Fighting Words: Boxing Makes Network Return on NBC

This post is a little late going up by oh, five days or so, but this blog doesn’t really pay the bills so all three of you reading this will probably just have to deal.

Boxing made it’s return to network television this past Saturday, as NBC hosted the debut of the powerful Al Haymon’s new ‘Premier Boxing Champions’, a new venture in the sport of boxing and an effort to create a new power structure within the sport. For the past few years, the mysterious Haymon has been signing fighters in droves to his stable of clients, and has developed a reputation of getting his fighters high paydays and soft matchups. He first partnered with Golden Boy and Showtime as the avenue for his fighters after being blackballed by HBO, and has now appeared to have collected enough financial funding to effectively bring his huge stable of fighters to non-premium TV by buying airtime on networks like NBC, Spike TV, CBS and others.

It’s an interesting twist for the sport, which has been relegated to niche sport status with most of its major events taking place on PPV or the premium cable channels (HBO, Showtime). Can the sport survive on the terrestrial networks and basic cable channels? Is there enough appetite to make it more of a mainstream sport? It remains to be seen, but it’s an interesting development to say the least.

The debut of the PBC series had two solid-looking matchups on paper, and went off well, with reports saying it drew over 3 million viewers and led the networks in the coveted 18-to-49 demographic. It was an event die-hard boxing fans rallied behind as it signified a hope that the sport wasn’t dying, and NBC put their muscle behind it to make it seem like a major event. Al Michaels as the host of the show, and the iconic voice of Marv Albert and name of Sugar Ray Leonard (regardless of what you think of how they performed) lent the show an air of legitimacy, something that in this sport is a bit harder to come by. The production value was through the roof, and the show looked slick, professional and like a, well, real sport.

At the end of the day though, what’s going to determine the success or failure of this venture and of boxing as a whole is the fights themselves. How did they do? Well, there were mixed results. Here is our recap.

Fight Recap: Keith Thurman UD12 Robert Guerrero

Sometime the Wolf Score: Thurman 118 – 109 Guerrero

The main event featured young budding star Keith Thurman (25-0, 21 KO) face off against tough veteran Robert Guerrero (32-3-1, 18 KO) in a rough affair where neither guy walked out looking pretty but having gained the admiration of the fans. The fight started off rather slowly as the rhythm was established quickly: Thurman was the faster fighter who landed the stronger punches, and he used his precise movement to land sharp power shots that continually snapped the more plodding Guerrero’s head back.

Guerrero found some success in the third round, managing to get inside and land a few nice shots, but the most damage was done during an accidental headbutt (an accident that often happens in Robert Guerrero fights) that wound up giving Thurman a really gross looking hematoma that puffed out the left side of his forehead grotesquely. Perhaps not what the executives at NBC wanted to see at their first national show, but it did add some drama early on to a fight that lacked it, especially given Thurman re-establishing control from the fourth round on.

In the ninth round, Thurman floored Guerrero hard, no small task given how tough “The Ghost” has been throughout his career. Guerrero was wobbly back on his feet, but managed to last the round and survive a Thurman onslaught in an attempt to finish the fight after smelling blood.

The tenth round is where fans were made. Guerrero picked himself up out of his corner and came out in berzerker mode, muscling Thurman into the ropes and turning it into a rough and tumble, phone booth affair, locking foreheads with Thurman and firing short punches at each other with barely room between them to take a breath. Despite never feeling like he was doing serious damage, it created some compelling drama and showed incredible heart, which is what this show needed at the end of the day. While the announcers oversold it a bit live–this was far from a fight of the year contender–it still brought decent excitement to a card that needed it after a horrid opener (more on this in a bit).

Thurman got on his bicycle for the last few rounds out of what seemed like respect for Guerrero and his big chin, and took his deserved decision victory with raised arms as the bell rang to end the fight. Though he didn’t get the stoppage, it was a big win for Thurman on a major stage–Guerrero is someone who’s never been stopped before, is a top-level welterweight and a tough motherfucker. Thurman had him hurt badly during the fight, and while you’d like to see him close the show, he fought well and handled the adversity in the fight strongly.

For Thurman moving forward, I’d like to see them continue to build him and match him strong with other top-tier contenders, eventually angling him for some big fights. Though Shawn Porter’s stock is much lower than before, that’s a fight that’s still really interesting to me. The division is also stocked with other talent, from Marcos Maidana, to Timothy Bradley, even the loser of May’s Mayweather-Pacquiao bout. A lot of roads to go for ‘One Time’ from here.

For Guerrero, this fight cements his status as a solid high-level gatekeeper but ultimately an also-ran contender in the division. He’ll never be the top fighter in the division–the fact that he got a 2013 shot at Floyd Mayweather is a total joke–but he’s a good measuring stick for up and comers like Thurman, and he will always have his chin and his heart.

Fight Recap: Adrien Broner UD12 John Molina Jr.

Sometime the Wolf Score: Broner 119 – 110 Molina Jr.

The opener of this bout promised some action, as the ‘budding’ star, the always-controversial Adrien Broner (30-1, 22 KO), fought a clear B-side in John Molina Jr (27-6, 22 KO), a fighter who had lost two straight and five of his last eight but was expected to provide for some drama given his game-changing power. Last year, in a similar talent mismatch, Molina lost to power puncher Lucas Matthysse in a barnburner of a match that was named by some as the Fight of the Year.

This fight not only didn’t live up to any sort of meager hype it had, it also quite possibly risked setting boxing back 30 years. As the opener of boxing’s return to network TV, the fight was a complete turd, with Broner clearly outclassing Molina but content to just potshot and not be overly aggressive, and John Molina seemingly forgetting how to box, doing absolutely nothing each round except for occasionally winging desperate right hands that started below his hip and ended by swiping the air literally feet away from Broner’s mass.

The fight was so disastrous that I scored the last round 10-10, as neither man deserved the round. Molina had gotten blown out the entire fight yet never threw a punch in the final minute, and Broner literally chose to run around with his hands up like an idiot instead of engaging for the last 30 seconds. It was a joke, and both fighters deserved the angry boos the crowd rained down on them. Not the way I’m sure NBC would have wanted to start their boxing offerings, but so goes the sport–you really never know.

From here, hopefully Broner steps up his level of competition following three straight bounce-back level fights following his loss to Marcos Maidana, but I’m just not sold that he’s the superstar he was supposed to be. He is talking trash with Amir Khan on social media at the moment, and that fight is at least intriguing.

Molina looks like he’s done after that beating by Matthysse. Don’t think I need to see him in a high-level fight, ever again. Hopefully he enjoys that NBC money and finds another line of work.

Other TIdbits/Thoughts on the Show

  • AL Michaels is all class. He just brings it. Loved him as host and would love to see him as play-by-play
  • Marv Albert was very rust as the play-by-play man, but he has a legendary voice. Give us a good, back and forth fight, and get him some reps, and we can hope for some legendary calls
  • One limitation on network TV is that they’ll never be able to show us the corner men talking to their fighters–way too much foul language going on there. That is sorely missed and very noticed, but otherwise the fight production was good
  • Thumbs down to having fighters walk in by themselves with no entourage with Hans Zimmer music playing. Walkouts are a time-honored tradition and a good glance at a fighter’s personality. With this kind of thing, we miss things like Tyson Fury singing himself to the ring last weekend, or anything Prince Naseem did. The no in-ring announcer in favor of a disembodied voice was a miss too
  • Interested in seeing how this moves forward, and if the ratings continue to stay high. There weren’t a lot of advertisers during this first show–if they can’t draw sponsorship, this won’t last long. Here’s hoping it works, however you feel about Al Haymon and his growing empire.
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