(Top Rank’s Bob Arum, left, and Golden Boy’s Oscar De La Hoya, right, neither strangling one another nor teaming up to destroy boxing.)
It was only a few months ago that boxing’s two biggest promoters, Top Rank and Golden Boy, were doing just about everything they could to micturate on boxing fans or would-be boxing fans: Top Rank had retreated inward, refusing to do business with hardly any other promotional companies, and Golden Boy was doing much the same; both sides took turns stealing away (or, rather, “pursuing free agent(s)”) boxers from each others’ stables; several lawsuits had been exchanged; and neither promoter would work with the other to collaborate on appetizing match-ups between top stars.
Fast forward a bit: The two companies are now at least on speaking terms, if not still big rivals. That’s already led to good things, like the resumption of bantamweight Nonito Donaire’s boxing career after a tug of war between Top Rank and Golden Boy over his services and next month’s featheweight fight between Top Rank’s Yuriorkis Gamboa and Golden Boy’s Daniel Ponce De Leon.
But over the past few days, there are two things that the companies have done separately that address two of the sport’s biggest, fundamental business problems — in a way that could be good for the same fans who very recently had to carry around anti-Top Rank/Golden Boy umbrellas.
Top Rank has managed to foster a competition between HBO and Showtime over pound-for-pound king Manny Pacquiao that is leading to significant, new mainstream exposure for the sport. And Golden Boy has announced a pair of undercards for pay-per-view events that will give people their money’s worth and maybe turn casual fans into long-term fans.
Because the knuckleheadeness of both promoters is often spotlighted here, it only makes sense to take a moment to praise the ways in which they’re bucking past knuckleheaded trends.
Top Rank And The HBO Vs. Showtime Competition
On Friday, Top Rank announced that HBO had won the rights to handle the big-business Manny Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez pay-per-view (144 pounds). It was a reversal for HBO, which lost Pacquiao-Shane Mosley earlier this year to Showtime in what was a huge slap to the stranglehold that Home Box Office had acquired over the biggest fights in the sport.
The really nifty thing about Showtime handline Pacquiao-Mosley was CBS’ involvement. When first announced, I admit I went overboard in my hopes for what CBS being involved would mean about boxing’s pathway back to the mainstream. In the end, it looks like CBS lending a hand helped sell the show more than it would have via the traditional HBO PPV way, and specifically probably lured in some fans who otherwise wouldn’t have watched otherwise. Evolutionary rather than revolutionary.
Only Top Rank would’ve or could’ve tried such a thing. Bob Arum’s burning animus are often the reason for things going wrong in boxing. But as a uniquely stubborn soul who felt wronged by HBO for a variety of reasons, he got the compulsion to look a different direction with his cash cow, Pacquiao. When he did, there was Showtime, and it made up for its smaller boxing budget and reach by getting creative and teaming up with parent company CBS.
HBO tried to play it off like, “It ain’t no thang.” But it was a thang. Coincidentally or not, HBO Sports’ head honcho was shortly thereafter out the door — during a time when HBO was trying to convince Arum that it should bring Pacquiao back for the Marquez trilogy fight. In the meantime, HBO had put together a deal for the Floyd Mayweather-Victor Ortiz PPV that very much mimicked the Showtime/CBS alliance, with HBO bringing in assets from parent company Time Warner.
This time, when the HBO/et al offer when head-to-head with the Showtime/CBS offer, HBO won out. Replays of the “24/7” documentary show will air on CNN, while Arum and Pacquiao will appear on “Piers Morgan Tonight.” Both are questionable moves from the standpoint of the blurring of news and advertising, but they’re no doubt good moves from the standpoint of the boxing business. TNT and TBS will get involved in other ways.
With the shift to Showtime/CBS then back again to HBO/et al, Top Rank is fostering creativity and competition that we haven’t seen from the two biggest broadcast powers in the sport. Neither the deal for Pacquiao-Mosley nor the deal for Pacquiao-Marquez III is going to break boxing out of its current “niche sport” label. But it is one step closer. And any steps closer — that’s the right direction.
Golden Boy And The Good Undercard Trend
In the last couple years, Golden Boy has made a big deal out of some of its quality undercards, but always with aspersions cast upon its motives, like the occasional notion that it was merely trying to bolster a crappy main event. And Golden Boy often followed good undercards with crappy undercards that suggested the company was only making a show out of its talk about good supporting bouts on PPV events.
Now, Golden Boy is involved in two different PPVs with recently-finalized undercards that are both excellent and have main events of a highly different caliber. Floyd Mayweather-Victor Ortiz is a welterweight bout that would sell a million PPVs or more, with or without a good undercard, but it has good one. Bernard Hopkins-Chad Dawson by itself wouldn’t sell many PPVs with a bad undercard, but now it has a good one.
We’ve already talked about what’s appealing about the Mayweather-Ortiz undercard here. We won’t redo it, but the point is, this isn’t an undercard that needed to be excellent to do good business. This is a company going the extra mile because it should; because fans want to get their $65 worth, not just pay for one noteworthy fight and get hours of lame, uncompetitive bouts — the reason some fans have turned to the UFC over boxing; because it’s the right thing to do in the long-term to lure in and keep casual fans who might only normally tune in for the biggest of the big events like Mayweather-Ortiz.
Hopkins-Dawson is the kind of fight many fans can enjoy, including myself, since both men are so exceptionally skilled. But it’s only on PPV because the network flubbed its late 2011 schedule and didn’t have the budget to do it on regular HBO. It’s not a fight that’s going to really draw in a ton of fans, even hardcore ones, because Hopkins and Dawson are fighters labeled “boring” by a great many viewers. But the undercard for Hopkins-Dawson stands a chance of getting some of those hardcores back in the fold. Kendall Holt-Danny Garcia (junior welterweight) — announced Friday — Anselmo Moreno-Eric Morel (bantamweight) and Jorge Linares-Antonio DeMarco (lightweight) are fights that would be good undercard bouts for a regular HBO main event. It’s rare to see those caliber of fights on a PPV.
Golden Boy has been doing good PPV undercards more often than not these days. This is now a certifiable trend and a sign that one of boxing’s major promoters “gets” it. On most Golden Boy PPV undercards, there’s a mix of bouts that stack up as action fights, meaningful and true step-up fights for young stars in the making, or merely significant fights between two top-10 level fighters in a division. It dates back to the Lightweight Lightning show that didn’t have a true main event in 2009. Mayweather-Marquez, Marquez-Juan Diaz II — and even to some extent April’s Erik Morales-Marcos Maidana card — are among the Golden Boy PPV cards that have had some really nice fights, top to bottom.
So far, Top Rank has promised good PPV undercards but almost always failed to deliver them. Golden Boy’s recently Richard Schaefer took a bit of a shot at some unnamed promoter (cough Top Rank cough) that has publicly proclaimed its lack of interest in what fans want. Maybe, just maybe, come the Pacquiao-Marquez III undercard Top Rank will feel its competitive fires stoked by its chief rival showing it up, and Top Rank will respond by making like HBO and Showtime fighting over Pacquiao’s services. It’s that kind of competition — not the kind Top Rank and Golden Boy were indulging in not so long ago — that could please current boxing fans, create new ones and line the pockets of those promoters at the same time. Why, it’s almost as if there’s a connection between doing what’s right by the fans and doing good business! It’s like the title of Hopkins-Dawson: “Believe It Or Not!”