Boxing is back, baby! Or something vaguely resembling it, I guess. I’m sure it was every young fighters’ dream to one day find themselves in the glamorous confines of an empty, hermetically sealed broom closet like “The Bubble” at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, but to do it with roughly the population of Ames, Iowa watching? Even better.
With the kick start of their summer series of fight cards this past month, Top Rank and ESPN have affixed the combat sports spotlight firmly upon themselves and in the process are learning what many media outlets have seemingly forgotten in the era of #fakenews: being first is far less important than being right.
At a time when there are virtually no other live sporting events on television, boxing has struggled — even more so than usual — to put any eyes whatsoever on their product. It could be the quality of the cards, the time of year, or maybe that during the height of a pandemic that has killed nearly 130,000 people in this country, and by all accounts is just beginning to lace up its proverbial gloves, Americans aren’t all that interested in watching a sport where two shirtless guys shoot blood, spit, and snot in every direction like a god damn Gallagher concert.
Numerous canceled fights and entire cards scrapped due to positive COVID-19 tests, and the schadenfreude-induced choruses of “well yeah, no shit” from the people who said coming back now was a bad idea (me!) haven’t exactly inspired confidence among viewers that Top Rank and the powers that be can pull this off in anything resembling a safe manner.
Whatever the reason, the ratings for these cards have been, shall we say, suboptimal? The first nine of these Top Rank cards have averaged roughly 340,000 viewers. Those numbers suck shit for any time and circumstance, but to have the virtual rule of the roost for televised boxing at a time when fans are so bereft of entertainment that they’re turning to Joseph fucking Parker and his cable-access-level movie parodies, and still pull in “reruns of Jeopardy!” level numbers, should be alarming for the people who make money off this shit. Also, maybe having an every-god-damn-day-whether-anyone-wants-it-or-not type of schedule isn’t helping. Who’s to say?
As with boxing itself though, you can only beat the guy they put in front of you. The same goes for us. We can only watch the fights they put on our TVs (or not watch, as seems to be the case for most people) so this is what we’re stuck with.
Speaking of stuck, Jose Pedraza made strides toward clawing his way back to the middle with a dominant win over the tough, but lightly regarded Mikkel LesPierre Thursday night on an ESPN televised card from ThE bUbBLe at The MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Taking home a unanimous decision by scores of 100-88, 99-89, and 99-89 (aka The Gentlemen’s Shutout), Pedraza begins the steep climb toward relevancy in a stacked junior welterweight division.
In a fun, up-tempo fight, with more than a couple of bizarre moments peppered in, Pedraza proved that if nothing else, he has the drive and stamina to hang in there with the upper crust of the 140 lb. crop. Switching between southpaw and orthodox stances all night, Pedraza threw slashing punches from all angles that kept the game LesPierre turning and guessing until the final bell.
Landing 168 total punches from 406 thrown — 129 of which were power shots — Pedraza put up a hilariously high 41% connect rate to LesPierre’s much less impressive 16% of 443 punches. Landing a hundred more punches than your opponent is generally a good night at the office.
A high-octane 5th round saw both fighters trade knockdowns (sort of) followed by a lengthy delay in between rounds for referee Kenny Bayless to review the tape at the request of Pedraza’s corner. The knockdown in Pedraza’s favor was eventually overturned and ruled a slip, but not until 130 seconds – a virtual eternity in a boxing ring – had elapsed and awarded LesPierre valuable recovery time from a late-round drubbing.
Say what you will about the delay, the overturned call, or the efficacy of video review itself, but as a longtime proponent of using every tool available to make sure fighters don’t get fucked over in a sport where that happens far more than it should, I’m willing to chalk it up to growing pains and view the entire thing as progress. In a dusty old sport where change comes at a glacial pace, any semblance of evolution can only be seen as a good thing.
In the end, it was all largely academic as Pedraza cruised to an easy victory with a whitewashing on the scorecards. The intrigue now becomes where he goes from here. Pedraza’s three career losses have come at the hands of Vasyl Lomachenko, Gervonta Davis, and Jose Zepeda. No shame in any of that as those are varying degrees of elite-level talent, but it’s the loss to Zepeda last September that seems to have stagnated Pedraza’s career.
Will this victory over LesPierre motivate him to stay on track and finally reach the upper echelons of the sport that his deep well of potential has always hinted at?
Will the sport still be here if he does?
Will the world?
Maybe that’s the real question.