Three Punch Combo: Reviewing Top Rank’s Deal with ESPN and More

THREE PUNCH COMBO – On July 2, 2017, Jeff Horn upset Manny Pacquiao to win the WBO welterweight belt in an event televised by ESPN. Though all the particulars of a formal arrangement between ESPN and Top Rank were not all officially hammered out at that time, the fight between Horn and Pacquiao essentially represented the beginning of a landmark deal between Top Rank and the cable television giant. One year into the arrangement, here is a quick look at how it has worked out to date.

The deal has been a big positive for the sport as well as the fans. Fights that were previously relegated to pay-per-view or premium cable are now available on a network that reaches a much wider audience. This makes the sport more accessible to the casual sports fan and widens the potential fan base. For example, the fight between Pacquiao and Horn reached a much wider audience than it would have if it had gone the traditional pay-per-view route.

A big positive from the deal has been Top Rank’s willingness to work with other promoters. Many fights have been made where the Top Rank fighter was put at high risk of losing to another’s promoter’s fighter. Also, Top Rank has shown a willingness to make common sense decisions for the good of the sport. An example was adjusting the start time of a fight put together with Golden Boy Promotions between Vasyl Lomachenko and Jorge Linares so as not to interfere with another card taking place on HBO later that evening.

Top Rank and ESPN have also expanded their coverage of the sport to the international level, giving fans more access to events that previously were not available in the United States. Fight cards from the United Kingdom, Mexico, Japan and Australia, not all of which were Top Rank promotions, have been shown either on ESPN+ or regular ESPN. In addition, Top Rank streams full undercards of their own fight cards on ESPN+ giving fans access to fights that otherwise they would not be able to view. More live boxing available to fans has been a major positive so far in this deal between Top Rank and ESPN.

In my opinion, Top Rank has hit a home run in Year One of its deal with ESPN. They have changed how business is done in the sport. In addition, they have vastly increased the coverage of live fights available to the US market. I am excited to see what the next 12 months holds in store.

Events Cancelled at the Last Moment

Last Saturday’s scheduled ESPN main event between Jose Carlos Ramirez and Danny O’Connor was suddenly cancelled late in the afternoon on the day before the fight when O’Connor was hospitalized after suffering from dehydration. This is certainly not the first time that the main event of a significant card has fallen apart at the last moment. Here are three other examples of last-minute cancellations of significant fights in the last twenty years.

Evander Holyfield vs. Henry Akinwande

Evander Holyfield entered 1998 as a partially unified heavyweight champion holding the WBA and IBF portions of the crown. His WBA mandatory came first and its mandatory challenger was Henry Akinwande.

A year earlier, Akinwande was disqualified for excessive holding when he challenged Lennox Lewis for Lewis’ WBC heavyweight title. It was an abysmal performance by Akinwande who was not known for having a crowd pleasing style. However, a win a few months later against Orlin Norris positioned him as the WBA’s number one contender.

The fight between Holyfield and Akinwande was set for June 6th, 1998 at Madison Square Garden and would be televised on pay-per-view by Showtime. But the fight had little appeal and ticket sales were slow. On top of that, the card itself was in disarray as a few undercard bouts fell apart the week of the event due to a variety of factors.

The day before the fight, it was announced that medical results showed that Akinwande had tested positive for hepatitis B. The entire card was subsequently cancelled. Holyfield-Akinwande was never rescheduled.

Diego Corrales vs. Jose Luis Castillo III

We all remember the all-time classic between Diego Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo that was won by Corrales by 10th round TKO on May 7th, 2005. There was a rematch five months later that was won by Castillo by knockout in round four. It was another terrific fight but marred with controversy as Castillo missed weight by more than three pounds. So it was natural with the series tied 1-1 along with the controversy of the second fight for there to be a third encounter.

That fight was scheduled for June 3rd, 2006 at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. But once again the day before the fight, Castillo missed weight by a wide margin. This time, Corrales elected not to go ahead with the fight citing concern for his health. By doing so, he also would not receive the $1.2 million purse he was set to earn.

There would never be a third encounter. Tragically, a year later Corrales passed away in a motorcycle accident.

Carl Frampton vs. Andres Gutierrez

Not all fights that are cancelled at the last second are due to failed medical tests or fighters missing weight. Last July, Carl Frampton was scheduled to have a homecoming fight in Belfast following his two fight series in the United States against Leo Santa Cruz. The opponent selected was Mexican veteran Andres Gutierrez.

There was some drama at the weigh-in as Frampton missed weight by one pound. However, that issue was quickly settled and the fight was scheduled to go forward as planned. But later in the day, Gutierrez would slip in the shower and suffer a concussion as well as facial lacerations that forced the sudden cancellation of the fight. As a matter of fact, the entire card was called off. Frampton would later have his homecoming in Belfast in November and defeat Horacio Garcia by unanimous decision.

Under the Radar

Saturday’s Pacquiao-Matthysse undercard is absolutely stacked. There are some very high quality fighters and fights on the cards. Thankfully for those of us in the United States, ESPN+ will be broadcasting some of these fights. The one fight in particular I want to highlight is the contest between Jhack Tepora (21-0, 16 KO’s) and Edivaldo Ortega (26-1-1, 12 KO’s) for an interim featherweight belt.

Tepora and Ortega are both southpaws, but they are certainly not “cuties.” They are both extremely aggressive southpaws who prefer a phone booth type of fight. This is going to be fan-friendly.

Tepora is very athletic and possesses above average hand speed. He also has very good power in both fists. Being a southpaw from the Philippines with good speed and power, he has naturally drawn comparisons to Manny Pacquiao.

Tepora is good but those comparisons are way too premature. His defense needs some serious work and it would be good for him to start by adding in a little head movement. But this does make him fun to watch as does his willingness to exchange with his opposition.

Ortega is not as athletic as Tepora nor does he possess Tepora’s power. However, Ortega is a more well-rounded fighter. Though he is aggressive, it is not a reckless aggression. He holds his hands high, moves his head well and picks his spots effectively. Ortega is the busier of the two fighters and has relied on volume to win his previous fights. He must do so again to defeat Tepora.

I expect we see a solid professional fight with plenty of good exchanges. If Ortega can handle the power of Tepora early, this could turn into a real barnburner.

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