I podcast and write to cope with my continuing struggle to play guitar.
Last September the word on boxing’s immediate future was all doom and gloom. More specifically, the widespread concern mostly focused on the week-to-week fights that traditionally feed into the bigger fights held on premium cable networks – HBO and Showtime.
Many fight fans found themselves looking at the final three months of 2016 finding very few options to satisfy their demand for big-time fights. In particular, many folks started looking to boxing’s newest kid on the block, the Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) series, and blamed the organization for the sport’s slow drip over the final quarter of the year. Over the prior 16-18 months, the PBC flooded the airwaves with fights that spanned a host of networks including NBC and NBCSN, CBS and CBS Sports Network, ESPN, Spike, Bounce TV, and both Fox and FS1.
While the weekly PBC fights slowed up, some of boxing’s longest standing partners delivered a couple of great nights of action to fans. In mid-November HBO PPV televised the Andre Ward–Sergey Kovalev I card, and almost a month later HBO aired Bernard Hopkins’ farewell bout which unexpectedly turned into a shocking, explosive loss to Joe Smith Jr. Showtime, a PBC ally, closed out its 2016 with Jermall Charlo’s emphatic fifth round knockout of contender Julian Williams. Charlo’s display of vicious punching-power, and subsequent refusal to immediately shake hands with Williams before the fight’s official announcement, nearly overshadowed Abner Mares capturing his second featherweight world title with his split decision victory over Jesus Andres Cuellar.
ESPN’s Dan Rafael weighed in on the sparsely populated boxing calendar for the final quarter of 2016 as his What has happened to Premier Boxing Champions? piece served as a reasonable inquiry into the matter.
The mounting concern of fans and critics wasn’t completely unreasonable when at that point in time the PBC calendar only featured one event – a September 27 FOXSports 1 card headlined by Bryant Perrella versus Yordenis Ugas. SBNation’s Bad Left Hook and Bloody Elbow both posted articles questioning the long-term their thoughts on the dwindling of options for fights on non-premium cable channels. And, if the “PBC having problems” narrative was stewing in the boxing media and the blog space, it was on fire in various boxing forums online.
Perusing boxing pages or group’s on social media is an interesting way to get the pulse of boxing fans, and while I don’t comment too often, I did engage on this matter during the time this topic heated up, but I stayed extremely disciplined – hit and don’t get hit. The aforementioned ESPN and SBNation articles went to great lengths to detail the PBC’s financials, and boxing fans can continue to question and pan the business moves of the polarizing Al Haymon, but I thought the reason for the PBC’s quiet fourth quarter was pretty simple. Professional boxing isn’t going to knockout high school football on Friday nights, and then college football and the National Football League on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.
Televised boxing can’t do too well with 102,000 fans sitting in Bryant-Denny Stadium on a Saturday night while the Crimson Tide battles the LSU Tigers. The Midwest produces some of the sport’s best fighters, but they’ll struggle with ratings when nearly 110,000 Wolverines fans are packed into “The Big House” for a Michigan home game against Michigan State. Factor in the impact to PBC ratings if on that same night Penn State and Ohio State are facing each other. Pick whichever stadium, the Buckeyes’ “the Shoe” holds 105,000 and the Nittany Lions’ Beaver Stadium regularly seats nearly 107,000 fans for its ‘White Out’ games.
Several other college football powerhouses fill up stadiums with total attendance figures that either almost equal or exceed 6-figure seating capacities including Tennessee, Florida, Texas, Univ. of Southern California and Texas A&M. In addition to stellar live gate numbers, college football excels in TV viewership performance.
In 2016, a pair of regular season games featuring Ohio State versus Wisconsin and Alabama versus LSU both achieved a ratings that surpassed 5.2 and averaged 9.5 million viewers each per NBC Sports. In contrast, Los Angeles Times’ boxing writer Lance Pugmire reported the PBC achieved its best ratings – a 4.6 which equates to 6 million viewers – by using the U.S. Olympic men’s basketball team’s gold-winning game in Rio de Janeiro as a lead-in to its DiBella Entertainment-promoted Errol Spence Jr versus Leonard Bundu fight.
Spence Jr’s surgical sixth-round knockout performance aired on NBC in late August – during Week 3 of the NFL’s preseason.
Speaking of the NFL, the PBC’s Toe-to-Toe Tuesdays shows might seem like a good fit airing a night after Monday Night Football, and then a couple of nights before Thursday Night Football. However, maybe it makes better sense financially to step aside during the fall and winter, and let Showtime and HBO use their resources to compete with football like they have for the past 30-plus years.
Comparing boxing to the NFL isn’t really fair, but we did take a look at some CFB numbers. Through the first half of 2016, SI.com listed a Week 17 Sunday Night Football game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Green Bay Packers as the 14th most watched sports event, as 24.3 million viewers watched the game on NBC.
So now, here in mid-May with the NBA Playoffs whittled down to its version of the Final Four, in the midst of boxing’s biggest year since 2013, what does boxing do to further capitalize on its momentum gained over the past five months? What has Premier Boxing Champions gone and done?
This Saturday, May 20, the Premier Boxing Champions team will deliver fight fans a binge-worthy evening of world championship boxing.
Let the boxing binge watching begin this Saturday, May 20 when separate shows on SHOWTIME and FS1 deliver six matches running over six consecutive hours. This boxing extravaganza will present a unique opportunity for fans to watch boxing starting at 6 p.m. ET and continue throughout the evening.
“It’s not unusual to spend all day Sunday watching the NFL or to spend the day watching the NBA playoffs,” said Tim Smith, Vice President of Communications for Haymon Boxing. “But it’s rare for boxing fans to be able to turn on the television in the early evening and binge watch great action until late at night. The slate of shows on May 20 will provide that opportunity for boxing fans.”
Kicking off the day will be an action-packed 130-pound championship match with undefeated young star Gervonta Davis (17-0, 16 KOs) defending his title against No. 1 contender Liam Walsh (21-0, 14 KOs) from Copper Box Arena in London, England with coverage beginning on SHOWTIME at 6 p.m. ET/3 p.m. PT.
The 22-year-old Davis is the youngest reigning American world champion in boxing and he will travel to England for his first title defense against Walsh, an undefeated southpaw fighting in his hometown of London.
Immediately following the Davis-Walsh bout, things kick into high gear with three matches originating from MGM National Harbor outside of Washington, D.C. Gary Russell, Jr. (27-1, 16 KOs) defends his 126-pound world title against Oscar Escandon (25-2, 17 KOs) in the main event.
A pair of world title eliminators round out the televised portion of the card. Andre Dirrell (25-2, 16 KOs) and Jose Uzcategui (26-1, 22 KOs) meet in a 168-pound match with the winner set to fight for the interim IBF title and a shot at current champion James DeGale. Two-division champion Rances Barthelemy (25-0, 16 KOs) takes on Kiryl Relikh (21-1, 19 KOs) in a 140-pound title eliminator with the winner earning an opportunity to fight for a world championship.
Rounding out the night is a pair of Premier Boxing Champions matches on FS1 and FOX Deportes from Laredo Energy Arena in Laredo, Texas that start at 10 p.m. ET.
David Benavidez (17-0, 16 KOs), an ascending star, will meet former world title challenger Rogelio “Porky” Medina (37-7, 31 KOs) in a 168-pound title eliminator in the main event. Benavidez will face the toughest test of his career against Medina, a veteran who gave DeGale all he could handle last year. The winner will get a shot at the 168-pound world championship.
Unbeaten 126-pound contender Jorge Lara (28-0-2, 20 KOs) takes on hard-hitting brawler Mario Briones (28-5-2, 22 KOs) in a 10-round featherweight match in the co-feature.
I can’t wait to see what the boxing forums and groups will be buzzing with come Sunday!