THREE PUNCH COMBO — In 2017 we saw a slew of high profile retirements in the sport of boxing. Big names such as Floyd Mayweather Jr., Miguel Cotto, Wladimir Klitschko, Timothy Bradley and Andre Ward all announced that they were stepping away from the ring. As we all know, retirements in boxing can be short-lived. Some of the aforementioned will undoubtedly compete again inside the squared circle and this week Andre Ward made some statements on Twitter that seemed to indicate he was seriously contemplating a comeback.
So if Ward does return, the question then becomes who would he be targeting? In his post on Twitter, Ward indicated that he weighed 199 pounds. Also, Ward has indicated in the past that he may one day fight as a heavyweight. With that stated, here are three strong possibilities should he return to the sport.
The Winner of Tony Bellew-David Haye II
Facing the winner of Bellew-Haye II makes sense logically and financially. If Ward makes a move to heavyweight, he will likely target a smaller heavyweight to test the waters. Neither Bellew (pictured on the right) nor Haye are big heavyweights and both began their respective careers in a lower weight class. Also, both are big names in the UK. Thus, if Ward fights the winner in the UK the fight will sell big and will garner Ward a sizable payday. Ward is also faster, more athletically gifted and has less ring wear than either Bellew (with whom he appeared in the movie “Creed”) or Haye. So Ward would be facing a smallish heavyweight for a big purse in front of a large audience in a fight that he would conceivably hold many physical advantages.
If Ward wants to stay in the US, Bryant Jennings could be someone he targets. Though Jennings is a natural heavyweight, he is not a big heavyweight. He is a name with whom many boxing fans are familiar, but has enough flaws that someone like Ward, on paper, should handle. Jennings is also with Top Rank which has an output deal with ESPN and this would be the type of fight they want to put on the network. It would give Ward much more exposure than fighting on premium cable. If Ward does not want to go overseas and can accept a smaller purse fighting Jennings, this would be a logical move.
Flores, who has fought a good part of his career as a cruiserweight, would be a step down from Jennings, but is a small heavyweight with some name recognition. He cannot come close to matching the speed or athleticism of Ward, so this would be sort of a tune-up fight for Andre similar to his contest with Paul Smith in 2015 which was designed to shake off the ring rust and test the waters at a higher weight division.
Why Is There No U.S. Television For The WBSS?
U.S. fight fans were left scrambling this past weekend trying to find a way to watch the highly anticipated World Boxing Super Series cruiserweight semi-final between Oleksandr Usyk and Mairis Briedis. There was no U.S. television, nor was there a legal online live stream for fans in the U.S. to catch this fight. Why so? Consider these points:
Showtime’s Stephen Espinoza was in attendance at the initial press conference detailing plans for the WBSS last March. Espinoza had worked closely in the past with one of the tournament’s organizers, Richard Schaefer, and thus many in the industry felt Showtime would be the U.S. television broadcast partner for the tournament. But no deal ever emerged.
One reason could date back to the Super Six World Boxing Classic broadcast by Showtime from 2009-2011. Andre Ward, who won the tournament, became a bona fide star but would not fight on Showtime again. Likewise, Carl Froch rose to prominence in part because of the tournament but would not appear on Showtime’s air after the tournament concluded. Showtime may have been concerned that the WBSS would also turn into a springboard for the participants to gain valuable exposure and then have their talents showcased on rival networks.
Another reason could be the cost relevant to other broadcast opportunities for Showtime. Since the initial announcement of the WBSS, the PBC has brought most of their fighters back to Showtime. And Showtime has taken a strong interest in the career of budding heavyweight star Anthony Joshua. Espinoza may have simply determined that the use of their dollars would be better spent on the above and not the WBSS.
As for HBO, well Schaefer burned some bridges with the network several years ago and things do not appear to have mended. Nothing is ever out of the question, but for now HBO does not appear ready to do business with Schaefer again.
The PBC Effect:
The other issue why the WBSS has had a difficult time finding a U.S. television outlet relates to the PBC and their effect on the boxing industry in the United States. In 2015, PBC cut deals with several networks where they bought time to showcase boxing cards. It became a widespread industry practice and smaller promoters were also forced into such buy-time agreements to get their cards air time.
So when the WBSS went searching for a U.S. TV partner, networks may have initially been eager to take them on board thinking this was another buy-time arrangement. However, when the WBSS insisted on a license fee, many networks probably shied away because so many other recent boxing events were done on a buy-time deal. Why would a network consider buying boxing now when just recently they and others were getting paid for the right to put a boxing show on television?
Whatever the case, there is no U.S. television deal in place at the moment for the remaining fights in the WBSS tournaments. Unless something suddenly changes, U.S. boxing fans will be left in the dark, unable to see some high level fights scheduled for the first half of 2018.
Could Lucas Matthysse’s Performance Help Thaw Boxing’s Political Divide?
In a performance that can best be described as lackluster, Lucas Matthysse (39-4, 36 KO’s) knocked out Thailand’s Tewa Kiram (38-1, 28 KO’s) in the eighth round to capture a version of the welterweight title. Matthysse looked sluggish for most of the contest and may have started to show signs of an aging fighter despite the knockout victory. The performance will probably lead his team into seeking out a big fight next otherwise risk losing the opportunity to fight one of the many big names at 147. To do so, political boundaries in the sport will need to be crossed.
Taking a look at the big names in a stacked 147-pound weight division, most like Keith Thurman, Shawn Porter, and Danny Garcia are affiliated with PBC. Some, like Manny Pacquiao and soon-to-be 147- pounder Terence Crawford, are with Top Rank. Due to frosty relationships, Golden Boy has rarely matched its fighters in recent years with fighters from PBC or Top Rank. And HBO, which televises Golden Boy’s bigger fights, recently saw Top Rank take its stable to ESPN and has not really opened its door to PBC.
Matthysse is a name and now has a belt at 147. He also looks vulnerable. Many of the big names at 147 will probably be lining up to fight him next. Shawn Porter, for example, may see Matthysse as a way to earn a nice check and move a step closer to garnering a rematch with Keith Thurman. Likewise for Danny Garcia. Or Manny Pacquiao may want to fight a title-holder with a name later this year, but one he’d feel confident he’d have a big edge. That’d be Matthysse.
Big names at 147 are going to put pressure on those with whom they are affiliated to get the Matthysse fight. Matthysse’s team will have options but all those will involve crossing a political line that is rarely crossed. However, they will have no choice if they are to get Matthysse a big money fight. In an odd way, Lucas Matthysse may have just opened lines of communication that may thaw the longstanding political divide amongst various factions in the sport.
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