. Also, had Haymon chosen to do so, he could have found a belt for Porter and Bone to fight for. He didn’t.
Ignoring the belts on Spike gives more credibility to PBC’s decision to match Danny Garcia against Lamont Peterson in an over-the-weight bout on NBC on April 11 rather than fight for their respective titles. Let’s see how Haymon handles the belts for Andy Lee vs. Peter Quillin on the same card and in other future beltholder fights.
All five of the PBC fights on NBC and Spike to date have matched black against Hispanic fighters. The next Haymon time buy on NBC features black vs. Hispanic and black vs. Irish. Ethnic matchmaking is a boxing tradition, but it’s a tradition that PBC might consider jettisoning. Great fights that become part of boxing lore like Ali-Frazier, Leonard-Hearns, Barrera-Morales, and Vazquez-Marquez stand on their own merit.
Finally, as of this writing, the favorite has won five-out-of-five fights on PBC’s Spike and NBC telecasts. That got old on premium cable a long time ago. And it will get old here fast.
The banner at the top of the home page for the Premier Boxing Champions website trumpets: “Premier Boxing Champions: Where the Next Legends Collide.” Taking Al Haymon at his word, boxing fans will be looking for some of those colliding legends.
* * *
HBO’s March 14 telecast started poorly with Isaac Chilemba vs. Vasily Lepikin and Steve Cunningham vs. Vyacheslav Glazkov. The main event – Sergey Kovalev vs. Jean Pascal – was worth watching.
Kovalev came into the bout with 26 wins, 23 knockouts, 0 losses, and a technical draw that should have been recorded as a win. Four months ago, he solidified his credentials as the best 175-pound fighter in the world with a 120-107, 120-107, 120-106 whitewash of Bernard Hopkins.
Pascal (29-2, 17 KOs) was regarded as a good measuring stick for Kovalev.
Kovalev was the aggressor in the early going and fought at a brisk pace. In round three, Pascal decided to fight with him and wound up being saved by the bell after a hard right hand draped him over the ropes and led to a correctly-called knockdown. It was the first knockdown scored against Pascal in his pro career.
Pascal rallied to win rounds five and six, but he tired noticeably in round seven. In round eight, Kovalev unloaded, leaving Jean on wobbly legs. Referee Luis Pabon stopped the bout at the 1:03 mark with Pascal pinned in a corner but still standing.
It was the first stoppage loss in Pascal’s career. He can take solace in the fact that Kovalev never knocked him off his feet. After the bout, Jean told television viewers and the crowd at the Bell Centre in Montreal, “I don’t know why the referee stopped the fight. It’s not hockey.”
Kovalev showed a good chin and an improving left hook to go with his power. The fact that he outlanded Pascal 122-to-68, indicates an effective delivery system for his arsenal. He got hit with too many solid punches, but that makes for exciting fights.
The biggest problem that Kovalev will have in the near future is getting marketable opponents to step into the ring with him. After the bout, Adonis Stevenson claimed that wants to fight Sergey, but he won’t.
* * *
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Staged pre-fight staredowns are stupid.
The latest example of this stupidity was on display at the final pre-fight press conference for Kovalev-Pascal. The fighters got into a shoving match. No damage was done, except to the dignity of the sport. Then the promotion decided that this was a good thing and sent out an email blast with the subject line “Download Kovalev-Pascal Altercation Video.”
Some day, a fighter will be hurt during a staredown altercation and a fight will be canceled. Let’s hope that “someday” isn’t May 1, when Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao face off at the weigh-in for boxing’s next fight of the century.
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His most recent book – Thomas Hauser on Boxing – was published by the University of Arkansas Press.