Al Haymon makes a habit of not speaking to reporters, but that is fine. What Haymon is attempting speaks louder than anything he might say anyway. Haymon, a Harvard-educated boxing manager and adviser, is challenging the pay-per-view model that has enriched a few people at the expense of an entire sport.
Beginning tonight, Haymon will begin a bold, three-year initiative with NBC to bring top-notch boxing to the public on network television.
Haymon will spend at least US$20 million annually to buy airtime on NBC and NBCSN to televise bouts that will feature some of the many fighters he manages (though not Floyd Mayweather Jr, whose much-anticipated fight against Manny Pacquiao in May remains a valuable pay-per-view commodity). NBC will provide two veteran announcers — Al Michaels and Marv Albert — to call the action. Haymon will provide the color analyst: Sugar Ray Leonard.
However, the US$20 million question is: Are there enough boxing fans to make this work? More important, is there enough blood lust to bring boxing back into the sports mainstream in the US? The answer to that question is definitely; all one has to do is look at the meteoric rise of mixed martial arts.
“I think it’s great for the sport,” said Justin Blair, who owned the Church Street Gym in Lower Manhattan for 17 years.
Blair still produces a series called Friday Night Fights and consults on combat sports, mixed martial arts and boxing.
“I think there’s a tremendous demand and appetite for combat sports in general,” he said. “What’s most important for the growth of the sport are well-matched events. It’s all well and good to have one star, but if it’s one star against a guy who has a 5-50 record, or has lost four in a row, the entertainment value’s just not there. That’s really what’s been the downfall of boxing.”
I am pulling for Haymon and NBC to succeed. I grew up with boxing, and my Uncle Eddie was a Golden Gloves champion.
However, I do not make the argument that boxing is safe. We know that the sport is not safe. However, we also know that football is not safe, and let’s go further: being a jockey is not safe; driving in NASCAR is not safe; climbing mountains is not safe. Risk is part of the excitement and — for paying customers — part of the attraction of all of those sports, just as it is in boxing.
My argument for boxing’s rejuvenation is based on the opportunity the sport provides, especially at a time when opportunity continues to shrink.
“Boxing first and foremost is a poor man’s sport,” Leonard said during a recent interview in Manhattan. “If there was a fee for me to start boxing, I wouldn’t be boxing.”
Boxing, Leonard said, is not dead. Not by a long shot.
“There’s so much talent out there,” he added, saying the problem is merely exposing a new generation of fans to it. “It’s not getting on television. It’s all about exposure. They just don’t get the platform.”
Now they will.
Andre Rozier, who trains boxers at the Starrett City and Sadam Ali gyms in Brooklyn, was ecstatic about the new programming, calling the moment “monumental.”
“We’re the only sport that doesn’t really get the exposure that the other sports do through free television and advertising and selling the athletes to the public,” Rozier said. “That’s how you build the brand of boxing.”
Thanks to network television, we can follow young tennis players and golfers as they mature into championship athletes. Generations ago, the same was true for fighters; audiences followed promising boxers through fight-of-the-week telecasts, and later they were introduced to stars like Leonard and Roy Jones Jr and Oscar De La Hoya in the Olympics.
The erosion of boxing as a staple of US culture has less to do with a great moral awakening than with promoters chasing paydays, moving to cable and finally making deals with that devil called pay per view.
“Promoters got greedy and forgot what it was about,” said Rozier, who began training fighters when he was 19. “Their one goal was to get as much as they could get. Some of the promoters began thinking that they were more important than the athletes.”
Too many belts, too few personalities and a lawlessness that became a turn-off.
“They only wanted to be on the paying networks like HBO and Showtime,” Rozier said. “The free network said: ‘You know what? You’re going to forget about us? We will forget about you,’ and that’s why boxing went by the wayside.”
During a conference call on Wednesday to discuss NBC’s boxing plans, Michaels made a reference to how his former colleague Howard Cosell stopped calling boxing matches in the mid-1980s after making his name in the sport.
Asked how he felt about boxing as it re-emerges, Michaels said: “I think either people really like boxing or they think it’s enigmatic. Those who don’t like it will not pay any attention to it. Those who do, are.”
Given our predisposition as a society for violence and spectacles, many curiosity seekers will sneak a peek.
However, in a climate of hand-wringing, will it find a long-term audience?
I think it will. I think it already has.
‘GREAT EVENING‘: In the women’s singles in Rome, Simona Halep and Karolina Pliskova advanced, while Rafael Nadal swept into the quarters in the men’s singles Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei and Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic on Friday had to dig deep to advance to the semi-finals of the women’s doubles at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome. The top seeds, who did not drop a game in their opening match on the clay courts at the Foro Italico, battled to a 7-6 (7/5), 6-4 victory over sixth seeds Veronika Kudermetova and Katerina Siniakova in 1 hour, 39 minutes. The reigning Wimbledon champions saved nine of 11 break points and converted three of eight, winning 56 percent of points on their second serve and sending down two aces
’SO CONSISTENT’: The victory gave the world No. 1 and world No. 2 a 21-1 win-loss record and their fourth title of the season after successes in Brisbane, Dubai and Doha Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei and Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic on Sunday cruised to their fourth women’s doubles title of the season at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome in their first tournament back since the suspension of the WTA Tour due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The top seeds took just 63 minutes to complete a comprehensive 6-2, 6-2 victory over unseeded German-Romanian duo Anna-Lena Friedsam and Raluca Olaru at the Foro Italico. It was the Taiwanese-Czech pairing’s first outing since they won the Qatar Open in February. “After five months, you don’t know what to expect,” Strycova told the WTA Web site.
ANOTHER SCANDAL: Searches focused on several riders, including Dayer Quintana, a source said, while the two being held were reportedly a doctor and physiotherapist French police on Monday detained two people as part of an investigation into suspected doping in the Arkea-Samsic team at this year’s Tour de France, prosecutors announced. The probe is the first significant one in several years for the repeatedly scandal-hit tour, which on Sunday wrapped up in Paris with a victory for 21-year-old Tadej Pogacar, who became the youngest winner in more than a century. Prosecutor Dominique Laurens in Marseille said in a statement that an investigation was being carried out into a “small part” of France-based Arkea-Samsic, without specifying who had been placed in custody. Laurens added that the two
Former MLB pitcher Wang Wei-chung has signed the biggest contract with a local team in Taiwan’s professional baseball history, the Wei Chuan Dragons said yesterday. The 28-year-old left-hander signed a five-year US$2.08 million contract with the Dragons, team chairman Hsu Wen-fang told a news conference. It is the biggest contract in the CPBL’s 31-year history, surpassing a three-year, US$1.36 million deal Lin Chih-sheng signed in 2016 with the CTBC Brothers. Although the overall value of Wang’s deal set a new record, his average monthly salary of NT$990,000 (US$33,886) is lower than Lin’s pay of NT$1.2 million per month in 2017