LAS VEGAS -- Keith Thurman and Robert Guerrero delivered a sensational battle Saturday in the main event of the heavily hyped debut of the Premier Boxing Champions series on NBC. It was a fight worthy of the first match on primetime in 30 years on the network, since the night in Reno in 1985 when Larry Holmes successfully defended the heavyweight title against Carl "The Truth" Williams.
Thurman, in particular, was outstanding as he successfully defended his WBA interim welterweight title with a one-sided decision over Guerrero.
But the quality of the NBC broadcast failed to live up to the quality of the action in the ring.
For starters, there were far, far, far too many voices, and it never allowed veteran play-by-play man Marv Albert to get into a groove. Albert had to share the microphone with host Al Michaels, analyst Sugar Ray Leonard and roving reporters Laila Ali, B.J. Flores and Kenny Rice.
Albert was solid and with a little more room could have been outstanding. But he was playing traffic cop much of the night, throwing it to Ali, Flores and Rice constantly, it seemed, and thus never getting into a rhythm. There was far too little news or information of consequence being delivered by the roving reporters and there thus wasn't nearly as much of a need to go to them as often as they did.
The few times they called on rules expert Steve Smoger, the Hall of Fame referee, he was excellent and provide the kind of strong, quick and insightful opinion needed in that position. He was outstanding when he was asked about the work of referee Robert Byrd in the opener and pulled no punches with his answer.
But the slew of commentators never really allowed Albert to develop a rapport with Leonard, the color man for the PBC on NBC. Leonard didn't seem on top of his game, and appeared content to cheerlead more than to provide insightful, cogent analysis.
In the 12th round of the broadcast's opening fight between Adrien Broner and John Molina Jr., Leonard suddenly began saying that Broner "needs to close the show." Perhaps that is true, but Leonard never elaborated. That left viewers asking about two important points: A, what Leonard felt Broner should have done to close the show, and B, why he should have taken a risk against a heavy-handed opponent when it was obvious to everyone in the building that he was way ahead on the scorecards. All he had to do was finish on his feet, yet Leonard was urging Broner in the final minute to go for a knockout against a guy who has scored a dramatic last-second knockout to win before.
In Leonard's defense, though, he was sharing time with so many others that he himself seemed to have difficulty knowing his role. He never seemed to quite know when to jump in with analysis, and it had to be in part because the director kept calling on the other announcers.
The much bally-hooed 360-degree camera, which was supposed to be able to show the action from all sides, wasn't used too often and was a dud when it was. It didn't add much to the broadcast and seemed to be technology for technology's sake instead of something that would add to the viewer's understanding and enjoyment of the action.
The overnight ratings were also tepid, though NBC pointed out it led broadcast television in primetime among adults 18-49. That is an encouraging sign that young people tuned in. Boxing's bread-and-butter audience over the last 25 years or so has been with the 55-plus crowd, so attracting a younger audience is hugely important for the PBC.
It's not wise to write off the PBC just yet after one show. Its creator, Al Haymon, is one of the shrewdest men in the sports business and he's no doubt going to carefully evaluate the show and recommend changes to his partners at NBC.
The Broner-Molina fight was a major disappointment. Molina did next to nothing and yet Broner still didn't show the star potential that keeps being talked about. It would have been nice to hear Albert, Leonard and Co. offer more biting analysis on the fight, since both men failed to live up to expectations. But it was almost as if they saw the fighters as sacred cows and could treat them with kid gloves.
Yes, the announcers said several times that Molina wasn't throwing enough punches, but they failed to point out when Molina seemingly had opportunities and didn't throw. Given the long history in the fight game of all involved, they also could have summoned stories from their pasts to use as analogies in perhaps explaining Molina's reticence and Broner's failure to capitalize.
It would be better to use Ali and Flores on the host set with Michaels to break down the fights before they begin and to discuss issues in the sport. Rice, then, could serve as the roving reporter and they could actually cut back on the times they throw it to him. There is no sense of bringing in the reporter in the corner if all he or she adds is that the corner is happy with how the fighter is doing.
The prescription for the April 11 PBC on NBC at the Barclay's Center in New York, which will feature Danny Garcia against Lamont Peterson and Peter Quillin against Andy Lee, is much more Albert, a more involved and prepared Leonard, different roles for Ali and Flores and a more sensible use of Rice.
NBC and Haymon obviously used that large crew of announcers in an attempt to give the night a big-fight feel, but it came at the expense of continuity and insight in the broadcast.
Fortunately, the main event covered for a multitude of sins, because it was an action-packed fight that anyone who saw it had to enjoy. At the end of the day, that's obviously the most important thing.
But this was supposed to be boxing's coming out party, a reinvention, if you will, of how it is broadcast. Unfortunately, it seems like the PBC and NBC still have a lot to learn.