This Time It’s Real: Boxing To Return To Network TV With NBC – Main Events Deal

We’ve had a lot of false starts and potential left unfulfilled in the last couple years when it has come to live boxing reappearing on the big four networks. But a news release Monday now says it’s actually going to happen. And it’s a baby step, but it’s one giant baby step for boxingkind.

On the afternoon of Dec. 22, NBC is scheduled to broadcast a live boxing match, the first of the big four to do so in seven years. Then, according to the news release from the NBC Sports Group and promoter Main Events that announced a broader deal including the renewal and expansion of the acclaimed NBC Sports-aired “Fight Night” series, NBC proper could air “up to four broadcasts on NBC” over the span of 2013-2014.

There’s the off chance that Golden Boy, which has been dangling popular junior middleweight Saul Alvarez’ next fight as potentially airing on CBS, could beat Main Events to the punch of broadcasting an actual live bout in September. But that Main Events, nowhere near the size of promotional giants Golden Boy and Top Rank, was the first one to get network TV locked down is major.

I’ve tried to be at least a little skeptical of Main Events because hardly anyone else in the media has been. It’s easy to see why: Main Events’ Kathy Duva talks the kind of talk a lot of boxing writers want to hear, about promoters doing grassroots work, investing in the product, not being a slave to HBO or Showtime and matching fighters in exciting bouts that are risky to both men then not exiling the loser for taking risks. With Main Events’ poor track record in exclusive deals in the past, though, and after the company had been largely relegated to the sideline of a sport dominated by Golden Boy and Top Rank, I wondered if this posture by Main Events was an adaptation of necessity to compete for attention, rather than of vision.

But however Main Events has gotten here, it has gotten here. In a limited span of time, the exclusive deal with NBC Sports has proven itself a grand success among boxing’s hardcore; “Fight Night” is without question a satisfying product, so throw the past concerns about Main Events’ exclusive deals out the window. NBC Sports was said by Main Events to be happy with the deal, too, and this expansion indicates that is true. Whether Main Events was forced into investing heavily in a handful of fighters by market forces — moves like signing popular local draws like heavyweight Tomasz Adamek, or reclamation projects like junior welterweight Zab Judah — those investments have paid off in a big way. And whether Main Events turned to the grassroots only because HBO and Showtime weren’t terribly interested in them doesn’t matter anymore. Main Events, with its grassroots effort and NBC Sports deal, found a way on its own without boxing’s two big pay networks.

Before we get too excited, though, I’d offer a note or two of caution. That Dec. 22 card is the weekend before Christmas, when everyone will be out shopping, and Saturday afternoon is about the worst possible time slot for the big four. It would be nearly impossible for that show to do a huge U.S. rating, however helpful it is to overseas sales and not clashing with Saturday night boxing cards on HBO or Showtime. Then, the “up to four” extra cards is interesting verbiage in the news release. One infers it could be four, or it could be zero. I’d be worried that the Dec. 22 show might be poorly chosen, whatever fights end up on the card, except that Main Events has done a great job with the NBC Sports show. It’s still a risk, however minor, as the newsof NBC Sports’ expected airing Adamek-James Toney Sept. 8 shows — Toney is shot half to death and Adamek-Toney is pathetic as a result of it, and however defensible it is for Adamek to take easier fights between hard ones so long as he stays busy, Toney is a particularly poor choice of opponent for competitive, entertainment and humanitarian reasons.

This isn’t quite boxing’s glorious, long-awaited holy shit/holy grail, under this set of circumstances; it’s a mid-sized “hurrah.” But it is, under any set of circumstances, something to cheer about. Back to Main Events “finding a way”: It’s a really nice clearing in the brush that Duva and crew have carved, and it’s a clearing that puts Main Events at or at least near the forefront of the effort to lead boxing to more widespread mainstream exposure.

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board ( He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.