By: Sean Crose
Perhaps lost in all the mania surrounding the Floyd-Conor weekend was the huge news that ESPN has announced a major deal with Bob Arum’s Top Rank Promotions. Arum, one of boxing’s most prominent promoters (perhaps the single most prominent one) is now letting his stable of boxers fight exclusively in the domain of ESPN (which is part of the Disney universe).
According to Variety, ESPN “will have the exclusive ability to televise and stream live Top Rank fights in the U.S., as well as deliver pay-per-view events with the promoter’s matches.” Long story short, the network, which has been having troubles of its own recently, is getting into the rejuvenating sport of boxing in a significant way.
ESPN had already indicated its newfound interest in the sweet science this summer by showing Manny Pacquiao’s stunning – and controversial – loss to Jeff Horn to huge ratings. It then showcased rising stars Vasyl Lomachenko and Terence Crawford respectively. Now, according to the network’s boxing writer, Dan Rafael, “high-level cards are on the way, with 18 on tap for the first year of the deal.” This is nothing but good news for fight fans, as the home of Arum’s fighters until very recently was pay-cable outlet HBO.
The Arum-HBO relationship cooled, however, and now names like Pacquiao, Lomachenko, Crawford and others will be found on basic cable– at least more than they ever have been. Pay Per View cards will still be a part of life for fans, only now Top Rank pay per view cards will be brought to the public via ESPN. The deal is set to last four years. If the marriage of the two entities proves successful, however, it can be expected to last longer.
All of this is – of course – a considerable development for followers of the sweet science. Top names on basic television are never a bad thing. Yet fans will be disappointed if Arum goes the road boxing guru Al Haymon did when he had his name fighters appear in top fights on basic television sporadically, at best. Top fighters, at least the top fighters in Arum’s stable, will need to be matched strongly with at least some regularity in order for the ESPN partnership to prove successful. If the deal works out, however, boxing will effectively take a huge step back into the mainstream of American sports, a place it hasn’t been in a long time, save for the occasional superbout.