How Top Rank Can “Save” Boxing on TV

By Paul Magno on August 30, 2017
How Top Rank Can “Save” Boxing on TV
Lomachenko-Marriaga was about as competitive as security cam footage. (Getty Images)

Can Bob Arum, who has never shown an ability to play nice with others for too long, put aside greed and ego for a more pragmatic approach to his business rivals?

Lost in the hype and counter-hype of last week’s Mayweather vs. McGregor spectacle was a bit of good news for boxing fans. ESPN announced a multi-year deal with Top Rank Promotions and vowed a dedication to getting the sport back into the mainstream.

The basic cable sports network will be broadcasting high-end events (18 in the first year), will deliver pay-per-view cards, and will also focus efforts on using new technology to bring the sport to a larger public.

All in all, this is great news for the sport—as long as Top Rank bossman Bob Arum resists the urge to turn these shows into dumping grounds for mismatches and third-tier pairings (like he’s done in the past when presented with network opportunities).

But even if Top Rank does a horrible job with their ESPN shows, it will still be better for the sport than keeping every high-end fighter behind a premium cable paywall.

In an effort to be gushingly optimistic and helpful, here are some ideas, from this writer to the ESPN/Top Rank braintrust, that will help re-introduce boxing to the masses—and keep them coming back for more:

Timing is Everything

For the life of me, I can’t understand why network boxing shows don’t just kick things off with the main event. Ideally, as a promoter with an eye on selling his fighters to a new audience, you’d want your money fighter performing as early as possible and as close as possible to the mainstream lead-in programming.

As it is now, who, exactly, is sitting through an hour-and-a-half of prelims before the main event? I’ll answer that question for you—only the already-sold die-hards are sitting there through the prelims. This means that by the time the “big” fight comes on, most of those watching are those who are already fans. Those casual-curious newcomers have, for the most part, bailed out somewhere between the Eastern European former Olympian’s 10-round snoozer and the young prospect’s 6-round romp.

In the perfect scenario, just as soon as the lead-in programming ends, a highlight reel video package should kick in…and then the ring walks. If the main event impresses, fans will sit through the other fights afterwards and, even if they don’t, the die-hards WILL—and the curious casual fans will have gotten a glimpse of the star(s) of the show in the money fight of the evening before moving on.

Matchmaking

Nobody is expecting Arum to put the best vs. the best on ESPN at the expense of lucrative PPV days, but, geez, at least make the squashes look entertaining and somewhat intriguing. Vasyl Lomachenko vs. Miguel Marriaga on ESPN a few weeks back was about as competitive as security cam footage of an old lady being mugged in her building’s elevator. Everybody knew that this fight was a set-up from the moment it was signed and the resulting zero buzz aided in yielding tepid TV ratings.

If a mismatch squash is a must, at least take the focus away from the ugly curb stomping and put it on showcasing a future high-end fight. Lomachenko-Marriaga and Rigondeaux-Tomato Can on the same card, with a heavy emphasis on building Lomachenko-Rigondeaux, would be a happy compromise when it comes to airing one-sided snuff bouts.

Energy!

Nothing is a greater buzzkill to curious boxing outsiders than the death whisper of an empty arena or a listless crowd for a bout called by a lifeless broadcast crew. If there’s one thing that boxing can learn from the UFC, it’s that a wild crowd and an excitable announce team work wonders for keeping an audience and selling product to them. Excitement is contagious and tedium is, too.

Scheduled fights should be in arenas filled with rabid, partisan fans or those who, at the very least, have really, really looked forward to seeing the fights.

And, as for the broadcast team—it’s a sporting event, not a dissertation. Announcers should be informative, but always err on the side of showbiz. Leave the tired-eyed 70-year-olds with Just for Men dripping down the side of their heads at home, unless they can muster a real spark or two.

Play Nice With Others

No one, single promotion can put on week after week of quality shows without biting the bullet and working with their direct competition. Even powerbroker Al Haymon’s gigantic roster of talent fizzled when the reality set in that, sooner or later, you must reach out to competition and share your prime TV spot if you want to keep making meaningful fights.

Can Bob Arum, who has never shown an ability to play nice with others for too long, put aside greed and ego for a more pragmatic approach to his business rivals?

No Hustles, Swindles, or Cons

Even if Top Rank follows the blueprint above and presents the perfect product, at the perfect time, with the perfect match-ups, it’ll all be for naught if Arum & co. can’t resist dabbling in old-school sleight of hand and skullduggery.

Mainstream sports fans want to invest their time into a sport that has a logical, fair, and satisfying conclusion to the game play. Nobody wants to watch a Super Bowl where the Patriots outscore the Falcons, yet still walk away with the loss. Only die-hard fight fans are masochistic enough to tolerate such nonsense for long without being turned off permanently.

If Top Rank wants to do this whole expansion thing right, everything has to be on the level.

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Boxing can work its way back into the hearts and minds of mainstream America and it has certainly been proven that the general public wants to embrace the sport again. We just need to know how to reach them and, then, how to keep them.

Top Rank is getting that chance to try. Hopefully, they can succeed.

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  1. Fan 07:01am, 08/31/2017

    1.Try UFC approach with weekly fight
    2. Promoter and Boxing org should work together
    3. Internet fight on YouTube channel
    4. Once per year Boxing vs UFC Event

  2. Your Name 03:20am, 08/31/2017

    One thing that I’m hoping for is for Arum to feature some or all of his heavyweights on the new TOP RANK BOXING. Pretty much everyone loves a good heavyweight fight & I’d like to see Arum keep those that he has under contract busy on this show.
    For instance, one Top Rank heavy is Andy Ruiz who met his fellow unbeaten Joseph Parker in a good fight for the vacant WBO title & came away with a split decision loss late last year but who’s done nothing since. Now with this show being broadcast basically every three weeks or so there’s no reason for Arum to have his heavies fight any more no-hopers in non-televised undercard bouts. They have the perfect show now with which to be featured.
    Hell, put Ruiz in with Top Rank’s newest heavyweight acquisition, Bryant Jennings. That would be an excellent fight.
    Arum also has the 17-0 Chinese Olympic silver medalist Zhilei Zhang under contract & he’s about due to begin to face some live bodies now that he’s begun to fight 10 rounders. He’s had a run of five first round KOs against really mediocre opposition & now’s the time to step things up for him. So, let the fans get a look at him.

  3. Joseph Vona 08:32pm, 08/30/2017

    I like the idea of starting with the main event. The PBC card a few days ago was a good one. If the casuals watched I’m sure they were entertained. As for your remark about 70 year olds. Well I have 1 year to go before I join that club. But I rock a full head of hair unblemished by just for men. So take it back silly.

  4. George Raft 11:59am, 08/30/2017

    @Kid Blast-Nicely put and just as I thought! Mr Magno seems to forget that he’s contributing to a boxing site visited by people like myself who were very envious of Cosell’s $5,000 toupees! Still….crazy as it sounds putting the headliners on first just might work!

  5. Kid Blast 11:23am, 08/30/2017

    Paul would make a train go down a dirt road lol

  6. George Raft 09:07am, 08/30/2017

    Paul Magno-Lots of good ideas but I resemble that remark about “tired eyed 70 year olds” and “Just For Men” ....even though the Just For Men is only for touch ups on my pony tail! I keep a nice pencil moustache, so eyeliner works just fine there. I get no complaints from the very horny ladies here in assisted living, thank you! I’m betting you’re no beauty yourself!

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