The Square Jungle: Premier Boxing Champions and Spike, Salido-Lomachenko II, Crawford returns
Spike TV, whose future seemed hexed when Spike Lee sued the network before it even debuted because of its name, is now undergoing a rebranding process and its future (as The Paramount Network) does not include having Premier Boxing Champions on its slate. Spike declined to renew its contract with Premier Boxing Champions, leaving Al Haymon with a much smaller pixel empire under his whimsical command. Originally announced as a monthly series slated for 33 shows, “PBC on Spike” ends after producing only 17 cards.
Whether or not Spike declined to re-up with the PBC because of a new corporate identity is irrelevant to the bottom line of Haymon and company. While many PBC apparatchiks insist that nothing has changed, even in light of Spike moving on, the fact remains that Spike was one of the few outlets willing to pay the PBC for its product. Losing that licensing fee is a blow to an organization just getting around to realizing the importance of outlays vis-à-vis expenditure.
(Tim Smith, Vice President of Communications for PBC, who resembles White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer in the absurdity of some of his talking points, gave the usual statements to outlets that offer favorable coverage in exchange for access, press credentials and self-stroking, which, in the end, proves the PBC is no different than the established boxing order and plays exactly the same games as other promoters vilified for their pettiness, dishonesty and vindictiveness. Ironically, when Smith was covering the boxing beat for The New York Times, he would have jumped at the chance to report on the story of a man, backed by hundreds of millions of dollars from an investment firm, managing both ends of dozens of boxing matches per year and paying himself a percentage from purses artificially set at his own discretion.)
Add the fact that ESPN appears to be closing the door on the PBC as well and you have a fledgling boxing league suffering, at the very least, from growing pains. Aside from the most overrated “Fight of the Year” candidate in history (Leo Santa Cruz-Abner Mares), the PBC produced one undistinguished card after another for ESPN. Its replacement, Golden Boy Promotions, is the master of “must-flee-TV” when it comes to its non-HBO programming. Already its ESPN series has featured an MMA tomato can (female version), a weathered pug long beseeched to retire (Glen Tapia), a fighter with only 17 pro bouts in nearly seven years (Keandre Gibson) and possibly the worst announcing crew assembled since the days of Burt Lancaster and Jim Brown working Muhammad Ali fights. If the PBC has proven anything, it may very well be that the model so many felt was ripe to be overthrown is the only one anyone is willing to use, no matter the circumstances.
As with so many players in the fight racket – new and old – Haymon viewed his foray into boxing as something other than an opportunity to bring consistent matchmaking to the fore. Despite all the talk of revolution and the hundreds of millions of dollars at his disposal, Haymon runs the PBC more or less the same way other promoters ran their own oft-criticized firms: with a tangible disregard for the notion of producing actual sporting events as quality viewing. There have been some good fights under the PBC banner, and twice as many undifferentiated bouts, which amounts to business as usual for an industry that routinely views consumers as a nuisance.
Despite its recent setbacks, however, the PBC has some longshot options yet. Its proof-of-concept gambit still has a chance to catch on at FS1, where a middling boxing card will likely draw two or three times the average viewership of overhyped and over-represented yak-fests such as “Speak for Yourself” and “Undisputed.” But FS1/Fox Sports would hardly break the bank for the redheaded stepchild of the sports world. One reason boxing remains a premium cable staple is that it is a pursuit populated by the disadvantaged and, thus, it is often dominated by disagreeable outlooks. (Just think about Sergey Kovalev with his infamous gorilla t-shirt or Adrien Broner using greenbacks as toilet paper.) Boxing, for the most part, is not fit for Madison Avenue, even in an era in which the President of the United States can throw around words like “schlonged.” Floyd Mayweather Jr., may have co-starred in a pay-per-view that sold over 4,000,000 units but his fortune was earned virtually without the help of corporate sponsorships. Any network signing on to a boxing league format will likely draw solid ratings (relatively speaking) and very little sponsorship interest, which amounts to corporate cross purposes.
Even with the loss (at least for now) of Spike and ESPN, the PBC will be around in one shape or another for as long as Al Haymon can adapt. And if the past is any kind of indicator, Haymon can adjust on the fly. Ties to Ringstar Sports’ Richard Schaefer, Matchroom Boxing’s Eddie Hearn and Showtime mean Haymon has clout in England, Continental Europe and the United States, no matter what happens with his time-buy schemes. And his stable of 200 or so fighters represents a commodity (of variable worth) no one else in boxing has. In some ways, narrowing the scale of the PBC, either by design or by circumstances, may actually work to the benefit of the consumer. Just take a look at the quality fights Showtime has gotten from the PBC since last summer, when Haymon decided that paying out millions for overhead, inflated purses and production costs needed a financial counterweight. What happens next depends on the vicissitudes of market forces in a market no one really understands.
At 36, and with over 20 years of brawls, close calls, and free-for-alls behind him, Orlando Salido is at the stage on which he may dissolve, as if doused with quicklime, at any moment under the hot lights. “Siri” returns to the ring on May 27, when he faces Amphon Suriyo in Bacum, Mexico, on beIN Sports Español. Salido has been out of the ring since last June when he fought to a grueling draw against Francisco Vargas on HBO. A back injury scuttled a December shootout against Takashi Miura and, since then, Salido has been looking for the boxing equivalent of a golden parachute. His brain trust has been vocally agitating for a big payout and reportedly even asked for $1 million to face WBO 130-pound titlist Vasyl Lomachenko in a rematch earlier in the year. That, naturally, was not a figure the reality-based community could fathom and so Salido returned to his Uber gig while waiting for another offer to materialize. Unfortunately, what Salido got instead is a marginal fight for a commensurate payday against an unknown Thai fighter whose last win came against some pug making his pro debut. In the end, Lomachenko remains the only real option for Salido, even if he has to cut his price point down by 50 percent.
Lomachenko thumped double-tough Jason Sosa on April 8 and, in doing so, underscored the reason Salido held out for seven figures to face him. Like many of his predecessors, Sosa was tragically overmatched and the ring was once again turned into a public dissecting room, just as it had been when Lomachenko quartered and sundered Nicholas Walters last November. This time, however, Lomachenko added a bit of distasteful levity to the grim proceedings by mocking Sosa, during what amounted to little more than a painful sparring session. By the time the fight was halted after the ninth round, it had long passed the Squeamish Threshold.
Trying to find suitable competition for Lomachenko in the Sahara of the super featherweight division is no easy task. HBO possibly laid the groundwork for a Lomachenko, when it aired a super featherweight doubleheader that produced two winners – WBC beltholder Miguel Berchelt and Takashi Miura – who have at least established identities of sorts on a network whose obsession with narrative continuity often means matching its house fighters against virtual unknowns. Neither Berchelt nor Miura, however, have a chance at hitting Lomachenko with two consecutive shots, much less short-circuiting “Hi-Tech.” Lomachenko himself has mentioned moving up another division to face undefeated lightweight WBO titleholder Terry “Turbo” Flanagan, who has quietly built a fair resume in the U.K. over the last few years.
But Salido, who brought his dirty pool toolkit to the ring with him the night he outpointed Lomachenko in 2014, remains the only matchup that makes sense for the Ukrainian: The revenge backstory is already set and compared to Alexander Brand and Dominic Wade, two recent HBO headliners who merited off-the-books status, Salido has a profile as prominent as that of Kanye West. If Salido can get by Suriyo (not a given, considering how Salido was dropped and nearly stopped by both Weng Haya and Terdsak Kokietgym in the past), look for him to modify his financial demands and force the abracadabrant Lomachenko to abandon his newfound showboating habit for as long as his chin holds out.
After a strange last six months, gifted WBC/WBO junior welterweight titlist Terence Crawford finally returns to the ring. And not against crowbait like John Molina Jr., who gloved up last summer against Crawford in bad faith – overweight and under-motivated – and was perfunctorily stopped in eight offensive rounds. On May 20, Crawford defends his pair of junior welterweight gewgaws against Felix Diaz at Madison Square Garden in New York City. A surprise Olympic gold medalist at the 2008 Games in Beijing, Diaz is a talented southpaw whose future appears limited. Indeed, with only 20 professional fights in nearly eight years, Diaz has more downtime on him than upside, at this point. However he showed tenacity and skill in dropping a questionable majority decision to world-class Lamont Peterson in 2015 and in outpointing undefeated Sammy Vasquez last year.
Lou DiBella has done a good job hyping Diaz as a potential Crawford opponent over the last few months. In fact, Diaz got just enough HTML love on ESPN and through ubiquitous press releases for DiBella to cash in as a booking agent for a fighter he “promoted” under the PBC banner before signing to a multi-year deal last August. Now, Diaz faces a legitimate boxer-puncher, who may or may not be slightly distracted at the moment. After all, Crawford is currently appealing a 90-day jail sentence after being convicted of two misdemeanors (disorderly conduct and damage to property) last December.
For someone like Crawford, multi-talented but not a ratings star or a pay-per-view stalwart, a slew of natural obstacles already block his path to recognition: split titles, political divides, network vendettas and a limited number of willing marquee opponents. Adding to the ready-made pitfalls in which boxing specializes by toting guns, raging against auto body shop owners and showing up in World Star melees means potentially undercutting a career that has a few years to go before it peaks. In short, Crawford’s most dangerous opponent right now may very well be himself.
Carlos Acevedo is the editor of The Cruelest Sport and a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. His work has appeared in Boxing News magazine, Remezcla, Boxing Digest magazine, Maxboxing, Boxing World magazine, and Esquina Boxeo. He is also a contributor to HBO Boxing and a member of the International Boxing Research Organization. His stories “A Darkness Made to Order” and “A Ghost Orbiting Forever” both won first place awards from the BWAA.