Spike TV’s new boxing showcase to provide another boost for the sport

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports

Kevin Kay, the president of Spike TV, calls himself a lifelong boxing fan. Which, by definition, kind of means he's 50-plus.

Boxing for years has been the television domain of men 55 years of age and older, and it's one reason why it's been years since network television paid it any more than scant interest. Advertisers are far more interested in the younger demographic that boxing has been unable to provide.

Andre Berto, left, scraps against Jesus Soto Karass during a July 2013 loss. (Getty)
Andre Berto, left, scraps against Jesus Soto Karass during a July 2013 loss. (Getty)
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Spike, though, is billed as a network for young men, and much of its programming is designed to attract the 18-to-34-year-old males who love mixed martial arts but who in recent years have turned up their noses at boxing.

But in what could be yet another transformative move for the sport, coming on the heels of last week's announcement of a series of high-quality fights on NBC, the monthly Premier Boxing Champions series on Spike is another significant investment in the sport's future.

Spike is in 98.5 million homes and will, beginning on March 13, broadcast one card a month. The first show, which will be at the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif., will feature Andre Berto against Josesito Lopez in one bout and Shawn Porter against Roberto Garcia in another.

Both are the type of quality bouts that would have been broadcast on premium cable channels. It's another good day for the sport's fans, because if this works, it's going to do wonders for boxing's current lowly position in the sports landscape.

Haymon Boxing Management has, as it did with NBC, partnered with Spike on the series. It's promising major broadcast innovation that Kay says will be unlike anything seen in boxing before.

"I've been a fan of boxing for my entire life," Kay said. "I love [Muhammad] Ali and I love that entire era of boxers. I believe in boxing. But I never heard anybody, until we got involved with the Haymon guys, talk about what we want to do, which is to innovate and make the presentation look like something I don't see on my television whenever I turn on a fight. It's red, white and blue and, honestly, it looks like it could be 1975.

"The notion that we could innovate on the production side and put fresh faces on the broadcast team, which we're working on now, was highly appealing. And the other part of it is the access to a great roster of fighters. They're top-level guys and they all are going to fight in competitive fights."

Boxing was once one of the country's major sports, and it probably is never going to get back to its heyday when the big three were baseball, boxing and horse racing. But it can rise from where it's been if Premier Boxing Champions follows through on its promises.

Just like on the NBC deal, the fights must be significant. On ESPN2's Friday Night Fights series, the budget is low and there are rarely top-level fights on. The first card on Spike is something vastly better than the routine fights that ESPN2 typically broadcasts.

Porter said he's all in on the series and believes it's going to create an entirely new class of fans.

"Boxing was on pay television for so long," Porter said. "And because of that, we weren't seen by that many people. Now, it's way, way bigger and it changes things. I think we're going to be able to broaden the audience and get boxing back to what it used to be."

Spike has largely been associated with MMA for the last 10 years, but is slowly branching into other combat sports. With the PBC being broadcast every fourth Friday, Spike is going to turn Friday nights into combat sports night. It will have Bellator MMA on one week, Glory kickboxing on another and the Premier Boxing Champions on the third.

Shawn Porter, right, throws a punch against Kell Brook during their August 2014 bout. (AP)
Shawn Porter, right, throws a punch against Kell Brook during their August 2014 bout. (AP)

"And on the off Friday when we don't have a live show, we're going to broadcast the shoulder programming and promote these guys," Kay said.

Kay said he was amazed by the personalities and the back stories of Berto, Porter, Lopez and Garcia, and said they're eminently promotable. Their stories largely haven't gotten out to the public.

Garcia is a tough, hard-nosed fighter who has lived an incredibly tragic life and overcome great adversity.

Spike wants fans to get to know the fighters intimately and plans to use the vacant Friday night on its schedule to do just that.

It's going to be a lot more work for the fighters, who will have to be more willing to not only grant access but then also share their personal stories, which often are painful and difficult.

Porter, though, knows it's for the best.

"I love doing it and have done it a lot in the past, just not at the capacity we'll be doing with Spike," Porter said. "The level of talent that is coming on Spike, and on NBC, is going to leave an impression on the world, not just America. The world. And I'm not talking about people who already watch boxing. I'm talking about people who aren't fans, or who used to be and aren't any more.

"They're going to get a deeper look at what myself and the other guys who will fight on this have gone through to make it to this point. And these are going to be hard, tough fights. If you want to fight on [Premier Boxing Champions], you're going to have to take those hard fights all the time. And that's just going to be good for boxing and increasing the amount of interest in the sport."

It's hard to argue with the plans laid out by Spike and NBC. Both networks are making a significant commitment to boxing.

If those involved do what they say they're going to do, it's a sure-fire winner.

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