The unveiling of Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions continued on Saturday afternoon with a two-hour presentation on CBS.
Haymon has pursued ring hegemony so aggressively as of late that one half-expects to go online and read that he has signed Joe Louis and Rocky Marciano. On Saturday, boxing fans settled for Adonis Stevenson and Artur Bieterbiev.
Beterbiev is a two-time Olympian and 2009 World Amateur champion from Russia, who lives and fights out of Montreal. He turned pro in 2013, was placed on a fast track, and had compiled a 7-and-0 record with 7 knockouts. His opponent – 36-year-old Gabriel Campillo (25-6, 12 KOs, 3 KOs by) – had four wins in his last eight bouts and was regarded as a measuring stick for a potential star.
From the opening bell, Campillo had all the earmarks of a shot fighter (which is why he was chosen as Bieterbiev’s opponent). His balance was poor. His timing was off. His reflexes were slow. He offered virtually no resistance. Bieterbiev decked him in the opening minute of round one (the tenth time in Gabriel’s career that he’d been on the canvas) and ended matters convincingly at the 2:22 mark of round four (the eleventh time in Gabriel’s career that he’d been on the canvas).
Stevenson, age 37, came into ring with a 25-and-1 record and 21 knockouts. Two years ago, he made a splash with a first-round knockout of Chad Dawson to claim the WBC 175-pound crown. That looks less impressive now than it did then, given the fact that Dawson has 1 win, 3 losses, and 2 “KO’s by” over the past three years. Stevenson also looked good in stopping Tavoris Cloud in seven rounds. But Cloud is 0-and-3 over the same time period.
Sakio Bika (Stevenson’s opponent) entered the ring with 32-6-3 (21 KOs) record. Bika, who is winless since 2013, had never fought above 168 pounds, and has never beaten a world-class fighter. Worse, Sakio initially weighed in for the Stevenson fight eight-tenths of a pound over the 175-pound limit. Given the fact that he’d never fought above 168 pounds before, that suggested his training regimen had been less than diligent.
Stevenson-Bika was wasn’t much of a fight. Adonis dropped his opponent twice en route to a unanimous twelve round decision.
Some observations on the telecast . . .
The CBS commentating team consisted of Brent Stover, Kevin Harlan, Paulie Malignaggi, and Virgil Hunter.
Stover, who’s best known as a studio host for CBS Sports Network, was the host and also handled post-fight interviews. During the intro, he told viewers that Bika “is annoying to fight because he won’t go away quietly.” After Stevenson-Bika, Brent declared, “It was an absolutely epic fight” (which was an absolutely silly overstatement).
Harlan (a play-by-play veteran, who has been behind the microphone for NFL, NBA, and NCAA basketball telecasts) was a disappointment. During the fights, he offered a lot of stats and pre-scripted lines. But his blow-by-blow call was shaky, and he didn’t seem to understand the difference between orthodox and southpaw fighters (for example, telling the world “another shot with the left hook” when Stevenson landed straight lefts).
Eventually, Harlan was reduced to commentary like, “Oh! He got hit with a left!” After a while, that simply became “Oh!”
Malignaggi is a solid commentator, who has proven his value in the past.
Hunter was excellent. His insights were solid and he communicated them well, although he needed to be miked differently. That was part of a larger audio problem. The sound kept cutting in and out throughout the telecast.
As was the case with Haymon Boxing’s shows on NBC and Spike, the ring announcer was unseen and the ring ropes were black. The ring walk format was improved over previous telecasts. Bieterbiev and Campillo were already in the ring when first seen on camera. Stevenson and Bika were shown walking to the ring, but to music of their choosing rather than the ponderous Hans Zimmer score used on NBC and Spike.
Once again, there was no clown show in the ring, which was free of sanctioning-body officials and assorted hangers-on. That was a plus.
Stevenson and Bika both wore gold trunks in the main event, which can be confusing to viewers when a telecast changes camera angles.
Also, Stevenson was referred to as the light-heavyweight champion of the world throughout the telecast. That was a disservice to Sergey Kovalev. Worse; Deontay Wilder was referenced as the heavyweight champion, which was misleading at best given Wladimir Klitschko’s primacy in the heavyweight division.
The lack of paid advertising was a more troubling issue in terms of the overall landscape. In the New York market (where I watched the telecast), there was roughly two minutes (almost all of which was local) over the course of two hours. That was supplemented by twenty-two Premier Boxing Champions promotional spots and ten CBS promos. The PBC spots were repeated again and again to the point of being ineffective because of boredom.
After the inaugural Premier Boxing Champions telecasts on NBC and Spike, there was a lot of spin-doctoring by pro and anti-Haymon forces with regard to the ratings. The fact that virtually no advertisers were onboard for the CBS telecast is a sign that advertisers didn’t think the NBC and Spike ratings were particularly good.
Equally important, Al Haymon has a well-deserved reputation for putting his favored fighters in soft. To be entertaining over the long haul, boxing needs competitive fights.
Stevenson was a 12-to-1 betting favorite over Bika. Beterbiev was favored over Campillo by 25-to-1. The favorites are now 7-and-0 on Haymon’s NBC, Spike, and CBS telecasts. Could we have more competitive fights, please.
Also, for a boxing storyline to be compelling, it needs destination fights. Who are Stevenson and Bieterbiev fighting next?
The WBC has designated Sergey Kovalev as Stevenson’s mandatory challenger and decreed that, if agreement between the two camps can’t be reached by April 17, it will order a purse bid with a 50-50 split. The problem is that Kovalev is an HBO fighter while Stevenson is promoted by Yvon Michel and backed by Haymon.
Most likely, Haymon will support Michel in a way that allows Yvon to bid well above market value for Kovalev-Stevenson. That might be good for Sergey in that he’d make a lot of money. But it would mean that HBO, which has spent a lot of time and effort developing Kovalev as an attraction, would be left out in the cold.
Main Events has a longterm contract with Kovalev and would get a percentage of Sergey’s purse should Michel promote a Stevenson fight pursuant to a purse bid. But allowing Kovalev to take the fight under those circumstances could lead to the deterioration of Main Events’ relationship with HBO.
In other words, Kovalev-Stevenson might not happen, particularly since Adonis has avoided it in the past.
As for Bieterbiev; he looks like slightly younger version of Kovalev. Both are big punchers. Sergey is more experienced. And Artur still hasn’t fought a full four rounds in any fight. But there were questions about Kovalev’s stamina and ability to go rounds before he fought Bernard Hopkins.
Stevenson-Bieterbiev would be an entertaining fight. It would be a big step up for Artur. It might also be a step up for Adonis.
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.