PBC on NBC premieres with hoopla to spare…but should we care?
On Saturday night, live from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nev., NBC pulled out all the stops as the network premiered its brand-new effort, “Premier Boxing Champions.” High on production value yet conspicuously low on recognizing anything remotely associated with boxing’s most prominent sanctioning bodies, PBC on NBC delivered intriguing but head-scratching fare (and this even was reflected by some of the evening’s competitors, who seemed somewhat weirded out by competing in such a unique setting) designed to bring professional boxing back to its roots – free network television. From the direct line of communication series host Al Michaels had with the crowd to the bold-hued backstage areas where the fighters warmed up and the ramps from which the fighters descended, Al Haymon and Company cut no corners in presenting a product deserving of WWE-eqsue awe. My only complaint in the aesthetics department? No pyro.
The very first televised bout on the docket was the junior welterweight co-main event between former three-division titlist Adrien Broner, 30-1 (22) and John Molina Jr., 27-6 (22). Originally looked at sideways for coming in to the official weigh-in one pound heavy, the perennially brash Broner wasn’t penalized since the contract weight was “140-pounds plus one pound maximum.” Naturally, 16 ounces might not make a difference to you or me but on the same day scales, Broner came in at 157 pounds – a middleweight – and Molina weighed 154 – a junior middleweight.
That said, weight was hardly the issue as “The Problem” was nothing but a problem for Molina throughout the 12-round affair. This virtually unrecognizable, “Aw, shucks” (because he’s on free, censor-happy television) Broner came off the blocks with a sporadic jab as Molina waited things out. Broner would land a sharp, little hook, then land another hook before Molina threw one of his own and missed. The round was tentative and choppy. Before the end of the round, Molina and Broner would mix it up briefly in a clinch as the crowd boos.
In round two, Broner again opens with the jab; Molina fires a jab of his own and Broner lands a right and left. Referee Robert Byrd warns Molina for leading with his head, though that really didn’t seem the case as Molina seemed to be trying find his way inside to engage Broner closely. Molina then tried to bring the fight to Broner with a sloppy combo to no avail. A right hand from Molina lands before round’s end.
Broner started to dictate the pace in the third and Molina continued to be inactive way too long for anyone’s comfort, namely those in attendance. Molina woke up to briefly maul Broner on the inside before missing a right cross. Molina landed a right hand, then another right before Byrd gave him another warning (for whatever reason). At that point, “The Gladiator” seemed too consumed with carrying his gloves high before landing two sweet right hands and a left, which seemed to light a fire under his ass, spurning him to go a little wild before the end of the round.
Interestingly enough, between the third and fourth rounds, a commercial featuring Floyd Mayweather Jr. touting his May 2 bout with Manny Pacquiao reared its head, answering the question, “Will we hear about any other major players outside the PBC microcosm?” (Well, other than the fact that Lucas Matthysse was referred to in relation to Molina and their “2014 Fight of the Year,” of course, Mayweather is a Haymon Guy.)
Broner opens round five jabbing straight to Molina’s head and body, rapidly and in succession. Broner fires off a combo before locking into a clinch but Molina weathers the storm and lands a one-two of his own. Things get antsy as Broner eggs Molina on, then breaks off a hook as both men trade near the bell with Molina trying to grasp an edge.
Rounds six featured more of the same script with Molina trying his damnedest to land that huge (yet telegraphed) Hail Mary shot that very rarely landed. A right left combo punctuated by a right uppercut gave way to Broner toying with his opponent even further, poking him with his jab. Broner punked Molina in the seventh by simply evading him and throwing shots here and there.
In the eighth, the highest level of action was a weird gesticulation off the ropes Broner as Molina had him trapped. Whether a halfhearted dance or something vulgar-in-the-making, it was mildly uncomfortable nonetheless. The ninth saw just as much “action” with a minor spat between Molina and Broner with Byrd making a parental yet passive-aggressive stand at trying to get the two to knock it off (likely being the catalyst for referee/guest analyst Steve Smoger to accuse Byrd of being over-officious…he was right).
The 10th onward consisted of more telegraphing from an increasingly lethargic Molina on arguably the biggest stage on which he’s ever performed – and blowing it. Near the end of the final heat, Broner put on his dancing shoes and circled around his confused quarry to run out the clock.
UCNLive scored the bout 119-109 for the Cincinnati, Ohio native and official ringside judges Burt Clements and Patricia Morse Jarman saw it 120-108 with John McKaie scoring the fight 118-110.
As rigid as the fight played out, the post-fight interviews were even more cringe-worthy in one way or another. Molina claimed Broner didn’t want to fight, that he ran and refused to engage when Broner was the only fighter of the two who showed up for what amounted to a glitzy sparring session. And Broner? Well, he had to break off a very uncomfortable attempt at slipping in an “Anyone can get it…” tangent. There you have it. No matter the platform, Adrien Broner can’t NOT be a villain.
Keith Thurman: Ghostbuster
Premier Boxing Champions wasn’t screwing around when part of its mission statement declared there would be less emphasis on belts. Less? How about none? When Keith Thurman made his way to the ring to face former two-division titlist Robert Guerrero (ringside commentator Marv Albert referred to “The Ghost” as a former four-division champion. Two of those instances were when Guerrero possessed interim straps), not one mention of his WBA “regular” title was made. I kid you not – NOT ONE. In fact, Mayweather and Pacquiao were referred to as the two-top welterweights in the world without even mentioning THEIR belts. Isn’t that freaking nuts?
Thurman came out aggressive but both fighters traded sporadically. “One Time” landed a nice combo but Guerrero countered comfortably. Thurman lands a right hand, then digs to the body near the end of the round. Guerrero tried to measure Thurman at the opening of the second round with his jab but Thurman moved his body well to offset Guerrero’s attempts. Thurman lands an uppercut off a lunge, then lunges in further to the body, connecting with a flurry. Thurman lands upstairs and Guerrero lands a counter left before Thurman lands another right in kind.
In the third, Guerrero seemed more open upstairs for Thurman’s straight right down the pipe, while Thurman was completely focused at the task at hand. When Guerrero tried to mount an attack, Thurman would stem it. But when the Gilroy, Calif. (the garlic capitol of the world! It smells fantastic!) native finally made an effort count, both men clashed heads, resulting in a noticeable lump on the left side of Thurman’s forehead.
Thurman regained control of the pace in the fourth with moments of aggression. Guerrero countered but Thurman countered Guerrero’s counters, connecting with two consecutive right hands.
Nothing terribly consequential happened in the fifth other than Guerrero seemingly trying to find himself but in the sixth, Thurman landed a big right, then another before Guerrero connects with a left cross. Both traded shots to the body and ate left hands from each other before Thurman wobbled Guerrero with a right hand.
Thurman’s jab rocks Guerrero’s head back in the seventh because it was just plain easier to do as time wore on. Thurman becomes more elusive, having taken Guerrero completely out of his game, and lands a short, right uppercut to the body. Guerrero eats another right hand before Thurman fires to the body then ducks out of harm’s way.
A frustrated Guerrero paws with the jab in the eighth but Thurman stays focused and lands a right to the body. I like how Thurman doesn’t just rely on attacking one spot on Guerrero. It’s really a great way to handle a southpaw. Guerrero kept trying to connect with his right hook and landed once but Thurman landed a cross to the chest and a right upstairs.
The ninth became a pivotal point in the bout when Thurman landed a huge right upstairs followed by a grazing left hook, dropping the former featherweight and junior lightweight titlist. As Guerrero beat referee Kenny Bayless’ count, a laceration flanking his left eye drizzled blood down his face. Thurman then trapped Guerrero in a corner until the latter was saved by the bell ending the round.
Bayless called a brief halt to the bout in the 10th to tend to tape dangling from Guerrero’s glove but Thurman lands a left and right when the action resumes. Guerrero lunges in and eats a right for his troubles but traps Thurman on the ropes, attacking his body. Thurman countered with a short, right uppercut upstairs. Thurman landed some lefts and rights but Guerrero found a second wind of sorts, mauling Thurman in return. Guerrero would then try to lunge inward as Thurman landed a swinging right hand.
Guerrero would pursue Thurman in the 11th and Thurman would elude him to a chorus of boos. Guerrero trapped Thurman on the ropes but absorbed a strafing left and right that didn’t do much damage. It could be argued that either the shots weren’t thrown with much force or perhaps Guerrero was working off pure endorphins. Nonetheless, Guerrero conducted a relatively empty pursuit.
The 12th and final round saw “The Ghost” mount one last attack in the corner. Both fighters mixed it up with attempts at short uppercuts deep on the inside but Thurman connected with a wide right hand. Guerrero, working on pure testicular fortitude, soldiered through but Thurman would totally pop a Broner by circling around Guerrero. Thurman connects high on Guerrero’s head with a right hand, then another right. Thurman then controlled what pace remained as the bout’s final bell sounded.
Judge Adelaide Byrd’s official scorecard mirrored UCNLive’s at 120-107 while Dave Moretti and Jerry Roth scored the fight 118-109 and 118-108, respectively.
With the win, Keith Thurman continues his undefeated streak and moves his record to 25-0 (21) while Guerrero drops to 32-3-1 (18).
(Update: though no further mention of Thurman’s WBA “regular” belt was made, when Thurman’s hand was raised, his belt made a “Hey, what about me, guys?!” cameo as a member of Team Thurman hoisted it high above his head.)
On NBC Sports Network, former three-division titlist Abner Mares, 29-1-1 (15), secured a 10-round, unanimous decision over Arturo Santos Reyes. 18-5 (5).
What say you, UCNation? Will you partake in PBC via any of its other network platforms? I certainly will. I think it deserves another look. And fight fans of all sorts deserve free boxing.