ESPN’S PBC: Old Wine In New Bottles

By Joe Masterleo on July 16, 2015
ESPN’S PBC: Old Wine In New Bottles
Exaggerations may mislead the credulous, but they also offend the perceptive. (ESPN)

Blowing things out of proportion when proportion is so dull seems the order of the day in life and sport…

“Adding to the truth only subtracts from it.”—The Talmud

Q: When is an ESPN Friday Night Fight (FNF) not an ESPN Friday Night Fight?

A: When it takes place on Saturday.

And so it goes that after a 17-year run of FNF, ESPN has moved the furniture around a bit, glittered up the décor and changed their handle to “PBC on ESPN,” all while keeping ringside fixtures Joe Tessitore and Teddy Atlas at the helm. While the new format resulting from ESPN’s deal with Haymon Boxing Management promises to bring bigger and better fights to the network, says here their network debut on July 11 was less than sterling, promising much but delivering little. And that, despite some pretty hefty viewing numbers. According to ESPN, the main event between welterweight champ Keith Thurman and former title holder Luis Collazo peaked at nearly 1.2 million viewers. Chalk the numbers up to viewer curiosity rather than the less-than-tantalizing fistic menu, however. New brooms, after all, are generally known to sweep clean. And in its debut, this “new” ESPN broom was true to form.

Nevertheless, FNF by any other name still smelled the same. The debut was more sizzle than steak, pretty much old FNF wine in new PBC bottles. Though the studio element of the programming has been deleted, the addition of female sideline reporter Marysol Castro seems a welcome addition to the testosterone trio of Tessitore, Atlas and Osuna. Boxing can use a little more broadcasting Yin to counterbalance its muscled culture of Yang. Besides, with president Obama opening-up diplomatic relations with Cuba of late, things Castro seem to be “in” these days.

On the subject of balance, the Tessitore-Atlas ring announcing combo has been smartly retained, and for the most part continues to be effective. The only time it breaks down is when color analyst Atlas, who maintains a vast fund of boxing knowledge and ring savvy, goes off the deep end on tangents expressing his viewpoints with the kind of wild-eyed passion and intensity that overrides and distracts from the content of his message. In that department, much like HBO counterpart Max Kellerman, ESPN and anchor Tessitore would fare better by reining him in more. 

At any rate, the July 11th card was the first of a two-year deal between ESPN and PBC. In the two-hour doubleheader, Thurman earned an 8th round KO over Collazo, while Willie Nelson came from behind with a “stunning” 9th round KO over hot (but overrated) prospect Tony Harrison. With its new facelift and showbiz format underway and promising to be well-traveled from coast-to-coast, perhaps ESPN should have had Nelson belting out his post-fight rendition of “On the Road Again,” a la his singer-songwriter namesake.

The greenhorn Harrison was network packaged as the best up-and-coming ring thing since, well, turnbuckles. And judging by his pre-fight demeanor and comments, Harrison appeared to believe every exaggerated word of it. Despite being ahead on the scorecards, Harrison got sloppy—with a little help from his cornermen-friends—who unwisely advised him to step-it-up when he should have boxed and coasted to the finish. Nonetheless, his KO comeuppance was timely and refreshing to behold. Frankly, this viewer hasn’t enjoyed watching an over-hyped boxer lose so much since Adrien Broner got hazed by Marcos Maidana in 2013. Deflated egos, like deflated balloons, make interesting whines, squeals and moans on their precipitous flight downward. Not to worry. Recall, it’s a rough road that leads to the heights of greatness. The loss should help the talented Harrison down the road, when he stops lashing himself with mea culpas and learns from it. 

Ditto the way ESPN hyped Thurman, who also appeared in the throes of an ESPN high after drinking-in so much of the network’s promotional Kool-Aid. As with prior opponents, seems the champ expected Collazo to fold following a few of his Sunday punches, but the game journeyman would have none of it prior to his sudden 8th round surrender. While offering up plenty of resolve, toil and sweat throughout, and despite post-fight commentary by Atlas suggesting he failed to “overcome” like a true champion, Collazo chose to limit further blood donations for the ESPN cause. While Thurman is a good boxer, his record and recent PBC performance don’t merit the word “great” in conjunction with them, at least at this stage of his career. A champion is a man who at his best cannot be beaten. After the veteran Collazo almost got the best of him, I don’t see Thurman as personifying or even approximating that definition right now.

Nevertheless, both fights nearly caught ring announcers Tessitore and Atlas flatfooted after over-hyping the pre-fight favorites (and the network’s darling favorites, Harrison and Thurman) in a manner that exposed ESPN’s slanted and biased derriere. The result nearly caused Atlas and Tessitore to eat their florid pre-fight and on-air superlatives before a national TV audience. Warning: Confucius say; “counting pre-hatched chickens can put egg on your face.” Fact is, the favorites in both bouts were neither as strong nor as “great” as advertised.

ESPN is not the only on-air culprits inclined to hyperbole. HBO’s Lampley, Kellerman & Co. are guilty of same in the semi-worshipful promotion of their own “Golden Boys.” But you can’t fool all of the people all of the time. Exaggerations may mislead the credulous, but they also offend the perceptive. As the networks bank on the credulous to $ell product, they know only too well that the credulous will have it over the perceptive by majority decision every time.

As long as athletic competition comes packaged and promoted more as entertainment than sport per say, count on those paid by the networks and their sponsors to play barkers-of-the-midway to fans hungering for a sideshow atmosphere. Blowing things out of proportion when proportion is so dull seems the order of the day in life and sport, the two being virtually indistinguishable in the modern era. Witness the recent May-Pac bout as evidence for same. Predictably, expect sporting events of all kinds to continue being window-dressed by hype, showboating and grandstanding for years to come.

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Keith Thurman vs Luis Collazo 60fps HDTV 720p x264 ENG

FULL FIGHT: Tony Harrison vs Willie Nelson - 7/11/2015 - PBC on ESPN

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  1. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 09:47am, 07/18/2015

    Your premise goes far to explain why the “masses” in the 20th and 21st centuries the world over have this sick attraction to the narcissistic, megalomaniac, bat shit crazy fux that they place into positions of power time and time and time again…..probably has a lot to do with self loathing too.

  2. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 08:54am, 07/18/2015

    I enjoyed your article and your post very much but here’s what I’m thinkin’ this morning about this brave new world….when that tranny bitch grabbed Ben Shapiro by the neck he should have leaned forward as if off balance and clasped both hands behind the rat’s neck and jammed his head right dead into his/her nose!

  3. Joe Masterleo 07:02pm, 07/17/2015

    For those interested in such things (I’m a historian), American shifted from a Culture of Character (humility, integrity) to a Culture of Personality (outward show) when the 20th century arrived, ushering in a perfect storm of big business, urbanization and mass imigration. In 1840 only 8% of the population lived in cities; by 1920 more than a third were urbanites.  Americans found themselves no longer working with neighbors, but with strangers facing the question on how to make a good impression on people to whom they had no civic or family ties. So first impressions made the crucial difference, trying to become salesmen who could sell not only their company’s latest gizmo but also themselves.  No accident that Dale Carnegie’s transformation from shy farmboy to salesman to public-speaking icon is also the story of the rise of the Culture of the noisy Extrovert, “selling” oneself by winning friends and influencing people. Pre-20th cent. valued attributes were duty, citizenship, honor, morals, manners, humility, etc. Reserve was a mark of good breeding. Post-20th cent. valued attributes shifted to words like stunning, attractive, glowing, dominant, loud, forceful, magnetic, etc. Also no coincidence that in the 1920’s and 30’s, Americans became obsessed with movie stars and matinee idols. In turn, as outward personality attributes became valued over those of inward character, the sports world caught-on to the cultural/financial value of same, and it too was off to the races on selling itself and its idols/stars as entertainment, bringing us to the present age where stage/showbiz phenomena like melodrama, show-boating, grandstanding and other self-aggrandizing traits and behaviors became the behavioral norms in the field of sports as well. Like politicians and actors, sports stars have become marquee legends all right, if only in their own minds. Such a backdrop “set the stage” for the trend-setting Muhammad Ali in boxing, and and today’s popular Lady Gaga in the world of showbiz.

  4. Jim Crue 11:27am, 07/16/2015

    with all respect to Teddy Atlas I’m wondering if he is going to his usually accurate self, criticizing poor judges, poor refereeing and mismatches now that ESPN is in bed with Haymon.

  5. Critical Beatdown 10:33am, 07/16/2015

    And raise your hand if you, like me, thought the best moments of the night were Harrison getting knocked out and Thurman getting the wind knocked out of him by that vicious Collazo body shot.

  6. Critical Beatdown 10:31am, 07/16/2015

    A beautifully written piece that EXACTLY reflects my experience of this event. I especially appreciate the distinction you make between the “credulous” and the “perceptive” as ESPN and PBC seem to be playing some of its audiences for damn fools. Meanwhile, the “perceptive” crowd just feels insulted. And underwhelmed. And wonders when, if ever, the substance will come close to matching the hype.

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