by David P. Greisman
The main event featured the champion defending against a challenger who, we would later learn, wasn’t fit to compete that night.
The ending came within minutes, an anticlimactic conclusion that left those in attendance jeering. Those who were watching it unfold on their screens wondered why they’d even bothered.
Those who broadcast the embarrassment were left scrambling to figure out how to make it up to their customers.
That is what happened eight days ago with Sting and Jeff Hardy on the TNA “Victory Road” wrestling pay-per-view.
And that is also what happened two days ago with Vitali Klitschko and Odlanier Solis and the Epix cable channel and website.
Sting’s 90-second pinning of Jeff Hardy – who must have either been struggling with substance abuse or some other problem – wasn’t wholly TNA’s fault. Though TNA hired Hardy and pushed a talent whose issues were well known, it was Hardy who created the trouble.
Klitschko’s 180-second technical knockout of Solis – who suffered ligament and cartilage injuries in his leg after being hit with a right hand – wasn’t at all Epix’s fault. Solis is said to have had lingering problems in his right knee beforehand.
Nevertheless, Klitschko-Solis was the selling point of the product that Epix put forth – a product that did little to inspire potential customers.
This was the first foray into boxing for the premium (subscription-only) cable channel that launched at the end of October 2009 and, according to its website, is now available to more than 30 million homes (though that doesn’t actually mean there are 30 million subscribers)
Epix’s entry was a welcome addition. More options almost always mean a better deal for the consumer, and more boxing broadcasts is almost always a good thing for fight fans.
But Epix faced an uphill battle – selling itself to a market where there are already two premium channels regularly showing boxing, where there are numerous pay-per-views drawing fans’ money, and where more and more people turning to illegal streams and downloads so they can watch boxing (and other programming) for free.
One of Epix’s selling points is its large library of movies – more than 15,000, the company says – that can be shown on television and online.
The website is the only way to get Epix for the millions and millions of people who cannot get it on their televisions (Comcast and DirecTV are among the major providers who don’t carry it).
The website is what failed Epix this weekend.
Many were able to get the online broadcast as it started at 5 p.m. Eastern Time on Saturday. But others were not initially able to sign up and see the show.
“Due to the incredible volume of viewers logging in at the same time, just as the broadcast was about to begin … the system that we used to register them for the free two-week trial began to fail, which caused many fans to miss the undercard fights,” said Mark Greenberg, president and CEO of Epix, in a statement attributed to him and issued to media on Sunday.
More than 100,000 people tried to log in, with much of that coming at the same time, the statement said.
And so for those who were already watching online, the broadcast went down. The feed stopped at 5:25 p.m. for this viewer and came back at 5:51 p.m.
Epix, to its credit, adjusted. It put Klitschko-Solis online without obstacles – it was no longer necessary to sign up for the two-week free trial.
I don’t know how many came back. I turned my attention to what, for many, has become more reliable – the plethora of pirated broadcasts available via a myriad of illicit websites.
Suddenly I had a British broadcast that had qualified, experienced boxing commentators. Suddenly I had commentary that didn’t make me strain to hear it, even with the volume turned all the way up. Suddenly I had the ability to put the action on full-screen mode.
Sadly, I still had the disappointment of the fight itself.
Solis actually wasn’t doing poorly at all. In the first and only round of the bout, he’d shown that part of his game plan for dealing with Klitschko’s height advantage was to send out quick, sharp counters when Klitschko either leaned down or brought himself too close.
Klitschko, meanwhile, was landing his jab. And then, with seconds to go in the round, he landed a short right hook high on the side of Solis’ head.
Solis reacted as some boxers do when hit on or near their temple, appearing momentarily discombobulated. His left leg went stiff, and he began to back away as Klitschko pursued. Solis fell down, clutched his right thigh and struggled to get up, but he beat the count. The referee saw a fighter unsteady on his feet, however, and stopped the fight.
A hospital exam revealed that Solis tore his anterior cruciate ligament and external meniscus and had cartilage damage in his right knee, according to the Associated Press. And Agence France Press quoted a German newspaper as saying that Solis’ manager had known about pre-existing problems with the knee but had thought they would go away with training.
If only promoters would put fighters through as thorough exams as sports teams do before they sign or trade for a player.
Then again, a team that signs a damaged player will have wasted money if the player can’t perform. In boxing, everyone gets paid – the boxers, the promoters and the networks – even if an old injury forces a fighter to crap out early.
Odlanier Solis had dropped 20 pounds since a year ago and was 24 pounds lighter than his professional peak of 271, but the 247 pounds he still carried is quite a lot for a 6-foot-1 guy moving around on a bum knee.
He still got paid. But he can’t expect a second chance at the heavyweight title without earning it first.
Epix, meanwhile, is going to have to hope that viewers will give the network a second chance.
It will need a second chance from the hundreds of people who were said to be watching Klitschko-Solis on a billboard-sized screen in New York City’s Times Square, only to see a disappointing, unexciting conclusion.
It will need a second chance from subscribers who want their money to be well spent – this was not the auspicious debut of boxing on HBO via George Foreman vs. Joe Frazier or the thrilling premiere of HBO’s “Boxing After Dark” via Marco Antonio Barrera vs. Kennedy McKinney.
It will need a second chance from the potential customers who went online and gave Epix a shot at impressing them, only to be sent searching for their old reliables.
Epix didn’t pay much for the fight itself – only $150,000, according to Dan Rafael of ESPN.com – though it did put forth the effort, arranging for the Times Square big screen showing, for movie-like sound effects in its opening video, for Lennox Lewis to provide commentary, for Rafael to be in studio after the fight, and for Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated to do round-by-round updates on the network’s Facebook page.
It apparently didn’t spend enough money on server bandwidth or enough time on a reliable trial run that could work out the kinks.
Epix deserves a second chance – technological snafus do happen, and in-fight injuries are not the network’s fault – but second chances never mean as much as first impressions.
My first impression: This free trial was both free and a trial.
The 10 Count
1. Oh, Lennox Lewis, how do we love thee? Let us count the ways…
Lennox, in the 25 minutes between the start of the Epix show and the time when the webcast went down for me, you had already said “you know” some 29 times.
I don’t have your statistics for the entire broadcast – by the time I’d realized the prolonged nature of the Epix fail that was going on, I’d switched over to an illicit stream of the British broadcast. And there, in studio, was the capable commentary of Barry McGuigan.
This leads to an amazing revelation in the form of an SAT analogy:
Lennox Lewis’ Hall of Fame credentials : Barry McGuigan’s Hall of Fame credentials :: Barry McGuigan’s broadcast skills : Lennox Lewis’ broadcast skills.
2. In lieu of re-watching the entire Klitschko-Solis webcast – and nobody should be that masochistic – I can, at the very least, report that Lennox Lewis was also in true form the week before the fight while answering questions on a media conference call.
According to the transcript:
- “…definitely, like I said, on the body”
- “…definitely Vitali”
- “…definitely he should definitely get a lot of credit for that”
- “…definitely noted”
- “…absolutely, I'm excited about it”
- “…definitely the era of the Klitschkos”
- “…definitely induct them on just that premise alone”
- “…definitely the – when I say ‘hard fight,’ he was a guy that I had to figure out.”
WWE play-by-play announcer Michael Cole would call this “Vintage Lennox Lewis.”
3. The biggest shocker of that conference call came not from Lennox Lewis, however, but from Vitali Klitschko:
He actually went the whole conference call without demanding a rematch from Lewis.
4. The announced move of Nonito Donaire from Top Rank to Golden Boy Promotions is both completely understandable and completely ill timed.
Donaire first fought under the Top Rank promotional banner in November 2008. Last week, Golden Boy announced that it’d signed the stellar bantamweight titleholder.
In an interview with BoxingScene’s very own workhorse Lem Satterfield, Donaire’s wife, Rachel, explained why her husband made the move.
She spoke of the lower-level competition Top Rank put Donaire in with over and over again; of how they felt less attention was given to Donaire than was given to other Top Rank fighters; and of Top Rank not using the marketing muscle of Manny Pacquiao to increase the stature of a fellow Filipino in Donaire.
This jibes with observations this scribe made last month after Donaire’s stunning stoppage of Fernando Montiel:
“Until this February, five of his six fights since signing with Arum had come on independent Top Rank pay-per-views. The one exception was a July 2010 stoppage of Hernan Marquez that was an undercard bout on Showtime. And so for more than three years after he’d skyrocketed onto the scene by dethroning [Vic] Darchinyan with a single left hook, Donaire fell back under the radar.”
5. It must be said, however, that Donaire’s discontent and his contractual status are two different things.
Ronnie Nathanielsz, a correspondent for BoxingScene.com, obtained a copy of a letter that Top Rank attorney Daniel Petrocelli sent to Donaire’s attorney, John Bailey.
Petrocelli, per the report, notes that Donaire signed with Top Rank in June 2008, and that the contract stipulated that the promoter offer the fighter a minimum of three bouts per year.
Top Rank says its contract is still valid, disagreeing with claims that it failed to live up to its agreement to offer that minimum number of fights.
Petrocelli argues that Donaire suffered hand injuries in two bouts that left him unable to fight – which changed the time period in which Top Rank could be held liable for not offering him fights. And when Donaire had recovered and was available to fight, Top Rank met its contractual terms, Petrocelli claims.
This seems likely to be resolved in court or in mediation.
Donaire should have known that his jumping ship wouldn’t go down easy with Top Rank. And now he could potentially be kept inactive – in the months after one of his biggest, most impressive wins – until the legal stuff gets sorted out.
6. This also isn’t the first time that Golden Boy has been accused of signing a fighter that wasn’t theirs to sign – and the tug-of-war that Top Rank and Golden Boy had over Manny Pacquiao is only the most prominent case.
Victor Ortiz filed for bankruptcy and sought to void his contract with Top Rank. Golden Boy has paid money to Top Rank as part of a settlement.
Nate Campbell filed for bankruptcy and sought to void his contract with Don King. Golden Boy has paid money to King as part of a settlement.
James Kirkland signed with Golden Boy at a time when Gary Shaw said he still had promotional rights over the junior middleweight. Kirkland became a Golden Boy fighter.
And the late Diego Corrales had signed with Golden Boy – but Shaw still did have Corrales under contract.
7. Lucian Bute has the most feared, most dangerous left hand to the body since Micky Ward.
8. Boxing Trainers Behaving Badly: The reason why Sergio Martinez did not have Gabriel Sarmiento in his corner when he faced Sergiy Dzinziruk on March 12 is because Sarmiento was arrested earlier this month, according to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Interpol website.
Sarmiento “was arrested the night of March 4 by officials from the U.S. Marshals Service on criminal assault charges and is wanted in Spain for aggravated battery,” the website noted. “He is currently being held in Los Angeles pending extradition to Spain.”
One can understand why Martinez’s camp wanted to keep this quiet in the weeks before the fight, referring to Sarmiento’s absence as being a “personal issue.” While such a vague explanation led to speculation, a more specific explanation would’ve led to distraction.
The camp will now have to deal with the obvious questions – the same kind of questions Floyd Mayweather Jr. faced whenever his trainer, Roger Mayweather, had legal issues.
The biggest question: How will Gabriel Sarmiento’s legal problems affect Sergio Martinez’s next fight – or fights?
9. How the NCAA tournament has been great for the sweet science, part one: There’ve been commercials on CBS for May’s fight between Manny Pacquiao and Shane Mosley.
The commercials are a product of Pacquiao-Mosley being on Showtime, which is owned by the same company that owns CBS. Episodes of the “Pacquiao-Mosley Fight Camp 360” documentary series will also be carried on CBS.
Yes, the commercials are very, very brief. But they’re something – and they’re just the beginning.
10. How the NCAA tournament has been great for the sweet science, part two: Gus Johnson’s calling basketball instead of boxing…
David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. His weekly column, “Fighting Words,” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com.
Follow David on Twitter at twitter.com/fightingwords2 or on Facebook at facebook.com/fightingwordsboxing, or send questions and comments to [email protected]