I admitted to you the other day that I wasn’t feeling overly upbeat about the state of the game, and that assertion came on the heels of the PBC on Fox rollout.
I laid out a few reasons why I didn’t dig the presentation. And no surprise, some of the folks on that side of the street didn’t agree with many elements of the critique.
Now, I wasn’t going to get into a tit for tat back and forth with critics to this piece, but I thought it fair to present some of the counter-punches, some of the reasoning from people who don’t share my current state of dismay that we the fans aren’t and won’t be seeing as many of the A side vs A side fights I think we deserve.
Tim Smith, the former NY Times and NY Daily News reporter who works for Al Haymon Boxing and PBC, in media relations, reached out and offered some counter-points to my story.
“FOX signed the deal with Premier Boxing Champions because we have the biggest and best roster of boxers in the sport,” Smith said. “It’s a four-year deal and they realize that you have to take time to build stars to regular sports fans and to burn off fights that hard core boxing fans want to see in the first four months doesn’t make much sense in the long run.
“This deal will allow for that build to happen as we have the two studio shows a month – one on FOX and one on FS1 – to be able to do those kinds of personal stories that make fans interested in these guys life stories and want to watch them in the ring. Also they have the platforms to push out information on the fights. Already you saw that in play when Michael Strahan talked about the Charlos fighting on FOX during the Packers-Seahawks pregame show on FOX on Thursday night. That kind of play puts PBC in front of a completely new audience.”
OK, sounds good, sounds promising.
“While the press conference was a means to roll out the first quarter schedule, it was also designed to give everyone a look at just a few of the guys the PBC has on its roster and point forward to the future. And if you watched the press conference you saw the interplay between the guys who will be challenging each other in the future. They want the fights and they’ll get made. These guys will be building their profiles and will be building toward bigger and more impressive fights as the year goes on — again, a slow build.”
Fair enough; I will concede I’m not unlike many if not most Americans who are fans of the concept of immediate gratification. So, I’m open to hearing someone pushing a “let’s be patient” model, as Smith is.
“All the A-side versus A-side fights that the hardcore fans want to see will happen,” he said, in a pleasingly reassuring manner. “You have to build stars for people who aren’t familiar with the sport so they can understand the significance. If you ever watch an NFL game the broadcasters simplify the game for fans that might not be hardcore football fans. And some weekends you get the LA Rams versus Jacksonville Jaguars, but you always get the playoffs and the Super Bowl at the end of the season. Every game isn’t going to be the Super Bowl.”
Sounds plausible. I’d offer that part of my tone of disappointment at the rollout came through because I felt like PBC did the “patient build to culmination fights” already, in 2015, and in my view it set back the progress of way too many boxers. That huge roster wasn’t supported by enough dates to keep many of the fighters under the Haymon umbrella from fighting the 3-4 times a year they’ve stated they crave. I stand by my belief that it would have been wiser for PBC to come roaring out of the blocks and blow away newbies. You have one chance at a first impression, after all.
Smith continued: “Look at the fights that have happened outside of the new FOX deal – Keith Thurman has fought Danny Garcia and Shawn Porter. Errol Spence Jr. has fought Kell Brook and now he’ll be fighting Mikey Garcia in a fight that Mikey asked for in order to build his legacy as an all-time great. There is no doubt that Spence fights Thurman and Porter down the road. You saw at the press conference the heat they were throwing at each other.”
Point taken; part of my lack of enthusiasm for the rollout and the fractiousness of the different platforms and promoters has to do partially with the age we are in. A-plus-siders can and do now fight twice a year and that activity pales in comparison to the good old days. We spend four months hyping one of their bouts, and then, if it doesn’t wow us, the comedown, the blowback can be intense. How and why we came to this new normal could spur another lengthy article in itself.
“Heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder has fought Luis Ortiz and now is fighting Tyson Fury — arguably two top five heavyweights — in the same calendar year. Jarrett Hurd fought Erislandy Lara in a unification fight and is getting back from a shoulder injury in a fight on Dec. 1. He’s lining himself up to fight another unification match against WBC champion Jermell Charlo, who fights on Dec. 22. Hurd-Charlo lines up for the second or third quarter of the year, depending upon both of them winning and coming out healthy.
“People like to concentrate on a narrative that PBC doesn’t put on competitive fights. It’s convenient and it doesn’t require any research.”
I think that assertion lacks some needed nuance. I see reasonableness in the reporting on the PBC product these days, though I will acknowledge the brand has set a high bar for itself, because of the funding it received. People expected more fireworks for the money that was laid out and me and Tim I guess would have to agree to disagree if he didn’t admit there was some merit to the criticism.
“Here’s a small list,” said Smith, “of some of the fights that PBC has done in its existence that I dare say rivals anything anyone else has done in boxing during that span:
“Leo Santa Cruz-Carl Frampton (twice); Leo Santa Cruz-Abner Mares; James DeGale-Badou Jack; Shawn Porter-Keith Thurman; Keith Thurman-Danny Garcia; Shawn Porter-Danny Garcia; Errol Spence, Jr.-Kell Brook; Danny Jacobs-Peter Quillin; Jarrett Hurd-Tony Harrison; Jarrett Hurd-Erislandy Lara; Jermall Charlo-Julian Williams; Badou Jack-Adonis Stevenson; Mikey Garcia-Adrien Broner; Mikey Garcia-Robert Easter and Shawn Porter-Adrien Broner.
“Again, all those fights that the hardcore fans want to see will happen. Enjoy Porter-Ugas, Omar Figueroa-John Molina, Jr., Jose Uzcategui-Caleb Plant, Lamont Peterson-Sergey Lipinets. They’re all going to come forward and do their best to win. They won’t be dancing or laying down. True competition is what all sports fans want to see and these guys are going to battle to the best of their abilities. And don’t forget the Manny Pacquiao factor. It’s all good.”
And it may be.
It may play out as “all good,” or, at least, more good than many of us were feeling as we looked at that kickoff slate to the FOX/PBC deal. I hope so.
Let me take this opportunity to repeat a stance I put forth in this BLH piece.
“Now, before you get up in arms, the same question has to be asked too often of the other promoter sorts at the top of the sport. That goes for Bob Arum, for Eddie Hearn, for everyone. The new reality which has tens and even HUNDREDS of millions being farmed out for rights deals, from ESPN and DAZN and FOX, bizarrely results in the sad reality that we will not see what we want and need to see, that being the best fighting the best, no matter their promotional or platform affiliation, as often as we should,” I wrote.
And I re-state this case. I think Eddie Hearn gets more free passes than does PBC, because, no great surprise, Eddie is charming and open to media. And Bob Arum gets free passes, too, because he is open with media, and gives of his time to chat with us, come on out shows. This is what it is, this is human nature in play. This is called “media relations” and “public relations” and it works. PBC not having that front and center person steering narrative has always hurt them, and will continue to do some. Does it matter? Do they care? It’s only hman to care, to some extent. Even if you win rights deals and you are the first or second or fifth most powerful person in the sport, you still want to be appreciated for your talents and successes. But how much they care, that’s for them to say.
I do think it is the intellectually consistent and correct path for me to take to finish thusly — all standards applied to PBC and how they do business should be applied to other entities. We can’t pick and choose based on popularity contests, we have to adhere to a desire for equality in coverage. But, because Haymon and PBC have such an immense stable, more is expected of them. And with that luxury comes attendant scrutiny. To the victor goes the spoils, and extra helpings of inspection.