A few months ago, I read a Sports Illustrated article about the coming FOX Sports 1, replacing the to-me-useless SPEED Channel and offering another national sports network, one that may not compete in numbers with ESPN any time soon, but would hopefully give us all something besides ESPN to favor, for those of us sick of ESPN and its ESPNery.
Where the NBC Sports Network came up well short, FOX Sports 1 seems to be making out a bit better. It feels like a major network for sports, whereas NBC Sports Network (and the even lesser CBS Sports Network) seems more like a better version of regional FOX and Comcast Sports Networks.
But for boxing fans, NBC Sports Network has been solid, adding a Main Events series that has largely delivered good fights since debuting in January 2012. FOX Sports 1's Canadian duo on their SportsCenter-equivalent FOX Sports Live may not be living up to the "new Patrick & Olbermann" hype I had read about (not that I expected this, really, but the Patrick/Olbermann days are also a bit romanticized because dude said "en fuego" and "the whiff"), but I held out hope for their new Monday night boxing series, a Golden Boy venture that would hopefully be the all-time first Golden Boy series on a "lesser" outlet to not suck.
Monday nights. If you're not a rasslin fan or someone so stark raving mad for NFL ACTION!!!! that you're looking forward to things like Eagles-Redskins, Dolphins-Buccaneers, and Ravens-Lions (hey!), you generally have nothing to watch on Monday nights. Or maybe you like "2 Broke Girls" or "Mike and Molly." Look, I don't know your life. My point here is that Monday is not a traditional boxing night, and that it's nice for us to have something to watch that isn't on Friday or Saturday. And for anyone who has the absurd thought that, like, the ratings may suffer because of Monday Night Football being some sort of juggernaut, uh, duh, dude. This show is not meant to be competition for the NFL. It's cheap original programming. This is a series like Friday Night Fights. It's not a flagship show for this network. It's secondary stuff for FS1. That's OK. It's better than nothing.
Paulie Malignaggi in a dual role. Malignaggi is one of the best commentators working today, as he's taken very naturally to the role of expert analyst and color guy. He talks fast, so it's hard to understand him if you're not used to him, but he lends genuine insight, says interesting things, gives his honest opinions more than most dare, and he is just truly good at the job. He sets up his broadcast partners nicely, as he often did with Bernard Hopkins by saying things like, "Right, X?" And I like Malignaggi in the role of post-fight interviewer, too, because we're seeing a guy who knows what it's like to win, knows what it's like to lose, knows what it's like to feel cheated. He's been there. Jim Gray has not. Max Kellerman has not. Larry Merchant has not. Due respect to those guys for their various strengths (even Gray), and I'm definitely not someone who thinks generally that ex- (or current) athletes are automatically useful as commentators, but Malignaggi is just plain good at this.
HD feed. It looks great! Also the production values are solid, the ticker never feels in the way, and the pacing of the show was handled very well, even considering there wound up being a little downtime due to early finishes.
Matchmaking. Not everything done well turns out the way it was envisioned, but this first show featured solid tests on paper for Eddie Gomez and Danny Jacobs. Both of those guys wound up winning with impressive performances, but these weren't gimmes before the bell sounded. All we can really ask is that the "other guy" actually has a shot on paper with a show like this one. We got that tonight.
Solid focus on Danny Jacobs. Jacobs might have lost and made his "walking around Times Square" video package look a little dumb, but even still, it was well-done. It let Jacobs explain his journey in his own words for any N00BZ who may have flipped past and wondered what the jug-eared fellow with the diamond studs was talking about. Letting fans and viewers get to know fighters is something I think is important, and I thought this was done very well, and was a great change of pace from Sad Piano Background stuff that HBO used to overdo to the extreme.
Bernard Hopkins. "X" said things like "it was a battle of nutrition" and "extablish." This is awesome.
Bernard Hopkins. "X" said things like "it was a battle of nutrition" and "extablish." While this is awesome, it's also technically horrible.
LET'S GET RIGHT INTO THE ACTION! Maybe this is designed to make this show feel "different" or "exciting" or something, but I didn't personally care for the way the show started with Terrell Gausha and patsy in the ring and then the bell sounding. I actually like pre-fight analysis from the commentators, introductions for the fighters, entrances, and all that stuff. I think context for fights is important. But this is just me. If it stays this way and the fights are good, who gives a crap?
Swing fight. Just this one in particular, where Kamal Muhammad and Gary Beriguette flailed at one another for four rounds. Swing fights are an established thing that we all know about, but all I really ever ask is that they be a couple kids who are going to fight. Obviously you can't go 100% in making sure you've got four rounds of fun like the famous Lopez-Lopez FNF war, or that dude who kept swinging from half a mile away so often that the crowd shouted, "OLÉ!" on every ridiculous whiff. But I can't imagine this one was thought by anyone to make for a decent spell of TV. If someone tuned out watching this, could you blame them? There are a million crazy young boxers who probably don't have a long-term future in the sport out there willing to go nutso for four rounds of possible TV.
Dave Bontempo. Bontempo is usually a solid company man for any fights he calls, and he did that again tonight. He is experienced and capable. Dave Bontempo is fine. He's better than Kenny Rice. But he's not among the upper tier of boxing play-by-play guys, either.
Oscar De La Hoya. If he could be interviewed ringside every show to make his eyebrow-heavy facial expressions and predict that the world will see things it has never seen before at the next Golden Boy Big Event, I'd be OK with that. I don't like it or him, but I'd be OK with that. Oscar talking has gotten perilously close to Oscar tweeting.
Expectations. Mentioned already, but please don't expect to ever see a marquee matchup on this series. The best we can hope for is a steady level similar to what we saw tonight, and not GBP eventually just dumping all their garbage onto this series the way they've done other shows on FSN's regional networks and their awful run heading Solo Boxeo Tecate. The less said about Fight Night Club the better, because that was even worse than Top Rank Presents Tye Fields vs The World on the old Versus network.