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Boxing on Versus/NBC: Hoping For Better Than Before


Kory Kitchen is back at Bad Left Hook this morning, hoping that the reported deal to put boxing back on the Versus network -- and possibly NBC -- will not turn into another glorified promoter-specific infomercial.

Marvin Hagler, Larry Holmes, Sugar Ray Leonard, Evander Holyfield, Roberto Duran, Thomas Hearns, Pernell Whitaker. What do these men have in common? Each one was a world champion, and each one is either a current hall of famer or will be enshrined very soon (assuming Holyfield retires this decade). However, there is one other fact that these men have in common.

Amazingly, all of these fighters appeared on network television during their primes. I could list many other boxers as well, but that would not be necessary. It's been preached about for years now. Boxing's past was filled with network television dates, and they weren't just used for C-level fights or gross mismatches. Legitimate championship matches were held on networks like ABC. One didn't have to subscribe to HBO in order to witness Larry Holmes defending his heavyweight title, or watch Roberto Duran perform in his prime (imagine if boxing coverage like this was on a network today:

Network boxing programing has been virtually absent during my generation. I'm only 22 years old, and cannot relate to the stories that my father has told me about boxing's television history. My dad's eyes light up like Christmas lights when telling me stories about how he would watch fights with my grandfather on their basement television set. He would rattle off a list of his favorites to watch - Gene Fullmer, Bob Foster, Joe Frazier, Jerry Quarry, Florentino Fernandez, and several others. He would say my grandfather's favorites were Fullmer and Rocky Marciano.

I cannot even fathom a heavyweight champion as popular as Marciano being on free TV. Heck, I get excited just to hear that any boxing will be on non-premium channels. Now comes news that Versus/NBC has struck a deal with Main Events to televise a weekly boxing series that will begin in January. According to various reports the deal is for six cards.

I desperately want to get amped up about this, but haven't we been through this before? Versus had boxing programming with Top Rank, and we were given the Tye Fields "Bum of the Month Club". After poor fights and (surprise!) poor ratings, the series was cancelled. I sincerely hope that Kathy Duva, head of Main Events, has learned from this. Versus must somehow have seen something they liked, or they wouldn't be returning to the concrete jungle of boxing.

The main question that I have regarding this whole Versus/NBC situation is the quality of the matchups. UFC and FOX have raised the bar by putting on a real heavyweight fight to start off their relationship. Boxing may not have an interesting heavyweight division at the moment, but boxing does have some terrific fighters nevertheless. The mindset of "so as the heavyweights go, boxing goes" is shallow. The two most popular fighters in the world today are welterweights, and so was Oscar de la Hoya before them. Boxing can put on terrific matchups below 200 pounds when they want to.

Therefore, the question is do they sincerely want to? If Main Events litters their cards with mismatches and glorified sparring sessions then boxing won't gain a single fan. However, if they actually put good matches on with fighters that they know will deliver then it has a chance to mean more than another series that leads to nowhere.

There used to be a term in boxing that meant a boxer was consistently exciting. They were called "TV fighters". I think it's about time we found some "TV promoters".

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