This writing appeared on the boxing website ucnlive.com as part of a monthly column series. The published version can be seen here: http://ucnlive.com/on-to-2017/
On To 2017
Very often at the dawn of a new year, feelings of hope and anticipation abound. The twelve months ahead offer the sensibility of a blank canvas; with the story yet to unfold seemingly limitless with potential. Yet sometimes we face the beginning of a new year knowing that if the trajectory of our lives continue in a certain manner, we may face a reckoning of some sorts before the new year has run its course. The sport of boxing as a whole will not face a reckoning; but the bell may finally toll for certain elements within the sport. The pay per view blueprint that many of the biggest fights (and not so big) fights still follow is clearly outdated. A wise old football coach once said, ‘you are what your record says you are’. And the low record of pay per view buys over the last year seem to offer a good measure of exactly where the pay per view model stands in the minds of the consumer. Putting good (but certainly not pay per view worthy) fights on pay per view simply to gin up more money (whether necessary for the promotion or not) seems to be rather unsustainable over the long term. It’s a little like having to jump start your vehicle every time you need to go for a drive. You’ll get where you need to go; but it’s not exactly the most efficient way to go about it.
Funnily enough, the one individual in the sport who tried to upend this inefficient way of doing business may face a reckoning of his own in the coming year. Whatever one thinks of Premier Boxing Champions principal Al Haymon (and I have not thought highly of his efforts since their beginning) - It would be hard to argue that he didn't get one thing right. In my view, Haymon correctly diagnosed that a sport which relies on pay per views and premium networks (HBO and Showtime) cannot truly grow and flourish. Yet, if you are reading this you probably know that Haymon’s treatment (Premier Boxing Champions) for the problem he diagnosed hasn't exactly left the patient (the sport of boxing) better off than when the treatment began. Basically, if Mr. Haymon were in the medical field you probably wouldn't mind if he looked over the results of your MRI. Yet you’d probably think twice if he was the one holding the knife as you dazed off ahead of a triple bypass or a risky spinal operation.
Nevertheless, Haymon’s elective surgical assault on the sport of boxing will continue as we move into 2017. However, after almost three years ‘under the knife’ - the stakes surrounding the fate of the patient seem to have shifted a bit. Instead of saving boxing from itself, Haymon’s rescue efforts now seem focused on keeping his medical prescriptions from being branded boxing’s snake oil rather than the self enriching cure all he had hoped. In addition to keeping his cure (Premier Boxing Champions) viable over the next year, Haymon must also fend off an antitrust lawsuit from Golden Boy Promotions. Ironically, like many medical malpractice suits, Golden Boy’s case against Haymon might look flimsy after a thorough examination. Yet the public disclosures from the case have shed some interesting light on why 2017 might be a critical year for Haymon’s operation.
The issues and documents surrounding Golden Boy’s lawsuit were summarized nicely by Paul Gift of Bloodyelbow.com in an article published on December 1st, 2016. One topic highlighted by Gift in the article was what Haymon and Co. saw as the ‘endgame’ for their ambitious attempt to rearrange the boxing landscape. Gift quotes Haymon as stating in his deposition that a ‘league-like model, the idea of a league, and the idea of rights fees for a league’ as being the crucial elements for making Premier Boxing Champions work. Gift also reveals that Haymon attorney Michael Ring stated in his deposition that one possible endgame for the Premier Boxing Champions business model is for ‘Haymon Sports to convert to a promoter where boxers would be paid a minimum amount and then there’s a sharing arrangement like the NFL.’ For those that follow the sport this probably isn’t that much of a surprise - for Premier Boxing Champions has carried itself like a league since its inception.
In addition to highlighting the ‘what’ concerning the Haymon endgame; Gift’s digging sheds light on the ‘when’ as well. Michael Ring is quoted as saying in his deposition that ‘I think our view is if after three years on television, someone doesn’t want to pay for boxing, it probably won’t happen after four.’ This basically means that if the current Premier Boxing Champions model isn’t converted into an authentic league format by early 2018 then it might never happen. ‘Authentic league format’ meaning one where networks are paying to show Premier Boxing Champions; rather than the other way around. If Ring’s timetable remains true; then 2017 might indeed turn out to be a more eventful boxing year than 2016.
Former Welterweight titlist and Premier Boxing Champions fighter Andre Berto seemed to reinforce the notion that 2017 was an important year for his employer in a video posted by fighthype.com in mid December. In the video Berto would say that a ‘big 2017 was coming up’ and that ‘everybody on a Premier Boxing Champions card got the phone call’ - and was put on notice that everyone is fighting everyone. Berto’s claim is buttressed by some of the matchups that have already been scheduled for next year under the Premier Boxing Champions banner. Bouts like WBC Super Middleweight champion Badou Jack vs IBF Super Middleweight champion James DeGale, WBA Super Featherweight champion Carl Frampton rematching against former titlist Leo Santa Cruz, and WBA Welterweight champion Keith Thurman taking on WBC Welterweight champion Danny Garcia are all exciting and important matchups.
The fact that Showtime is the underlying platform for all three of these fights matters little to dedicated boxing fans. Most will take good fights wherever they may be broadcast. However, it is a little confusing that in a year when Premier Boxing Champions may indeed face a reckoning of sorts that it chooses to muddle its brand with a premium network. The whole idea of bringing ‘free’ boxing to the public seems convoluted if the public is being offered ‘free’ boxing on a network you have to pay to see. Even with some Premier Boxing Champions / Showtime bouts being broadcast on CBS; one has to wonder if the general consumer can parse the difference between the Premier Boxing Champions and Showtime brand. Yet whatever effect these programming details have on the long term health of Premier Boxing Champions, the fact remains that the urgency Haymon might face in 2017 should benefit boxing fans and sport of boxing as a whole.
Whether or not Premier Boxing Champions faces a reckoning in 2017, the outdated pay per view model will most certainly continue. As a consequence fans will continue to be pushed towards internet streams rather than parting ways with their hard earned dollars. My only hope is that sometime over the next year someone in the sport actually starts to take sensible steps towards a solution to the pay per view conundrum. Any solution would require cooperation, rational thinking, and sacrifice. And yeah, it’s probably more likely that Al Haymon sits down for a tell all interview before any of that happens - but one can hope. Now with that being said, here are some other things I’m hoping for in 2017.
I hope Anthony Joshua retires Wladimir Klitschko and the heavyweight division begins a new era of rivalries and matchups. I hope Jermall Charlo carries his momentum forward with multiple fights after his exceedingly beautiful annihilation of the Julian Williams hype train. I hope Sergey Kovalev either gets his shot at redemption against Andre Ward or finally gets his grudge match against Adonis Stevenson. I hope Naoya Inoue’s hands stay healthy and he gets a chance to make his name in the United States. I hope Errol Spence fights more than two times and gets a shot at real momentum; he’s too good to be on the shelf. I hope Vasyl Lomachenko fights Manny Pacquiao (what the hell; why not). I hope Gennady Golovkin fights Canelo Alvarez in Dallas at AT&T Stadium in the fall. I hope Roman Gonzalez still has a lot in the tank; and I get to watch him fight again in person. I hope Demetrius Andrade rises, Terence Crawford gets even meaner, and Peter Quillin just goes away.
By most accounts 2016 has been a shit year. On to 2017.