There is more boxing available to watch in the U.S., either on television or online, than there ever has been before.
That is a huge boost to a sport that has often been relegated to second- or third-tier status, promoted poorly, where it was often the case that the biggest and potentially best fights were the hardest to see.
These days, you almost have to try to miss all the boxing on television or streaming. ESPN has partnered with Top Rank, long the country’s leading promoter, for a series of shows on television and streamed on ESPN+.
Fox is just beginning a deal with the Premier Boxing Champions for a series of shows on both Fox and the cable channel Fox Sports 1.
While HBO, which for decades was the unquestioned leader in boxing television in the U.S., gave up on the sport last year, Showtime remains firmly in the midst and continues to be a market leader.
And DAZN, an online streaming service headed by ex-ESPN president John Skipper which has seemingly unlimited financial resources, has made boxing the centerpiece of its efforts in the U.S. But it’s not just fights that are streaming now. It’s also doing news conferences and weigh-ins and studio shows.
I did a Twitter poll recently in which I asked fans to rank their favorite set of boxing announcers from Fox (including FS1), Showtime, DAZN and ESPN (including ESPN+ and all the other ESPN networks boxing may appear on) and the results were overwhelming.
Going to do a column for down the road on the best boxing broadcast crews in U.S. Going to consider play-by-play, analysts, studio & roving reporter. Let me know which crew you like best. If other, reply in comments.
— Kevin Iole (@KevinI) February 6, 2019
Showtime got 53 percent of the votes, nearly doubling runner-up ESPN, which got 27 percent. DAZN got 15 percent of the votes and Fox got five percent.
Before ranking the crews from each network overall and then of the individuals within their specialties, here are five important points about boxing on television that cross all networks:
There are too many people in most of the booths. It waters down the product and makes it difficult to have a coherent broadcast which is simple to follow.
Andre Ward, the former super middleweight and light heavyweight champion, is hands down the best boxing broadcaster in the U.S. And it’s not close.
Play-by-play is a big weakness. Jim Lampley, who did the blow-by-blow with distinction for so many years on HBO, is sorely missed.
Interviewing trainers as the fight is going on adds nothing — it’s often difficult to hear what the trainer is saying because of the crowd noise — and can interfere with the trainer doing his job during competition.
Segments where analysts breakdown tape and explain why something is working are incredibly useful in allowing the viewer to more thoroughly enjoy the fight.
Let’s now get into my ranking of each of the crews, as well as what they do well, what they don’t do well and things they should change.
Play-by-play: Joe Tessitore.
Analysts: Timothy Bradley Jr., Andre Ward, Mark Kriegel.
Studio/hosts: Max Kellerman, Kevin Connors.
Interviewer/roving reporter: Bernardo Osuna.
Since ESPN got rid of the silly and contrived arguments between Stephen A. Smith and Teddy Atlas, their broadcasts have improved immensely. Smith doesn’t really have a place on the boxing broadcasts given his limited knowledge. Atlas is very useful in pre-recorded fight breakdowns, but he’s a conspiracy theorist and often goes off the rails when he’s on live.
Tessitore is a B- to me. He’s professional, but he doesn’t call the action nearly as well as Lampley and doesn’t do anything to thrill you.
Ward is far better ringside than he is in the studio/host position, though he is good there. Ward sees what is happening and can relate it quickly and simply to the viewer with no jargon. Bradley is newer to broadcasting and less polished than Ward, but he has immense potential. Kriegel best serves the viewers in the studio. His interviews with the fighters are unmatched and the features he does are first-rate. He has a great institutional knowledge he can rely upon. Kriegel and Kellerman could form a formidable duo in the studio/host position. Having Osuna, who is bilingual and can translate interviews on the fly quickly, is a plus. Unfortunately, ESPN broadcasts often act as if there is no other boxing and that whatever is on ESPN is by far the best.
Play-by-play: Mauro Ranallo.
Analysts: Al Bernstein, Paulie Malignaggi, Steve Farhood.
Studio/host: Brian Custer and various fighters.
Interviewer/reporter: Jim Gray.
Showtime’s ranking comes down to how much one likes Ranallo. Ranallo can be wild and way over-the-top, which makes him probably the best wrestling announcer in the world, but isn’t everyone’s cup of tea for boxing. Overall, he’s solid. If he toned it down a bit, he’d still far and away be the most enthusiastic there is, but would be more appealing to the masses. Bernstein is special and is rightly in the International Boxing Hall of Fame for his work behind the microphone. He’s dignified, professional, knowledgeable and fully prepared. He seems to say the right thing at the right time. Malignaggi is also good, but he seems to have lost a bit off his fastball in recent years. It’s like three or four years ago, he was A bordering on A+. Now, he’s A bordering on A- or even B+. Gray is integral to Showtime broadcasts. He’s adept as a reporter gathering information during a fight and he’s willing to ask the hardest questions in post-fight interviews. There is little fluff with Gray and that’s appreciated immensely.
Play-by-play: Brian Kenny.
Analysts: Sergio Mora, Sugar Ray Leonard.
Host: Kay Adams.
Interviewer/reporter: Chris Mannix, LZ Granderson, Akin “Ak” Reyes and Barak Bess.
Kenny is a professional broadcaster, but I think he’s better served as a studio host than a play-by-play guy. Mora has been a revelation and his work is excellent. He quickly analyzes what is going on in the ring and can deliver cogent remarks. Leonard is one of the most iconic figures in the sport’s history and is there primarily for name value. Mora has stolen the job of lead analyst from him, whether it’s acknowledged or not. DAZN’s crew is way overcrowded. Mannix, my former colleague at Yahoo Sports, is legitimately excellent. He’s a journalist through and through and does reporting when he’s not on the air, so when he goes on, he has information to back up what he says/asks. But there are so many people that they get lost and the broadcasts are dragged down by trying to find spots for so many talking heads. You have numerous people trying to say the same thing. Cut the number of people back dramatically and this telecast would quickly improve.
Play-by-play: Kenny Albert and Chris Myers.
Analysts: Joe Goossen, Lennox Lewis, Ray Mancini.
Studio: Kate Abdo, Mancini, Shawn Porter, Abner Mares, Mike Coppinger, Keith Thurman, Dominic Breazeale.
Interviewer/reporters: Heidi Androl, Jordan Hardy.
Fox hasn’t had much of a chance to work the kinks out yet, but its crew so far has been disappointing. The studio show, which succeeded so well when it had the UFC, is disastrous and needs to be revamped. Albert is a solid play-by-play guy and Myers is a solid overall broadcaster, though I’ve yet to form a full opinion on him in his limited time as a play-by-play guy. Goossen is extremely knowledgeable and has done well in past broadcast stints, though he hasn’t developed discernible chemistry with Lewis. Lewis doesn’t seem particularly excited to be there, frankly.
Not everyone is ranked in every category because in some cases, they serve multiple roles or, as in Hardy’s case, she’s not had a lot of exposure yet. DAZN is dizzying with the number of people it tries to put into a broadcast.
Timothy Bradley Jr.
Sugar Ray Leonard
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