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Premier Boxing TV report - Spike debut with Lopez vs. Berto and Kevin Kay talks the goals of boxing on Spike

Premier Boxing Champions held their second show on Friday, March 7th on Spike at the Citizens Bank Arena in Ontario, California. It was Premier's debut on Spike as part of what Spike is billing as Friday Night Lights Out, with the theme of holding combat sports events nearly every Friday night that include Premier, Glory Kickboxing, and Bellator MMA.

Premier's debut on Spike featured three fights, headlined by Andre Berto (30-3, 23 KO’s) stopping Josesito Lopez (33-7, 19 KO’s) in the sixth round at welterweight. Lopez was ahead on all three cards until he was dropped twice by Berto in the sixth, with referee Raul Caiz Jr immediately calling the fight after Lopez was dropped a second time without giving Lopez another ten count. It was a controversial finish, especially with the live audience as Lopez was clearly ahead and was the hometown favourite. Berto was booed heavily both during his entrance and post-fight interview.

Also on the card, Chris Arreola (36-4, 31 KO’s) beat Curtis Harper (12-4, 8 KO’s) at heavyweight in a close eight-round fight via decision on scores of 76-75, 78-73, and 77-74. The fight was much closer than the scores indicated, as many of the middle rounds could have been judged either way. Arreola scored a stunning knockdown in the first and looked to be close to finishing the fight, but Harper held on, making it close until he started to gas near the end.

In the opening match, Shawn Porter (25-1-1, 16 KO’s) knocked out Erick Bone (pronounced "Bo-Nay") (16-2, 8 KO’s) at 2:30 of the fifth round at welterweight. Bone went into the fight on one days' notice, replacing Robert Garcia who backed out due to illness. Bone fared well the first few rounds, but was overmatched and not in fight shape and was eventually knocked out by Porter. Bone flew in from New York on Thursday night when it became clear that Garcia wasn't going to try and make weight.

Premier Boxing is, of course, the new promotion run by boxing agent Al Haymon. Premier held their first card on NBC on March 7th, the first time NBC had aired boxing in prime time since 1985. It looks like Premier is planning on running one show a month on Spike as part Spike's combat sports themed Fridays. In addition to the monthly Spike shows, in 2015 the promotion has twenty events planned to be split between NBC and NBC Sports and perhaps somewhere around twenty events total planned for CBS and CBS Sports, too.

One of the most noticeable aspects of Premier's debut on NBC was the lavish production values put into the show. On Spike, there seemed to be little drop in quality in production, if any drop at all. The massive entrance stage with the video wall returned. Fighters walked down to the ring alone. Premier brought back the 360-degree camera and the Hans Zimmer score and used headband cameras on some of the corner men as a gimmick to show replays from unique angles between rounds. Referee Jack Reiss also wore the headband camera during the first fight between Porter and Bone.

The commentary team was completely different compared to NBC, though. The Spike commentary team was clearly aimed at a much younger audience. The team featured Scott Hanson from the NFL Network, Jimmy Smith from Bellator, and Antonio Tarver. Commentary was good. The show was hosted by Dana Jacobson of CBS Sports and co-hosted by Thomas "Hitman" Hearns. Jacobson's role was basically to introduce the show during the opening, explaining to the audience that this wasn't our father's boxing. Later she had a couple of segments with Hearns discussing the upcoming Mayweather-Pacquiao fight. Jacobson was fine and stands out as one of the few female broadcasters in combat sports, but Hearns was completely incoherent to almost comical effect. I can't imagine that he'll be brought back.

Unlike the NBC broadcast, the Spike show featured no commercials for Mayweather-Pacquiao, even though it was discussed throughout the broadcast. Spike, however, ran many commercials for both Glory and Bellator, frequently advertising Joe Warren's upcoming title defense later in the month, as well as the signing of Kimbo Slice. Michael Chandler, Liam McGeary, and Tito Ortiz were shown in the audience.

From watching the show I feel like the deal Haymon has worked out with Spike may be different than the deals worked with NBC and CBS, although that's speculation. Premier's primary sponsor is Corona and they had the same ads throughout the show as they did on NBC. But the rest of the commercials were the same types of commercials normally run during other Spike broadcasts. There was even a Metro PCS commercial with a cameo by Ronda Rousey that aired a number of times.

"We obviously never talk about financial details but I will say that we are both heavily invested in this," said Spike President Kevin Kay in an interview with Bloody Elbow. "Al is putting up a great deal and we are putting a lot into it as well and we are very excited. We plan on having boxing for years to come on Spike."

The show started at 9pm ET and ran until 11:15pm ET, which was the window that was scheduled on Spike. The main event between Berto and Lopez, however, didn't start until around 10:30pm ET and was booked for twelve rounds and there was a reasonable expectation that fight would go the distance, which might have carried the broadcast past 11:15. Spike had fifteen minutes of Cops scheduled from 11:15 to 11:30pm ET.

Berto, Porter, and to a lesser degree Arreola and Harper all got over as stars. Berto got over in similar to Broner as the obvious villain. Jimmy Smith even referred to Berto as "playing the heel" during the broadcast. Berto, Porter, and Arreola are three fighters who have been near the top and faced some top fighters, but have never won that one big fight to get them over as top stars. Comparing the lineup for the debut on Spike to the lineup for the debut on NBC, it is clear that the Spike show features more action fighters and less highly-ranked skilled fighters. It worked, because the show went three-for-three when it came to holding exciting matches.

The question is what kind of ratings Premier Boxing draws on Spike, whether the hype will carry over from the successful debut on NBC, and what kind of role Premier Boxing on Spike plays if Haymon is able to sign a pay deal with one of the major networks and moves away from the time buy business model.

Recent broadcasts of Glory and Bellator on Spike have done well. The latest Bellator show took place on February 27th and was one of their major tent pole quarterly shows with Liam McGeary beating Emanuel Newton to win the Light-Heavyweight title. It drew an average viewership of 872,000 and peaked at 1,200,000 viewers. Bellator's three events in 2015 have averaged 734,667 viewers. Bellator's final nine events of 2014, including the mega show with Tito Ortiz beating Stephan Bonnar in November that drew an average of 1.4 million viewers, averaged 815,000 viewers combined.

Glory drew a record rating for Glory 19 on February 6th, headlined by Rico Verhoeven retaining the Heavyweight title by stopping Errol Zimmerman. The show drew 542,000 viewers on average and peaked at 825,000 viewers. The record rating was an increase of nearly fifty percent from Glory's previous event in November, which drew an average of 352,000 viewers.

With Bellator averaging over 700,000 viewers for its 2015 events and Glory drawing over 500,000 viewers for its sole event, one would expect with the hype that Premier Boxing brings from its successful debut last weekend that that ratings for its debut on Spike should be at least as good what Bellator draws, if not much better. It was a good night for Premier to debut on Spike, as ESPN wasn't running Friday Night Fights this week. Showtime did have a ShoBox card on Friday night, though, which features lesser known prospects. Spike ran shoulder programming on March 6th to hype Premier’s debut.

It will be interesting in to see how the age demographic for Premier's debut on Spike breaks down. The debut on NBC drew an average of 3.4 million viewers and peaked at 4.2 million. It did a 1.08 rating in 18-49, but had an average viewer age of 52 with the show's viewership skewing to older males. Spike is clearly going after a different demographic compared to Premier on NBC, with the younger broadcast team and the typical Spike ads for video games, energy drinks, and clothing. Whether the 18-34 demo agrees that Premier on Spike is not their father's boxing remains to be seen.

"My goal is to try to give boxing exposure to younger viewers. I think that's Spike's place in this, because we have a large audience of 18 to 34 year olds that love combat sports," Kay told Bloody Elbow. "If we can bring them to the table I think that's what's going to help secure boxing's future. Because right now, we all know this, it's an old sport. If we can bring 18 to 34 year olds to boxing that's what's going to secure the future of boxing because otherwise everyone is going to age out and that's not going to be great for the sport."

The hype that this is a boxing show for a younger generation is mainly window dressing. It's still boxing like any other kind of boxing once the bell rings. It's interesting that so many boxing promoters are trying to grab the attention of the 18-34 males right now, as that demo seems to prove elusive to the boxing industry. Another example is Jay-Z's Roc Nation promotion, which debuted in January and, like Premier on Spike, was also promoted as being modernized boxing aimed at a younger, casual fan.

"We have actually been encouraged by Al [Haymon] and his team to 'Spike it'," Kay told MMA Fighting this week. "We go after different audiences. CBS is going to be weekend day times. They do things their way. NBC is prime time is almost quarterly - they haven't fully released their schedule yet - those prime time events. And they'll be doing some weekend day time as well. We have exclusively Friday nights once a month."

"You go back to when we put the WWE as the lead in to The Ultimate Fighter. Everybody said, 'Wrestling fans will never watch mixed martial arts.' My thing was like, there's 6 million people watching the WWE at the time. If I only get 20 percent of them, I'll be a happy guy. I think we did better than that," said Kay.

"I don't know that's there's a tremendous crossover. Boxing tends to be older. It has been older for a long time. Mixed martial arts tends to be younger. I think we have the potential to draw new fans to each sport and I hope that we can do that," continued Kay. "I think when you look at boxing and you see those numbers they put up on NBC, there's a hugely strong boxing audience out there. If I can bring that to Spike - and particularly among the Latino community, among the African-American community - those would be so additive to the audience we already have, it would make me very happy. I think that would expand our audience base."

Jeremy Wall can be contacted at jeremywall1984 at gmail dot com and followed on Twitter @jeremydalewall.