For a man that no one sees, but sits atop of a throne, Al Haymon has built an extremely flashy fortress to show the world. Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) isn’t just Al Haymon’s dream. It’s what every hardcore boxing fan has wanted since the lights went down on Gillette Cavalcade of Sports.
By most standards, boxing’s return to primetime television was a success. From the point of view of raw numbers, a measure that finance folks and business executives care about most, PBC did extremely well in its debut.
Initial figures show that the doubleheader featuring Adrien Broner, John Molina, Robert Guerrero and Keith Thurman, took the number one spot with adults 18-49 in the time bracket, showing in 3.13 million homes. To put that number in perspective, UFC on Fox 13, featuring big names like, former heavyweight champion Junior Dos Santos, Stockton bad boy Nate Diaz, and Alistair Overeem, only pulled in about 2.27 million viewers. That said, PBC’s opening night didn’t top the first UFC on Fox, which did 5.7 million. Then again, that first UFC card featured a heavyweight title bout. If NBC and Haymon are able to pit Deontay Wilder against long reigning champion Wladimir Klitschko, the viewership numbers would likely shock TV pundits.
On the more subjective criterion, Haymon’s production also stood up to what undoubtedly were legions of critics ready to levy their sharp barbs. The production itself was smooth, looking like what many viewers are used to seeing when they turn to the “big four” sports. Had the show included a watermark with the hashtag for viewers to use, the visual aspect might have been near perfect.
The audio, however, sadly requires some work. So much of the announcing team seems to have been brought in for name value. Each person, from Marv Albert to Laila Ali, each has a storyline tied to boxing that could and was sold in the promotion of the show. At the end of the night, however, no one on the show really stood out in a positive light. That includes, the great Sugar Ray Leonard.
The Sugar Man is unquestionably an all-time great, and possessed otherworldly skills inside the ring, but after a long hiatus from his last announcing gig, he was very rusty on Saturday. As things stand, every boxing pro analyst that has rotated through HBO and Showtime over the past few years is markedly better. Let’s hope mic rust is as real a thing as ring rust and that when Danny Garcia and LaMont Peterson get in the ring on April 11 for PBC’s next showing, Sugar Ray is ready to bring some keen insight into the perplexities unfolding in the ring.
Then, there was the actual in-ring performances. On paper, everyone knew that Broner was supposed to handily win his fight against John Molina. The main event was more balanced, but even there, most expected the younger, seemingly stronger, Keith Thurman to take out a well-worn Robert Guerrero. Things didn’t play out quite as expected.
Broner’s speed baffled Molina into boredom. The come-forward brawler was so taken a back by Broner’s speed that he simply stopped throwing punches. In at least one post-fight interview, Molina explained that if he’d thrown more punches it would have looked like he was shadow boxing because Broner was too fast for him to catch up to.
Broner never stepped on the peddle either. He was content to win. For a boxer who told viewers of the NBC documentary series “Corner to Corner,” that he could make a billion dollars by being on primetime, Broner sure didn’t fight with the urgency of earning future fortunes. In fact, his performance inspired a heavy dose of booing from the crowd as he stepped up to the mic after the score cards were read. Once there, he just couldn’t help himself. He turned to his played out poem about who “can get it,” which was quickly cut short by Kenny Rice.
Thurman faced a much fresher version of Guerrero than I thought existed. After seeing how easily Guerrero was hit by Yoshihiro Kamgai, I doubted he had what it took to avoid Thurman’s bombs. I was wrong. Sure, Thurman landed plenty of flush shots, but ultimately only landed 172 power punches. Over a hundred less than Kamagai, who landed 278. Ultimately, this led to a more competitive fight than many likely predicted. Coupled with the brutal hematoma (a fancy word for bruise) Guerrero caused on Thuman’s forehead, there was genuine drama in the main event.
In short, Haymon’s built a boxing product that hardcore fans and curious newcomers can equally call “quality.” Will it be consistent? Can it improve on the details without neglecting the big picture? Time will tell for sure. But by now, everyone in the sports world should have come to two realizations: (1) Al Haymon is the smartest business man in sports. No one else has been or could be as innovative and ballsy, and (2) betting against Haymon is a fool’s errand.
A former college wrestler, Taekwondo black-belt, and wannabe boxer, Paul Navarro (aka Fight Like Sugar) is now a full-time lawyer, part-time fight scribe, and high school wrestling coach.