Advertisement: IBO Boxing
Advertisement
Boxingscene.com
Advertisement

Bursting the Bubble: ESPN's Boxing Return So Far Falling Flat

I’ve been a boxing fan for about as long as I can remember.

From the moment I shared my dad’s recliner to watch Kenny Norton violently erase the “0” from Duane Bobick’s pro record, I’ve been as hooked as hooked can be.

I was 8. Do the math… I’m a bit older now.

Fortunately, I’ve kept busy enough since to disregard the calendar changes.

I’ve traveled internationally to cover fights. I’ve interviewed nearly every boxing hero I ever had. I’ve appeared on radio and TV more times than I recall. I’ve written a column in this space for 12 years.

And as a bonus… I’ve been paid, albeit modestly, to do it.

In other words, I’ve done nothing less than live that little kid’s dream.

Which is why I’m feeling awfully conflicted these days.

Because as televised combat sports get further beyond apocalyptic shutdown mode and further into antiseptic bubble mode, the chasm between the products available on ESPN grows wider by the week.

And my most beloved sport isn’t close to being on the optimum side.

top-rank-ring

Though Top Rank cards have featured main-event commodities like Emanuel Navarrete, Jessie Magdaleno and Shakur Stevenson – among others – since returning early last month, the fights in which they’ve been matched have been barely watchable, let alone TV worthy, in terms of competition.

Stevenson went six rounds with a guy whose previous three opponents had 32 losses between them. Magdaleno’s foe was slightly more competitive – and far more amateurish – on the way to a 10th-round disqualification for repeated low blows. And Navarrete’s foil had already lost three straight fights before arriving in Mexico City, and left six rounds later with a dubious pro record of 13-14-1.

None of the fights even measured up to a “glorified sparring session” label.

Which, ominously, isn’t exactly ideal to get the masses revved-up for the next time around.

But while one-sided matches can be rationalized, if not wholly excused, by pandemic-created logistics, every bit as difficult to watch as the fights have been the broadcasts on which they’re packaged.

For example, and presumably like most who’ve already read this far, I was giddy about the early June card on which Stevenson was featured in the spotlight bout. I assumed going in that the fight itself wouldn’t amount to much, but that was far outweighed by the buzz of simply having boxing back on TV.

That lasted roughly 15 minutes.

And was quickly replaced with, “Really ESPN, is this the best you can do?”

The initial show and each of the ones I’ve seen since have been an exercise in consistent virtual frustration – with members of the remote announce team frequently babbling over one another, or, on the flip side, leaving awkward stretches in which no one bothers to take the verbal lead.

Andre Ward and Tim Bradley are still new enough to the TV game to get a pass, especially in an environment with zero on-the-job training. Veterans Joe Tessitore and Mark Kriegel, though, ought to be far better than they’ve been – specifically regarding the former’s needless tirade last week against a late sub missing weight, and the latter’s fondness for using 500 words when 50 or so will do. 

Now I’m not at all suggesting having four guys in four locations trying to seamlessly call fights is a simple task. But yes, I did think that the worldwide leader in sports would be able to come up with something that sounded more like a big-league TV production and less like an elementary school Zoom meeting.

Especially when the product is laid next to the one put forth by the UFC.

Though the mixed martial arts conglomerate admittedly had a few weeks’ head start on its boxing cousin, the television experience on the very same network seems light years ahead in terms of quality.

Not only have the cards been far deeper in terms of competitiveness, the production value of the TV shows is streamlined and more viewer-friendly thanks in no small part to having a team in the building.

The broadcasts from the UFC Apex locked-down facility in Las Vegas – roughly seven miles from Top Rank’s bubble at the MGM Grand Conference Center – have included nearly all the bells and whistles of a typical show at a jam-packed arena, from Bruce Buffer’s over-the-top intros to coherent and insightful commentary from an engaged and cohesive announce crew.

In fact, if you weren’t aware COVID-19 existed, you’d probably not even notice a difference.

Top Rank’s Evan Korn told Boxing Scene it was an “ESPN decision” to have the boxing team working outside the venue and added that the network “wanted to limit number of employees in the bubble.”

He was unaware of the reason why the UFC shows are handled differently in terms of on-site announce teams, and a representative from ESPN did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Regardless of reason, alarm bells are ringing as multiple reports indicate ratings for UFC shows are far outpacing those for Top Rank.

The UFC’s last Las Vegas show before heading to Fight Island – headlined by lightweights Dan Hooker and Dustin Poirier on June 27 – averaged better than 1 million viewers across two hours starting at 10 p.m., and its two-hour prelim show averaged 635,000 from 8 to 10. Meanwhile, the Top Rank show that immediately followed averaged 418,000 fans, with 130-pound champ Miguel Berchelt in the main event.

The most recent Top Rank show, led by Felix Verdejo’s impressive blast-out of Will Madera, peaked at 444,000 viewers in the 15-minute block from 9:45 to 10 p.m. on July 16.

It’s prompted a suggestion, admittedly partisan, that the shows are doing as much harm as good.

“The content is not good enough. And you’re seeing that being reflected in the ratings,” UK-based promoter Eddie Hearn told the Ak and Barak Show. “Top Rank and ESPN shows are running non-competitive fights and a lot of the times with fighters that don’t have significant profiles. You’ve only gotta look at the ratings that are being produced by ESPN and Top Rank – it’s horrible for the sport.

“It’s giving people an excuse to say, ‘Boxing’s dead!’ Boxing’s not dead, when you get the product right. And when we come back, we’ve gotta make sure we get the product right.”

* * * * * * * * * *

This week’s title-fight schedule:

None

Last week's picks: None
2020 picks record: 14-3 (82.3 percent)
Overall picks record: 1,130-368 (75.4 percent)

NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.

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 fitzbitz@msn.com or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.

User Comments and Feedback
Comment by Raggamuffin on 07-29-2020

[QUOTE=tokon;20676583]When do you think that will be? This pandemic is going to restrict live crowd for the foreseeable future; the money just won't be there to pay the big names what they've become accustomed to. Thanks.[/QUOTE] Don’t know when boxing…

Comment by LoadedWraps on 07-27-2020

[QUOTE=Coachcody;20667254]They need Teddy Atlas back[/QUOTE] [COLOR="Green"] Hes great but hes a great 1 2 punch with Tessitore. They need quality fights and production quality. Personally, while I love boxing and basketball, I haven't cared for live sports since the pandemic.…

Comment by tokon on 07-27-2020

[QUOTE=Raggamuffin;20676504]Championship Boxing is out of the public spotlight. When the mainstream boxers start to fight again, boxing will be back in the spot light.[/QUOTE] When do you think that will be? This pandemic is going to restrict live crowd for…

Comment by Raggamuffin on 07-27-2020

[QUOTE=tokon;20668750]Boxing does not invest in production like UFC does. Obviously a factor is that more of the top boxers are paid more than UFC but, going forward, it's not a good strategy.[/QUOTE] Championship Boxing is out of the public spotlight.…

Comment by Dasmius Shinobi on 07-24-2020

I am a hardcore boxing fan and I saw a few fights that was fun, some good upsets and the rest was one sided sparring match that sometimes hurt my eyes. Anyway, I am not going to complain, but I…

ADD COMMENT VIEW COMMENTS (45)
Advertisement
Top Headlines
Joseph Diaz-Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov Title Fight is Back On Yeis Solano vs. Mykquan Williams - ShoBox Tripleheader Weights Troy Isley Inks Promotional Pact With Top Rank David Morrell Made WBA 'Regular' Champ, Ordered To Face John Ryder Yoka-Djeko Set For March 5, De Carolis-Richards Secured By Matchroom, More Sofiane Oumiha Turns Pro on March 6, Frank Warren To Fast-Track Michael Coffie vs. Darmani Rock as Co-Feature of Plant-Truax Broner Wants 'Tough Test' February 13th, But Insists It’s About AB, Not His Opponent Claressa Shields vs. Marie-Eve Dicaire Tops All-Female PPV, March 5 Josh Warrington Furious With Xu Can's Refusal To Fight Behind Closed Doors Leo: I Have A Lot Of Doubters & I’m The Underdog Against Fulton; All Fuel To Flame Hearn: Garcia Is Not Ready For Davis, Deal For Haney vs. Garcia Will Be Easier To Make Warren: A Joyce-Usyk Fight Puts Winner In Tremendous Position The Greatest Encore: Ranking the Best Heavyweights Since Ali Tszyu-Hogan: Stapleton vs. Colosimo in Works For Proposed Card Luis Nery Aims To Have Unification in Next Fight, Says Promoter Deontay Wilder vs. Dillian Whyte Would Be Massive Fight, Says Hearn Tommy Frank vs. Kyle Yousaf British Title Clash May Land in April Stephen Fulton Overcomes The Nightmare of COVID; Realizes Dream Of Fighting For World Title Ryan Garcia's Father: Lopez is Not 'King' at 135, He Beat a 130-Pounder Vergil Ortiz: I Want All The Belts, No Easy Fights, I Want To Face The Best Reynoso: Berchelt Can End a Fight With One Punch - But So Can Valdez! Munguia's Promoter Hopes To Secure Golovkin Title Clash Usyk vs. Joyce Clash is Being Discussed, Says Frank Warren Carlos Gongora Inks Promotional Pact With Eddie Hearn Ryan Garcia's Father Backs Son's Two Round KO Prediction of Gervonta Davis Samuel Vargas Aims To Use Experience To Shock Conor Benn Dylan Price Takes Out Samuel Gutierrez in Four Rounds Bob Arum: Golden Boy Wouldn't Put Ryan Garcia In With Teofimo Lopez; Easy Work Angelo Leo: Always Wanted To Celebrate Title Win With A Crowd, More Motivation To Stay Champion Thurman To Arum: Stop Talking Sh-t! Not My Fault You Can’t Afford Fight For Crawford Michel Rivera: Ryan Garcia Has a Great Punch But a Glass Chin Hearn Says Boxing Events Must Continue or Sport Could Fizzle Out McGirt Was Unaware of Kovalev's Doping Test, Felt Camp Was Going Well Manager: Pacquiao or McGregor Would Beat Mayweather in Rematch Dominic Breazeale Vows To Blast Out Otto Wallin With Huge Knockout Fred Levin: An Appreciation (1937-2021) Sergio Martinez Working For April Return, Eyes Murata Shot By Year's End Thunderdome Boxing Series Returns on February 26 in Perth Arum on Lopez's Options: Haney Doesn't Mean Much, Not an Attraction Like Davis, Garcia
Advertisement
Advertisement
Latest Forum Threads
Advertisement
Advertisement