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Renewed ESPN Interest Prompts Top Rank Nostalgia

By Lyle Fitzsimmons

Years ago, it was must-see TV.

During my initial period of intoxication with boxing – ages 10 to 18, or thereabout – I can vividly remember turning down all manner of social interaction to make sure I wouldn’t miss the weekly fight cards broadcast on a then-novel cable entity called ESPN.

Family going to a late dinner? Sorry, can’t make it.

Friends assembling a street hockey game? No can do, guys, find another goalie.

Pressing homework assignments past due? Oh well, guess I’ll take the zero.

Back then, my devotion to house fighters like Dio Colome, Robin Blake and Freddie Roach – yes, that Freddie Roach – and voices named Al Bernstein, Randy Gordon and Sal Marchiano was far stronger than anything short of breathing, eating and, well… you know.

If it was Thursday and there was a fight show, I was watching.

But the infatuation eventually gave way to the weight of jobs, girlfriends and college entrance exams, prompting a period of nearly two decades between stages where I’d consider myself a “regular” viewer of the four-letter network’s late-week offerings.

Oh sure, I’d catch the occasional Top Rank Boxing special or have an occasional living-room drive-by with its eventual progeny – Friday Night Fights – but it never got to a point where familiarity with Mssrs. Tessitore, Atlas and Kenny was anything close to what it had been a generation before.

But I’ve tried to change things lately.

Beginning a few weeks back with the 2011 season debut, I’ve made a concerted effort to reconnect with my past in a way that simultaneously allows a benefit toward what’s become my career of choice.

Go figure, huh… watching a weekly fight show might be a plus for a boxing writer.

Especially in a few years, when teen-age prospect Ray Ximenez Jr. – whom I saw on the live show from Texas before the Super Bowl and interviewed a few days later – wins a championship.

Anyway, now that I’ve officially become part of the FNF viewership, I’ve noticed a handful of things in the way of comparison with its Thursday night Bob Arum-signatured grandfather.

Superior technology, options for instant interaction and a more-produced overall product surely give the whole thing a more professional feel than the thrown-together nature of things from a quarter-century past.

The mid-show updates and reports from the Bristol studio are a particularly strong addition, especially when a high-end boxer or one of the sport’s premier power-brokers is there to comment on breaking news, an imminent big event or some other relevant news item.

Even if you can’t stomach Dan Rafael, his contributions are significant, and Atlas’s “Keys to the Fight” are a slam-dunk positive as well, providing insight to the main event competitors’ styles and sequences to watch for once the opening bell rings. 

So from top to bottom, there’s no question it’s a better show... in 2D or 3D.   

But truth be told, I watch it now and still long for days gone by.

While the announce team is strong and the top-to-bottom package more complete, the sentimentalist in me simply recalls a more palpable anticipation and intrigue leading into the shows of the 1980s.

In reality it may be no different and perhaps it’s because I was a kid, but it somehow felt back then as if a big upset or a surprisingly competitive fight happened with more regularity than the scripted, this house fighter will beat that imported “opponent” en route to bigger shows – on premium cable or PPV – down the road.

Instead of an ESPN ate being a sign a fighter had made the big time as it was back then, a weekly appearance now too often reeks of a carefully arranged, drama-free steppingstone.

And because they were fighting for more with each show, identifiable past characters like Mario “Bucket of Blood” Chavez, Kenny “Bang Bang” Bogner and Eric “The Prince” Martin seem far more romantic and interesting than the Shawn Porter, Demetrius Andrade and Chris Arreola ilk of 2011.

The former left it all in the ring. The latter want to expend little and save more for later.

Another sure favorite of the good, old days was the annual ESPN tournament, in which the network would arrange a handful of bouts leading to the crowning of weight-class champions – who then would occasionally defend the belts in subsequent title bouts.

Some of my fondest memories revolve around those fights and those titles, and even the gimmicky sudden-death 13th round that would occur when a close 12-round bout ended – prompting the referee to tell the corners not to cut gloves off – and was ultimately decided after three more minutes.

Imagine such a scenario today. No promoter in his right mind would suggest it. No manager in his right mind would consider it. No fighter in his right mind would agree to it.

Given the insulated nature of today, it’s pretty impossible to imagine that sort of fun coming back.

* * * * * * * * * *

This week’s title-fight schedule:

SATURDAY
WBC light flyweight title – Merida, Mexico
Gilberto Keb Baas (champion) vs. Jose Antonio Aguirre (No. 8 contender)
      
Baas (34-20-4, 21 KO): First title defense; Lost first two title shots at 112 pounds
Aguirre (35-9-1, 21 KO): Fourteenth title fight (8-5, 5 KO); Held WBC title at 105 (2000-04) 
Fitzbitz says: “Skidding ex-champ probably too far beyond vintage.” Baas by decision

WBO flyweight title – Chihuahua, Mexico
Julio Cesar Miranda (champion) vs. Arden Diale (No. 8 contender)
      
Miranda (34-5-1, 27 KO): Third title defense; Last 15 victories by stoppage
Diale (14-5-3, 3 KO): First title fight; Five-fight unbeaten streak since 2009 (3-0-2, 2 KO)
Fitzbitz says: “Streaking incumbent should continue run against youngster.” Miranda in 10

WBA lightweight title - Las Vegas, Nevada
Miguel Acosta (28-3, 22KOs): Second defense of the title vs. Brandon Rios (26-0, 19KOs)

Last week’s picks: 2-1
Overall picks record: 178-59 (75.1 percent)

Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him at www.twitter.com/fitzbitz.

Tags: Top Rank image  
User Comments and Feedback (Register For Free To Comment) Comment by pistol whip on 02-22-2011

[QUOTE=ochouno;10143712]exactly, I rarely watching friday nite fights anymore because i'm tried of tuning in to watch the promoters fighter fighting an opponent. If ESPN cared or wanted bigger ratings they'd put their foot down and make sure the fights were…

Comment by ochouno on 02-22-2011

exactly, I rarely watching friday nite fights anymore because i'm tried of tuning in to watch the promoters fighter fighting an opponent. If ESPN cared or wanted bigger ratings they'd put their foot down and make sure the fights were…

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