Fighting not to turn channel with boxing’s return to TV
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BY NORMAN CHAD
Boxing’s back, baby!
(What’s next, the U.S. Postal Service?)
The Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao blockbuster is coming up May 2. Independent of that, there is a surge of televised boxing, with NBC, CBS and Spike all on board with Premier Boxing Champions, which encompasses many boxers who are neither “premier” nor “champions.”
Boxing has been in a tailspin for years, much like the newspaper industry and Couch Slouch.
Quick: Name the last time somebody walked up to you in a bar, airport, Bikram yoga class, zoning-commission hearing or Radio Shack and started talking about boxing.
What happened to boxing? It still has the bloody, violent elements America loves. But it’s been eclipsed; some of its potential audience has shifted to MMA, particularly the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
And the Internet — it’s always the Internet — also has diminished boxing’s appeal. Instead of living vicariously through vicious uppercuts and knockdowns in the ring, we now can deliver the hurt ourselves on our mobile devices, on “Mortal Kombat,” “Call of Duty” and the like. First-person shooter games and armed online warfare -— you can destroy entire civilizations with the click of a mouse — dwarf your garden-variety 12-round junior welterweight bout.
So boxing largely faded from the public consciousness and disappeared from network TV, like pay phones on city streets.
Enter Al Haymon, a boxing manager with more than 100 fighters in his fold. His boxing concern will pay NBC at least $20 million annually to buy the time to show fights on the network and its sports cable sibling NBCSN.
(I believe Donald Trump does the same thing with “Celebrity Apprentice,” except his payments to NBC are layaway.)
Haymon picked the right network. NBC prime time has been reduced to “The Voice” and 4,000 iterations of “Law and Order.” NBC’s so desperate, after its plans for a Bill Cosby sitcom revival tumbled, I’m frankly surprised the network didn’t develop a show with all of Cosby’s accusers.
For its first prime-time fight card recently in Las Vegas, NBC brought in the big guns — golden oldies Al Michaels, as host; Marv Albert, on play-by-play; and Sugar Ray Leonard as analyst.
(Michaels is the best in the business, but he read his lines off a teleprompter like he was under court order. All things considered, he looked as if he would’ve rather been in Philadelphia hosting an al-Qaeda raffle dinner.)
Albert actually worked NBC’s last prime-time fight 30 years ago, Larry Holmes vs. Carl Williams. And, of course, some of you might recall Albert’s spectacular blow-by-blow radio call of the Gene Tunney-Jack Dempsey bout on Sept. 22, 1927.
NBC had three scheduled fights: Adrien Broner vs. John Molina Jr., Keith Thurman vs. Robert Guerrero and Abner Mares vs. Arturo Santos Reyes.
(Of course you’ve never heard of any of them, they’re boxers.)
Broner-Molina was hyped as all-action, all the time. As it were, I don’t believe either fighter landed a punch in the first round; the crowd had the look of folks waiting for keno results to post.
Heck, I’ve seen several three-minute eggs that were more exciting than these three-minute rounds.
Denzel Washington was ringside, I assume, because he couldn’t get into Michael Mina’s Bardot Brasserie.
The Thurman-Guerrero affair was more compelling, But I still found myself trying to fast-forward midway through each round; alas, I had made the mistake of watching live, disabling my DVR’s vast powers.
Since both fights went the distance, the Mares-Reyes bout got bumped from NBC prime time to NBCSN, which is like going from Paris, France to Paris, Texas.
(My apologies to Paris, Texas — nice small town, but you’re collateral damage here.)
Anyway, I can’t tell you how tempted I was during 2½ hours of “Premier Boxing Champions” to flip over to “Pit Bulls & Parolees” on Animal Planet, but I had a column to write so I stuck with the pugilists over the pugs.
Still, if I were an NBC programmer, I’d show bingo in prime time before I’d show boxing.
Ask The Slouch
Q. Can you explain why so many retired athletes become television commentators but so few of them are willing to enter your profession as a newspaper journalist? (Jim LaBate; Clifton Park, N.Y.)
A. Would you rather sit in makeup all day or try and make something up all day?
Q. Tiger Woods is not playing until his golf game’s “tournament ready.” Did you ever delay a wedding until you were “marriage ready”? (Tom Martella; Washington, D.C.)
A. If I did that, I’d be a bachelor-for-life.
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