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A Bright Future for Boxing?


A Bright Future for Boxing?
By: Richard Blacklock

Since the news broke last week from Mike Coppinger that Top Rank has a new output deal with ESPN, A lot of discussion has been had on various mediums.

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Undoubtedly Top Rank fighters such as Lomachencko, Crawford and Valdez gaining exposure on a network with a potential audience much larger than HBO can’t be a bad thing. Fans outside of the US are not truly affected by what network shows the cards. Although the budget constraints at HBO were impacting fans worldwide because of their effect on the promoters output aligned to the network.

The main concern is the fighters not with Mr Haymon getting regular fights, required career development and exposure instead of the lack of activity and forced ppvs to minimalistic audiences forced upon the American consumer by the aforementioned budget cuts. If the ESPN foray is successful in regularly attracting the casual American sports fan it can only mean an increase in advertising revenue thus a larger budget for fighter’s purses and hopefully a shift away from the ppv model.

On the last note of a movement away from the ppv model, there have been some suggestions on boxing groups that Haymon’s power moves with the PBC has basically forced Top Ranks hand. It’s hard to be completely dismissive of this argument but let’s look at the way Al forced their hand. After being in receipt of the Waddell and Reed war chest he distorted the market by overpaying fighters to fight over matched opponents. Everyone wants fighters to be well paid and nobody wants to see today’s stars end up destitute like Joe Louis. However, it creates a situation where fighters want unreasonable compensation for taking the fights the fans want to see it’s not helping the sport. HBO in an attempt to keep pace with this distortion was forced to pay out more for their marquee stars and opponents for them and this undoubtedly had an effect on what HBO boxing has put out over the last couple of years.None of this helps the fans because as strong as Haymon’s stable is the talent outside that stable needs a platform to perform on.

Al’s neglect on building fighters in their home market, failure to build on momentum for fighters coming off major victories, his inability to get his top guys facing off regularly and lack of cohesive strategy across time buys on various networks are some of the problems the PBC has had since its inception. People’s perception of Haymon’s intelligence has led some to subscribe to a Ponzi scheme theory whilst others have called it a failed monopoly attempt. The latter given some credence by the fact that Al’s time buys across numerous networks deprived existing platforms to other promoters and his market distortion left existing output platforms’ budget in disarray.

Al putting on exciting fights for a license fee of Showtime now the investors’ money has dried up isn’t a success of its initial aim. Unless that aim was a Ponzi scheme. As happy as people who follow the sport are to see those good match-ups, surely these match-ups were ideal for audience growth within the time buys rather than the limited viewership of Showtime.

Given many observers were critical of the PBC from the beginning because of the points made in the previous paragraph it is only fair to hold the TR/ESPN deal to the same critical standards. At the end of the day, we as fans want to see the best match ups without network/promoter politics hindering that. Any true boxing fan must respect the talent within the PBC, the fact that they didn’t fight against each other regularly was its major failing. If Top Ranks venture doesn’t entertain us it deserves to catch the same amount of flack the PBC got for its failings.

When we look at the first PBC card it was Thurman Guerrero, Broner Molina. Top Ranks first card is Pacquaio Horn. Either promoter’s main events feature clear A and B sides. For all the positive noises people where making about Thurman Guerrero, let’s remember Guerrero got the Floyd fight by beating Berto and heavily campaigning for the fight through press releases. Apart from Berto, Robert has no good victories at 147 prior to and after the Thurman fight. No one has been excited by the prospect of a Pacquaio Horn fight but let’s face it Horn serves exactly the same purpose as Guerrero did on PBC’sopening card from a matchmaker’s perspective.Pacquaio has been a PR nightmare recently but his name still carries more weight to casual sports fans than Thurman or Broner’s did on PBC opening night so hopefully that means decent ratings from the start. 60,000 loud Aussies in a stadium will likely make for a better viewing experience than a sterile atmosphere of a half-papered Vegas Casino. Events with lively crowds are likely to keep the casual more engaged than those without. It is still far from something to get excited about. The fact that Pacquaio potentially will be back on ppv for more challenging encounters isn’t fantastic, we can only hope that the deal means that guys like Loma and Bud are developed on ESPN and kept there.

Lomachecko’s development as a pro has advanced greatly since his loss in his 2nd pro bout to Saldido. So, whilst no one can doubt Siri’s skills or his will to win, the chalk suggests a clear win for the Ukrainian. It is respectable that Crawford is likely to be unified 140lb champion before potentially dipping his toe in welterweight waters but if we are holding these cards to the same standard that some did PBC cards, Crawford will likely have him worked out by Round 3 at the latest. These two are so talented most fans wish to see them in something remotely resembling a 60/40, 50/50 fight. You can’t blame Bud and Loma for being head and shoulders above others in their weight class. The hope is these two and Valdez exposure on the new platform can lead to cross promotional battles the sport badly needs.

There has been rumors that Bob has said something to the affect that there are too many slots for his stable alone so hopefully we can get some of these division unifying match-ups in the future that we have been denied by promotional/network beefs. A resurrection of a FNF platform to give some shine to the smaller promoter’s various contenders and prospects is badly needed as well. Fighters like Tim Bradley have come from promoters like Thomson boxing whom have been denied dates on something like FNF because of Haymons cross platform time buys. Thomson and many other promoters who aren’t as big as GBP, TR or Al deserve that FNF platformback at their disposal. The health of the sport would be greatly boosted by the return of such a platform.

So, in conclusion as unenthralled as the fans may be about the initial cards slated to appear on the platform, At least whatever is going on at HBO isn’t affecting the good fighters on Top Ranks Roster anymore. Hopefully the ventures strategy will be the start of something better than the platform they have left with cross promotional unification bouts on the near horizon. Plus, a move away from the ppv model for Top Ranks upcoming` stars who aren’t established as ppv stars prior to the deal. However, for the amount of slander PBC has received for its problems, Top Rank needs to held to the same critical standards by Al’s detractors and given a fair shake by those that said Al was going to save the sport.

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Louis-Conn II: A Heavyweight Title Fight Comes To Television


Louis-Conn II: A Heavyweight Title Fight Comes To Television
By: Sean Crose

For those who don’t know, Joe Louis was one of the greatest heavyweight champions of all time. What’s more, he was one of the greatest boxers of all time. Believe it or not, these are facts that few fight analysts and/or historians will ever argue against (boxing know-it-alls are a traditionally ornery bunch). As in the case of Ali (and precious few others) Louis’ greatness is pretty much universally accepted. Just how good was the guy? Well, from the year 1936 to the year 1950, the man didn’t lose a single fight. Not. A. Single. Fight. Oh, and he had well over thirty bouts during that time span.

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Jack Sharkey, James Braddock, Max Baer, Max Schmeling, and Joe Walcott were just some of the notables Louis met and bested during his notable run. Impressive stuff for a man widely known for taking out one no-hoper after another (for a while, Louis’ competition was known as “the bum of the month club”). Yet, while Louis is rightly regarded as one of the most dominant boxers to ever slip on a pair of gloves, there were men out there known to present the guy with a challenge. Schmeling beat him the first time they met. Walcott gave him almost more than he could handle. Even the over the top “Two Ton” Tony Galento had Louis briefly taste the mat.

One fighter that gave Louis more trouble than the man could have possibly imagined, though, was Billy Conn. A product of Pittsburgh, Conn had a less than terrific start as a boxer, before finally getting the hang of things and collecting a whole lot of wins for himself. After winning and defending the light heavyweight title, however, Conn decided to go for greatness and take on Louis for the heavyweight championship of the world. It was a bold and daring move. Louis wasn’t just any heavyweight, after all. And besides, moving up to take the biggest prize in sports against a bigger man (Louis would outweigh Conn by at least twenty pounds)was a daunting challenge in and of itself.

Yet Conn almost pulled it off. Meeting Louis at New York’s Polo Grounds on the evening of June 18th, 1941, Conn employed incredible boxing skills to frustrate Louis and avoid the impact of the champions’ frightening power punches. Not only was Conn proving to be the great Louis’ equal – he was handily beating the man. Then came the thirteenth round. The slick, slippery Conn decided to play tough guy after surprisingly hurting his opponent. Yet the results of Conn’s hubris were entirely predictable…Louis ended up winning by knockout that very round. The story, however, wasn’t over. After the Second World War, which saw both Conn and Louis serving in the military, the two fighters were to meet again, on June 19th, 1946, at Yankee Stadium.

A lot of time passed since the first fight, however, and the world had changed in incredibly dramatic ways. The United States, previously seen as a kind of marginalized, movie making nation where poor people were apt to move, was, as a result of the war, now the world’s great power, deeply engaged in a “cold war” with the Soviet Union for the direction of civilization (hard to believe, but true). What’s more, American life itself had changed since Louis and Conn had first squared off. Television, which had been around for years, was about to really take hold with the American public. And boxing was to become one of the young medium’s prime attractions.

And what better way to bring boxing to tv fans than to broadcast a live rematch between the great “Brown Bomber” and his slippery foe?

Unfortunately, the second fight wasn’t nearly as thrilling as the first. “He can run, but he can’t hide,” Louis claimed beforehand, in perhaps the first utterance from a fighter that absorbed itself into everyday language. Louis was right. He was able to end Conn’s second attempt at glory in the eighth round. Conn’s big moment had passed, having slipped into the vapor of time half a decade and a full historical era earlier. Still, the rematch between Louis and Conn served it’s purpose, bringing a heavyweight title fight to a groundbreaking new medium. Make no mistake about it, boxing is still living in the shadow of that long ago night in New York

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Did Star Wars Gobble ESPN’s Boxing Budget?


Did Star Wars Gobble ESPN’s Boxing Budget?
By Ivan G. Goldman

Word is circulating around ESPN ranks that the network will present 12 of Al Haymon’s PBC shows this year, but so far only one is on the schedule – an April 14 card with fighters and location yet to be announced.

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Employees were also told the network may make a deal to do some shows promoted by Golden Boy. Or maybe not.

ESPN is owned by the $175 billion Disney corporation. You’d think it could scrape up the funds to maintain its relationship with the key sport of prizefighting, but right now there doesn’t appear to be any plan to revive Friday Night Fights as a regular series you can count on. Well, the $4 billion Disney put up to purchase Lucasfilm, owner of the Star Wars franchise, had to come from somewhere.

Haymon’s PBC, which came into the world nearly two years ago with a huge budget and great ambitions to dominate the sport, now limps along on an array of mostly small channels and far more subdued production values. Its war chest is clearly dwindling. But PBC can still boast of a talented stable and its pulse is quite detectable.

With no crossover superstars to build a buzz, boxing stumbles through a rough patch. There’s probably more media attention paid to retired Floyd Mayweather than any active fighters.

HBO, which used to be the face of big-time boxing, has only four shows slated for this year so far, and three of them are pay-per-view. These days the creation of PPV cards doesn’t necessarily signify fights that fans can’t wait to see. More often it means the network is unwilling to front sufficient cash. So the shows must sink or swim pretty much on their own.

HBO is a subsidiary of the $72 billion Time Warner monolith. Its stock shares bounced up 34.5 percent over the past year, but its executives are loath to get behind boxing as they have in years past. As we speak chieftains of $249 billion AT&T are in Washington seeking government approval to swallow Time Warner. That deal might have something to do with HBO’s ragtag retreat from prizefighting.
Remember those boxing shows on premium channel EPIX? History.

Showtime is the bright bulb in the boxing constellation. The premium network isn’t dependent on the PPV financing model and has announced seven shows for this year already. They include a tasty welterweight title unification match March 4 between Keith Thurman and Danny Garcia that will be free to Showtime subscribers. Both are PBC fighters.

Meanwhile, back at ESPN, the sport-savvy network knows what it has to do to be re-identified with boxing in the minds of the fans: Build good fights and the viewers will come.

Ivan G. Goldman’s 5th novel The Debtor Class is a ‘gripping …triumphant read,’ says Publishers Weekly. A future cult classic with ‘howlingly funny dialogue,’ says Booklist. Available from Permanent Press wherever fine books are sold. Goldman is a New York Times best-selling author.

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