by David P. Greisman
The boxing world is both bigger and smaller. The television networks deserve both credit and blame.
After all, it wasn’t too long ago that they were nearly all of what we had. It wasn’t too long ago that it required much more effort to be a boxing addict. We took what we could get, how we could get it and when we could get it.
That’s why I once spent a summer evening following the exciting war between Edwin Valero and Vicente Mosquera — not watching it live, but listening to a streaming audio broadcast and reading round-by-round recaps on a website’s message board. I wouldn’t actually see it until days later, when an illicit boxing video website offered the ability to download the bout.
We had to turn to the Internet, which became a lawless Wild West for boxing fans to thrive via piracy, all due to what the networks and promoters were not doing. They were not putting their libraries of fights online, nor were they marketing to the masses, not when they could make more money by putting far too many events on pay-per-view.
The Internet is far faster and much vaster than it was just six years ago. Now we don’t need to wait for someone, somewhere, to upload a file that could take hours to get onto our own computer. Now we can watch strawweight title fights airing from Japan, cruiserweight bouts emanating out of Australia, and everything from the earliest preliminary bouts to the main event in Germany and Great Britain. Now we can do this live on websites legal and otherwise.
It’s valid to debate whether some of this is good or bad for business. Promoters and networks do hold rights to fights, and anything that circumvents their legitimate avenues of distribution can end up costing them money, and in turn can take money out of boxers’ pockets.
Boxing fans are winning, though.
Yes, illegal streams take money away from domestic businesses. But they also allow for international fandom, for viewers to spend a Saturday afternoon and evening catching European action, or to wake up early in favor of thrillers taking place halfway across the globe.
It is this audience that used word of mouth, and YouTube, to bring wider attention to Somsak Sitchatchawal vs. Mahyar Monshipour in 2006, and to Akira Yaegashi vs. Pornsawan Porpramook in 2011.
It is technology that helps fans recognize that boxing does need to be monitored beyond their borders — that there are heavyweights worth seeing who aren’t on HBO or in Klitschko fights, and that there are legitimate challengers elsewhere to American titleholders and contenders. There are those, for instance, who have been familiar with Gavin Rees long before he will make his U.S. debut this February against Adrien Broner. And those who are not already familiar with Rees can now easily research him, be it on YouTube or via various video sites.
There is a legitimate hunger among the hardcore for more boxing. There are enough seeking, and watching, that networks and promoters and even sanctioning bodies are making it possible for fans to watch more fights not just on illegal outlets, but also on legitimate online channels.
Top Rank streams undercard bouts on its website. The World Boxing Council uses a video channel for some cards. GoFightLive airs online pay-per-views. Even press conferences and weigh-ins sometimes are just a mouse click away.
It’s not just the ‘Net that’s helping, though, but also the networks.
The sport has admittedly felt the repercussions of declining budgets, which have been a topic of discussion regarding the premium cable outlets for years. ESPN2, meanwhile, no longer has two boxing broadcasts a week, but one.
Yet boxing fans are not at a loss.
Showtime amped up its spending this past year, and also began showing more tripleheaders and quadrupleheaders, as well as putting preliminary bouts on its “Showtime Extreme” channel. HBO added supplementary programming, including its “Fight Game” news show and more “2 Days” mini-documentaries.
ESPN2 still has “Friday Night Fights,” and the Spanish-language networks regularly air boxing. The NBC Sports Network has also re-entered the Sweet Science, bringing it back to basic cable and even to broadcast television on “regular” NBC this past December. CBS aired a fight that month, too.
Meanwhile, Epix is regularly airing fights from Europe, giving a way for people to watch the heavyweights in particular. The network’s website allows for free trials. Wealth TV has also entered the market — its Nov. 17 broadcast featuring Brian Viloria vs. Hernan Marquez and Roman Gonzalez vs. Juan Francisco Estrada was highly praised (never mind that online subscriptions for it cost just 99 cents a month).
Heavyweight bouts are no longer a staple of the premium cable networks. The smaller weight divisions are often ignored. Foreign fights often were, well, foreign to American fans.
Not anymore. These upstart entrants into the market are filling in the gaps. And the major mainstays of HBO and Showtime are seemingly more in competition with each other than ever before, which can be beneficial so long as that means they try to put forth a better product.
All of this means that us always-hungry boxing addicts are feeling fuller.
The 10 Count
1. This Saturday’s fight between Orlando Salido and Mikey Garcia will be for The Ring magazine’s featherweight championship.
It shouldn’t be.
Full disclosure, before we get deeper into this: I am a monthly columnist for “The Ring, ” which is owned by Golden Boy Promotions. Salido-Garcia is being put on by its promotional rival, Top Rank. Nevertheless, it should be noted that I also criticized the magazine’s policy last year when Amir Khan vs. Danny Garcia, which was promoted by Golden Boy, was contested for the publication’s then-vacant junior-welterweight title.
It used to be that the magazine’s vacant championships could only be filled by the winner of a bout between its No. 1 and No. 2 ranked fighters, or in rare instances between No. 1 and No. 3. But because those with No. 1 and No. 2 rankings aren’t fighting each other often enough, the magazine’s editorial board decided to establish more lenient standards, allowing a championship to potentially be filled “If the Nos. 1 and 2 contenders choose not to fight one another and either of them fights No. 3, No. 4 or No. 5.”
Salido is ranked No. 1 at 126. Garcia is ranked No. 3. Chris John, the longtime beltholder from Indonesia, is second. A fight between Salido-John is unlikely. But it’s the one and only fight that should decide who is the undisputed best at featherweight.
“The Ring” used to be recognized as establishing championship lineage. As I said last year, the championship should be recognized for, well, the true champion. If that can’t be earned just yet, then keep the top guy at No. 1.
2. All of this admittedly matters very little to some; dedicated boxing fans will still know who the best fighter is in a division, no matter what a magazine or sanctioning body says.
To others, though, this recent move toward leniency in favor of filling vacancies could lead to the watering down of a prestigious recognition from the self-proclaimed “Bible of Boxing.”
The magazine’s championship lineage wasn’t without past controversy under past editors. For instance, Vitali Klitschko (No. 1) became heavyweight champion after beating No. 3 Corrie Sanders in 2004, bypassing the No. 2 fighter, Chris Byrd.
And the magazine had for several years proclaimed the flyweight championship to be vacant despite Pongsaklek Wonjongkam being the lineal champion, lineage that followed World Boxing Council beltholders dating back to 1975 and Miguel Canto, according to Cyber Boxing Zone and BoxRec.com.
3. Now to a topic that’s more important, then: fighter safety.
Once again, Antwun Echols is fighting. Echols shouldn’t be fighting anymore.
We who watch boxing are selective in whom we worry about, showing more concern for recognizable names than for the anonymous journeymen and club fighters who might have taken just as much punishment during their careers.
But we can only speak about that which we know, and what we know is that the 41-year-old former middleweight title challenger is being allowed to sustain further damage against opponents who previously never would have belonged in the ring with him.
Echols has won one fight in eight years.
That one win came nearly three years ago, and came against an opponent who was 0-8-2.
Since April 2005, Echols has fought 18 times, going 1-14-3. He is currently on a seven-fight losing streak. Every single one of his last six bouts has seen him get stopped in the third round.
He’s gone from going the distance with then-prospect, now-titleholder Peter Quillin in 2008 to getting bombed out this past November by a 7-0 boxer named Mike Jimenez in Indiana.
Now he’s slated to take on some dude with an 8-0 record named George Carter Jr. in a bout that BoxRec.com has listed as taking place on Feb. 23 in Echols’ hometown of Davenport, Iowa.
We’re seeing the sports of football and hockey become increasingly aware of the danger of multiple concussions and blows to the head, with more athletes dying young. Retired NFL players Dave Duerson and Junior Seau shot themselves in the chest, seemingly allowing their brains to be examined for damage they must have known existed.
Boxing had the issue examined in the excellent documentary “After the Last Round.” But it’s up to the athletic commissions to protect the boxers when neither the boxers nor their teams are willing to do it.
This isn’t diagnosing Echols with a specific condition. But it’s painfully obvious that he’s not looked good in a long, long time, though.
Fighting to make a living isn’t a right; it’s a privilege. And athletic commissions need to do their due diligence to make sure that Echols still deserves to have that privilege. They need to do this with everyone, requiring more in-depth medical screenings before issuing a license to fight.
4. Boxers Behaving Badly, part one: Tomasz Adamek was arrested this past weekend in Upstate New York and accused of drunk driving, according to the Adirondack Daily Enterprise (hat tip to BoxingScene’s Luke Furman).
Adamek was taken into police custody following a crash in Lake Placid that authorities say was caused by Adamek colliding with a parked vehicle, which then was pushed into another parked vehicle. He is facing one count of driving while intoxicated and one count of failing to stay in his lane, according to the newspaper.
He was not seriously injured, and is free on bail, the article said.
The 36-year-old heavyweight is coming off a controversial split decision victory last month over Steve Cunningham. The former cruiserweight champion and light heavyweight titleholder is 48-2 with 29 knockouts.
5. Boxers Behaving Badly, part two: A familiar face returns to this space — Scott Harrison was in court twice recently over a pair of alleged incidents involving a former girlfriend.
Harrison appeared in court on New Year’s Eve, a day after allegedly “forcing his way” inside the woman’s home and “shouting, swearing, damaging a TV and scaring his ex-girlfriend,” according to Scotland newspaper The Evening Times. He was freed on bail and ordered not to go inside the woman’s home, nor to have any contact with her.
But then Harrison and the woman were at the same party on Jan. 1. And Harrison is accused of “repeatedly shouting, refusing to leave and making threats of violence” toward the woman, according to the newspaper. He was once again released on bail.
Meanwhile, Harrison was sentenced in late 2012 to four more years behind bars for an assault case dating back to 2007, according to British newspaper The Scotsman.
The 35-year-old was found guilty of being part of a group that assaulted three men at a Spanish brothel all those years ago.
He was just released from prison in September 2011 after spending two and a half years there for an incident in which he assaulted a police officer and another man and attempted to steal a car. He had last fought in November 2005 before returning this past June. Harrison won that fight, and came out victorious again in September, bringing his record to 27-2-2 with 15 knockouts.
6. Boxers Behaving Badly, part three: Retired two-division titleholder Vinny Pazienza was arrested this past Wednesday in Rhode Island and charged with malicious damage and disorderly conduct after an alleged tantrum that came after a bartender asked him to pay a $23 tab and then leave, according to the Associated Press and local television station ABC6.
“The bartender insisted he pay, and Paz refused,” according to the television station’s report. “Paz is accused of smashing two bar stools against the bars and then throwing them. Paz continued to confront the bartender, but a friend got between the two.”
Last September, the 50-year-old former fighter was sentenced to 30 hours of community service and ordered to undergo alcohol counseling after pleading no contest to one count of disorderly conduct stemming from an alleged incident at a bar/restaurant involving two women, according to a report at the time by the Associated Press. Prosecutors dropped one count of simple assault, the report said.
Pazienza held world titles at lightweight and junior middleweight, and also challenged for belts at junior welterweight and super middleweight. He last fought in 2004, ending his two-decade career on a win that brought his record to 50-10 with 30 knockouts.
7. Boxers Behaving Badly, part four: Pazienza isn’t the only former fighter recently arrested after an alleged incident at a bar; Graciano Rocchigiani is in trouble in Germany for allegedly punching a bar’s owner in late December after being asked to leave, according to tabloid newspaper B.Z. (hat tip to BoxingScene’s Ruslan Chikov).
Rocchigiani, 49, fought as a pro from 1983 to 2003, capturing world titles at super middleweight and light heavyweight. He was 41-6-1 with 19 knockouts.
8. Boxers Behaving Badly, part five: It’s not just pros behaving badly; amateurs are getting in on the alleged misbehavior as well.
Damien Hooper, a light heavyweight who lost in the second rounds of the 2012 games to the eventual gold medalist, was arrested in Australia last week after allegedly assaulting a police officer, as well as “exposing himself to police and spitting on an officer at a Queensland nightclub,” according to the Australian Associated Press.
Hooper, 20, has a court date set for Feb. 19.
9. Boxers Behaving Badly, part six: Another Australian Olympian, Billy Joe Ward, pleaded guilty last week to “one count of assaulting or obstructing a police officer and one count of public nuisance,” according to The (Gladstone) Observer.
The 19-year-old junior flyweight, who lost in the first round of the 2012 games, was fined $1,200 after an incident in which police say he was one of two men found crawling through a fence. Ward resisted arrest and at one point grabbed an officer’s flashlight and threw it, authorities said.
10. Meanwhile, a man was arrested last month in Michigan after police pulled him over, looked through his vehicle and discovered two bags of marijuana hidden inside a boxing glove, according to Farmington-Farmington Hills Patch.
No, it wasn’t Julio Cesar Chavez Jr…
“Fighting Words” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com. David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Follow David on Twitter @fightingwords2 or send questions/comments via email at [email protected]