They spared no expense
While making the drive to work on Monday morning and listening to sports talk radio as I typically do, I heard three different spots for this weekend’s debut of “Premier Boxing Champions” (PBC) within the half-hour it takes to get to a place I like to call “Hell.” It’s unprecedented that any non-pay-per-view boxing event is advertised on the radio, let alone one that will be free for everyone on NBC this Saturday night. After hearing these commercials, I started think of all the other advertising PBC has done on television, billboards, online, the quality of production in their website and promos and the huge investment they have made in buying time on prime-time cable. Taking all that into account and realizing it’s finally here, after the radio spot ended, I said aloud, “They really are sparing no expense.”
The announcement of PBC this past January was a culmination of a master project by famed adviser Al Haymon. Beforehand, there was only speculation as to what he was up to but when you look back at his fast-paced rate of signing fighters as well as protecting them over the entire year of 2014, it was clear something was on the horizon. Back in August, I wrote about this in an article called “Calm Before the Storm,” laying out what was happening and speculating what may materialize during a time seemingly all networks and promoters were punting in every situation – waiting for something to transpire. Well, that storm is here and it officially touches ground in Las Vegas this Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Despite the revelation of this new platform that will also be shown on CBS, ESPN2, Spike TV, Televisa and Bounce TV(?), there is still wide speculation on how all this will play out. With Haymon paying for these shows to be broadcast on these networks, rather than the other way around, it’s a power move which involves a lot of risk – something he and his fighters eluded last year. Will it play out well for the sport at the end of the day? The answer to that question remains to be seen.
Headlining this Saturday night on NBC is an intriguing match-up between Robert Guerrero and Keith Thurman. A fight between veteran contender and new jack contender that is the kind of matchmaking Haymon fighters have been missing. The co-main will be Adrien Broner vs John Molina Jr., two men unafraid to stand in the pocket and trade with each other, which is sure to produce fireworks. From what PBC has scheduled so far, I couldn’t be more excited despite some minor details (which I will explain later). First, I’ll start with the positive things I like about PBC but it should be understood that PBC isn’t trying to convince the current boxing fan like me to watch their product. They would be wasting their time were that the case because today’s boxing fan will typically watch regardless of the channel. They are trying to do captivate a new audience, so that should be taken into account when laying out my pros and cons:
Boxing at a bar…
I’ve longed for watching A-level boxing at a sports bar without having to pay a cover charge on a Saturday night or even having to ask beforehand if the place will even show it. Well, that’s exactly what PBC brings to the table, undoubted availability everywhere. A lot of people in bars are already looking for a fight and now we can just watch one in a befuddled level of peace and harmony!
In the midst of watching a great fight among people who actually care who is taking the drubbing, the drama can certainly be felt in the air. With that drama resonating in a packed sports bar, even a clueless person can’t help but watch what’s going on solely off how others are reacting to the organized violence. A great boxing match is like a car wreck; many are scared to see one but so few look away. However, the key factor is “great boxing match” and if it’s the opposite of that, the sentiment could completely backfire.
Should PBC catch its legs and continue to provide sports bars with continued solid product, they will start to promote the fights themselves, vying for groups of boxing fans to come watch the fights in their establishments. It’s also not like baseball or football games, which run for three-to-four hours either; boxing is a maximum of 48 minutes (counting rest periods in a 12-rounder) per match and, if we’re lucky, much shorter.
Legendary moments in sports have been called in the past by PBC host Al Michaels and blow-by-blow broadcaster Marv Albert. Hearing these two voices phrasing boxing innuendos and just even pronouncing fighters names can offer the unsuspecting viewer instant validity to what they’re experiencing. That’s besides the fact both Michaels and Albert both have experience in calling boxing matches throughout their storied careers.
Alongside Al Bernstein, Michaels most notably called the legendary 1985 middleweight title match between Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Tommy Hearns. Although he won’t be calling the live action, the presence of the man who calls the Super Bowl every few years, countless Triple Crown horse races, past World Series, Stanley Cup Finals and Olympiads, Michaels will deliver a comfortable setting to PBC on NBC.
As for the blow-by-blow announcer, whose resume includes handfuls of Super Bowls, NBA Finals and Stanley Cup Finals, Albert will make a fitting return ringside as he called the last prime-time boxing event broadcast on NBC back in 1985 when Larry Holmes fought Carl Williams. Sitting next to Albert, as the color analyst, will be none other than Sugar Ray Leonard, who has also provided analysis for countless networks over the past few decades.
Some may consider Michaels and Albert past their primes considering both 70 years of age and older but I will put those qualms to rest as they are both still arguably two of the best at what they do. Their age is just experience in my eyes and if they can’t perform well, I’m positive they would unplug their microphones by the time the audience would even begin to recognize their voices fading. Broadcasting is not easy and there’s a reason these guys ares still called upon to do sport’s biggest events.
Michaels, Albert, and Leonard will only work the prime time NBC cards, as five broadcasts are currently scheduled. PBC on CBS will be make its debut on April 4 and whose voices will preside over those calls are yet to be announced. One would guess it would be the Showtime crew of Al Bernstein, Mauro Ranallo and Paulie Malignaggi considering CBS owns Showtime. In my perfect world, Steve Farhood, Barry Tompkins and Rafael Marquez would join Bernstein – but now I’m just getting picky. Regardless, I’m sure it will be as solid as the current programming Showtime currently exhibits.
I’ve seen plenty of hoopla when it comes to PBC promoting its hiring of Hans Zimmer to provide the music for their productions. Many will say sarcastically, “Well, that’s exactly what boxing has been missing, orchestrated music.” No, it’s not going to do anything for the sport when it comes to what takes place in the ring but has anyone else noticed the power of orchestrated theme songs in other sports?
When NBC plays its Sunday night broadcast of their NFL games, you know it’s game-on when you hear the music. Same with FOX and CBS. NBA fans can’t sit here and tell me they don’t miss the old “NBA on NBC” theme. Even though the NBA hasn’t been played on NBC in 13 years, the theme song still resonates and brings back memories. ABC/ESPN have a solid one today and the TNT theme isn’t bad either. The last one I will mention is probably the best and that is an Olympic theme that still holds strong and is burnt into our brains despite seldom being played.
I can go on with the examples and I understand I might be in the minority here but the point I’m trying to make is this theme produced by Zimmer is a bigger deal than we may all realize, Of course, that would only be the case if we’re still hearing it years from now and it is the elevator music to our boxing memories. You can listen to a preview of the PBC on NBC music here and you could be rest assured he’ll deliver something that portrays the art of battle through sound beautifully. The music is a sneaky good detail to have in my opinion.
It’s an obvious point to make. There was a time when boxing was a mainstream sport in the United States and it reached its highest peak when it was broadcast on lower-tier cable on a regular basis. Since boxing’s absence from basic cable, other sports that have continually been shown on the format have all grown substantially, while boxing delved into networks with limited viewership and earned the niche status it holds today.
Skills in the boxing ring can make one a champion but exposure makes them a star. You have probably heard the boxing idiom “Skills pay the bills” but it only sounds good off the tongue – it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true. It’s not that the likes of HBO and Showtime haven’t produced stars; they have but only fewer than a handful have reached mainstream stardom since the new millennium. It’s a problem and it makes some fighters almost too powerful with their given “star” status. If there were more of them, this would be less of a problem.
One detail which I applaud the PBC for is it strives to give a fighter’s backstory. Not only are they doing a documentary-type series on NBC Sports Network called “Corner to Corner” (basically another version of HBO’s “24/7”), which will likely feature fighters for their upcoming dates, but the PBC website is put together extremely well. I don’t know if you’ve ever taken a gander at other promotional websites but other than Top Rank Promotions, it’s a waste of time. Not only does PBC go into detail but its site is smooth and sharp all at the same time. It’s something that may not be of importance to old-timers but is when it comes to the younger demographic they’re trying to captivate.
Censorship and Commercials…
This really isn’t something of which PBC is at fault. I guess you have to take the bad with the good but one thing I’ve always liked about HBO and Showtime is obviously there are no commercials and the unforgettable moments that come with not having to worry about FCC regulations. That’s about to change when boxing heads to NBC and CBS.
Since DVR and Netflix were introduced to my living room years ago, I’ve always opted for watching a program later just to avoid having to deal with commercials. They just bother me. I’ve never been convinced to buy a product solely from watching a commercial, therefore I consider them a waste of my time. I don’t like my time wasted, so I will stop wasting yours by cutting this personal rant way short.
As an avid sports fan, commercials are something I can’t get away from, no matter how hard I try. It’s impossible to watch a recorded sporting event these days without already knowing the result. Another thing I really like about HBO and Showtime telecasts are the candid moments in which the camera shows the intimate talk between trainer and fighter between rounds. With PBC, some of those moments will be replaced with commercials. It’s understood that this is the nature of the beast when going to mainstream television and it’s not necessarily PBC’s fault but not having to deal with ads on a premium network was certainly a luxury.
Not only will you miss some moments between rounds but when trainer-fighter interaction is shown, don’t be surprised to have abrupt pauses in sound while trying to listen in on those discussions. Trainers don’t exactly promote proper speech and you can probably put all athletes and coaches in the same category – especially in the moment. Entertaining moments have happened between rounds and with censorship, those moments would never see the light of day.
Let’s not forget the post-fight interviews. Boxing interviews have always been unique in the fact that anything could be said. At times, they may have been unprofessional but if you ask me, I’ll take unprofessional over some scripted, politically correct, “Lets get this over with”-type of Gregg Popovich or Bill Belichick interview. This is entertainment and when Adrien Broner does his typical, post-fight shenanigans, I’m paying attention. Speaking of which, Broner was on the first “Corner to Corner” episode last week and I could already see the difference between NBC Broner and Showtime Broner. I’m going to fucking miss Showtime Broner.
It’s the biggest qualm I have and it can be a cause for concern if PBC doesn’t recognize other fighters in a division regardless of network they are affiliated to. In essence, they’re reintroducing boxing to the mainstream world in the United States and if they aren’t recognizing the entire spectrum, they’re doing the sport a disservice.
On April 4, PBC will have it’s first world title fight on CBS and it will feature Adonis Stevenson defending his RING and WBC light heavyweight titles against Sakio Bika. Will they even mention Sergey Kovalev, holder of the other three 175-pound belts? Will they tell the story of how Stevenson and Kovalev haven’t fought? When Andy Lee defends his WBO middleweight title vs Peter Quillin on April 11 (NBC), will the broadcast team or host even take time to speak on one of the sport’s rising stars at middleweight, Gennady Golovkin? When Danny Garcia and Lamont Peterson clash heads on that same broadcast, will there be an explanation as to why neither of the only two world titleholders of the 140-pound class will unify their belts? How about when WBC heavyweight titleholder Deontay Wilder makes his PBC debut; will they forget to mention the undisputed champion of the division, Wladimir Klitschko? If it wasn’t for Brian Kenny briefly mentioning Klitschko after Wilder won his belt this past January on Showtime, the most definitive champion in boxing would have gone through a broadcast as if he didn’t exist [Writer’s note: Kenny’s contract with Showtime has since expired and they elected not to bring him back]. It’s a problem that happens with all of the major networks, including HBO, but PBC has a chance to change all that.
Considering PBC will be on such a grand scale in terms of viewership, should they have a responsibility to not make a mockery of the sport by only acknowledging its own universe? When mentioning a fighter of a rival network, there isn’t a necessity to mention what channel he fights on. If they’re talking about a division and not mentioning all of its participants, then it will come off as one big circle jerk to those who are informed. As for those who aren’t informed…well, then you’re hiding valuable information from them and you can be rest assured the informed will correct the uninformed. It could come off as gimmicky and that’s really the only thing that worries me and you can also be certain I will take part in correcting the uninformed (checks email awaiting a PBC credential).
I must say, it’s pretty impressive how Al Haymon has created this paradigm shift in the sport of boxing. As it was laid out in this 2011 article in the New York Times, it was reported that Haymon said, “If I wanted to, I could run boxing.” Well, it looks like he decided to go through with it. Being a master promoter throughout his career, he has completely blindsided the sport – and that’s a good thing. It’s exactly what boxing needed because the same cookie cutter system used over the past 20 years was not working in terms of actually growing the sport.
I’ll admit, for years I’ve always felt boxing needed some type of socialistic structure just like all the other American sports formats themselves. The lack of any organization over the past few decades have put the competitive spirit on the back burner and greed in the driver’s seat. From being the man who beat the man to simply being the man with a business plan. Of course, the person dictating everything is the X-factor and Haymon’s past history has shown he has always been business first. But that was back when he wasn’t putting his investor’s money on the line like he is with PBC.
I don’t know if Haymon is the right guy to control boxing, that judgment remains to be seen and should be done fairly now that his baby has been born. There’s a slight distrust I have with Haymon; I must admit. He and former Golden Boy Promotions CEO Richard Schaefer did pull the rug out from under Oscar De La Hoya and ransacked Golden Boy in the process. It was a shrewd move but maybe Oscar was also at fault. As it stands today, I wouldn’t trust any promoter to have that much power in the sport, let alone Haymon, so my distrust isn’t solely for one person – it’s for everyone.
Whether you like it or not, it’s happening and if you’re a fan of boxing, you’re watching. As for me, I take it in stride one boxing card a time and never forget that this is just for my entertainment. Plus, PBC is 100% free, not much I can complain about when I don’t have to pay a monthly subscription fee. There’s much more behind PBC we still don’t know about and it’s way too early to figure out whether or not it will be a success. Saying that, PBC being a hit is good for the sport, in my opinion, and no one network, promoter or person should be bigger than boxing itself.
Uttering “They spared no expense” on that drive to work Monday morning was more than just an observance. Many of my immediate reactions to things come in the form of movie quotes and this is just an example of my peculiar consciousness that grew up in the ’90s. When he opened Jurassic Park, John Hammond continually assured his first visitors that he spared no expense in creating his dinosaur attraction. With everything ready to be sold, “Jurassic Park” was made and slapped on a lunchbox before they really knew what they had created. Ultimately, the park’s downfall came because Hammond did spare an expense by hiring only one man, Dennis Nedry, to be responsible for the entire security of the park. Hammond paid Nedry minimally and, in effect, Nedry tried to rob the park for his own financial gain which became the cause of its security failure and the park’s demise. Nature then took over and once that happened, nothing could be controlled.
As far as I can tell, Haymon hasn’t been cheap in any regard when building Premier Boxing Champions. Leading up to the PBC debut, Haymon’s biggest criticism has been creating absurd mismatches that have favored his most prized fighters, as well as advising his clients to avoid top talent. Haymon will still have some interest in hoping a certain fighter comes out with a victory for the sake of that fighter’s future brand, along with PBC’s. For example, I’m sure he hopes Adrien Broner gets his arm raised this Saturday night in victory over John Molina Jr. because Broner is the moneymaker of the two. That notion can be said about any promotion when it comes to their top talent – and maybe therein lies the problem.
Ultimately, Hammond built Jurassic Park not in the interest of science but in the interest of making money and it became his downfall. Is Haymon creating PBC in the interest of the sport or making money? If the mismatches continue, then I would go with the latter but I would genuinely be surprised if that were the case. Soon enough, the fighters he has been coddling will have to step up and anything can happen in the squared circle of truth. That’s a certain nature of the sport Haymon can’t control.