Last night marked the premiere of a new combat sports presentation: “Oscar de la Hoya’s KO Entertainment Presents Bally’s Fight Night”, a name that’s too long to fit in one of our headlines.
If you didn’t watch it, or didn’t hear about it, you’re not alone. The press release came out at 4:15 p.m. Eastern time, just 45 minutes before the show started. The hook for the show? Video game-style graphics for each fighter. Or, as the press release put it:
“Utilizing sensors and a custom built data tracking dashboard, a variety of objective data points such as punch force, and punch combinations thrown and landed, will be captured in real time. Through the use of sports science, the data will be conveyed in an on-screen power bar, similar to those displayed in video games, summarizing a fighter’s total absorbed damage. By collecting, analyzing and integrating this data into future broadcasts, Bally’s and KO Entertainment will offer unparalleled objectivity that will create a more rewarding and safer experience for fighters, while also increasing transparency.”
If you’re keen to watch this edgy, in-your-face, totally outrageous paradigm get biz-zay, consistently and thoroughly? You can watch an online replay through an outlet called Stadium. But I love you too much to link you there directly.
More boxing on new platforms is generally a cause for celebration, and the past year has delivered plenty. Ring City USA on NBC Sports Network declared itself a place for competitive matchups between rising talent, and has delivered on both parts to near-universal acclaim. Triller Fight Club promised “four quadrant entertainment with boxing even the staunchest purist will love,” which has proven at least half true.
“Oscar de la Hoya’s KO Entertainment Presents Bally’s Fight Night” made no promises beyond real-time video game graphics. And it failed to deliver on even that scanty lure.
If you’ve ever played or seen a video game like Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat, you have a picture in your head of how the “power bar” looked for each fighter. If you watched the 1960s live-action Batman TV series, you should be able to visualize the “Pow!” “Bam!” “Kapow!” graphics that would occasionally pop up over the top of the fighters, and often obscured the action when they appeared.
And, with sympathies to the poor souls tasked with graphic design and font operation for this misbegotten venture, nothing really worked. The show started with mixed martial arts fights, but there were no sensors anywhere but in the fighters’ gloves. That meant that kicks, tackles, chokes, submission holds, or anything else other than a direct closed-fist strike didn’t register at all on a fighter’s health bar. The technology meant to ‘summarize a fighter’s total absorbed damage’ failed to track, quantify, or display much, if not most, of the damage dealt in an MMA fight.
I watched the first fight, where the health bar suggested that Trevor Wells should have been cumulatively beaten unconscious with a minute and a half left in the first round. The “increased transparency” of this technology also showed him getting by far the worse of it in round two. Ultimately, he swept all rounds on all cards, winning a unanimous decision, 30-27 and 30-26(x2).
The graphics did hold up through the whole first MMA fight, though. The same can not be said on the boxing side of the show, where health bars and the countdown clock for each round would occasionally freeze up or get removed completely due to technical issues.
Again, I have nothing but respect and empathy for the technicians attempting to bring this presentation to life visually. If the promotional campaign is any indication of what went into the rest of this show, they obviously had too few resources and too little time to properly deliver on the concept. The fact that any of it worked in any way is likely a triumph of the dedication and ingenuity of a group of people who deserved more for (and from) their efforts.
Likewise, there will be no derogatory comments at the expense of the broadcast team or the fighters involved. Both the play-by-play man and the ringside/backstage reporter are ex-FOX broadcasters rebuilding careers after catastrophic blunders. The on-air talent weren’t exactly channeling the spirit of golden age HBO commentary, but they delivered over and above the quality of the rest of the show. I’m specifically not naming them so that they aren’t tainted by association as they continue to try to climb back up the professional ladder. The eight boxers on the card appear to have entered the night with a combined eleven professional fights between them. Everyone was scheduled for the four rounds you’d expect given that level of experience, and hopefully this can be a springboard for one or more of them.
All shame and condemnation properly belong to Oscar De La Hoya and Bally’s.
De la Hoya apparently thought so little of this endeavor that he didn’t dare risk associating it with his Golden Boy Promotions brand. Instead, he’s using this “KO Entertainment” moniker, built off the name of a boxing magazine he bought in 2007 and promptly stopped printing. Recent months have seen De La Hoya providing commentary for Triller’s Paul vs. Askren show in suspiciously slurred and semi-coherent fashion, and cursing out his former meal ticket Canelo Alvarez on social media, threatening to “f---ing knock (his) ass out.” Neither was a greater stain on his reputation than this show.
Bally’s, a gambling company best known for casinos and racetracks, bought 10 year naming rights to the former FOX Sports regional sports networks back in March. Instead of pushing for those networks to get decent online carriage options, they have focused their streaming efforts on this pilot. They used the show as a non-stop commercial for a recently acquired daily fantasy and online sports gambling company that will not get any additional promotion from us. I will say that the name comes from a Simpsons episode reference. One that suggests, given the context, if you get dizzy enough on irony, you can no longer feel shame or guilt.
The entire presentation was a collection of half-formed notions and vague assumptions about What The Young People Might Like (Video games! Gambling! A live DJ! A VIP Lounge!) thrown into a bowl and tossed together like a gibberish salad. If you’re not already a boxing fan, intermittently functional pop up graphics over novice pro fighters are highly unlikely to spark a love for the sport. If you’re already a boxing fan, you’ll probably see this as the latest example of how our sport constantly finds new ways to debase itself. Even if you’re not put off by the worst of what we’ve seen lately from YouTubers, MMA fighters past their expiration date, and retired boxing legends trading their dignity for a payday? That all looks like private jet travel compared to the broken down Greyhound bus that was “Oscar de la Hoya’s KO Entertainment Presents Bally’s Fight Night.”
“La victoria trova cento padri, e nessuno vuole riconoscere l’insuccesso.” In English: Victory finds a hundred fathers, but nobody wants to claim a failure. Galeazzo Ciano, Mussolini’s son-in-law, wrote that in one of his diaries. He came to his end tied to a chair and shot in the back, presumably so that his execution squad wouldn’t have to look him in the face.
“Oscar de la Hoya’s KO Entertainment Presents Bally’s Fight Night” has two parents, but its failure will almost surely see both of them renounce their creation. May Bally’s and De La Hoya’s poor, forsaken, bastard child be put out of its misery in the same style as Mr. Ciano.