LOS ANGELES — Boxing on network television won’t work simply because it is on network television. It can work — no, it will work — with the right matches, properly promoted.
Fox has the right idea as it begins its partnership with the Premier Boxing Champions, and plans to treat boxing as an honest-to-goodness, real live sport and not something to fill in between Australian Rules Football and a replay of a 1975 version of NFL Follies.
There will be 10 shows a year on Fox, and 12 more on Fox Sports 1. The fights will have pregame shows, postgame shows, live news conferences and a lot of shoulder programming, much as it has done the past seven years with the UFC. This is foreign territory for boxing, which until the last year or so has routinely been treated like the red-headed stepchild by television executives.
Fox announced its fight schedule for the first quarter of 2019 — which begins on Dec. 22 with a show on Fox featuring twin brothers Jermell and Jermall Charlo in separate bouts against Tony Harrison and Willie Monroe Jr., respectively — in a slickly produced news conference hosted by Fox Sports’ Chris Myers, who along with Kenny Albert will be the lead boxing voice for the network.
There were a lot of great fighters on the dais, but the announced fights were underwhelming. When the UFC kicked off its relationship with Fox in 2011, it opened with one of the biggest fights it could put on, a heavyweight title bout between Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos.
That was a bout that could have, and later did, headline a pay-per-view. There was nothing of that caliber announced on Tuesday, though, and that’s the big concern.
Fox is going to get only one chance to do this right. The most compelling fight announced Tuesday was an IBF welterweight title bout between the great Errol Spence Jr. and Mikey Garcia in a battle of two of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the sport. That Garcia is jumping from lightweight to welterweight to challenge the hard-hitting Spence makes it that much more compelling.
Alas, the March 16 bout at AT&T Stadium will be on pay-per-view.
They announced Shawn Porter against Yordenis Ugas for March 9 in Las Vegas for the WBC welterweight title, when it would have been much more compelling to see Porter put his belt up in a rematch against Danny Garcia.
Jermell Charlo’s WBC super welterweight title bout against Tony Harrison is an all right fight, but to kick the series off big, the fight to make is one against IBF champion Jarret Hurd.
On and on it went, with a long list of fights that could be entertaining but don’t carry significance within their divisions or fights that will leave one hoping for something else.
It’s reminiscent of the PBC’s birth in 2015, when it bought air time on NBC with the promise of elaborate production to capture the fan base it had lost over the years. But after coming out of the box strong the first two weeks, the high-profile, quality matchups weren’t sustained on a regular basis and the venture lost hundreds of millions of dollars.
Fox need only to look down the road to Showtime, which also has a deal with the PBC and has become the boxing leader with consistently good matches. Leo Santa Cruz will fight Miguel Flores on Feb. 16 on Fox in what figures to be a one-sided Santa Cruz victory. Santa Cruz said he wants his next bouts to be a rubber match against Carl Frampton and a match with Gary Russell Jr. Either of those would be infinitely better and more compelling than Santa Cruz-Flores.
The positive in this is that boxing is getting another crack at the potentially massive audience that network television provides. And the PBC has a slew of elite fighters.
Matching them against each other, and then promoting those matches vigorously, is the only way it will work, however.
The jury remains out in that regard.