By Cliff Rold
From Evander Holyfield-Michael Dokes, through the Don King deal that gave them Julio Cesar Chavez and Mike Tyson in the 1990s, and on to the Israel Vazquez-Rafael Marquez rivalry, it was always the same.
Showtime was the other network.
In a year of record ratings for them, Showtime began to close the gap with their primary market competitor and put on some fine shows. It was enough to merit regard among the BoxingScene staff as the Network of the Year in 2012.
It all starts with fights. Showtime had some corkers. From a Fight of the Year candidate, Orlando Salido-Juan Manuel Lopez II, to Josesito Lopez’s upset of Victor Ortiz, and on to Austin Trout’s upset of Miguel Cotto in December, Showtime delivered plenty of thrills. A gem like Abner Mares-Anselmo Moreno was icing on the cake.
The use of sister network Sho Extreme, and multiple multi-fight shows on the primary network, meant some marathon nights for fight fans used to little more than doubleheaders.
Their All-Access preview shows gave fans an alternative to HBO’s 24/7 and the hiring of Brian Kenny as a show host returned one of boxing’s best friends in media to a sport that missed him since leaving ESPN.
It wasn’t all roses. A growing exclusivity with Golden Boy Promotions, and increased influence by mega-manag…err, advisor Al Haymon meant a watering down of products like ShoBox. Jermain Taylor took up slots better served for fighters looking to be found. Antonio Tarver-Lateef Kayode took more out of the budget than it gave back.
The good outweighed the bad, particularly with the network’s closing shot. Showtime’s existence under the CBS Corporate umbrella ever left alive the dream of a network return. On December 15th, the Showtime crew called the first fight on CBS since Bernard Hopkins-Glen Johnson in 1997.
And people watched.
Maintaining 90% of the audience that had just viewed Butler’s upset of then NCAA Basketball #1 Indiana, the ratings for Leo Santa Cruz-Alberto Guevara indicates it may have been seen in more households than any other U.S. fight in 2012. It wasn’t a monster number relative to the entire network T.V. landscape, but it was a start.
Showtime finally got CBS back in the game.
It had more than enough game for their subscribers the rest of the year.
ALSO RECEIVING VOTES
HBO: (Three (3) first-place votes received) – Showtime may have been catching up to HBO but boxing’s premiere network remained a step ahead. Having the two biggest cash cows in the game helped. That those cash cows were involved in two worth every cent wars this year (Floyd Mayweather-Miguel Cotto and Manny Pacquiao’s second appearance versus Juan Manuel Marquez) meant paying customers went home happy.
So did subscribers who saw wars like Brandon Rios-Mike Alvarado and Robert Guerrero-Andre Berto. A new output deal with ESPN meant new outlets for 24/7 fight commercials and the use of real highlights for major fights. The addition of the “Fight Game” talk show gave boxing an “Inside the NFL” after years of demand. The subtraction of Emmanuel Steward, who lost his fight with cancer, and Larry Merchant, who ended over 30 years on the air, leaves big shoes to fill in the booth.
BoxNation (Three (3) first-place vote received) – Golf has its own U.S. network. Boxing does not. The Brits do us one better in that regard. The all-boxing subscription network, launched in 2011, gives fans news programs, classic fights, and live action. It also got involved in promotion with the David Haye-Dereck Chisora brawl. Due to its ability so show U.S. fights that are aired on U.S. air already, there are some conflicts with bringing BoxNation to U.S. shores but a modified package is worth hoping for.
Wealth TV (Two (2) first-place votes received) – Not widely available in the U.S. market yet, Wealth TV makes up for it with an affordable online service with a quality stream. The fledgling entrant gave fans the first unification fight at Flyweight since the 1960s (Brian Viloria-Hernan Marquez), and two Fight of the Year candidates that night to boot. Fans saw rising Heavyweight David Price this year and the comeback of Lucian Bute in a rugged affair with Denis Grachev. In this so-called ‘dead’ fight era, there are more fights on TV than there have ever been. Now the game has a new source of Wealth.
EPIX – For fans who want to see the best Heavyweights in the world, EPIX has become the best outlet in the U.S. The airing of Carl Froch-Lucian Bute also was a major boon for real fight fans. While it didn’t receive any staff votes, EPIX provided high quality production values and more than enough high quality action to merit a tip of the cap.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene and a member of the Transnational Boxing Ratings Board, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]