Any New Year’s resolutions for Bob Arum?
So with the calendar having turned to 2018, does Bob Arum, the founder of Top Rank, have any particular resolutions, regarding the boxing business?
“Just do the best we can, I really mean it,” he said on Wednesday. “We’re on the right track now. We’ve got great people we’re working with over at ESPN. We have a network where the people are really going from treating the sport with the back of the hand to now being fans who are really involved in it.”
Last summer, in a much ballyhooed move, Top Rank entered an agreement with ESPN to bring all its boxers and fights to the network. Four-round prospects to world champions under the Top Rank banner would be showcased on the four-letter monolith. This past Monday, Arum was a guest of ESPN at the Rose Bowl and was given VIP status during the game. “You can tell when you get that type of treatment that they’re all-in,” he stated.
Currently there are three major networks (HBO, Showtime and ESPN) who are heavily involved in the sport and each have clear alliances with various promoters. So the question is: Can everyone involved “reach across the aisle,” as Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill once said, to work together for the good of the sport?
Arum says, “That’s easier said than done. It can be done; you can’t force it but it can be done and it will be done. But you also have to realize that good promoters – let’s say it’s difficult for me to get a fighter who appears on Showtime all the time – it can eventually be done. But it takes patience and time and trading and all that.
“But there are so many really good fighters around the world that don’t have any link to any network and that’s the guys we’re going after, to be credible opponents for the guys we promote. So for example, (former WBA junior featherweight titlist Scott) Quigg, Quigg doesn’t belong to (Al) Haymon or doesn’t have a tie to Haymon, doesn’t have a tie to Peter Nelson (the head of HBO Sports), doesn’t have a tie to (Stephen) Espinoza (of Showtime Sports). He’s managed by (Matchroom Boxing Group Managing Director) Eddie Hearn, so it’s much easier to arrange a fight with Quigg.”
Quigg could be facing WBO featherweight titlist Oscar Valdez on March 10. The rest of the beltholders at 126 pounds are aligned with Haymon and Premier Boxing Champions and therefore on the other side of the street, for the time being.
That said, should more boxers perhaps sign with promotional outfits who aren’t so closely associated with a particular network?
“No, I think that’s sorta silly,” expressed Arum, who explained the realities of the situation. “I mean, for example, a fighter who signs with Golden Boy (Promotions) says, ‘Look, Golden Boy has a great relationship with HBO and it will make it easier for me to get on HBO.’ Similar with Haymon, ‘If you sign with me and, before you know it, you’ll be on Showtime,’ and, with me, we say the same thing about ESPN.
Yeah, sometimes it’s not what you know but whom you know.
“If a fighter isn’t signed with anybody with a connection to a network, then it makes it much more difficult,” said the veteran promoter, who then got poetic. “A rose is born to blush unseen and lose its essence in the desert air. If nobody knows the guy and he’s fighting on club shows, he can be the greatest fighter in the world. It doesn’t mean anything.”
For now, the main focus at Top Rank is to continue to cultivate its ESPN program. Arum says, while the early results have been promising, from a ratings perspective, “What we weren’t able to forecast is the enthusiasm, that they would embrace the product, that we were never able to fully appreciate that people who were really relatively disdainful about the sport would, in such a short period of time, become converts and really get involved with the sport and look to use the sport and its telecasts to really help with what they’re doing on the network, the digital and all that.
“I thought that would take years to get them really on board.”
And yes, there is an ABC ingredient to this deal (both networks are under the Disney corporate umbrella). Arum explained, “The component is that, just the way in their football packages, ESPN has the right to kick an program over to ABC because ABC has an even bigger platform than even ESPN, being an over-the-air network. So if ESPN feels that ABC has an open date and it’s a fight that could be better for everybody if it were on ABC, they have the right to kick it to ABC.”
So is there a possibility of this happening in 2018?
“Yes, more than once,” answered Arum.
Meanwhile, Top Rank and ESPN work on the putting together the rest of the early schedule for 2018. They kick off this year, on February 3, with a card that will feature WBO super middleweight titlist Gilberto Ramirez and IBF junior bantamweight champion Jerwin Ancajas, from Corpus Christi, Texas. Then they’ll host a card, on February 16, with Ray Beltran facing Paulus Moses for the vacant WBO lightweight title.
“What a difference it is to work with dates and therefore set a schedule without having to go to somebody and beg for a date or ask for a date and all this uncertainty; ‘When is a guy going to fight?” Now we have dates. It’s a question of slotting everybody into the various dates,” said Arum.
Yes, that fight is being discussed for March 10 and, according to Arum, “We’re working on it. There are negotiations and so forth and everybody is in good faith and we’re very hopeful we can get it done – but it’s not done yet. But everybody is working to get it done. It’s not like anybody is forcing anybody to do it – everybody wants to get it done.”
So what’s next for WBO junior lightweight titleholder Vasyl Lomachenko and undefeated former two-division champion Terence Crawford?
Arum told UCNLive.com, “I wont tell you until we get it done.”
However he added, “Vasyl Lomachenko will fight at least three times in 2018 and the same with Terence Crawford.”
It’s clear that these two are major priorities of this new partnership.
“This gives us the platform to showcase our fighters on a much more frequent basis than was the case when before we were, in effect, sharing a platform with a good number of other promoters,” pointed out Arum.
NEW YEARS FLURRIES
“The Next Round,” with Gabe Montoya and me, and “The 3 Knockdown Rule,” with Mario Lopez and me will return next week…Valdez-Quigg would take place at the StubHub Center…Looks like April 28 is the date for the 2018 debut of middleweight contender Danny Jacobs. The Barclays Center, in Brooklyn, New York, is being held; I’m told…The Rose Bowl between Georgia and Oklahoma might be the most dramatic and exciting game I’ve ever attended…Arum says he is going to next Monday night’s championship game between Georgia and Bama’ as a guest of ESPN, once again…I can be reached at email@example.com 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.