Boxing will suffer unless it changes TV approach
If you watch boxing on television, you know there are far too many broadcasts like the one Versus offered on Thursday.
If you missed it (count yourself among the very lucky), it was one of the many that featured countless one-sided matches filled with out-of-shape fighters and no-hopers who simply showed up to collect a paycheck.
This is a consistent pattern on televised boxing in the U.S., though Versus has been particularly offensive since it began broadcasting shows in 2006. It paid a high-enough license fee in its then-exclusive deal with Top Rank that it should have been able to offer a consistent series of good fights, but it was more often than not simply a waste of two hours.
It has been such a recurrent problem for many years across numerous networks that the promoters, who supply the fights to the networks, are either completely inept or absurdly short-sighted. The network executives who buy the fights must have little or no boxing knowledge.
Otherwise, they wouldn’t put abominations on the air like the doubleheader featuring Paul Williams against Andy Kolle and Chris Arreola against Israel Garcia that aired on Versus on Thursday.
Williams, the WBO welterweight champion, tested the water at middleweight since he couldn’t land a fight in his own division. Kolle isn’t a world-class fighter, which is exactly why promoter Dan Goossen chose him. It’s the same reason Goossen had used Kolle a few years earlier as an opponent for a fight with another rising star in his stable, Andre Ward.
The bout, predictably, lasted 97 seconds. Williams could have fought the first five rounds hopping on one leg and still would have won the fight.
One would think the interests of the television executives and the boxing promoters would be different. Clearly, Goossen wants to protect the few bankable stars in his thin stable, so he’s not willing to take much of a risk with them in a bout in which he’s not going to make much money.
That’s why you see Williams fighting the likes of Andy Kolle on television.
But Versus has no long-term tie to either Goossen or Williams. It’s only goal, theoretically, at least, should be to put on the best fight cards possible. One would assume it wants fighters with name recognition to draw viewers, which is why it accepted Williams, but it would also seem to make sense that it would want competitive matches.
If it had a sensational fight, that would go a long way toward drawing viewers in for the next card.
None of the succession of fights that went on to fill time on that broadcast was even close to sensational, or even very good. Williams’ fight lasted 97 seconds and was like watching the clubbing of a baby seal. Arreola looked more like a sumo wrestler than a serious professional boxer and needed three rounds against a nearly 40-year-old that had no chance to win and knew it.
That Arreola weighed a career-high 258 1/2 pounds was a disgrace, though viewers in one regard were lucky that he was matched so easily. It wouldn’t have been pretty watching him huff and puff much longer had he faced an opponent who could have challenged him.
It’s not like Versus is alone with these kinds of matches, though. You see it to varying degrees on every network that dares to televise boxing in the U.S.
Ratings for boxing on television have dwindled dramatically over the last two decades.
The reason is simple. There simply aren’t as many competitive fights being shown. The promoters try to use the television broadcasts to showcase their fighters and aren’t willing to take risks.
WBC welterweight champion Andre Berto managed to win his belt despite never having beaten a legitimate contender. He appeared on HBO numerous times in his run up to the championship, as HBO simply allowed promoter Lou DiBella to increase Berto’s worth and build his exposure at the expense of the viewer paying $12.95 a month or so for the premium cable channel but getting far more one-sided routs than memorable barnburners.
One of the clear problems is that the television networks – and HBO here is the clear offender – give a particular date to a particular promoter. If HBO or any other network plans to broadcast a fight on a given night, it should not limit itself by simply handing over the date to one promoter.
It should acquire the best fights that can be made for that particular night. Instead of saying, “Hey, we’re going to put a Winky Wright fight on this night,” and then going out to try to find an opponent for Wright, a television network should let the promoters know it has an open date and solicit the best bouts.
The second problem is that the main-event boxers’ salaries have gotten way out of control. Yes, fighters take risks and they deserve to be compensated well for that risk. But if you’re going to pay someone just for the risk of potential serious injury, why not start paying members of the military $500,000 a year and up, because they’re at great risk, aren’t they?
And while we’re at it, why not make certain that every police officer makes at least $250,000 a year?
An assumption of risk alone isn’t reason enough someone should make a large salary.
If a boxer sells a lot of tickets and produces high television ratings, he’s worth a big salary. But not enough do, so the salaries of the top guys should come down and be spread throughout the card to make for better and deeper shows.
On Saturday’s HBO show from Carson, Calif., Shane Mosley made $1.5 million and Ricardo Mayorga made $500,000 for a fight card that drew an announced crowd of 5,798. Real sales – people walking up to the box office and putting down cash or a credit card – were, in all likelihood, less than half of the announced total.
In either event, Mosley and Mayorga were grossly overpaid for what they did, just as Juan Manuel Marquez ($1 million) and Joel Casamayor ($600,000) were two weeks earlier when they fought on a pay-per-view show in Las Vegas that drew next-to-no interest outside of the Southwest.
The Marquez-Casamayor fight would have been a decent main event for HBO if it had been paired with another quality fight. But because of the exorbitant salaries they demanded, there wasn’t enough to pay any other fighters, so the undercard was dreadful, the public stayed away in droves and Golden Boy Promotions lost millions.
Fights like Erik Morales against Marco Antonio Barrera and Rafael Marquez against Israel Vazquez and Diego Corrales against Jose Luis Castillo and Arturo Gatti against Micky Ward and Sakio Bika against Jaidon Codrington could be much more the norm if television executives required boxing promoters to quit protecting their stars and offering their most competitive fights.
Losses shouldn’t matter as much as performance. Pay a fighter for making the crowd stand and applaud, for making the media ask about a rematch, and not about whether he won the bout.
And when a fighter like Arreola comes in fat and way out of shape, he should be made to fight off TV for awhile. The networks should let the fighters and the promoters know they’re not going to accept that because their viewers are sick of it and aren’t going to accept it.
A television network would be smart to hire a boxing person to coordinate its telecasts and make sure it’s getting broadcast-worthy fights. A guy like Top Rank’s Brad Goodman would be invaluable to a network like Versus. Goodman is Top Rank’s No. 2 matchmaker behind the legendary Bruce Trampler.
Goodman used to make matches for club shows at the Orleans Hotel in Las Vegas, where he didn’t need to worry about who won or lost. All he cared about was making sensational matches.
Month after month, the shows were outstanding.
Suddenly, Guilty Boxing, which was promoting the shows, decided it was a major promoter and began to want to protect its fighters. The quality of the matches changed for the worse immediately when that occurred.
So many of boxing’s problems are self-inflicted, which is why it is so frustrating. It can be so great, but it’s almost as if it doesn’t want to.
The sport is going to fade into near-oblivion, though, if someone doesn’t make some fundamental changes soon. If these kind of fights keep getting televised, can you imagine what the ratings are going to be like in 10 years?
This has to change.