With all the hype and talk around tonight's Premier Boxing Champions debut on NBC, why should you tune in? Not you, the grizzled boxing head fan person, the one who watches crap on the reg and defends the sport against all logic or reason or truth. You're tuning in anyway. You've willingly watched far worse. You've looked forward to watching far worse.
But maybe there are some people out there who are here in early March, still a dead time for sports, and there's a prime time boxing special on tonight. And it's not on HBO, which you don't have. Or Showtime, which you also don't have. You may have even seen a commercial for it during TV you actually watch during the week. And it's not a pay-per-view. You don't have to contact your cable or satellite provider to order. It's just on TV. NBC. A network everyone has.
Maybe you used to follow the sport before following it was essentially ripped out of your life, as the sport shrank its audience and tried to nickel and dime its audience to the brink of death. While network TV has broadcast everything -- football and baseball, basketball and hockey; high-level mixed martial arts of UFC and $kala losing his mind while Seth Petruzelli beat down Kimbo Slice; tennis and golf; bull riding and monster trucks -- boxing has been notably absent, save for a couple afternoon shows on NBC and one on CBS a few years ago. Shows you probably weren't aware existed.
But this is prime time. For NBC, it's the first prime time boxing event in about 30 years. Boxing has a chance tonight to pique the interest of those who may become new fans, or those who were left behind by the sport's money-hungry dive into the far reaches of television. Boxing is really a simple sport, at its core. Most people watch it to see people hitting each other, and the inhuman displays of will and fortitude and determination. It's a blue collar sport, really, one that likes to fancy itself up with bow tie sporting commentators and ring announcers, ultimately with the hope from most of us that we'll see some blood splattered on those bow ties at ringside. Too long has boxing been nearly inaccessible to the masses -- a million people tune in for a fight now, and it's cause for celebration, because at least we've stabilized to the point that no more viewers are being lost.
If boxing is to have a new golden era, tonight's show could be part of a bigger idea to bring the blue collar sport back to the blue collar people. Or not, and I just typed a bunch of crap that won't matter by tomorrow. We'll see. That's the fun of sports.
1. Boxing's return to prime time network TV is a big deal
"Boxing needs network TV" has been a pretty popular thought in the last, oh, three decades and change, as the sport has migrated increasingly and eventually ultimately to the premium cable and pay-per-view model, with only scattered mid-level fights available on normal cable outlets like ESPN, various FOX Sports channels, and so on. To see the best fighters in boxing, the actual top-tier guys, one has needed to subscribe to HBO and Showtime, and to see the true elite money men (or sometimes just stuff that otherwise wouldn't get on TV), one has been expected to dole out another $40-80 per event a few times per year.
Al Haymon is a smart man. He has been incredibly successful and business and has swooped into the boxing world and taken control of the careers of many of the biggest fighters on American soil. Floyd Mayweather is his crown jewel, and has given him the credibility to secure many more fighters. The list is massive: Danny Garcia, Adrien Broner, Marcos Maidana, Amir Khan, Devon Alexander, Lucas Matthysse, Deontay Wilder, Abner Mares, Leo Santa Cruz, Andre Berto, Andre and Anthony Dirrell, Keith Thurman, Keith Thurman, Paulie Malignaggi, Chris Arreola, Adonis Stevenson, Gary Russell Jr, Austin Trout, Lamont and Anthony Peterson, Erislandy Lara, Peter Quillin, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr, Shawn Porter, and many others work with Haymon, who has given fighters a chance to maximize profits and minimize risks.
There have been serious issues from boxing fans and media with that last part. Too often Haymon has been seen as a roadblock to making great fights where his guys take risks. For years, his fighters didn't fight each other. That is now pretty much impossible, as Haymon has secured such a large stable of top of the line guys that, without working with Top Rank (he and Bob Arum are not pals, let's put it that way), they either had to fight each other or basically fight nobodies, and there was already enough criticism of Haymon's management style.
But Haymon has made some great matchups, or at least allowed them to happen, too. Garcia-Matthysse in 2013 was one. Mayweather fought Marcos Maidana twice. And with PBC giving Haymon a potentially game-changing boxing series to produce, he's set up some quality fights to get this started. All three of the announced main events -- Thurman vs Guerrero, Garcia vs Lamont Peterson, and Andre Berto vs Josesito Lopez -- are nice, evenly-matched fights on paper.
That said, the two sides of Haymon are represented on this first show. Yes, we get Thurman-Guerrero. We also get Adrien Broner fighting a guy who has lost his last two bouts, and Abner Mares in a $500,000 payday tune-up against a guy who will make a measly $20K for his entire purse.
But we'll get into the good and the bad of the fights more. This, however, is a big chance for boxing to regain some traction in the mainstream sports world. With Mayweather-Pacquiao finally happening on May 2, there figure to be some eyes on the sport in the next few months, and the timing really couldn't be better for this sort of venture. Haymon is paying for the air time -- for now. He and his investors are taking a risk and going for something special. On that end, you have to like what he's doing as a boxing fan. He's trying to bring boxing back to the masses, at least in one respect. We'll have to see how it goes. But tonight's show is certainly going to be one grand experiment, and with boxing, you never know how the gambles will pay off. This could be a show that makes people want to see the next fights on the schedule, or a show that turns people off entirely.
2. Thurman vs Guerrero figures to be a slugfest
Guerrero (32-2-1, 18 KO) doesn't really know how to have a bad fight anymore. Well, he does, but only if it's against Floyd Mayweather, who just thoroughly outclassed him in every way possible. A former featherweight, Guerrero has moved up to welterweight in the last three years and been in a really good fight with Selcuk Aydin, and two spectacular slugfests with Andre Berto and Yoshihiro Kamegai. Every time Guerrero has fought at welterweight, sans the Mayweather money grab, two fighters have left the ring with pretty mangled faces. By the end of Guerrero-Berto, two fighters had four eyes that were barely open anymore.
Guerrero is a mauler, an inside scrapper, and a bruiser. He's simple a nasty, mean fighter at 147 pounds. Usually when guys move up in weight like this, at least in recent years, they're not so physical. Mayweather has gone from 130 to 147, Pacquiao from 112 to 147 over many years, Juan Manuel Marquez from 126 to 147, and so on. Pacquiao and Marquez have retained some power, but they're not brawlers. They are boxer-punches, whose finesse sets up their stinging shots. Mayweather, of course, is the premier craftsman of his era, a super slick technician who doesn't need to spend time in the pocket, and sees no reason to do so.
Guerrero is not that fighter. Instead, he's bulked up and become a more vicious fighter than he ever was at the lower weights. Guerrero prefers to stay in the phone booth nowadays, and because of that, heads collide, shoulders get sent into jaws and eye sockets, elbows abound, and of course there is plentiful punching about the skull. And Guerrero gets about as good as he gives, too. He's shown to be a spectacularly tough man.
That said, he hasn't faced someone with the power of Thurman (24-0, 21 KO), a guy who can turn the lights out in a hurry. Though he's not a one-punch thunder merchant like, say, Tommy Hearns was, Thurman has more than adequate power in both hands, and a skill set that has now been called underrated so many times that we may soon border on it being overrated. He's really more in the Pacquiao/Marquez vein of a boxer-puncher, looking to set up his shots, time perfectly, and keep the distance he prefers. Thurman can fight inside, but he would potentially be taking an unnecessary risk doing so with Guerrero. Thurman is better on his feet than Guerrero, who is somewhat flat (and lead) footed.
Guerrero has proven capable of drawing everyone but Mayweather into his fight thus far as a welterweight. And if Thurman is feeling any heat from his last bout -- where he was roundly booed in Las Vegas for a safe and far less than advertised performance -- then he might be vulnerable to Guerrero's veteran tactics and mind games. It's a great matchup of a guy seemingly on the cusp of stardom, and a fighter who is still in his prime and has far more big fight experience.
3. Adrien Broner can be spectacular
I'm not going to tell you that Adrien Broner (29-1, 22 KO) facing John Molina is a great matchup. It's not. There are really two ways to look at the fight, both fair, and really should be taken together, in my estimation:
- It's a pretty standard "boo Haymon is bad!" matchup, as Broner is facing a limited fighter coming off of two straight losses.
- It's a fight where styles could make it better than it seems, as Molina has some of the same attributes that Marcos Maidana -- Broner's lone pro loss -- used in 2013.
Broner should win. If he doesn't, it's going to be a sizable upset and make some pro-Molina fans and bettors very happy. But the reason to watch Adrien Broner is because at his very best, when he's truly dialed in and focused, not clowning around or toying with inferior foes like Gavin Rees or Eloy Perez, Broner can be a spectacular offensive fighter to watch. The creativity of his punch combinations can be stunning.
One needs look no further than Broner's 2012 win over Antonio DeMarco, easily the best performance of his career. DeMarco may not be an elite fighter, but he was tough, a good puncher, and a top guy in the lightweight division at the moment. Hell, DeMarco's previous fight was a 44-second wipeout of this very same John Molina.
Broner wiped the canvas with DeMarco that night. This was no Rees or Perez, or Vicente Escobedo or Martin Rodriguez. DeMarco was not physically overmatched, he was just physically out of his depth and steamrolled. That was the one night of Broner's career where the in-ring results truly matched the out-of-ring hype, where Broner was once said to be a potential "next Mayweather," a claim that has long since been debunked and abandoned even by his most ardent supporters. If that Adrien Broner shows up tonight against Molina, it could be a glimpse of a fighter with so much amazing talent that you'll understand why the sky was once thought to be the limit for him, and could be a reason to believe that maybe, it still is.
4. John Molina is one of boxing's top underdogs
Molina (27-5, 22 KO) looks like a fighter, and that's because he's paid the price. He's got a nose that has been smashed probably too many times to count. He's taken beatings, and he's dished them out, often at the same time, not just within the same fight, but within the same 15 seconds. And you can really never count him out.
Molina, 32, is not a top fighter. He's a great TV fighter, the sort of battler you can count on for entertainment, but often in boxing when we say "entertainment," we mean a guy who will take a beating and stand in there. Not necessarily someone who's going to win. And Molina has lost two straight fights. One of them, however, was voted the 2014 Fight of the Year by the BWAA. No matter whether you think it deserved the nod or not, it was an amazing brawl.
Molina really has two modes. He can go to war, which gives him a chance to use his power and length to beat just about anyone in front of him, or he can stay back and try to box. It's understandable why he does this. He's about 5'11", has a 71-inch reach, and he has a nice jab. But against Soto last September, that didn't work for him. And he's just not slick or quick enough to beat better fighters in that mode.
Back in July 2013, Molina faced Mickey Bey on ShoBox. Bey, promoted by Mayweather Promotions, was the house fighter, and frankly was cruising into the 10th and final round. The judges scorecards after nine rounds were 90-81, 89-82, and 88-83, all for Bey. He was on the doorstep of a big win, a victory that would have helped reestablish him as a rising contender.
While Bey eventually got there anyway via his connections, Molina turned that night around within two minutes, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat with a sudden, powerful assault that forced referee Vic Drakulich to stop the bout with a woozy Bey still on his defeat, less than 60 seconds from a win if he could survive.
Molina had done this before, too, charging back in round 11 to stop a then-unbeaten Hank Lundy. (Actually, Lundy and Bey both faced Molina with records of 18-0-1, a neat coincidence) in July 2010. The lesson, perhaps, is don't fight John Molina in July if you're 18-0-1. That night, Lundy led on scores of 98-91, 98-91, and 97-92. He was headed for a big win. Molina turned it around and dramatically won in a stunner, same as he did against Bey.
Molina can't be counted out in any fight, and Broner, though he has shown flashes of brilliance, has had major problems in various fights in his career. Not just the loss to Maidana, whose style Molina's can mirror in some ways, but against guys like Daniel Ponce De Leon and Paulie Malignaggi. Broner is not by any means an untouchable fighter. Defensively, he has lapses, and defensive lapses against Molina can be the end of the night before you know it. Molina will probably lose, but until the final bell sounds, don't consider him a beaten man.
5. Abner Mares is always worth watching
Mares (28-1-1, 15 KO) is in a mismatch tonight against Arturo Santos Reyes (18-4, 5 KO), a non-contender meant simply to keep Mares busy. Mares won a pair of fights in 2014, beating Jonathan Oquendo in an uninspired performance under new trainer Virgil Hunter in July, then returning to his old team for his December win over Jose Ramirez, a more Mares-like fifth round stoppage and domination.
Mares, 29, is simply looking to stay active and make money while he waits for a big fight to materialize. He took some time off following a KO-1 loss to Jhonny Gonzalez in August 2013, and understandably so. Mares had cut a torrid pace over the prior three years, going from 118 to 126 and winning titles in three divisions, facing the likes of Yonnhy Perez, Vic Darchinyan, Joseph Agbeko (twice), Anselmo Moreno, and Daniel Ponce De Leon. Gonzalez was the guy who got him -- a big puncher who caught Mares cold early and finished him off. It was bound to happen when consistently facing fighters at the higher levels. If you face top opposition, you're going to lose a fight here and there at the least. Mares had the stones to fight top challengers, and eventually he lost a fight.
Mares did a little soul-searching after that, tried out a new trainer, didn't like the results, and went back home. He decided to stick at 126 pounds for the time being instead of attempting another move up in weight. He seems to be focused on getting himself back into that mind set he had before, when he was so successful. And he's a fighter who deserves the benefit of the doubt, too. He's never ducked a challenge before, never avoided a dangerous opponent. He passed on a rematch with Gonzalez to get his mind right after a loss. No shame in that. Might have been the smartest thing for him to do.
The good thing is that when Abner Mares is fighting like himself, he's a guy who looks to win by knockout, and fights to impress. Reyes is not on his level, and everyone knows that. Mares should trounce this guy. But Mares trouncing someone can be worth tuning in to see, especially as an appetizer fight, which this one is. Maybe this summer he'll get back in the mix with the other top fighters at featherweight. There are plenty of appealing possible matchups.