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Boxing report: PBC on CBS: Anthony Dirrell vs. Marco Antonio Rubio

By Jeremy Wall

CBS aired a PBC card Sunday, September 6th at 4pm ET. It was a two-fight card headlined by Anthony Dirrell beating Marco Antonio Rubio via unanimous decision in a one-sided showcase fight for Dirrell. Dirrell was coming off a loss to Badou Jack on Spike TV in May, where Dirrell dropped the WBC Super Middleweight title via majority decision in the first loss of his career.

In the co-main, Jamie McDonnell retained his WBA Bantamweight title against Tomoki Kameda via unanimous decision. It was a rematch of a close fight that aired on CBS in May, which McDonnell also won via decision.

The show took place at the American Bank Center in Corpus Christi. It was co-promoted by Tom Brown of TGB Promotions and Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Boxing. Matchroom mainly does shows in Britain, but handles the promotion of McDonnell.

Dirrell had no problems with Rubio. Scores were three straight 100-90s. Dirrell improved to 28-1-1 (22 KOs) and Rubio fell to 59-8-1 (51 KOs).

Both Dirrell, 30, and Rubio, 35, were coming into the fight off losses. The difference is that Dirrell is in his prime and Rubio is washed up. Besides being five years older than Dirrell, Rubio looked bad getting made into a drama show by Gennady Golovkin in October. Golovkin knocked Rubio out in the second round after Rubio failed to make weight for the bout.

Against Dirrell, Rubio came into the fight the second heaviest he has ever been, weighing in at 169 ½ pounds. Dirrell weighed in at 169 ¾. Both guys were actually over the 168-pound limit for super middleweight (although no one seemed to care), so this was technically a light-heavyweight bout.

“I love boxing. I will get back in the gym and train for another fight because this is what I love to do,” Rubio said in the post-fight press release.

Boxing has a weird thing going on right where weight limits aren’t being respected and there are a ton of catchweight fights at unusual weights. The truth is that the championships and weights don’t mean as much in boxing as people think they do, unless it is a title held by someone forever, like Mayweather or Wladimir Klitschko. If two promoters get together to create a fight, they are going to have the weight limit as whatever is best for their fighters, unless they absolutely have to make weight for a major title. And even then, as Miguel Cotto has shown by demanding catchweight fights at less than the middleweight limit even though he is a major middleweight champion, weight limits can still be rendered meaningless for title fights.

It is because, of course, that promoters run boxing and decide what happens and not the athletic commissions. On top of that, boxing is so fractured with multitudes of promoters, which means that there is going to be a multitude of strange weight limit fights because the promoters are going to do what is best for business. If a promoter feels forcing their fighter (or fighters) to make weight will be bad for business because it will lead to a lame fight or because the fighter just doesn’t want to do it, they’ll do a catchweight fight instead.

Nevertheless, Rubio was clearly brought in to get Dirrell a win after Dirrell dropped the WBC title to Badou Jack. Against Jack back in May, much of the shoulder programming was based around the idea that Dirrell was a rising star who beat cancer early in his career to become the WBC champion. And then he turned in a mediocre performance and dropped the title to Jack.

Badou Jack is set to make the first defense of his title on the pay per view undercard of the Mayweather-Berto fight on September 12th. He will be facing George Groves. Dirrell would seem to be the logical next opponent for whoever wins the title.

You can see a major difference here comparing the matchmaking of PBC and the UFC. In UFC, if a previously undefeated fighter dropped his title in a close decision to an underdog, the champ would likely get an immediate rematch. If not, in most cases the champ would be paired with someone near the top of the rankings, with the winner being in the mix for the next title shot. That’s not always the case with the UFC, as the attempted Pettis-Myles Jury fight earlier this year illustrates, but that is their typical booking pattern for a former champ who just lost his title.

In PBC, they don’t bother booking the former champ in an immediate rematch or against another top competitor. They book him against a jobber to give him an easy win on network television. Part of that is because boxing is so fractured that many of the top competitors in any given weight class fight for different promoters, making it difficult to frequently put together competitive matches unless the money is there.

If UFC and the major boxing groups (mainly PBC and HBO) were in direct competition with one another (they are in more ways than people think), then UFC has a distinct advantage here because of the nature of their two respective industries. UFC is able to book better fights more frequently, while still protecting their stars if they choose to since UFC calls all the shots, has nearly all the best fighters, and doesn’t have to co-promote with anyone else. In boxing, no group has most of the top fighters and promoters frequently have to work with one another to get a fight made, even when they don’t want to.

The co-main between McDonnell, 29, and Kameda, 24, for the WBA Bantamweight belt was a much better fight than Dirrell-Rubio. McDonnell and Kameda had an exciting fight on CBS in May. This time, the bout wasn’t quite as exciting, but it was just as close. They went to a close decision, with McDonnell scoring a knockdown in the twelfth round. Many people watching the fight, however, thought Kameda won, including colour commentators Paulie Malignaggi and Virgil Hunter. Scores were 117-110, 116-111, and 115-112 for McDonnell.

““I thought I won this fight a lot more clearly than the last fight,” Kameda said in the post-fight press release.

McDonnell obviously disagreed. “I didn’t think it was a controversial decision, because I always felt in control and I believe that I won the fight comfortably.”

McDonnell improved to 27-2-1 (12 KOs) and Kameda fell to 31-2 (19 KOs).

It is hard to say if this will lead to a third bout between the two. The first fight was close and a lot of people thought Kameda won the second bout. Both guys have upped their profiles by having two good fights on network television this year, but I wouldn’t say either of them are stars in the making or anything like that. McDonnell is from Britain, but is not that big of a deal there. Kameda is Japanese, but moved to Mexico at the age of fifteen and has lived there ever since. He speaks fluent Spanish and is popular with the Mexican audience. He also has two brothers who have held world titles in boxing. His brother Daiki Kameda lost a split-decision on Sunday’s show in a fight that didn’t air on TV.

The belt the two were fighting over is not actually that big of a deal. It is the “regular” version of the WBA Bantamweight title. The WBA awards two belts for each weight division, one “super” champion who is widely considered the real champion, and one “regular” champion who is widely considered not a champion at all. I guess they do this to collect more sanctioning fees, although it completely ruins any prestige that most of the WBA belts have. McDonnell retained the regular belt. The super belt is held by Juan Carlos Payano. Payano is also a PBC fighter who beat Rau’shee Warren on a PBC on Bounce show in August.

Being that both Payano and McDonnell are both PBC fighters they could feasibly be matched against one another. I’m not sure how that would work with the WBA, though, since I’m assuming they want two separate champs in each weight division to collect twice the sanctioning fees.

This is where having titles controlled by outside groups doesn’t really work. I know people argue that having titles controlled by sanctioning bodies and not promoters means the promoters can’t manipulate titles. But the sanctioning bodies are manipulating the titles in a way that damages boxing’s reputation anyway. Plus the UFC is a promotion that handles its own titles and frequently has better title fights and better matchmaking compared to boxing.

I think PBC is going about things incorrectly when it comes to matchmaking. They are putting on mostly lousy showcase fights. I don’t have a problem with television squash matches being used to build guys. But if PBC is competition for the UFC and the UFC books competitive fights more often than not, then PBC has to match them. Also, HBO has probably booked better competitive fights this year compared to PBC and HBO is PBC’s top competitor within boxing.

If PBC came in from the start with the mission of revolutionizing boxing so that it becomes more of a business model akin to the UFC, then they needed to book competitive fights frequently during the first year or two in order to get people to believe that this is boxing without politics holding the sport back. Once people believe they are seeing a new way of doing boxing, they can scale back a bit and add in some squash matches.

I understand what they are trying to do in booking squashes like Dirrell-Rubio, because they are trying to create new stars and it gives someone with star potential an easy win. It’s just that PBC is doing it too frequently and they shouldn’t have been doing these types of matches during their first year, anyway.

Also, and this is just me, but I would have started the promotion with PBC title belts and dropped recognition of all the other sanctioning bodies. It would have pissed a lot of people off, but Al Haymon is already pissing a lot of those people off anyway, so what’s the difference. Haymon could then book title fights as he pleases, protect the integrity of the titles, and use the titles to elevate guys and create new stars.

Another problem is that PBC is all over the place. They are on nearly every major network and nearly every major cable sports station. They have fights all over the country with a wide variety of alphabet titles. A lot of the fights don’t lead anywhere. There’s no overarching storyline to many of these bouts and they are just kind of random fights at random times on random television channels.

They have shoulder programming on Spike and on Showtime, but they need a regular magazine show and maybe a “Best Of” show similar to UFC Tonight and other UFC programming on FS1. I think magazine shows are important because they set the official story of fights, so that fans are told why certain fighters are important and why the fights they are involved in matter.

This is where being on every channel imaginable is a disadvantage because PBC is everywhere at once, but in a way that is confusing and random.

The unaired prelims for Sunday afternoon’s show included wins by prospects Miguel Flores (17-0, 8 KOs, 23 yo, super featherweight) and Mario Barrios (11-0, 6 KOs, 20 yo, super featherweight), among other fights.

Ratings for PBC afternoon shows on CBS and NBC have been steady, but have shown a bit of attrition. Ratings have been slightly better for afternoon shows on Saturdays compared to Sundays.

PBC’s last show on CBS was July 18th, featuring Carl Frampton vs. Alejandro Gonzalez Jr. It drew a 0.8 rating on a Saturday afternoon at 4pm ET. Previously, PBC also drew a 0.8 for a Sunday afternoon show on June 21st. Other past ratings on CBS include a 0.9 on May 9th and a 1.1 on April 4th, the latter which was PBC’s debut on CBS. Both of those shows were also on Saturdays.

PBC has also done two weekend shows on NBC. They drew a 0.85 on Saturday, May 23rd and a 0.95 on Saturday, June 6th.

Dirrell’s fight against Badou Jack on Friday, April 24th drew 569,000 viewers (0.2) on Spike, which is not a great rating, but PBC hasn’t been drawing well on Spike, so it was typical.

There is a tremendous amount of boxing on television between now and September 12th, when Mayweather faces Berto on pay per view.

On September 8th, PBC debuts on FS1 with Austin Trout vs. Joey Hernandez. On September 11th, Adonis Stevenson debuts in Toronto versus Tommy Karpency. The same night on TruTV in Las Vegas Top Rank has a show headlined by Oscar Valdez vs. Chris Avalos and Jesse Hart vs Aaron Pryor Jr. On September 12th, NBC has an afternoon show with Cornelius Bundrage vs. Jermall Charlo and Peter Quillin vs. Michael Zerafa, which will be a final push for the pay per view later that night. There’s also a boxing fan convention at the Las Vegas Convention Center the day of the Mayweather fight and probably some other stuff in town that I am not aware of.

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