Promoter, network wars still bad for boxing's health, despite success of September 15 shows

Jeff Bottari - Getty Images

On September 15, Golden Boy/Showtime and Top Rank/HBO PPV put on a pair of sold-out, highly entertaining shows in Las Vegas. But the success of that night is owed to its stars, not to counter-programming driving fans wild.

Well, they showed me. I didn't think that Golden Boy would be able to have a successful event on Showtime in Las Vegas the same night Top Rank/DiBella were putting on a huge pay-per-view show in the same city. I figured, ya know, with boxing being dead and all, their card would have several thousand people there live, and draw a disappointing rating for Golden Boy's newly adopted home, Showtime.

Well, I was wrong. The final numbers reported a rousing success for Golden Boy and the entire boxing business that night. Canelo's fight peaked at 1.036 million viewers, way above the typical Showtime average, and way above most people's expectations for the show, setting a record for a Showtime boxing broadcast since Nielsen began their tracking. The Sergio Martinez-Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. pay-per-view card reportedly did around 470,000 buys. Both shows were officially declared sellouts at the gate.

Those of you who read my writing on here (or for the three or four of you that follow me on Twitter) know I am generally quick to criticize Golden Boy, perhaps even unfairly at times. I admit, I can't help it. Taking shots at Oscar is just too much fun to pass up. However, I must say that they did one heck of a job promoting their event. So allow this be my "mea culpa". I was wrong, and therefore, must pat Golden Boy on its (heavy) back (pocket) for a show well done.

However, now that my official apology is out of the way, let me critique. The shows were a pair of massive successes, yes. But, their incredible success was due to one big reason: both Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and Saul "Canelo" Alvarez are big-time stars. That's really what this boils down to. And it's their star power that has masked the weakness in the counter-programming strategy.

Both of these guys would draw well any time of the year, just about anywhere in North or South America. While they are not on the level of Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, they are legitimate stars in a sport that needs them like I need Qdoba's three-cheese nachos. Therefore, the cute idea of having two mega boxing cards taking place on the same night in the same town works beautifully here.

The blowback is going to occur, much to the promoter's dismay, when B-level draws are competing against one another. This is when hardcore boxing fans must choose between viewing either HBO or Showtime while each is televising a boxing card. The boxing audience will be split here, and ratings will fall.

This could also damage boxing at the gate as well. If a good card is being televised on a network, why leave the comfort of one's couch for a potentially mid-level seat at a venue that's hosting the other network's show?

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(Photo by Tom Casino/Showtime)

Look at what happened on September 8 when Lucas Matthysse had a good matchup with Olusegun Ajose on Showtime. Originally, the main event was going to be Devon Alexander and Randall Bailey squaring off for the IBF welterweight title. Due to Bailey suffering an injury in training, the bout got pushed back to October 20 on Golden Boy's Brooklyn card. Needless to say, the original main event hadn't moved the needle much in the first place, and Matthysse, arguably the world's top junior welterweight, has very little drawing power. To top it all off was the fact that Andre Ward was busy decimating Chad Dawson on HBO the very same night. The HBO main event didn't begin until the Showtime main event was nearly finished, which works great if one is watching on TV, but if one attended the show live, they had no hope of watching Ward's masterpiece. Basically, one would need to definitively choose one show over the other if they wanted to attend a card in person.

When the final attendance numbers were announced it was declared that Matthysse-Olusegen had sold a grand total of 377 tickets, and Golden Boy gave away 810 tickets. If you can't figure it out, 377 tickets sold is bad. Like, very bad. I don't mean this as a knock on Matthysse, he's a wonderful fighter and easily one of my favorites right now, but that had to be embarrassing. I mean I could probably host a boxing card of regional fighters at a local Salvation Army gym and draw 377 paying customers.

The moral here is that the head-to-head competition between boxing cards on premium networks needs to stop. I understand if it happens every now and then, which it has before, but I'm afraid some people may have been fooled into thinking that due to the success of September 15 every competing boxing card would thrive as if nothing was different. Let's hope the success of one night does not hurt the chances of boxing's two super powers actually working together again.

Boxing promoters are, in general, smart people. They know the ins and outs of the business, and can generally get a good feel of things. Associates of Golden Boy and Top Rank know that the boxing business would improve if they worked together more and bickered like old men playing checkers less.

I get the sense we are due for another thaw in the Cold War. It seems as if once or twice a year we get news that they are discussing putting together a fight. Last year it happened with Yuriorkis Gamboa-Daniel Ponce De Leon. Now there is talk of possibly putting Tim Bradley in with Robert Guerrero in December. The fight makes sense (maybe too much), and it would be a terrific matchup. If there was ever an opportunity to put petty feelings aside and do business it's right now. Imagine if the promotional power that swept across Las Vegas last week that, between the two shows, put around 30,000 people in the seats could work together. It would be a great boost for a sport that seems, in my view, to be a little on the upswing. That is until we get to January and February when no fights are ever scheduled and the momentum dies. Oh well.

I believe what we should take away from September 15 week is that boxing still has the power to captivate, despite being pronounced dead more times than Jason Voorhees. I don't consider myself someone that is easily moved or impressed. The ending of the Martinez-Chavez fight moved me. In fact, it moved me, literally, out of my seat. That doesn't happen to me when I watch football, basketball, or baseball. Sure, I get excited when there's a Hail Mary or a 3-pointer at the buzzer. But when I see a man trying ever so desperately to knock another man unconscious with nothing but his fists while his own face is covered in blood and bruises as if he were attacked by one of those wolves in The Grey, and his opponent is attempting to fight back with every last ounce of energy like he is a man in the wild trying to protect his family from a brown bear that has him cornered and is threatening to have him for his late night fourth meal, well, that brings warm feelings to my heart and tears to my eyes.

Some Quick Random Observations:

I know it's easy to pick on Chavez, but I must say that the man has balls. Yes, he may be the "guy who made the team because his dad is the coach", but I thought he would quit if he took that severe of a beating. But he showed his spunk by continuing to walk through heavy, fast leather from one of the best fighters in the world, and gave us an unforgettable moment. Bravo for him.

The NBC Sports boxing broadcasts are always solid. Much of this is due to their TV broadcasters, whom I feel actually try to announce every fight with their best efforts. Some networks have people that seem too safe with their job security, and fall asleep during undercard fights. Not these guys.

I'm sure a lot of people with disagree with me, but I feel Andre Ward is the top boxer in the world today. Yes, even better than Him.

I hope Josesito Lopez's 15 minutes of fame aren't already up. I like him.

Typical conversation about Pacquiao-Marquez IV: "Man, nobody cares about that anymore." "So are you gonna get it?" "Of course! I have to finally see Marquez get his hand raised!"

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