By Sean Crose
I know, I know, undercards are a part of the fight game. Hey, I actually agree. I like a full night of boxing as much as the next fan. It’s just that things have become, well, a bit excessive lately. Take last Saturday night, for instance. The Pacquiao-Bradley rematch definitely lived up to the hype. It may not go down as a classic, but it was certainly a terrific display of boxing. And the early rounds were real nail biters. The televised preliminary bouts, however, had the cumulative effect of a double dose of Tylenol PM.
In other words, they were brutal. And not in a fan friendly way, either. Thirty six rounds. That’s what those who coughed up close to eighty bucks sat through on Saturday before getting to watch the main event. Thirty-six rounds. Without a single knockout. Each and every bout going the long haul, all the way to the scorecards.
Forget chips and wings. Those who gathered together to see Manny and Tim get it on needed pots of coffee. A friend who had joined the gathering I attended on Saturday actually left exhausted before the main event. My own father, a lifelong boxing fan who remembers being asked to give money at school for the then-broke Joe Louis, looked like he was about to fall asleep. And don’t let his nearly 70 years fool you, my old man is an energetic fan.
The point here is that boxing has an easily fixable problem – it’s broadcasting too many preliminary matches. Sure, sometimes a stacked televised card pays off, as it did for Showtime last December, when the Broner-Maidana undercard proved to be a gem. Does that mean Showtime should risk boring fans to death in the future, though? Think about fans’ reactions to last Saturday’s programming if you want to know the answer.
Two bouts. That’s all viewers need to see televised before the main event. Two bouts. If the night moves quickly, so be it. At least fans will have gotten their fair share of excitement. Besides, a walkout bout could always be broadcast after the main event if necessary.
Of course there are some who may argue that a big card loaded with terrific matchups is a sure thing. It’s not. I can think of no bigger matchup than the Hagler-Leonard showdown of ’87. It was a true clash of the titans, a bout mired in controversy to this day. But it was boring. Just like De La Hoya-Mayweather was boring. Just like any Willie Pep fight I’ve ever seen on cable or YouTube was boring (sorry Willie). Great matchups don’t necessarily make great fights. It’s that simple.
The fact is that excessive preliminary bouts are bad for the sport. Take my friend who exited early the other night. He’s not a fight fan, but he knows who Pacquiao is. His curiosity led him to the pay per view card, but the preliminaries turned him off to it. The irony is that I’m sure he’d have enjoyed the Pacquiao-Bradley rematch.
Think my friend will want to tune into boxing again, though? How many others out there do you suppose are like him, potential fans who were subsequently turned into bored viewers? Too bad. Too, too bad. Boxing isn’t the UFC, after all. Announcers and ringside analysts rarely employ booming voices to hype an audience (no, that’s not a knock on all the talented mixed martial artists out there). Boxing matches must stand or fall on their own merit.
Although there’s no way to guarantee a good night of televised boxing, promoters and networks must do their best to minimize the risks. And they can greatly cut the risk factor by cutting the fat off televised undercards. When diehard fans start griping, it’s time to take the hint.