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A Panel of Media Titans Scopes Out the New Face of Boxing in the Digital Era

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On Wednesday, October 17, HBO Sports vice president Peter Nelson showed up to the Marriott Marquis in midtown Manhattan to partake in a panel on “storytelling” in documentary film, as part of the Sports Business Journal’s annual media conference. Among the topics that Nelson broached were the record viewership that tuned into “Andre the Giant” and the inception of “Barbershop,” the new chat show produced by and featuring Lebron James.

But looming over the discussion like a dark cloud was the recent news that HBO Sports would forgo live boxing from their programming slate starting in 2019 — a shocking, although not completely unforeseen, announcement. Between budget cuts, expanded competition, and the exodus of elite talent, boxing at HBO had been on the decline for several years. Still for more than 40 years, the two were inextricable. Household names like Sugar Ray Leonard, Mike Tyson, Roy Jones Jr., Oscar de la Hoya, Manny Pacquiao, and Floyd Mayweather Jr. all, at one point, captured the zeitgeist by fighting on the premium channel. Indeed, long before its scripted series began stockpiling Emmys, HBO was associated with two things: movie reruns and boxing.

So finally, right before the end of the panel, the host, SBJ’s John Ourand, prodded Nelson to address the ungainly elephant in the room. “The idea of boxing not being on HBO is something that’s almost unthinkable,” began Ourand. “It’s been such a rich part of the network’s legacy. Take us through that decision. Why did you decide to step away?”

“Sure,” Nelson said, as he adjusted himself in his seat, “it wasn’t a subjective decision…”

Meanwhile that same day, 10 blocks south at Madison Square Garden, Mexican superstar Saul “Canelo” Alvarez was preparing for a press conference to announce his New York City debut on December 15 against Rocky Fielding. That was just the teaser. The real headline was that Alvarez had signed with the streaming platform DAZN for a staggering $365 million for 11 fights, or five years. John Skipper, DAZN executive chairman and ex-ESPN head, opened the presser by declaring that “Today represents a major shift in over-the-top sports content.” Alvarez, the biggest active draw in North America, has appeared exclusively on PPV — mostly on HBO — for the past five years going back to his fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr. in 2013. To see Alvarez fight once meant viewers had to pay upwards of $85, a hefty financial proposition. Now, it would cost viewers $10, or the price of a monthly subscription fee to DAZN.

“The only way to watch this fight is to download the DAZN app and activate it,” Skipper told The Sweet Science. “The first one’s free. The next ten, you’ll need to be a subscriber to DAZN to watch the fight.”

In a time in which cordcutting and rising rights fees have battered the traditional television model, streaming, or OTT, has been hailed as the new frontier of the sports media landscape. For the most part, its adherents are still striving to find the right balance between content and monetization. In the case of DAZN, the company is also at pains to create a public profile, as it remains virtually unknown in the United States, unlike, say, ESPN+, which benefits from its association with “The World Wide Leader in Sports.” That said, DAZN is fairly well known internationally, in countries such as Italy and Japan, where the company owns extensive baseball and soccer rights. The Alvarez signing, to some extent, provides an instant stimulus for their US enterprise.

DAZN is betting that they can convert the Alvarez PPV buyer into a DAZN subscriber. The logic, after all, is in their favor. Why pay $85 to see Alvarez fight once, when you can pay a fraction of that for not only Alvarez, but a host of other combat sports content for an entire month? (DAZN also owns global rights to Bellator). Skipper, though, acknowledged the marketing hurdles ahead. “We still have to find those (potential subscribers), activate them,” admitted Skipper. “But I think if you believe that the three plus million people (in his last three fights combined) who paid $85 dollars to watch ‘Canelo’ fight would be willing to pay a lot less to watch him fight, I think this is a game changer.”

In years past it would have been unfathomable to imagine boxing without HBO at its helm. But there it was, on Wednesday, in striking juxtaposition, a glimpse at the future of the sport without the premium cable giant: Alvarez leaping headlong into the booming streaming business with a quarter-billion dollar contract in his pocket; the HBO Sport head talking about documentaries at an industry convention.

Yet, as always, the sport moves on. The emergence of Fox as a boxing player, the continued commitment from Showtime, the growth of ESPN and ESPN+, and the arrival of well-heeled disruptors like DAZN, are signs that the business is more than prepared to fill the void left by HBO. Indeed, the shifting landscape in the sport is a microcosm of a larger ongoing media trend, and boxing, in many respects, finds itself in the middle of the mainstream muddle. To this end, the two-day SBJ conference in New York afforded a chance to view the latest developments in boxing from a more holistic perspective, to see it in relation to the larger sports world. The Sweet Science was on hand to listen to — and on occasion, speak with — top sports media executives from across the spectrum.

An Appetite for Live Sports

What was perhaps most ironic about the presence of Nelson at the conference was that for the most part his fellow speakers were evangelists for live sports programming. ESPN head Jimmy Pitaro set the tone when he declared, “Everybody in this room knows how important live sports are. Live sports are moving the needle more than anything else. Look at what the top 10, top 20 shows are every week.”

MLS Senior vice president Seth Bacon reiterated this belief. “Live sports are the center from which all cross-promotional content —storytelling, fandom — come back to,” said Bacon.

And Mark Shuken, president of Pac-12 Networks, expressed much of the same: “People like to talk about the DVR-proof nature of live sports, but I think it is that immediacy, that communal nature that you gotta be there now to see it. How are you taking part in the tribal nature of sports? People want to talk about it, especially in today’s landscape, sports are a great distraction.”

Given the current market for live sports, then, it is little wonder that those who own the content wield considerable leverage. “Rights holders are in the driver’s seat,” said Lindsey Ross, director of rights for FloSports. Most executives on hand see rights fees only continuing to rise. “I feel bad for some of my colleagues up here,” one executive joked. “Sports rights are expensive.”

In boxing, the bustling streaming market has been a boon to boxers. Previously unconnected boxers, like Tevin Farmer and Danny Roman, are now making career purses after signing with DAZN. For the first time in decades, the highest payday for a boxer — at any level — is no longer tied to an appearance on HBO or, for that matter, Showtime.

Of course, HBO’s reasons for leaving boxing are well justified. Citing internal research, Nelson suggested that boxing not only mattered very little to HBO subscribers, but that buying more fights would not improve the overall subscribership.“So in looking at that,” Nelson told Ourand, “it became impossible to ignore. You know, the old Peter Drucker line ‘there’s nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.’”

Since DAZN began in September, few weekends have gone in which there were not multiple boxing cards occurring — sometimes concurrently — from all around the world, from a variety of competing platforms. Some observers are convinced that boxing has turned over a new leaf and that the latest streaming ventures are evidence of a healthy sport. But it remains to be seen how long this level of pace and volume will last.

Boxing “Beachhead”

During a panel on direct-to-consumer relations, Brian Socolow, legal counsel for DAZN and co-chair at the firm Loeb & Loeb, had this to say: “DAZN wants to be the Netflix of sports, not just boxing.” The statement is illuminating for a couple reasons. One, it shows that DAZN regards boxing as a steppingstone, albeit a very expensive one. Two, the comparison to the entertainment giant shows just how ambitious the company plans to be. (DAZN is owned by billionaire Len Blavatnik.)

“Certainly the consumer wants fighting sports,” continued Socolow, “ but the consumer also wants a whole lot more than that and you probably need that as a business model to expand beyond that.”

The expectation is that once major rights are up for negotiation, DAZN will bid aggressively for pieces of mainstream sports, like the NFL, NBA, and MLB. In the meantime, that is where boxing comes in.

Talking about DAZN’s entry into the US market through boxing and MMA, Socolow referred to the move as “beachhead,” business shorthand for the type of strategy in which an investment is made in small markets before pursuing larger ones. “Right now [DAZN’s] focus has been on boxing and fighting sports,” said Socolow. “I think it’s a good way as they come into the United States and get the beachhead (for combat sports). But I think the intent there is to grow beyond that. I think they have to.”

But there are big question marks as to whether DAZN will be able to carve out what they require from boxing, a perennially hostile territory. The list of failed endeavors in boxing, after all, from crass peddlers to honest do-gooders, runs longer than most Senate bills. For all the ballyhoo that accompanied their US announcement earlier in the spring, the first card DAZN launched featured Jessie Vargas against Thomas Dulorme in boxing-averse Chicago. And despite the bellicose courting from Hearn, DAZN was unable to persuade some of the biggest names aligned with the PBC, including Adrien Broner, Gervonta Davis, and the Charlo twins, to join its ranks. No doubt, DAZN has dramatically improved its standing with the signing of Alvarez, and together with the UK’s Anthony Joshua, the platform can claim to have the exclusive rights to the two biggest box office stars on both sides of the Atlantic. Outside of those fighters, however, their roster quickly thins out. The November 17 card featuring Brandon Rios and Gabriel Rosado, two fighters way past their primes, is a tacky exercise in hodgepodge and mediocrity, and characteristic of some of DAZN’s bottom-heavy rotation.

Yet part of their strategy seems to be working, at least as it pertains to the middleweight division. Three of the four major title belts belong to Alvarez and new signee Demetrius Andrade. The other title holder, Danny Jacobs, is currently a network free agent, but as he is promoted by Hearn, it is expected he will appear on DAZN before long. And if Gennady Golovkin decides to join as well, as reports indicate, his presence would then give DAZN a veritable hold on one of the more intriguing and competitive divisions in boxing.

Silicon Valley “Experiments”

Not everyone is as aggressive as DAZN.

When asked about the pressure to compete with highly-strapped competitors like DAZN, Portia Archer, NBC vice president of direct-to-consumer services, told The Sweet Science, “We’re not in the business of they do 65 (million), we’ll do 70 (million).” (Sports Gold, NBC’s subscription over-the-top service, currently offers ten sports, with three more soon to be added. While Archer acknowledged that her colleagues were currently working out a potential deal with promoter Main Events, boxing is not on the radar for the app).

Such sentiment extends beyond the traditional power players.

In a recent SBJ article, Ourand pointed out how Silicon Valley titans have yet to pursue sports rights in a vigorous way and remain generally in the experimental stage. “Amazon, Facebook, Twitter and Youtube have made sports investments in the United States,” wrote Ourand. “But they view those investments more as market tests than full-blown business strategies.”

This scenario largely describes what is going on at Facebook through its free VOD service Facebook Watch. Currently, Facebook, which also owns Instagram, has rights deals with the MLB, LPGA, Golden Boy Promotions, high school football games in Florida, and various soccer leagues.

Peter Hutton, Facebook’s newly-hired head of live sports programming, was on hand for the conference, and while he pointed out that the company was “very much [at] a listen, learn, watch, experiment stage,” he also insisted that their involvement with sports was not just a casual dalliance. “Whether it is South American soccer or whether it is major league baseball here in the US, there’s clearly a few bets being made and we’re looking at the data on the back of that,” Hutton told The Sweet Science. “I think it’s more important to say how do we integrate ourselves with a sport on a long time basis.”

Speaking specifically about boxing, Hutton explained that Facebook was not looking at boxing as “a short term, one fight, two fight sort of an experiment” and that he sees a natural affinity between the two.

“Boxing and Facebook is a quite an interesting story going forward,” Hutton explained. “If you think about the power of boxing it’s very much about creating stories and creating credibility about fights and therefore that social engagement around the fight is something that I think Facebook and Instagram and the rest of our platform can really be a part of. You need a dripfeed of information, you need that sense that what you’re going to watch is important and helping the boxers to tell that story and put regular content out before a fight and develop that route through watching a live experience. I think that is a really good balance, the sport and the social networks.”

One of the questions brought up in Ourand’s article is if social media companies actually need to own the content to live sports. Sports-leaning social media users, after all, constantly engage with sports content that is not owned by Facebook, like the NBA and NFL, say. Hutton believes that there are clear advantages to owning the content outright. In the case of boxing, given its relatively simple structure — a small circumscribed ring and two righters — Hutton sees an opportunity for Facebook to experiment with the actual live experience with their robust virtual reality technology. Facebook owns the virtual reality company Oculus and has bought hundreds of patents related to VR and augmented reality technology. In the end, Hutton wants to offer a sports product that is sui generis, that only Facebook can offer.

“We’ll look at the data through the deals that we’ve got through Golden Boy and see the popularity of the sport and how well it works,” said Hutton. “We don’t just want to show sport, we want to show sport that gives viewers a better experience and we want it to be positive. We don’t want it to be a worse version of what we’ve had historically.”

(Part of the Alvarez-DAZN signing called for guaranteed Golden Boy dates, so it is not immediately clear if Golden Boy will continue to work with Facebook.)

ESPN and Audience Expansion”

Drawing more viewers and subscribers is the mandate for any platform. But for a fixture like ESPN that has seen its viewership dwindle rapidly in recent years, the issue is existential. But during an interview with Ourand, Pitaro had some good news to share: For four quarters in a row, ESPN had seen a net subscriber decline. In other words, ESPN is still losing subscribers, just not as quickly as they once were.

One reason for that is likely because of ESPN+. Of all the streaming platforms operating in the United States, ESPN+ currently has the largest and most diverse portfolio of live sports under its belt. This includes mainstream sports such as NCAA basketball, NHL, MLB, and college football but also what ESPN head Pitaro, in a rare public appearance on the second day of the conference, described as “niche sports.”

“We’re interested in the pure point of big needle movers but we’re also just as interested in what’s now in the smaller niche sports,” said Pitaro. “So if you look on ESPN+ right now we have rugby, we have cricket, we have lacrosse, we have partnership with the Ivy League network.”

This also includes boxing — that is, Top Rank Boxing. The deal, struck back in 2017, was a major improvement on the usual club-fare shows that ESPN produced, namely through its Friday Night Fights series. ESPN would support Top Rank boxing through ancillary programming and a slew of primetime dates. Both parties seem to be enjoying a measure of success. Most recently in October, Terence Crawford-Jose Benavidez Jr. averaged 2.2 million viewers on a Saturday night, the second highest Top Rank-ESPN telecast since the beginning of their deal in 2017. Earlier this year, Top Rank and ESPN renewed their partnership with a seven year extension to showcase 54 live events through 2025.

Surprised by ESPN’s decision to strike up rights deals with combat sports entities, Ourand asked Pitaro, “If you would have told me 5 years ago that ESPN would have boxing programming and doing a deal with UFC I never have thought that would happen. What happened?

“Audience expansion,” Pitaro stated. “The main driver behind that deal was expanding our audience and presenting content that we think will speak to a younger generation.”

Pitaro singled out Top Rank president Todd duBoef for understanding exactly what their boxing programming needs to look like in order to attract more subscribers.

“Top Rank is run by a very progressive, a very intelligent guy named Todd duBoef,” said Pitaro, “and Todd is correctly focused on all the right things including expanding the reach, making boxing more popular around the globe and he believed that the best way to do that was partnering with ESPN.”

On ESPN+, Top Rank has shown fight cards from around the world, as far flung as Japan, Bulgaria and England. It also recently inked a deal with UK promoter Frank Warren to stream all of his fights on the app. All of which to say that there is an explicit corporate agenda in place for Top Rank, unlike its tenure with HBO, and that is to ensure that their fights drive subscribers to ESPN and ESPN+. So far, the results have been positive. In September, ESPN announced that the app had surpassed the one million subscriber mark, which many pundits considered impressive. (It should be pointed out that a reported roughly 300,000 of those subscriptions were brought in through ESPN’s existing paywall service, Insider).

Fragmentation

The current economic upswing in boxing — “it’s a great time to be a fighter,” is a common refrain heard around the industry — may taper out as initial investments flounder and the market comes back down to reality. Some executives were skeptical that the current proliferation of streaming platforms could be sustained in the long haul. “I don’t believe we’re going to find people who want 14 different type of OTT services,” said Hania Poole, vice president of BR Live, during a panel. Poole predicts that a degree of consolidation will be in order. “I think we’re going to go back to where television started with 3 or 4 networks. Sports becomes a premium piece of that package. Kind of like what the old world looked like but with a new delivery service, with one billing system, one password. I don’t see how this fragmentation can continue.”

NBC’s Archer was also similarly skeptical, but believed that the new model that streaming presents is here to stay. “Our fans are focused on customization and personalization. They really want something that is for them. I don’t see the interest in recreating something that they formally had. If we could keep that principle in mind and figure out what the right mix is so that you don’t have 15, or 20 or some unmanageable number (of apps), then perhaps (that will work).

The last thing an unregulated sport like boxing needs is more fragmentation, but the early signs suggest that the latest streaming deals have only reified the grand old political divisions. With Matchroom (and perhaps Golden Boy) now working exclusively with DAZN, Top Rank with ESPN, and PBC with Showtime and Fox, the current climate discourages collaboration. For example, neither a Terence Crawford vs. Errol Spence Jr. or an Anthony Joshua vs. Deontay Wilder fight is likely to materialize anytime soon because of conflicting broadcast alliances. Such conflicts are nothing new, but with promoters now incentivized to spur the subscriber base of their respective broadcasters, there is one less reason to come to together at the table. DAZN, for example, is not about to let Joshua, its marquee signee, hop over to Showtime/Fox to fight Wilder — not when it has a business to build.

Back in May, The Sweet Science asked Top Rank’s Todd duBoef if he had any intention to let 140-pound champion Jose Ramirez participate in the WBSS series to face the other top fighters in the division. duBeof’s response was instructive. “I’m building an enterprise here,” he answered. “Why would I work five years developing a product just to give it away?” If Top Rank feels that strongly about Ramirez, why should it be any different with Crawford?

HBO is gone, yes, and the boxing landscape may look more different than ever, but the same problems appear no closer to being solved.

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Fast Results from Oxon Hill: Teofimo Wins but Without Panache

Arne K. Lang

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Fast Results from Oxon Hill: Teofimo Wins but Without Panache

Heading into tonight’s contest with lanky Japanese invader Masayoshi Nakatani, 21-year-old lightweight sensation Teofimo Lopez had never been extended beyond the seventh round. Tonight he went the full 12 and although Teofimo won comfortably on the scorecards (119-109, 118-110 twice) one could say that he actually took a step backward, if only because he had set the bar so high. True, Lopez won lopsidedly, but many of the rounds were close and the fight had no indelible moments.

With the victory, Lopez (14-0, 11 KOs) becomes next in line to meet IBF 135-pound title-holder Richard Commey. Osaka’s Nakatani, who had previously fought exclusively in Japan, suffered his first loss, falling to 18-1.

Co-Feature

In what has to be considered an upset, Puerto Rican junior welterweight Subriel Matias stayed unbeaten at the expense of previously unbeaten Maxim Dadashev whose trainer Buddy McGirt pulled him out after the 11th round. It was a coming out party for Matias (14-0, 14 KOs) who took command in the middle rounds and wore Dadashev (13-1) down with body punches.

A stablemate of Vasiliy Lomachenko, Dadashev was reportedly 281-20 as an amateur and came into this bout having won nine of his last 10 inside the distance. Matias had knocked out all 13 of his previous opponents, but was making only his second start on U.S. soil. His punches landed with more effect than those of Dadashev and he was comfortably ahead at the time of the stoppage.

Dadashev began vomiting violently as he was being led back to his dressing room and was put on a stretcher and taken to a hospital for observation.

Other Bouts

In an 8-round middleweight contest, fan favorite Dusty Hernandez Harrison improved to 33-0-1 (18 KOs) with a seventh-round stoppage over Columbia’s Juan De Angel (21-12-1). Hernandez Harrison knocked De Angel to his knees with a three-punch combination and De Angel spit out his mouthpiece as he rose from the canvas, a sign of surrender that compelled the referee to waive it off.

Hernandez Harrison, who turned pro at age 17 in Mississippi, was once hailed as the best prospect to come out of the Washington DC area since Sugar Ray Leonard. He was fed a softie tonight in his third fight back after missing all of 2017 and 2018 with managerial and legal problems. De Angel has now lost seven of his last eight.

In the lid-lifter, a middleweight contest slated for eight rounds, Brazilian southpaw Esquiva Falcao, a 2012 Olympic silver medalist, scored an eighth-round stoppage of Tijuana’s stubborn but out-gunned Jesus Antonio Gutierrez. Falcao (24-0, 16 KOs) appears to be on a collision course with former amateur rival Ryota Murata. Gutierrez declined to 25-4-2 (12).

Tyler Howard, a middleweight from Crossville, Tennessee, won his 18th straight without a defeat with a workmanlike 8-round decision over 38-year-old Philadelphia trial horse Jamaal Davis (18-15-1). The scores were 78-73 and 80-72 twice.

In an 8-round lightweight contest, Toledo, Ohio’s Tyler McCreary (16-0-1) outworked Jessie Cris Rosales (22-3-1) to win a split decision. Rosales, a Filipino, has now lost three of his last four.

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The Official TSS Pacquiao – Thurman Prediction Page

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The Official TSS Pacquiao – Thurman Prediction Page

Boxing promoters like to boast that their latest offering is a 50-50 fight. A glance at the available betting odds informs us this attestation is usually bunk.

Not so Saturday’s Pacquiao-Thurman fight, a match where the 50-50 tag is no bull. The oddsmakers opened Thurman a slight favorite, at last glance the other guy was favored, and it wouldn’t surprise us if the pendulum swings back. There’s a considerable amount of “sharp money” on both sides of this proposition and that doesn’t happen very often.

As is our custom when there is a big fight, we survey members of our editorial staff to get their opinions and we list the respondents alphabetically. Comic book cover artist ROB AYALA, whose specialty is combat sports, provided the graphic. Check out more of Rob Ayala’s illustrations at his web site fight posium.

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Matt Andrzejewski — Pacquiao has looked tremendous in his two most recent outings and that has many people thinking he is still at the top of his game. But let’s put those performances in context. One was against a shopworn Lucas Matthysse; the other against a low volume output fighter in Adrien Broner who stylistically played right into Pacquiao’s hands. Thurman shook off the rust in his last fight and is just entering the prime of his career. I think Pacquiao looks his age and THURMAN coasts to a wide decision victory.

Rick Assad — This will be a test of wills and both will be in superb shape, but every factor is in Thurman’s favor, including age, height and punching power. Thurman, who has won 29 straight, 22 via knockout, has disposed of Robert Guerrero, Luis Collazo, Shawn Porter, Danny Garcia and Josesito Lopez over the last 52 months, while in Pac-Man’s last six fights, he’s 4-2 with losses to Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Jeff Horn. If this fight took place seven years ago, Pacquiao would win based on hand and foot speed, but it’s 2019 and he will find himself on the short end of the stick. THURMAN by split decision.

Bernard Fernandez – I have always been a fan of the Manny Pacquiao I saw beat the hell out of Ledwaba in his U.S. debut and evolve into an all-time great. But even great fighters yield bits and pieces of their special gifts to the inexorable march of time. Manny is 40, and there is ample evidence that while he has maintained his speed, his vaunted punching power has clearly ebbed. Not that this should be a replay of Sugar Ray Leonard vs. Terry Norris, but I have to side with the younger, undefeated guy. Keith THURMAN doesn’t score the knockout he has promised to deliver, but he does enough to come away with a UD or MD.

Jeffrey Freeman — Keith THURMAN MD12. It won’t be easy in there on the inside but Keith Thurman has the physical range and the closer-to-peak skills needed to carefully outbox an aging but still fit Manny Pacquiao. Thurman survives some shaky moments early to the body, harnesses Manny down the stretch and hears the announcer say he won while simultaneously hearing boos from the crowd unsatisfied with “One Time’s” performance and the off-kilter scoring. As is his wont when he loses, Manny sheds no tears over his now eighth L and “Pac-Man” gobbles up another nice check.

Thomas Hauser — Pacquiao isn’t going to get better at this stage of his career. The open issue regarding Manny is the slope of his decline. By contrast, Thurman has been plagued by injuries and the possible loss of motivation but is young enough to successfully rebound. The big open issue regarding Keith is, “How far has he come back?” My guess is that THURMAN will become more dominant as the fight goes on. How hard he pushes this advantage will determine whether he wins by decision or late stoppage.

Miguel Iturrate – Pacquiao has looked rejuvenated, or at least fully recovered from the shoulder injury that affected his Mayweather performance. He did not look 40 years old against Matthysse and Broner. On the other hand, Thurman is fresh off a long layoff but his most recent outing against veteran Josesito Lopez left some questions. Add to this the news that the fighters will not be subject to VADA testing, and I suspect that we are going to get a pretty sharp version of the Pac-man. I’m going to go with PACQUIAO on this one.

Arne Lang – I envision this fight echoing Thurman’s 2016 fight with Shawn Porter. Keith Thurman fought that fight on the retreat, frequently with his back against the ropes, but won seven of the 12 rounds on all three scorecards. I look for another close and potentially unpopular decision with the nod going against the Senator. THURMAN-Porter was a lollapalooza. Perhaps we’ll get lucky again.

Kelsey McCarson — I like Pacquiao by decision. A good rule of thumb for people like me who like to pick fights is to never back a fighter over 35. Pacquiao is 40 now, and he’s nowhere near the elite specimen he was ten years ago. But backing Pacquiao in his last fight against the much younger Adrien Broner made sense, and I think breaking my rule in this case for Pacquiao-Thurman does, too. Thurman has a quality resume, but I’m guessing somewhere inside he knows he’s not quite a great welterweight. That’s probably why he wanted no part of Errol Spence and probably also what led to him being out of the ring for so long during recent years. The fight will be competitive, but PACQUIAO will throw and land more punches while Thurman will mostly try to move and box off his backfoot once he gets a taste of Pacquiao’s power.

Matt McGrain — “Last time I knew Manny Pacquiao was going to win he lost to Jeff Horn. On the other hand, picking against a living legend like Manny is just not a thing I can do happily. So, it’s dry, and it’s sad then, that I’m picking Keith THURMAN, but the point at which my heart rules my head has been reached and breached. Too big, too tough. The tipping point with Manny has also been reached and breached, I think. I really am looking forward to his proving me wrong.”

Sean Nam — As impressive as it may have been to see 40-year-old Manny Pacquiao outpoint loudmouth dilettante Adrien Broner, it should not disguise the fact that the full-time Senator has been on the decline for nearly a decade. Indeed, by agreeing to face Keith Thurman, the natural welterweight with perhaps the best resume in the division, Pacquiao will be trading punches with a world-class opponent in his prime, a circumstance not seen since at least 2016, when he rematched Timothy Bradley Jr. Of course, Thurman has his own laundry list of caveats. After a two-year period of inactivity and injuries, Thurman returned to the ring earlier this year in a virtual tune-up against Josesito Lopez. Though he won wide on points, he was wobbled badly midway through the fight. Also to consider is the fact that Thurman has not had a clear-cut knockout victory since he fought Julio Diaz in 2014, a sign that perhaps he does not hit as hard as some think. Thurman is not likely to knock out a proven, stone cold competitor like Pacquiao, but he has the athletic credentials — and enough power — to edge the aging icon on the scorecards. As has been his custom for the past several fights, expect Thurman to run circles around the ring as he uncorks potshots on Pacquiao. Keith THURMAN SD 12

Ted Sares – I see PACQUIAO winning by MD. As soon as he buzzes Thurman, “One Time” will start running which is his wont. It will be a boring affair unless Thurman tires and Pac catches him.

Phil Woolever — The facts should speak for themselves but I don’t know what they’re saying. Thurman’s resume includes notable victories over Danny Garcia, Shawn Porter and Robert Guerrero. He has lost to no one. Pacquaio has notable victories over Erik Morales (twice), Juan Manuel Marquez (twice plus a draw), Shane Mosley, Timothy Bradley, Jr (twice), Marco Antonio Barrera (twice), rare stoppages of Barrera, Miguel Cotto and Oscar De La Hoya plus a total wipeout of Ricky Hatton. He has highly disputed losses to Bradley and Jeff Horn, a basic shutout to Floyd Mayweather, Jr, a one punch splattering by a possibly enhanced Marquez and a loss to a near prime Morales. Maybe his early stoppage losses to Boonsai Sangsurat and Rustico Torrecampo offer clues I miss. No prediction here, logical or otherwise. I have no idea what to expect except that’s something that makes a great fight.

Observation: There was a distinct lean to Keith Thurman, but the operative word here is “lean.” A more general consensus is that this fight will go to the scorecards with the impending verdict no foregone conclusion.

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When Muhammad Ali and Gerald Ford Met

Thomas Hauser

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When Muhammad Ali and Gerald Ford Met

On June 25, 2019 – one day after the United States Women’s National Team advanced to the quarter-finals of the World Cup – Eight by Eight magazine posted a video clip from an interview conducted in May in which Megan Rapinoe was asked, “Are you excited about going to the White House?”

Rapinoe is white and openly gay. She’s also the heart and soul of the United States Women’s National Team. On multiple occasions, she has followed Colin Kaepernick’s lead and declined to stand for the playing of the National Anthem.

“I’m not going to the f****** White House,” Rapinoe responded. “No, I’m not going to the White House.” Then, taking note of Donald Trump’s proclivities, she added, “We’re not going to be invited.”

The following day, Trump responded with a three-part tweet that read, “Women’s soccer player, @mPinoe, just stated that she is ‘not going to the F…ing White House if we win.’ Other than the NBA, which now refuses to call owners, owners (please explain that I just got Criminal Justice Reform passed, Black unemployment is at the lowest level in our Country’s history, and the poverty index is also best number EVER), leagues and teams love coming to the White House. I am a big fan of the American Team, and Women’s Soccer, but Megan should WIN first before she TALKS! Finish the job! We haven’t yet invited Megan or the team, but I am now inviting the TEAM, win or lose. Megan should never disrespect our Country, the White House, or our Flag, especially since so much has been done for her & the team. Be proud of the Flag that you wear. The USA is doing GREAT!”

Despite Trump’s tweet, no invitation to visit the White House was extended to the team after it won the World Cup. More recently, on July 14, Trump further inflamed passions with the following tweet that attacked four women of color who represent Congressional districts in different states.

“So interesting to see ‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly. and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run. Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how it is done. These places need your help badly, you can’t leave fast enough.”

It was a typical Donald Trump assault – vicious and inaccurate. Three of the four women he attacked were born in the United States. But facts and truth have long been irrelevant to this president.

Trump’s conflict with Megan Rapinoe brings back memories of a conversation I had with Gerald Ford in 1989 when I was researching a biography entitled Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times.

Ali was once one of the most reviled men in the America. He had accepted the teachings of a black separatist religion known as the Nation of Islam. Then, at the height of the war in Vietnam, he refused induction into the United States Army after uttering the immortal words, “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Vietcong.” He was stripped of his championship, precluded from boxing for more than three years, and faced five years in prison before his criminal conviction was overturned by the United States Supreme Court. Through it all, Ali persevered. On October 30, 1974, he dethroned George Foreman to reclaim the heavyweight championship of the world.

Then came an occasion that would have been unthinkable if today’s race-baiting president had been in office. On December 10, 1974, at the invitation of Gerald Ford, Muhammad Ali visited the White House.

“When I took office,” Ford told me thirty years ago, “we as a nation were pretty much torn apart. There were conflicts between families, in colleges, and on the streets. We’d gone through some serious race problems. The Vietnam War had heightened differences. And of course, there was the heritage of Watergate. One of the major challenges my administration faced was how we could heal the country. Not that everybody had to agree, but at least we should lower our voices and listen to one another. I think that, during the two-and-a-half years I was president, we did that. And having Muhammad Ali come to the Oval Office was part of our overall effort. I felt it was important to reach out and indicate individually as well as collectively that we could have honest differences without bitterness. So I wanted to meet Muhammad, not only because of my interest in sports, but because it was part of my overall effort to heal the wounds of racial division, Vietnam, and Watergate.”

How did the meeting go?

“I recall it quite well,” Ford reminisced. “I’ve always been interested in boxing. It goes back to my youth, when I can recall very vaguely Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney and then, later, Joe Louis. And I’ve always been a sports enthusiast. I always liked to meet the best in any part of the sporting world, and certainly Muhammad Ali was representative of that group. His visit was an enjoyable time for me. Muhammad never lacked for words, and it was a real pleasure to chat with him. We talked about some of his successes and my interest in sports. I’ve always respected what he accomplished in boxing. And he was a man of principle. I know there were some who thought he evaded his military responsibility, but I’ve never questioned anybody’s dedication to whatever religion they believe in. I give people the maximum benefit of the doubt when they take a stand predicated on conscience. That’s always been my philosophy, so I never joined the critics who complained about what he did and didn’t do during the Vietnam War. I accepted his decision.”

It’s sad how times have changed.

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His next book – A Dangerous Journey: Another Year Inside Boxing  – will be published this autumn by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism.

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