THREE PUNCH COMBO: Late Sunday, Top Rank formally announced that ESPN would be televising the welterweight title fight between Manny Pacquiao and Jeff Horn. Speculation has been running rampant on social media regarding Top Rank’s future plans and this announcement begins to shed some light as to exactly what Top Rank has up its sleeve.
Make no mistake about it; Pacquiao-Horn is not a one fight deal with ESPN. This is the start of something much bigger with the network that Top Rank once had a long running relationship with in the 80’s and 90’s. While we do not yet know all the specifics, we do know Arum has been very vocal in his displeasure with HBO recently and has been hinting at finding new platforms to put on his shows. ESPN appears to be one such platform and expect Arum to take his bigger fights to the network in the near future. We will probably be seeing the likes of Vasyl Lomachenko, Terence Crawford and others perform on ESPN in significant fights prior to the end of the year.
One of the reasons for Arum choosing of ESPN is that they have a much wider net to get exposure for his fights than premium cable. He knows that by going the ESPN route, many more eyeballs will be on his shows than has been the case in the past. Also, he will have almost certainly learned from past mistakes of others who have tried this method and failed. Expect to see much higher quality bouts on ESPN and not mismatches that have plagued the sport in the past.
Some will argue that starting with Pacquiao-Horn is not good as this fight is perceived by many as a mismatch. But Pacquiao is a global superstar recognized by casual sports fans worldwide and Arum realized he needed a big splash to launch the series. He also couldn’t break the bank, hence the choice of Horn as the opponent and the venue in Australia where a large number of tickets have been sold to help offset the costs.
However, ESPN is not all Arum has up his sleeve. There has to be more. Arum has signed a ton of fighters in the past few months and recently cancelled his UniMas deal where many of his prospects had been picking up work. So there is more to this and in all probability that will mean some sort of online streaming service.
Keep in mind Top Rank was one of the first to venture into streaming fights online when they began several years ago televising the undercard bouts of some of their bigger cards. They have worked through the kinks and it was always believed in the industry that one of the reasons they were streaming such cards was with an eye to the future. Well, the future has now arrived. The model will probably look something similar to what the WWE currently offers its fans. For a monthly fee, fans will be provided with some live fights as well as access to Top Rank’s vast vault of prior fights. Top Rank fighters will have more opportunity to stay active building their careers.
Done right, this can work. Put competitive intriguing fights on ESPN and the building block/showcase fights elsewhere. Or if a star wants a tune up/stay busy fight, Top Rank can showcase on the online model and not network television unlike previous models. Don’t be surprised as well if Top Rank dips into the international pool and offers up live broadcasts of bouts that have otherwise been missed in the United States on this online service. Top Rank is rolling the dice and their unique approach may pay big dividends, not only for themselves but the sport as a whole.
Evander’s Maiden Voyage
Recent Hall of Fame inductee Evander Holyfield makes his debut as a promoter on Saturday and has put a string of competitive fights together in a card that will be televised on CBS Sports Network. The main event features veteran Derric Rossy (31-12, 15 KO’s) facing former 2008 Olympian Carlos Negron (19-1, 15 KO’s) in an evenly matched heavyweight bout. Granted, they are not the biggest names in the heavyweight division but they are well matched in what should be a competitive, fan friendly fight.
Rossy is a boxer-puncher who has been known to be drawn into slugfests. He hopes to use his experience to out-fox the still raw Negron who, despite his height at 6’6”, prefers to fight on the inside and could be drawn into a shootout. Negron also possesses a good left jab and can fight at range behind that jab using his height. He is green but has been getting better since being stopped by Epifanio Mendoza. In his last fight, Negron knocked out a 17-0 fighter in Cristian Galvez and hopes to build upon that momentum. This should be a solid heavyweight scrap and give Holyfield a good start in his new promotional endeavor.
Also on Holyfield’s initial show we will see one time can’t-miss prospect Toka Kahn Clary (21-1, 15 KOs) take on Angel Luna (11-2-1, 6 KOs). The former amateur star Kahn Clary suffered a major setback last September when he suffered a first round knockout loss to journeyman Jhon Gemino. Since that fight, he has notched two straight knockout wins against inferior opposition and takes a mild step up when facing Luna. Kahn Clary has speed, talent and power. If he can right the ship there is still plenty of time for the 24-year-old from Providence, RI, to achieve that status many thought he was destined.
What’s Next For Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev?
Andre Ward scored a controversial 8th round technical knockout win against Sergey Kovalev in their rematch on Saturday. Despite the controversy surrounding the win for Ward, a third fight between them is probably not in the works in the immediate future. So in what directions will Ward and Kovalev head?
Ward’s options are very limited at light heavyweight. Al Haymon has signed several of the top light heavyweights in the world. Haymon and Ward promoter Roc Nation do not have good relations. Potential matchups for Ward with such Haymon fighters as Adonis Stevenson, Artur Beterbiev or Marcus Browne are not realistic.
One name not aligned with Haymon who could draw interest as Ward’s next opponent is Joe Smith. Smith has a scheduled fight in Ward’s home state of California next month against Sullivan Barrera and a win puts Smith in prime position for something much bigger at light heavyweight. Smith would be the type of opponent HBO would be interested in and has no political affiliations that would prevent a match with Ward. Smith’s aggressive style could bring out the best in Ward and his natural counterpunching ability. It is a fight that I suspect Ward’s team will try to push for later this year.
Ward also discussed at the post-fight press conference about moving to cruiserweight. Given how deep cruiserweight is at the moment, moving up may be financially beneficial. If he goes this route, my guess would be that he would negotiate some catch weight with an opponent to see how he handles the higher weight. The opponent also would not be one of the top names since Ward would be testing the waters. Mike Perez, who recently moved down from heavyweight to cruiserweight, could be a possibility. He is a name and has appeared on a few occasions on HBO. Ward’s team may also look for an aggressive but limited fighter such as Olanrewaju Durodola.
As for Kovalev, his best option would be to move up to cruiserweight and participate in the World Boxing Super Series. This would give Kovalev the opportunity to fight the big fights he desires in a loaded weight class. If participating in the tournament is not an option, Kovalev may look for a return fight in Russia. One possible name in this scenario is Maksim Vlasov. Vlasov has a good record (38-2, 21 KOs) and is currently on an eight fight winning streak. With both fighters hailing from Russia, it would be easy to sell tickets. The fight could probably take place at a catch weight and allow Kovalev to also test the waters at a higher weight.
Ward and Kovalev will each head their separate ways following their two controversial bouts. The possibility of a third fight will always exist and don’t be surprised if in a few years they happen to meet each other once again inside the ring.
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