The Square Jungle: Deontay Wilder, Showtime Boxing and television junk
Deontay Wilder continues his “Make America Great” heavyweight tour when he faces subpar Johann Duhaupas tonight at the Legacy Arena in Birmingham, Ala, on a “Premier Boxing Champions on NBC” card. There are few interesting angles in this fight; one of them might be the fact that Mobile, Ala., was the capital of French Louisiana from 1702 to 1763 (not exactly PR manna but it probably beats anything you can find on the PBC website or Yahoo! Sports).
Wilder, with his raw power and charisma, continues to both titillate and irritate simultaneously. He has “The Look” but he also represents “The Lack” by refusing to face anyone within striking distance of the mainstream boxing scene. Neither Duhaupas nor Eric Molina (whom “The Bronze Bomber” dismantled in his first WBC title defense) have accomplished much in the established fight racket. Even so, Duhaupas may actually be a slight improvement over Molina, despite the fact that the only recognizable names on his 32-2 ledger are Francesco Pianeta, Erkan Teper and Manuel Charr. Against this middling trio, Duhaupas has gone 1-2, with his only win a majority decision over a plodding Charr last April. A standup boxer whose style seems to have been modeled on a dusty, European “How To” manual, last thumbed through by Eugene Criqui or Andre Routis, Duhaupas is slow, unimaginative and not particularly graceful. He has a jab made for counter rights and throws arcing blows with either hand. Duhaupas also has a habit on stepping back in lines so straight, they could have been laid out by a carpenter. In short, he is being served up as a Blue Plate Special for Wilder, whose omnivorous appetite for pretending he is THE heavyweight champion of the world can only be satiated, it seems, by a diet of Cocoa Puffs.
Years ago, a Frenchman of dubious talents might have been compared to a pastry but we are living not only in more politically correct times but in the Emoji Age, when the democratic miracle of cyberspace allows lickspittle types, shills, fanboys and masters of smartphone QWERTY to misinform and disinform as often as their nimble fingers will allow. In other words, you will always find someone to give fall guys the benefit of the doubt. On the other hand, Wilder remains such an unknown quantity (remember, his most notable opponent to date, Bermane Stiverne, was diagnosed with rhabdomyolysis following his loss to Wilder) that even hapless Eric Molina managed to rattle him. But for Duhaupas to upset the dope, he will have to mar the plans of an entire corporate superstructure underwritten by nearly half-a-billion dollars in venture capital. If he manages to do that, then he deserves some sort of BWAA award and not the boxing equivalent to the Croix de Guerre – which is what he will likely earn after the final bell rings.
If Wilder takes care of business (violently, as expected), then he will have to contend with the shadow of Alexander Povetkin, the battle-tested mandatory challenger to the WKRP title. Because analyzing boxing means engaging perpetually in guesswork, there are a few likely scenarios that will determine whether or not Wilder develops some ambition. First, Haymon pays Povetkin a step-aside fee and delays the mandatory for as long as possible. Second, Wilder vacates the title rather than face a professional heavyweight with a legitimate resume. Third, the WBC will make one of its all-too-common mysterious turnabouts regarding its own Kafkaesque regulations and Povetkin will be leapfrogged one more time to allow Wilder to continue his charade.
In the past, Haymon has forced purse bids to ensure control over certain fights involving his clients but those fights had a pick ‘em feel to them. Against Povetkin, whose only loss came against Wladimir Klitschko, the undefeated Wilder would likely be an underdog. And that is not a designation most managers/promoters are interested in, which is why Duhaupas has made the journey all the way from Abbeville to Alabama.
Just a few weeks after staging the Leo Santa Cruz-Abner Mares extravaganza (a knee-jerk “Fight of the Year,” according to those whose knees are easily jerked), Premier Boxing Champions returned to flood the airwaves with toxic slime in liberal doses. And its current schedule promises even more dreck for the immediate future.
On Sept. 11, for example, the boxing hinterland of Toronto (which has barely acknowledged the Sweet Science since the days of Shawn O’Sullivan and Willie De Witt) played host to one of the worst cards of the year when light heavyweight morning glory Adonis Stevenson brutalized Pennsylvania clubfighter Tommy Karpency in the sort of matchup that makes abolitionists nod their heads, knowingly, in unison. Incredibly, the undercard featured 51-year-old Razor Ruddock and war-torn Vivian Harris, who remains a hazard to himself every time he receives a rubber stamp from some blasé commission.
(SpikeTV compounded the horror with an announcing crew that could moonlight peddling ShamWows in the dead of night. Blow-by-blow announcer Scott Hansen was too cowardly to use the phrases “pimp,” “human trafficking” or “sex slaves” when discussing Stevenson on the air. Instead, he made Stevenson sound like some sort of naïf whose abhorrent crimes had more to do with peer pressure than dark impulses. For the most part, the sordid backgrounds of fighters – whose lives often include young graves and prison cells and futures often maimed by their chosen vocations – are irrelevant. And hardly anything is as annoying as celebrity talking heads-cum-social workers with zero grasp of the fight racket moralizing or super bloggers from the Great Plains who attended their first live fight in their mid-30s and whose hand-wringing is directly related to penny-click potential. But if you bring it up at all – why whitewash it?)
Not to be outdone in the must-flee-TV department, Top Rank Promotions actually had the gall to foist Aaron Pryor Jr. onto its truTV series, as if competing with Spike for some sort of Golden Raspberry award for boxing. With more fights on television than ever, the time-honored standards of boxing are now being recognized twice as often as they had been before the current TV glut. Rule number one: Everyone benefits from a matchup except for the consumer/viewer (and the “opponent,” of course, who usually earns the biggest payday of his career buts gets his brain cells scrambled.) Rule number two: Competition is not the main reason to pair fighters – advancing promotional interests, fulfilling contractual minimums, building records and allowing networks to make grandiose claims about their product all come before signing a competitive bout. Rule Number Three: Chance, above all, determines the entertainment value of a matchup. To see an exciting fight, you basically have to hope a promoter or matchmaker has miscalculated somewhere. And how often does that happen?
Showtime sachem Stephen Espinoza recently gave one of his gobbledygook interviews to Sports Illustrated. Last year, Espinoza blamed poor programming on the internal strife at Golden Boy Promotions, despite claiming repeatedly that he was not working exclusively with GBP. This time, the boxing desertia that Showtime has become in 2015 hinges on “transition.” From the interview with Chris Mannix:
“I think we all knew that this would be a year of transition. And we weren’t really sure what impact it would have. But we’re really six months into the PBC business model, so we’re only now starting to really appreciate what the plan is. And it’s starting to come a little bit full circle. For example, we’ll have Adrien Broner back on Showtime after he’s gone and done a couple fights on NBC. We’ll very likely have Amir Khan back on Showtime in November. If Peter Quillin wins, we’ll have Danny Jacobs and Peter Quillin back in December. We’ll have Deontay Wilder back in January.”
What Espinoza fails to mention is that the transition was for Al Haymon. Although Espinoza has always claimed that Showtime is an open shop, here he is babbling about a plan to which he tied his network, one that left his programming a shambles:
“So the last six months we’ve only seen Part A of that plan, which is the guys going out. In the fourth quarter of this year and early next year we’ll see the second part of the plan, where the guys boomerang, come back to us, and we’ll see what that has done for their popularity, the ratings, the viewership, that kind of thing.”
So hep is Espinoza on the Boomerang Effect that he is finally – finally! – on the lookout for fighters outside of the Al Haymon sphere. Among the names reportedly on his radar are Ruslan Provodnikov and talented welterweight titlist Kell Brook. Espinoza has never been capable of being an exhibitor; instead, he thought he was coming off the bench for his favorite teams. But, in the end, he was just a mascot. Showtime is now in third place (behind Starz and HBO) in the battle among premium cable giants. When the season finale of “Ray Donovan” is over, it will likely have even fewer subscribers.
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 Digest Magazine, Maxboxing, Boxing World Magazine and Esquina Boxeo. He is also a contributor to Remezcla and a member of the International Boxing Research Organization.