Joe Tessitore remains ringside for ESPN
As the fact is pointed out to Joe Tessitore that the last person at his network to be both the lead boxing voice and part of the “Monday Night Football” broadcast crew was the one-and-only Howard Cosell, he manages to chuckle and groan all at once.
“Oh my God; I don’t know if that’s good. Is that good?” he asked, after hosting ESPN’s coverage of the Vasiliy Lomachenko-Jorge Linares weigh-in from the Madison Square Garden a couple of weeks ago.
The comparisons are inevitable, something Tessitore admits.
“Last year I was out in Malibu for a month taping ‘Battle of the Network Stars’ for ABC, wearing the vintage, gold, custom sports coat. Boxing has been a huge part of my life and obviously, now with what the network is doing, it’s a massive part of my life and now I’m in the booth for Monday Night Football – am I channeling Cosell? How did that happen? And is that necessarily a good thing? I don’t know,” said Tessitore with a laugh, as he fully understands the impact and importance of the roles he’s earned.
After being a featured performer in the college football coverage for ESPN/ABC and SEC Network, the past several years, as he was given this plum opportunity, leaving boxing was never considered.
Tessitore says, “There wasn’t a decision to make, in terms of boxing, I will tell you that I just got done doing the (University of) Kentucky post-season game; I was doing the SEC Tournament and I just got off the air doing the Kentucky game. My agent had given me the heads-up the night before – and I give him pure autonomy to operate my career – ‘We’re going to have a deal tomorrow that you will say yes to and I’m going to do that for you.’
“And I received a call from the head of ESPN, as I’m racing to the airport to call a title fight at StubHub (Center). So I’m getting ready to do the (Oscar) Valdez-(Scott) Quigg fight and the phone rings. Boxing was right there as part of my life, as I got the call for Monday Night Football and it’s such a priority at the network right now and I think it’s the perfect marriage.”
There are many people who cover boxing, in some form, doing it till they can move onto another beat or a more high-profile sport. For Tessitore, boxing was a destination assignment through thick and thin (of which there has been a lot, during his time at ESPN). “I’ve never said good-bye to it; I chose that. And as you know, there have been some of those years where boxing retreated a little bit – but never went away – but there was an ebb-and-flow,” said Tessitore, who never wavered in his commitment to calling fights since arriving at ESPN in 2002.
“At the height of early in my career, we were doing ‘Tuesday Night Fights,’ ‘Wednesday Night Fights,’ ‘Friday Night Fights,’ ‘The Contender’ specials. I was doing HBO international, sometimes an HBO pay-per-view distribution. I was doing all the international calls. I was voicing over ESPN Classic’s entire fight library. I could get by with 100, 120 units of boxing in a year, early in my career at ESPN.”
As Tessitore’s career expanded and he moved up the ladder in Bristol, Connecticut, boxing was a constant, regardless.
“No matter where my career went, whether I was doing Triple Crown horse racing on ABC, whether I was doing major college football, I always told them I will never leave boxing. It’s my passion; I love the sport too much. And as you know, some of the level of fights that I was doing, at times, I was going from calling the college football playoff to a 500-person show in Trenton, New Jersey,” said Tessitore, who would rub elbows with University of Alabama head coach Nick Saban and then interview an unknown, eight-round fighter in the span of a few days.
For years, the Friday Night Fights series was a valuable developmental platform for building boxers the network didn’t feature competing at the highest levels. That is until last year, when ESPN struck a deal with Top Rank to bring Lomachenko and Terence Crawford to its airwaves. Boxing is no longer just a niche sport at the “Worldwide leader.”
As the agreement was announced, Tessitore’s first thought wasn’t necessarily that he would now be calling the biggest and best fights on ESPN but “as a boxing fan and as somebody who has dedicated so much of his time to the sport – that this is a paradigm shift. That the business of boxing was changing for the good of both the business and for the fans because now it’s going to get out of the corner of premium cable, where it’s been very healthy economically for the people involved in the sport but it’s not going to grow the next generation of both fans and fighters of the sport.
“So I was most excited about the business paradigm changing and knowing that that would give life to the sport beyond what you and I have known, our generation of dealing with the sport.”
This Saturday’s upcoming card is on the ESPN+ app which features two junior bantamweight title fights from the Selland Arena, in Fresno, California, with the IBF’s Jerwin Ancajas and the WBA’s Khalid Yafai in separate bouts.
“I don’t know if people understand the scope of what we’re doing. I think personally the ESPN app is a huge component of what’s happening,” explained Tessitore, who will not be ringside, as he will be attending his son’s graduation from prep school. “I think that may be the thing, as we talk about cord-cutting – now listen: Things have plateaued and the sky isn’t quite falling the way people are saying. There’s still 90 million people that are sitting there with a big screen in their house – but what we’re finding is, now, we don’t care how you consume it. We just care that you consume it.
“And I think personally the ESPN+ app is what’s going to be the biggest game-changer in the sport because, instead of the $70, $80, and then the feeling of ‘Why did I just do that?’ For $4.99 (a month), you get everything under the sun, including what would’ve been a pay-per-view fight a year ago.”
On June 9, ESPN+ has the exclusive broadcast coverage of the WBO welterweight title tilt between beltholder Jeff Horn and Terence Crawford, from Las Vegas. In addition to the fights that Top Rank is promoting, ESPN+ will also be acquiring rights to international fights. It did Amir Khan’s return to the ring, a few weeks ago, and, on Tuesday, it announced it would be airing the Jamie McDonnell-Naoya Inoue fight from Japan on Friday morning.
Tessitore will remain one of the busiest men in broadcasting. When asked if his life changes in any way with the new gig, he stated, “Not that much. I tell you one thing that changes is the relevance and the scrutiny. Yesterday I was on a national media conference call. I answered one question and the New York Post turned that one question into something that it completely wasn’t. I understand they’re doing their job but anytime you’re attached to that brand, it changes. The spotlight changes. The scrutiny changes. The criticism changes. What people say of you, people will cover you. That’s the reality of it.”
And yeah, it can actually be a benefit to boxing.
“Because of the attention – and certainly if you saw the press release ESPN put out and the internet article that was put out – half of the back end of the article is about my love of boxing and promoting this fight on Saturday night because that’s what I chose to talk about. So it’s going to be inseparable, the fact that your top boxing broadcaster is also your top NFL broadcaster,” said Tessitore, a graduate of Boston College, “so I hope it benefits our sport inside the sports, as well.”
But as long as he’s broadcasting, Tessitore plans on being ringside calling the action.
“Unless the sport is no longer being put forth on the network level, national level, which I do not see,” he states. “I think we have just gone through a rebirth of the sport. I think the sport is actually ascending and I think it’s been proven that the sport never really goes away. As long as the sport is on that top-tier level, I will commit myself to broadcast it.
“There’s no way around it.”
This whole interview with Joe can be heard on last week’s edition of “The 3 Knockdown Rule,” hosted by Mario Lopez and Yours Truly.
Here is this week’s edition of The 3 Knockdown Rule, in which Matchroom Boxing Group Managing Director Eddie Hearn calls in and talks about DAZN and the “Shirley Winkle” moniker, among other things.
The ESPN+ coverage of McDonnell-Inoue, along with Ken Shiro vs. Ganigan Lopez, begins at 7:15 a.m. ET/4:15 a.m. PT, on Friday morning…Jose Pedraza and Shakur Stevenson will be a part of the Horn-Crawford undercard on June 9…So is David Benavidez heading to Top Rank?…The WBO has formally ordered Jaime Munguia-Liam Smith for Munguia’s 154-pound title…I got the Cavs in seven now…I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and I tweet (a lot) at twitter.com/steveucnlive. I also share photos of stuff at instagram.com/steveucnlive and can also be found at tsu.co/steveucnlive.