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RACHEL’S REVIEW of Premier Boxing Champions on NBC

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A Review: Premier Boxing Champions

On the evening of Saturday, March 7th, those sitting in front of the television were treated to something that hasn’t happened in decades: boxing in primetime on network television.

The Overview

Al Haymon, a manager/advisor in the sport of boxing, bought airtime on NBC to showcase fighters in what has been titled Premier Boxing Champions (PBC). Together, Haymon and NBC put together a slick production featuring celebrity commentators, a big social media campaign and plenty of advertising to help build up the fights. In the main event, we saw Keith Thurman handily win over Robert Guerrero, and the undercard featured Adrien Broner easily taking a decision over John Molina Jr.

What This Could Mean for Boxing

As a real boxing fan, as opposed to a fair weather fan, I have a lot to say about this event. I’m familiar with all there is to love about boxing, and unfortunately all there is to despise. But after sleeping on it, and several long discussions with my husband, I’ve come away a little excited for one of the many possible futures for boxing.

At first glance, this event seems a little odd. What businessperson buys airtime to showcase an event on network television? Essentially, Haymon is paying NBC to air boxing, and this only makes sense if Haymon is some gazillionaire with money burning a hole in his pocket. But Haymon is a businessman, so making a profit is front and center. When you buy airtime, you’re taking the burden off of the network to go out and find sponsors. So we have to ask: Is this venture sustainable?

But that thinking is short-term. We have to think long-term. What possibly could be Haymon’s angle here?

Well, there are several angles, and for the sake of brevity I’m just going to focus on the most promising (believe me there’s an angle here that results in the PBC as a sanctioning body…please, just no).

So, let’s say that the first year of PBC on NBC is a success. Quality fights combined with a slick production bring in a slew of new fans to the sport. Now, these new fans aren’t willing to pay an extra dime for premier cable packages or PPVs. They’re satisfied with what they get on NBC. Sponsors start knocking on NBC’s door–they have products to sell and have taken notice that there’s an audience to sell to, and because of the slick production that’s kept to a PG rating they’re not scared to buy ad space.

So where do fighters want to fight? On a premier channel, where they’ll fight in front of the boxing fans that are tried and true, but a small group? Or on network television in front of the masses and the true fans? Obviously, you go where the people are, and that’s on network television. It doesn’t take too much for me to see a big move away from HBO and Showtime to network television.

Essentially, what will happen over time is that PBC on NBC becomes king of the hill so to speak, and everything else peters out until all we’re left with is PBC. At this point, PBC is now the equivalent of the NFL, MLB, NHL, etc. and Al Haymon is the commissioner.

This is kind of what I’ve always wanted. Imagine it: one champion in each weight class, the fights that need to happen actually happen, one set of rules for all. It’s blissful.

The key to this is the first year of PBC being a success. What does that look like? It looks like new fans, and a lot of them. The influx of new fans here has to be substantial.

What Worked and What Didn’t

So, what worked last night and what can NBC and company improve upon?

The production was slick. It felt big–like a real sporting event. We had familiar faces for our commentating team: Al Michaels and Marv Albert, both talented sports broadcasters, albeit a little rusty when it comes to boxing. We also had members of the boxing community on the commentating team: Sugar Ray Leonard, Laila Ali and BJ Flores all lended authenticity to the event. The quality of what we saw on our screens was great; we weren’t dealing with dropped feeds or losing high definition. NBC also went all out with the sound: Hans Zimmer was hired to try and give this event a feeling of importance and expectation (you shouldn’t really notice the soundtrack at these types of events, but hey, maybe the first time we heard the score for the NFL on FOX it was abrasive too).

They spared no expense in setting up the venue. Remember the Friday Night Fights where we could barely hear Teddy Atlas and Joe Tessitore because the ring itself was rocking and banging under the weight of the fighters? None of that on Saturday night. The ring was great, the lighting was great and all the extras (ring-walk ramps, Al Michaels’ desk, screens) were of good quality.

The time of the event. Boxing has tortured us tried and true fans for years, forcing hardworking Americans to stay up much later than necessary. Guess what boxing? Your fan base isn’t teens and twenty-somethings without jobs. NBC began their broadcast at 7:30 central time. When the event was over, I actually stayed up longer chatting about what happened instead of hurriedly brushing my teeth and falling into bed. You want people talking about your event.

The main event was a good fight. Sure, after seeing the sleep-inducing match that was Broner vs. Molina, the main event seemed like the greatest fight ever. But after sleeping on it, I think we can all agree it was a fun fight that Thurman easily won. (Please disregard this tweet from me last night: GREAT FIGHT! To my credit, I originally had three exclamation points on that, and scaled it back to just one.) New fans got to see two fighters who were active most of the rounds, a knockdown, and by the end, Guerrero found a way to get inside and give us some fun action. Oh, and let’s not forget: THE HEMOTOMA.

Choosing to forgo the ring card girls was a good choice as well. There’s no way you’re bringing in the masses while reducing four women to a few body parts. Out of all the major sports, boxing is the worst when it comes to objectifying women.

Last night there were no belts. This plays into the scenario above, where PBC becomes the equivalent of the NFL, MLB or NHL. Either PBC is going to become another sanctioning body with a belt to sell, or they become the only game in town. That’s the only choices given the fact that they refused to showcase the WBA belt Saturday night.

There was a lot to fix in this production too.

Marv Albert was clearly very rusty. He had trouble seeing the specifics of the action. What I mean by that is this: He could see that there were punches, but he couldn’t see what kind of punches they were (jab, uppercut, hook, who cares!?) and if they were even landing. I could never call a fight–there’s no way I could keep up with the speed of the action. But this is Marv Albert’s job, so he definitely needs to spend some time watching fights and calling them, preferably on his own time and not on mine.

NBC might want to take their commentating team to some local shows for practice. If I were them I would get in some real time for my commentating team, and even try out different combinations. Maybe Laila Ali needs to be part of the play-by-play team. Maybe Al Michaels should also join that play-by-play team and we lose Marv Albert. Maybe Sugar Ray Leonard is the guy you can pull in when you want and ask some questions, but he’s not there the whole time. Maybe you actually put a mic on Steve Farhood because he has more knowledge of boxing as a commentator than all five of the other people combined. Just some ideas. And can you imagine the stellar marketing move it would be to have Laila Ali as one the main commentators? Granted, she would need to be good at it, but if she could pull it off–wow.

If you’re going to have former boxing champions as commentators you should probably spend some time at the beginning of the broadcast teaching your new fan base who they are. Unless I’m talking to someone in their sixties, no one I talk to knows any names in boxing except Ali, Tyson, Foreman, Holyfield and Mayweather. I’m not even exaggerating.

The ring walks came across as odd. I didn’t mind that the fighters were alone. I get why NBC wanted this–they needed to exercise control, and I think we can all agree that ring walks have gotten a little out of control as of late. To be honest, I don’t come to boxing for ring walks, so this isn’t really a deal breaker for me. What NBC has to fix, is the fact that the night’s ring walks stuck out like a sore thumb. You can’t have that. An alternative might be to show the television audience a video of the fighter rather than he/she walking to the ring.

Adrien Broner. Do I even need to say anything else? Wow. Why would you take what’s on the bottom of the boxing barrel and showcase it for new fans on network television? Unless Haymon is planning on hiring a life coach for Broner, let’s have less of him on NBC. Actually, let’s just have none of him on NBC.

The fights themselves could have been better. I don’t know if Al Haymon made these fights, but I’m assuming he did, and I think we can all agree that matchmaking is not his forte. The main event turned out to be a solid bout for new fans. You got a knockdown, some blood and lots of activity. I would have appreciated an undercard with two bouts that included well-matched fighters instead of named fighters. I don’t care if their records are 15-10, give me two guys whose styles give us fireworks and I’m happy. If the future of PBC is Haymon boxers fighting tomato cans, you can count me out, as well as the rest of America because they’re not tuning in for that. Remember, for them these aren’t even “name” fighters–they don’t know who these guys are!

All in all, I think we can agree that PBC has the potential to be good for boxing. At the very least, it will just be more of the same, and in that case I’ll still be here week in, week out watching guys leaving it all in the ring.

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Arne’s Almanac: Jake Paul and Women’s Boxing, a Curmudgeon’s Take

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Jake Paul can fight more than a little. The view from here is that he would make it interesting against any fringe contender in the cruiserweight division. However, Jake’s boxing acumen pales when paired against his skill as a flim-flam artist.

Jake brought a 9-1 record into last weekend’s bout with Mike Perry. As noted by boxing writer Paul Magno, Jake’s previous opponents consisted of “a You Tuber, a retired NBA star, five retired MMA stars, a part-time boxer/reality TV star, and two undersized and inactive fall-guy boxers.”

Mike Perry, a 32-year-old Floridian, was undefeated (6-0, 3 KOs) as a bare-knuckle boxer after forging a 14-8 record in UFC bouts. In pre-fight blurbs, Perry was billed as the baddest bare knuckle boxer of all time, but against Jake Paul he proved to have very unrefined skills as a conventional boxer which Team Paul undoubtedly knew all along. Perry lasted into the eighth round in a one-sided fight that could have been stopped a lot sooner.

Jake Paul is both a boxer and a promoter. As a promoter, he handles Amanda Serrano, one of the greatest female boxers in history. That makes him the person most responsible (because the buck stops with him) for the wretched mismatch in last Saturday’s co-feature, the bout between Serrano and Stevie Morgan.

Morgan, who took up boxing two years ago at age 33, brought a 14-1 record. Nicknamed the Sledgehammer, she had won 13 of her 14 wins by knockout, eight in the opening round. However, although she resides in Florida, all but one of those 13 knockouts happened in Colombia.

“We found that in Colombia there were just more opportunities for women’s boxing than in the United States,” she told a prominent boxing writer whose name we won’t mention.

The truth is that, for some folks, Colombia is the boxing equivalent of a feeder lot for livestock, a place where a boxer can go to fatten their record. The opportunities there were no greater than in Hot Springs, Arkansas, in 1995. It was there that Peter McNeeley prepped for his match with Mike Tyson with a 6-second knockout of professional punching bag Frankie Hines. (Six seconds? So it would be written although no one seems to have been there to witness it.)

Serrano vs Morgan was understood to be a stay-busy fight for Amanda whose rematch with Katie Taylor was postponed until November. Stevie Morgan, to her credit, answered the bell for the second round whereas others in her situation would have remained on the stool and invented an injury to rationalize it. Thirty-eight seconds later it was all over and Ms. Morgan was free to go home and use her sledgehammer to do some light dusting.

The Paul-Perry and Serrano-Morgan fights played out in a sold-out arena in Tampa before an estimated 17,000. Those without a DAZN subscription paid $64.95 for the livestream. Paul’s next promotion, where he will touch gloves with 58-year-old Mike Tyson (unless Iron Mike pulls a Joe Biden and pulls out; a capital idea) with Serrano-Taylor II the semi-main, will almost certainly rake in more money than any other boxing promotion this year.

Asked his opinion of so-called crossover boxing by a reporter for a college newspaper, the venerable boxing promoter Bob Arum said, “It’s not my bag but folks who don’t like it shouldn’t get too worked up over it because no one is stealing from anybody.” True enough, but for some of us, the phenomenon is distressing.

The next big women’s fight happens Saturday in Detroit where Claressa Shields seeks a world title in a third weight class against WBC heavyweight belt-holder Vanessa Lepage-Joanisse.

A two-time Olympic gold medalist, undefeated in 14 fights as a pro, Shields is very good, arguably the best female boxer of her generation which makes her, arguably, the best female boxer of all time. But turning away Lepage-Joanisse (7-1, 2 KOs) won’t elevate her stature in our eyes.

Purportedly 17-4 as an amateur, the Canadian won her title in her second crack at it. Back in August of 2017, she challenged Cancun’s Alejandra Jimenez in Cancun and was stopped in the third round. Entering the bout, Lepage-Joanisse was 3-0 as a pro and had never fought a match slated for more than four rounds.

Vanessa Lepage-Joanisse

Vanessa Lepage-Joanisse

True, on the women’s side, the heavyweight bracket is a very small pod. A sanctioning body has to make concessions to harness a sanctioning fee. Nonetheless, how absurd that a woman who had answered the bell for only 11 rounds would be deemed qualified to compete for a world title. (FYI: Alejandra Jimenez was purportedly born a man. She left the sport with a 12-0-1 record after her win over Franchon Crews Dazurn was changed to a no-contest when she tested positive for the banned steroid stanozolol.)

Following her defeat to Jimenez, Vanessa Lepage-Joanisse, now 29 years old, was out of action for six-and-a-half years. When she returned, she was still a heavyweight, but a much slender heavyweight. She carried 231 pounds for Jimenez. In her most recent bout where she captured the vacant WBC title with a split decision over Argentina’s Abril Argentina Vidal, she clocked in at 173 ¼. (On the distaff side, there’s no uniformity among the various sanctioning bodies as to what constitutes a heavyweight.)

Claressa Shields doesn’t need Vanessa Lepage-Joanisse to reinforce her credentials as a future Hall of famer. She made the cut a long time ago.

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Former World Bantamweight Champion Richie Sandoval Passes Away at Age 63

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Richie Sandoval, who won the WBA and lineal bantamweight title in one of the biggest upsets of the 1980s and then, not quite two years later, suffered near-fatal injuries in a title defense, has passed away at the age of 63.

News circulated fast in the Las Vegas boxing community on Monday, July 22, the grapevine actuated by a tweet from Hall of Fame matchmaker Bruce Trampler: “Boxing and the Top Rank family lost one of our own last night in the passing of former WBA bantamweight champion Richie Sandoval. It hurts personally and professionally to know that Richie is gone at age 63. RIP campeon.”

Details are vague but the cause of death was apparently a sudden heart attack that Sandoval experienced while visiting the Southern California home of his son of the same name.

Richie Sandoval put the LA County community of Pomona, California, on the boxing map before Shane Mosley came along and gave the town a more frequently-cited mention in the sports section of the papers. He came from a fighting family. An older brother, Albert “Superfly” Sandoval, became a big draw at LA’s fabled Olympic Auditorium while building a 35-2-1 record that included a failed bid to capture Lupe Pintor’s world bantamweight title.

Richie was a member of the 1980 U.S. Olympic boxing team that was stranded when U.S. President Jimmy Carter (and many other world leaders) boycotted the event as a protest against Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan.

As a pro, Sandoval’s signature win was a 15th-round stoppage of Jeff Chandler. They fought on April 7, 1984 in Atlantic City. Chandler was making the tenth defense of his world bantamweight title.

Despite being a heavy underdog, Sandoval dominated the fight, winning almost every round until the referee stepped in and waived it off. Chandler, who was 33-1-2 heading in and had avenged his lone defeat, never fought again.

Sandoval made two successful defenses before risking his title against Gabby Canizales on the undercard of Hagler-Mugabi in the outdoor stadium at Caesars Palace. In round seven, Sandoval, who had a hellish time making the weight, was knocked down three times and suffered a seizure as he collapsed from the third knockdown. Stretchered out of the ring, he was rushed to the hospital where doctors reduced the swelling in his brain and beat the odds to save his life. This would be Richie’s lone defeat. He finished his pro career with a record of 29-1 (17 KOs).

Bob Arum cushioned some of the pain by giving Richie a $25,000 bonus and offering him a lifetime job at Top Rank which Richie accepted. And let the record show that Arum was good to his word.

A more elaborate portrait of Richie Sandoval was published in these pages in 2017. You can check it out HERE. May he rest in peace.

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Amanda Serrano and Jake Paul Vanquish Overmatched Foes in Tampa

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Amanda “the Real Deal” Serrano mowed through knockout puncher Stevie Morgan in less than two rounds on Saturday and Jake Paul soundly defeated bare knuckle champion Mike Perry by knockout too.

Paul and Serrano move on to bigger things.

“It’s feels great, it feels amazing. My 50th fight, my 31st knockout, I’m super blessed,” said Serrano.

Despite jumping up three weight divisions Serrano (47-2-1, 31 KOs) showed more than 17,000 fans and Morgan (14-2, 13 KOs) at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida, how she was able to win seven weight divisions.

Fans and perhaps Katie Taylor breathed a sigh of relief that Serrano is truly back. In Serrano’s last fight she was forced to withdraw back in March due to an accident to her eye moments before a fight. Now the Puerto Rican and Irish super stars will meet in Texas on November 15.

Fans can expect a rematch of one of the greatest fights of all time.

Tonight, before walking into the boxing ring, Morgan had commented that of all the top female fighters Serrano was low hanging fruit. The Puerto Rican legend merely shrugged her shoulders and replied that she lets her fists do the talking.

Both fighters hesitated touching gloves but did. After that, Serrano immediately went into assassin’s mode and moved forward while punching like a finely tuned hemi-engine. Morgan tried to keep up but discovered Serrano was not easy to hit.

Serrano moved forward smoothly while slipping and punching. A stiff looking Morgan, whose legs seemed unbent, tried to fend off the Puerto Rican champion’s blows but was smacked repeatedly in the first round with lefts and rights.

When the bell rang to end the first round, it was obvious that Morgan was overmatched.

As the second round commenced Serrano immediately slipped into attack gear behind her southpaw defensive guard. Once again, she fired combinations while moving quickly forward against the taller Morgan.

It was even worse than the first round as Serrano unloaded a dozen unanswered blows forcing the referee to stop the fight at 38 seconds of the second round.

“I think these girls were mistaking my kindness for weakness,” said Serrano. “If you’re not on my level that’s what happens.”

Morgan quickly learned she’s not on the championship level.

“Stevie Morgan just started a little while ago. I knew it would have been a little too much for her,” said Serrano. “My hat goes off to her. It’s not easy.”

Now it’s on to Katie Taylor.

Jake Paul KOs Mike Perry

In the co-main event Jake Paul (10-1, 7 KOs) floored Mike Perry (6-1) the Bare Knuckle Champion in the first and second round of the cruiserweight fight. And then battered the smaller fighter with a jolting jab to the body and head that opened up cuts on the former MMA fighter.

Paul continued to show improvement and proved once again that whether its MMA or Bare Knuckle fighting, his boxing skills are superior to their combat champions.

“Man, he’s tough as nails. I’m sorry it took so long. Respect man. He’s the king of violence,” said Paul about his fallen foe whose nickname is the “King of Violence.”

Paul attacked the body with a strong left jab while circling slowly left and right. Perry stood straight up with a low guard and his chin up. Paul hit that chin repeatedly and eventually cracked it in the fifth round.

Perry survived.

In the sixth round the bigger blonde fighter Paul bludgeoned Perry with another left jab and then opened with a barrage of blows that blasted the bare knuckle fighter to the canvas. Though he beat the count, he stumbled and the referee stopped the fight at 1:12 of the sixth round.

“I kind of expected that,” said Paul.

Perry was honest about the outcome.

“I tried man, but the kid hit me hard,” said Perry.

Now it’s on to Mike Tyson on November 15 in Arlington, Texas.

“Mike. I love you. But this is my sport now. I’m so honored but I’m going to take your throne.”

Other Bouts

A lightweight battle between undefeated fighters saw Canada’s Lucas Bahdi (17-0, 15 KOs) lose every round until he unloaded a three-punch combination that rendered Ashton Sylve (11-1, 9 KOs) unconscious before he hit the canvas.

Sylve utilized his speed and counters for five rounds and seemed to cruise for five years. But Bahdi showed a good chin especially against lightning uppercuts that sneaked through the guard.

“He’s very twitchy and very quick. I was trying to get to his body early on,” said Bahdi. “He’s very fast and has good counter punches.

In the sixth round Sylve was opening up a little more with his hands down and Bahdi saw the opening and quickly launched a right followed by a left hook that knocked out Sylve before he hit the floor at 2:27 of the sixth round.

“I knew his head’s there in the center all the time,” said Bahdi. “I think I stole the show tonight.”

Prelim Bouts

A rematch between lightweights saw Corey Marksman (10-0-1) win by majority decision against Tony Aguilar (12-1-1) in a back-and-forth battle. Marksman out-worked Aguilar with an especially effective counter-right that scored repeatedly. Their first encounter last February ended in a draw.

Shadasia Green (14-1, 11 KOs) stumbled a bit but got the win against Natasha Spence (8-5-2) to win by unanimous decision in a super middleweight. It was her first fight since losing to Franchon Crews-Dezurn for the world title.

Green was cruising for most of the fight behind a sharp jab and rights to the body but during an offensive out burst Spence caught her with a counter right and floored her in the seventh. It was half punch and half slip, but she was knocked down.

Though Green did not get a knockout she emerged with the win 78-73, 77-74 twice.

“I had fun in there tonight,” said Green. “I belong at the top with the best.”

Alexis Chaparro (2-0) knocked out Kevin Hill (1-2) with a five-punch combination at 2:01 of the second round in a middleweight fight.

Angel Barrientes (12-1) defeated Edwin Rodriguez (12-9-2) by majority decision after six rounds in a super bantamweight fight. The scores were 57-57, 60-54 twice for Barrientes who resides in Las Vegas.

Photo credit: Esther Lin / MVP Promotions

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