Too much of a good thing?
With ESPN, Showtime, HBO (occasionally) and now DAZN making sizable commitments to boxing, the business seems to be booming. No longer can the ignorant masses say the sport is “dying” or that it needs UFC President Dana White to save it. (Yeah, remember that?)
No, boxing will likely not enjoy the status it once did in America but it’s clearly a business on the upswing.
“I think it’s great because it’s going to be a lot more boxing for the public, whether it’s on television or on streaming. A lot more fighters are going to have the opportunity to be seen and more boxing is accepted and the more boxing is going to be utilized by these outlets, the better it is for the sport,” said Bob Arum, whose company Top Rank, last year, entered an exclusive deal with ESPN that was just extended till 2025.
Arum continued, “So it’s really great, I think, for the sport. For many, many years, boxing, by being narrow, y’ know, HBO and Showtime, they did a good job but that was very, very narrow. Particularly when you look at other sports that are on all kinds of different platforms and could been seen pretty much around the clock.”
In essence, boxing became a niche sport, as it transitioned to premium cable outlets.
“Boxing, years ago, was in that category where, when they started television, every network had a different night dedicated to fights. I don’t know if you’re going to get that anymore but you’re certainly going to get a tremendous amount of coverage of boxing. And for anybody who’s involved in the sport and loves the sport, that’s an absolute plus,” stated Arum.
However the question is, is more actually better? Does the sport run the risk of being watered down? That old phrase “quality over quantity” comes to mind here.
“There’s always a give and take,” reasoned Arum. “For every advance on one end, there may be something not good on the other. And that’s clearly the case but I think, overall, it’s tremendous.”
Will the sport be able to consummate bouts such as Errol Spence Jr. (Premier Boxing Champions/Showtime) vs. Terence Crawford (Top Rank/ESPN) and Anthony Joshua (Matchroom Boxing/DAZN) vs. Deontay Wilder (PBC/Showtime) in the future? For boxing to truly flourish, the power brokers must be willing to work together at certain points to make the best fights possible, even as it goes against the short-term best interest of the networks to which they are tied.
It wasn’t too long ago when many in the business feared that if HBO ever got out of boxing programming, the industry would be severely damaged. Ironically now as boxing is flourishing, many wonder if HBO is long for this racket. In addition to the aforementioned platforms, now Facebook Live is dipping its toe into the pool and, this upcoming weekend, Showtime is utilizing its Facebook and YouTube pages to stream fights from Ireland, featuring Carl Frampton and Tyson Fury.
Arum, who has seen many “bleached bones” in his desert, is bullish on the future of the sport but he also has been heard saying, in the past, that ”The more things change, the more they stay the same.”
“Listen,” he says, “I’ve been involved in boxing for over 50 years and there have been great, great things that have happened during the history that I’ve been in boxing. When Roone Alredge put the (Muhammad) Ali fights on television for about 10 years, the Ali fight with Henry Cooper on ‘Wide World of Sports’ (on ABC) and opened up television, in effect, in that era, that was a great step.
“When the networks, whether it was CBS, NBC or ABC, would do big boxing events, multi-fights on prime time television, that was a major, major factor. When ESPN made a deal with Top Rank in 1980, which lasted 15 years and did weekly fights, that was a big event, as with USA Network doing fights every week. That was big for boxing.”
This is all just part of the evolution of the business for a guy who’s seen it all throughout the years. “So again, let’s not get crazy. This is very, very good for boxing – but who knows if it’s the best it’s ever been for boxing,”said the 86-year-old Arum.
“Boxing has had many upbeat moments and times, just the way it’s had downbeat times during the period I’ve been involved.”
Now with promoters being so closely aligned with platforms, there is a need to make sure they deliver quality content to them. Because of this, purse bids will become more interesting than ever. Case in point is the most recent, involving the WBO 140-pound title between Maurice Hooker (the defending beltholder) and mandatory challenger Alex Saucedo.
On Tuesday, in Puerto Rico, Top Rank won the purse bid with an offering of just over $1.6 million, eclipsing the bid from Matchoom Boxing, which was at around $1.5 million. This means now that this fight will be on ESPN and take place in mid-November, in Oklahoma City, making this a home game for “Cholo” Saucedo.
This current marketplace favors the boxers who are in this position, as promoters aren’t just fighting for the right to stage a bout; they’re coming up with content for their broadcast partners.
On this week’s edition of “The 3 Knockdown Rule,” you’ll hear from heavyweight Bryant Jennings (who fights on ESPN, from Atlantic City, this weekend) and get an update on the Gennady Golovkin-Canelo Alvarez II undercard from Golden Boy Promotions President Eric Gomez:
HARD KNOCKS FLURRIES
ESPN+ is streaming the IBF 122-pound title fight between defending titlist Ryosuke Iwasa and TJ Doheny, this Thursday morning (6:45 a.m. ET) from Tokyo, Japan…Speaking of purse bids, Greg Cohen Promotions won one for the WBA “regular” middleweight title bout between beltholder Ryota Murata and Rob Brant but don’t expect Top Rank and Teiken Promotions to comply with that. Arum says he expects Vasiliy Lomachenko to face the winner of the Ray Beltran-Jose Pedraza bout on December 1…Seriously El Pollo Loco makes one helluva good burrito. Yeah, chicken is its thing and all but I’ve been seriously impressed by them…”Insecure” is off to a good start on HBO…I’m about to give up on “Ballers.” That show is jumping the shark…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.