PBC: Some random thoughts and musings

Photo credit: German Villasenor

Photo credit: German Villasenor

 

 

With much fanfare and hoopla, the premiere of “Premier Boxing Champions” (PBC) aired on NBC on Saturday night with a doubleheader featuring a “first main event” – and more on this phrase later – starring Adrien Broner in a 12-round snoozer over the ineffective John Molina Jr.. The featured bout between Keith Thurman and Robert Guerrero heated up late and, in many respects, saved this broadcast.

 

Here are some random thoughts and musings about what I witnessed watching this telecast on free-over-the-air terrestrial TV…

 

– OK, some of my colleagues were writing breathlessly about the bells-and-whistles that Al Haymon invested in the fancy new scoreboard, the entrance ramp and other doodads. Listen, I love all this stuff and have felt for years that the stateside promoters and networks needed to do a better job of ratcheting up the arena experience. But hello, have you guys seen what’s been going on in Europe for about 20 years? Just watch any entrance to a Wladimir Klitschko event; usually they are more entertaining than his fights.

 

Also, Top Rank Promotions began dressing up their bigger events (i.e. Manny Pacquiao fights) and now do their own lighting for many of their premium cable cards. They also produce their own video montages and a “This is Boxing” video before the main event fighters enter the ring (by the way, they need to update “This is Boxing” with a few more recent clips).

 

But was it just me or did the entrance ramp and the fighter-only walk-ins fall flat? Honestly, part of the allure of a big fight involving a marquee fighter is the anticipation that is created when he walks in with his crew – whether it’s just his training team or a rapper who does his entrance music. It’s one of the truly unique aspects of this sport. Many fans on Twitter compared PBC in this regard to “The Contender,” “American Gladiators” or “American Idol” and they weren’t necessarily complimentary.

 

These walk-ins just looked drab and emotionless. The efforts to create electricity and excitement actually did the opposite. An important component of big fights is the spectacle surrounding the actual bout. On Saturday evening, the broadcast was devoid of any of that.

 

So moving forward, regardless of the boxer, will the participants be forced into this cookie-cutter entrance with the symphonic stylings of Hans Zimmer? From the brutally simplistic march of Mike Tyson to the highly choreographed productions of Prince Naseem Hamed, these were not only part of the show; they said a lot about the participants and their personas. But perhaps the PBC really doesn’t want anyone standing out too much for fear of outshining the brand.

 

But the overall feel of this event was that while it was certainly slick, it was also very antiseptic. There was something very inorganic about the whole thing.

 

– Now, adding to my first point, while I appreciate trying to clear up the clutter often inside the ring before a big fight, I always thought the flag-wavers, the belt-carriers and the like were part of the fabric of the show. Yeah, I’ll say it – I missed Sam Watson’s boys being inside the ring. I know many of you are maddened by them but to me, that’s part of the fun of boxing, that their mere presence can actually get people to have a certain type of emotion (now, it says here that the reason they aren’t here anymore is so they don’t give off the impression that Haymon favors one fighter over another).

 

To me, they are like that college mascot of a rival you absolutely hate (for me, that would be the Leprechaun of Notre Dame) and just add to the euphoria of the underdog beating their fighter. So yeah, bring back the hype-men and the sycophants – just make sure they get outta the ring quickly.

 

– Not a fan of the ring announcer not actually being inside the ring. Again, want to enhance the in-arena atmosphere? Well, just see the type of effect that guys like Jimmy Lennon Jr. and Michael Buffer can have with an audience as they deliver the particulars as only they can. I’ve been told there is a stated intention to create their own traditions and get away from certain things. Honestly, this shouldn’t be one of the things they try to change. This aspect was never broken.

 

– Uh, no round card girls? Enough said; right, fellas?

 

– Also, what’s with the whole “first main event” phrasing? Uh, is that like being a “first wife” compared to a concubine? Just call a fight like Adrien Broner-John Molina Jr. what it is: the semi-main or co-feature. So what if NBC does a triple-header; we’re going to have a “third main event”? Again, this is PBC branding here and attempting to separate from the rest of the sport and its traditions.

 

– Another minority opinion, I’m sure, but I actually dig Adrien Broner in many ways. No, that doesn’t mean I’d necessarily want to hang out with him (well, no more than a week or so and that’s absolutely it!) but he’s one of those guys who makes covering boxing so damn fun. Yeah, he’s cringe-worthy and profane but I can’t help it; I find him amusing. In many ways, boxing is one of the last vestiges of the wild, wild west (which again, the PBC is trying to eradicate) and guys like Broner, with their lunacy, keep things interesting. There’s no doubt he was talked to by the higher-ups (being Haymon himself) to clean up his act for NBC.

 

This is completely understandable but they scrubbed him so clean to the point of being completely sanitized. Sorry, this version of “AB” stands for “Absolutely Boring.” Sorry, I don’t want to cover a bunch of Derek Jeters (no disrespect to one of the all-time Yankees). Seriously, Kenny Rice took away that microphone when Broner was getting into his “Can-Man” spiel like he was going to drop an N-bomb or something. Ah, c’mon, let Broner do Broner!

 

– There’s no doubt in my mind that Al Michaels and Marv Albert are all-time-great announcers. Their resumes speak for themselves. However, it’s been a very long time since they actually walked down Bash Blvd. and were involved in the fight game. And yes, while they are certainly transcendent names to the general sports fan, you can tell they simply aren’t very well versed with the current boxing game. And that is something that becomes very evident to the audience (especially the hardcore denizens of the sport).

 

Say what you will about Jim Lampley and Max Kellerman but they are fully engaged in the game (at least in the HBO realm) and it shows in each broadcast.

 

Also, Sugar Ray Leonard seemed a bit uncomfortable and was awfully repetitive in his statements. But again, maybe that’s directly related to how Albert set him up. I think this announcing crew is certainly a work in progress and based on the talent involved, it certainly wouldn’t be a surprise to see them grow and improve with each broadcast.

 

That said, I think less is more. I mean, geez, do we really need the cast of hundreds on this broadcast? It just seems like overkill. You really need someone in each corner? Also the hyperbole I heard was a bit maddening. Yeah, while Keith Thurman-Robert Guerrero heated up late, I hardly think it’ll be a “Fight of the Year” candidate unless the remainder of 2015 is sorely lacking in action.

 

– The announced crowd was over 10,000 but just about everyone knows the MGM Grand was papered to the rafters. Sources say hotel employees were offered free and discounted tickets and the PBC Twitter account was giving away tickets literally just hours before the fight to basically anyone in town with a few hours to kill.

Courtesy of www.twitter.com/premierboxing

Courtesy of www.twitter.com/premierboxing

And this audience often seemed very restless and bored till the second half of the Thurman-Guerrero fight.

 

What was left of the crowd for the Abner Mares fight – which aired on NBC Sports Network after Thurman-Guerrero – cleared out rather quickly as Mares’ performance had them taking off for the exits as if he were tear gas.

 

It’ll be interesting to see just how well these events do moving forward. I’m told that because of the equipment used for these shows (the video boards, the ramp, the scoreboard, etc). that these bigger PBC cards need to be staged in large venues and now they are already getting fans into the habit of expecting free tickets. And the Haymon “promoters” (who are really glorified site coordinators here), with the exception of Yvon Michel, aren’t exactly known for every filling arenas with actual fans.

 

– Did anyone notice how one of Thurman’s handlers (I think it was his trainer, Dan Birmingham) was prevented from holding up his WBA belt after the fight? There is a clear mission statement with the PBC and their broadcasts not even acknowledging the existence of the sanctioning bodies (ironic given one of the ads featuring Deontay Wilder during this broadcast had him stating he was “the heavyweight champion” when he can only make that claim after winning a WBC title). It’s been speculated for awhile that the PBC and Haymon will attempt to create their own belts and rankings ala the UFC.

 

– A press release said 27 cameras were used for this broadcast. Now, not sure you need that many for a sport that basically has three people in a 20-by-20 ring during the action but one thing that really caught my eye was the “Roundabout” 360-degree camera that has been on football broadcasts for several years. Now that’s something new to boxing and actually provides a fresh vantage point for boxing fans watching at home.

 

– According to various reports, the NBC ratings averaged right around three million viewers. Quite honestly, I have no idea what that really means in the grand scheme of things. You can interpret those numbers any way you want given what side of the fence you’re standing on. What I found interesting is that it looked like Corona was the only national ad along with a commercial starring Floyd Mayweather Jr. (who I guess is fighting someone pretty big on May 2 or something). Being a time-buy – something many are overlooking as they hail Haymon as the savior of boxing – this element is key. Attracting sponsors is an incredibly important component of this deal.

 

Now that the novelty factor of championship boxing being back on prime time NBC is gone, it’ll be interesting to see if they can now grow an audience moving forward.

 

– And one complaint I simply don’t understand is the one about commercials between rounds. Uh, folks, this is part of the deal of being on NBC. Last I checked, every other sport on major networks like this has a load of commercials. In fact, some sports have “TV timeouts” to stick in more ads. So c’mon, let this one go.

 

– The best part of this broadcast was the last half of the Thurman-Guerrero bout. After Thurman floored Guerrero in the ninth frame, Guerrero dusted himself off, survived the round, then gritted his teeth and proceeded to give “One Time” hell for the remainder of the fight. Although the scores were lopsided in favor of Thurman (120-107, 118-109 and 118-108), the bout still wound up being an entertaining scrap and it was really the only time the crowd (both inside the MGM Grand Garden Arena and the home viewers) truly enjoyed the telecast.

 

Yeah, when it’s all said and done, it’s mostly about the fights.

 

And they will need more fights like Thurman-Guerrero rather than Broner-Molina to make this work.

 

 

THE PRESIDENT

 

At the start of 2015, Andrew Kennedy aka “The President” (whose Twitter handle is @andrewvkennedy) sent in this Soapbox submission regarding what he dubbed “The Haymon Effect” and I just had to get his thoughts on this weekend’s card on NBC. Here’s how he felt:

 

“I thought of course the overall production was well done and slick. The promos with the fighters were tight and very modern.

 

“But of course, the overall feel was of a kind of generic reality show, where the most important element was the ‘PBC.’ The ring walks were generic, which helped reduce the importance of the individual fighter. The locker rooms were generic as well. These things shouldn’t really matter but I think they do to some degree. Very ‘sanitized’ and produced.

 

“Earlier in the day, I was tweeting old fights with [Marvelous Marvin] Hagler, [Roberto] Duran, [Muhammad] Ali, etc. And I was joking that these fights must have sucked because there was no Hans Zimmer music or huge entrance stage.

 

“For me, when you see Duran and Leonard walk through the crowd before their first fight, when you see Tyson walk through the crowd in his heyday, when you saw Ali and [George] Foreman enter the ring before the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ – those were immortal ‘entrances.’

 

“And you didn’t have to ‘create’ anything because those guys were real, larger-than-life fighters. And the story behind them was real and authentic. That’s what boxing is. You can have all the slick production you want, all the social media and advertising you want – it doesn’t really matter unless you have ‘real fighters’ who’ve connected with some kind of fan-base.

 

“People are drawn to the sport because of the ‘story.’ By story, I mean the path that the fighters have taken and sometimes the championship nature of the fight. The lead-up to fights like [Kelly] Pavlik-[Jermain] Taylor I or [Antonio] Margarito-[Miguel] Cotto I is what I live for, when you have two guys in their prime on a championship collision course.

 

“That sort of ‘authenticity’ is often the result of a slow progression. And it’s definitely something that cannot be ‘manufactured.’ The PBC will try to get folks to watch its product based on superficial reasons. Things like, ‘Oh, that Broner is sure a character!’ ‘Quillin’s an actor!’ ‘Thurman loves his dogs and Prius!’

 

“So this is what I was talking about, ‘The Haymon Effect.’ The sport needs to be ‘modernized’ – but it doesn’t need its soul ripped out in the process.

 

“One fight was decent last night but, at the end of the day, what did it mean? If the fights are ‘just fights’ with no belt association – it needs to be a really, really good fight for the casuals. At least in ‘BKB’ [“Big Knockout Boxing”], they changed the entire setup to make for action fights. LOL.

 

“This was the beginning of a new ‘history.’ Haymon will try and create all that drama and backstory within the context of his ‘league.’ But as I said before, I don’t know if you can do that while reducing the ‘individuality’ of the fighters and having such a ‘sanitized’ product.

 

“Bottom line: It was a slick product aimed at the casual fan, which is fine in certain respects and every so often. But if it becomes the norm, the sport will lose part of its essence, in my opinion.”

 

 

FINAL FLURRIES

 

By the way, what was with those PBC locker rooms? They looked like they could’ve gotten bottle service in there if they wanted…There was no chance of anyone getting hurt in the flyweight title fight between Amnat Ruenroeng and Zou Shiming…Tom Loeffler has confirmed that Gennady Golovkin’s next outing will be in Los Angeles in May…Thought Ievgen Khytrov got in some quality rounds in versus Jorge Melendez on Friday night…Really like the set-up at the Belasco Theater for Golden Boy Promotions’ “LA Fight Club”…Frank Gore to the Eagles? Truly an end of an era in San Francisco…The Buffalo Bills have a lot of nice parts; too bad they don’t have a quarterback (which is the most important thing)…Is Jim Boeheim going to evade the media forever?…FOX’s “Empire” had a great first season; it’s too bad it’s coming to an end…I just love daylight savings; don’t you?…I can be reached at steve.kim@ucnlive.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.

 

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