By Jeremy Wall
Premier Boxing Champions held their second Spike TV broadcast on Friday, April 24th at the UIC Pavilion in Chicago. It was headlined by a double main event based on a theme of two different cancer survivors fighting in world title matches. In the main event, Anthony Dirrell (27-1-1, 22KO), who in 2006 was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, was upset by Badou Jack (19-1-1, 12KO) to drop the WBC World Super Middleweight title via majority decision. In the co-main, Daniel Jacobs (29-1, 26KO), who in 2011 was diagnosed with osteosarcoma (a type of bone cancer), retained the WBA World Middleweight title by stopping Caleb Truax (25-2-2, 15KO) at 2:12 of the 12th round.
Dirrell, 30, was defending the belt that he won by beating Sakio Bika by unanimus decision last August. Jack, 31, went into the fight with two straight wins over Francisco Sierra and Jason Escalera last year, but before that suffered an embarrassing first round TKO loss to Derek Edwards in February 2013. Dirrell was figured as the heavy favourite.
Dirrell-Jack was a slow fight that picked up steam as it wore on, but neither fighter really turned it on and made it into an exciting match. It was also the first example on Premier where a featured fighter who was a favourite to win ended up dropping the bout, which probably won't happen often since Premier is carefully matching opponents. The first couple of rounds were even, particularly the opening round. Jack started winning rounds by pressing forward and connecting more often with jabs, whereas Dirrell would hang back in an erect fighting stance and kept looking for power shots.
Dirrell started taking a couple of rounds in the middle of the fight, connecting with power to win on points. Although Dirrell was looking for the big power shots, even when he landed he never came close to damaging Jack and Dirrell seemed to tire as the fight wore on.
Jack started winning more rounds later by throwing volume and pressing forward, setting the pace of the fight. He was also landing some hard right hands. By the ninth round Dirrell had a cut on his upper cheekbone, but it was small and away from his eyes. Connection stats were about the same at this point for both fighters, but Jack pulled ahead late in the fight. The judges scored the fight 114-114, 116-112, and 115-113 for Jack. Spike's unofficial scorecard had it at 114-114. I had it at 118-110 for Jack, but there were many close rounds. It wouldn't have been an upset if either fighter got the decision, or if it was a draw. It was the first loss of Dirrell's career, against a fighter who was brought in as a showcase opponent.
Jimmy Smith did a post-fight interview with Jack, who didn't say anything substantial. Post-fight interviews in Premier have been odd. Fighters never say anything substantial and the interviewers never ask about future opponents, probably because most of the obvious future opponents for these guys are fighters that are not managed by Al Haymon and there is no point in hyping fights that are difficult to put together.
George Groves was in attendance for the fight, but was never mentioned on the air (he's not a Haymon guy). The fight at Super-Middleweight that people wanted to see was Groves-Dirrell, although now it would be Groves-Jack. Groves is the mandatory challenger for Jack's new title. There was also talk of a bigger money fight between Dirrell and Carl Froch that might be off the table with Dirrell’s loss. None of this was mentioned on Spike.
“It’s always good to go and see it live because you might see things you would otherwise miss. It will be a good opportunity to scope the opposition,” Groves said via Sky Sports News HQ. “If he (Dirrell) wins he’s got 10 days for us to secure a deal or the fight will go to purse bids and then it will take place in 90 days. So in July I will be challenging for the WBC, whether it’s Dirrell or Badou Jack.”
Groves, 27, is 21-2 with 16 KO. He is coming off two straight wins this past year over Denis Douglin and Chris Rebrasse after dropping two straight TKO losses to Carl Froch, the second of which drew a monster crowd to Wembley Stadium last May. Groves is a UK fighter and hasn't fought outside of that country since 2012. He is promoted by Matchroom Boxing, a UK company that is handling the promotion for Premier's May 23rd broadcast on NBC that takes place in Boston. Groves challenging for Jack's new title is already being hyped in the British press.
The way Premier is handling boxing titles has also been odd. The company doesn't seem like it has quite figured out how to approach titles. Calling the show "Premier Boxing Champions" was probably a mistake because the title emphasizes that their fighters are champions, yet Premier wants to distance itself from boxing's confusing championship title situation. For instance, when ring announcer Michael Williams announced that Jack won the fight, he just mentioned that Jack was the new "Super-Middleweight champion" without specifying which Super-Middleweight title he actually won.
It has been rumoured that Premier will introduce their own championship titles more or less the same way UFC does their titles. People in boxing have been critical of Premier's aversion to the traditional boxing titles, but I think dropping references to those titles is a good idea because the boxing title situation is confusing to the casual and new consumer that Premier is trying to reach. The only problem I have with it is that right now Premier doesn't seem to have a clear policy on championship titles, referencing that their fighters are champions, but not referencing the actual championships. However, if Premier wins the promotional war in boxing, emerges as the dominant promotion and has their own titles, then perhaps boxing can finally be rid of the massive amount of confusing and pointless belts that weigh the sport down.
In the co-main, Daniel Jacobs, 28, stopped Caleb Truax, 31, in the 12th round. This fight was originally booked for the April 11th Premier card on NBC, but was rescheduled to take place on Spike. Jacobs was making his first defense of the WBA World Middleweight belt which was vacant when he won it by beating Jarrod Fletcher by TKO last August. Truax was coming into the fight off two straight wins over Scott Sigmon and Derek Ennis.
Jacobs-Truax was a dull fight until its closing minutes. During the fight they showed Bellator fighter Pat Curran watching from ringside, as well as Lucien Bute. Every so often on commentary Scott Hanson would hype the upcoming main events on Bellator or Premier.
The early rounds were dull. Jacobs was pressing forward more and landing more often with his jab, or at least his jab was landing with more accuracy compared to punches thrown by Truax. By round seven Truax was cut under his eye.
The action increased in the final few rounds. Truax starting landing more and there were more combinations being landed by both fighters. Finally, in the twelfth round when it looked certain that the fight would go the distance and Jacobs would win an obvious decision, he decided to put an exclamation point on the win by putting Truax on rubber legs with a left-right combo. Truax didn't fall, but he was out on his feet and grabbed the ropes to keep standing. Truax made the count, but Jacobs was destroying him with bombs after and the ref stopped it.
Every time I see a boxing match end this way I always think how ridiculous it was in the 90s when politicians were claiming that UFC was more violent than boxing, because if this was a UFC fight it likely would have been stopped when Jacobs scored the knock down. I can only imagine the amount of brain damage that Truax sustained between the knock down and when the ref stopped the fight, which was also completely unnecessary brain damage because Truax was out on his feet and it was obvious Jacobs was going to finish him.
The show also featured a third bout between Roberto Garcia (37-3, 23KO) and James Stevenson (22-2, 15KO), scheduled for eight rounds at a catchweight of 152 pounds. Garcia was originally booked as the opponent for Shawn Porter back on Premier's debut card on Spike in March. But Garcia showed up four pounds overweight and didn't bother trying to weigh in and was replaced by Erick Bone. Garcia was rebooked to face Stevenson for the second Spike show.
Garcia, 35, beat Stevenson, 32, by unanimous decision, winning just about every round after Stevenson knocked him down with a right uppercut in the first. Stevenson took the fight on two weeks’ notice and tired as the fight wore on. It was a sloppy fight, with a lot of holding and few clean breaks. Neither fighter looked good, as Garcia got knocked down early and fought slow. Stevenson wasn't able to capitalize on his early lead. It was also dull, as little happened after the first round knockdown.
Garcia-Stevenson opened the broadcast. Neither fighter got a fancy ring entrance, but Garcia got a lengthy video package before the fight featuring an interview where he discussed the horrific death of his mother, who was shot to death by Garcia's father in their family home before Garcia's father committed suicide when Garcia was 10. Airing a personality piece on Garcia was an odd choice, as although he has an emotional story, he is a 35-year-old journeyman with little upside. Premier has other fighters with more upside that could have been given the attention that Garcia received on this broadcast.
Local promotion was handled by Leon Margules of Warriors Boxing, a Florida-based company that frequently runs shows at the UIC Pavilion in Chicago. Because Al Haymon is the manager of the fighters that compete for Premier and federal law precludes a manager from also acting as promoter, Premier pays a fee to other companies to handle local promotion.
The commentary team of Scott Hanson, Jimmy Smith, and Antonio Tarver returned from the first broadcast. Of the three broadcast teams for Premier (NBC, CBS, and Spike), this team does the best job, although the NBC broadcast has the more prestigious names. Dana Jacobson was back as host. She does a good job, too, in a Today show sort of way. Thomas Hearns did not return as co-host. He was borderline incoherent on the first broadcast. Instead, they used Joe Calzaghe as co-host. Calzaghe is probably the greatest Super-Middleweight of all time, but was a strange choice because he is from the UK and I don't think he has that much name value in the US. The reason they used him seemed to be that the Dirrell-Jack main event was at Super-Middleweight and Calzaghe is ranked as the best super-middleweight ever.
Of course, Premier has state of the art production. The lavish stage and overhead screens returned. Of the six fighters who appeared on Spike, only Garcia and Stevenson in the opening bout didn't receive the featured walkouts. The company also had sensors placed on the gloves and shorts of Truax and Jacobs during their bout. The sensors are able to measure things like punching angles, velocity, and impact in milliseconds and instantly display the data to the broadcasters. It is an interesting concept and could lead to a lot of detailed stats that could change the way matches are fought. But this wasn't well used during the broadcast, as it was only mentioned in passing on commentary a few times.
Despite the lavish production, Premier still has formatting problems. The broadcast ran from 9pm ET to 12:15am on Spike, which was much longer than Spike allocates for their other Friday night combat sports programming, including Bellator which is the station's own property. The programming guide had the show listed as ending at 11:45. In fact, the last time Glory Kickboxing aired, it was on a tape delay from Dubai and Spike was precise with its edits of that show to get it to fit into a 2 hour time window. The Premier show was too long and it was hard to sustain interest. The dull fights made it worse.
They also wasted a lot of time between fights. After the Garcia-Stevenson bout, Jacobson spent a few minutes interviewing Calzaghe about his career (he was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame last year). Calzaghe said nothing interesting. He is retired and says he is staying that way. That broadcast time could have been used in so many more productive ways. After the Jacobs-Truax bout, they brought out King Mo Lawal (who was wearing a Bellator windbreaker, which for some reason I found funny) to talk about Bellator with Jacobson and Calzaghe. Promoting Bellator was a better use of time than talking to Calzaghe about his career.
Premier was trying to do too much during this broadcast, airing two 12-round bouts, an 8-round bout, a long interview with Calzaghe, an interview with King Mo, advertising upcoming events, airing personality pieces, advertising May-Pac, and everything else that needs to be done during a broadcast. Formatting on Spike needs to be tightened. One way of doing that would be decreasing bout length, as if they want to get three bouts on a broadcast instead of two, they need to do bouts with fewer rounds, otherwise they end up broadcasting for more than three hours, or airing fewer fights.
Another way is to cut out things like the hosting segments with Jacobson and just focus on the fights and the hype for future shows. I think the segments with Jacobson, however, are useful if they are used for hype. But if they are using it to do things like interview Calzaghe, who isn't fighting for the promotion and won't bring in any revenue, then it's a waste of time and ought to be scrapped.
Shoulder programming hyping the show aired on April 17th on Spike, built around the cancer stories of Dirrell and Jacobs. Road to Dirrell vs Jack aired from 11pm ET to 11:30 and drew 512,000 viewers and a 0.2 rating among 18-49 adults. Never Give Up, about Dirrell and Jacobs and their cancer stories (the latter has a huge scar on his back from surgery relating to his cancer, because he didn't want the surgeons to cut into his chest, which would have ended his boxing career), aired from 11:30 to 12am and drew 452,000 viewers and a 0.2 rating among 18-49 adults. Those ratings are far below what Premier and Bellator draw on Spike, albeit usually with an earlier 9pm ET start, but seem adequate for shoulder programming of that nature. The shoulder programming ratings are about the same as what Glory draws on Spike.
They announced Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri on Spike for May 29th. They did a couple of personality pieces on Khan, which included a clip where Khan does a trick where he throws a plastic milk bottle in the air and keeps it spinning in mid-air while he pummels it like a speed bag. It looks like an optical illusion, but it isn't. This is a big fight for a Spike broadcast. Algieri fought Pacquaio on pay per view last year, although the buy rate was lousy for a Pac fight. Khan has frequently been discussed as a possible opponent for Mayweather.
Premier's debut on Spike on March 7th drew an average of 869,000 viewers and a 0.3 in the 18-34 adults demo. The Berto-Lopez main event from that show drew 989,000 viewers. It will be interesting to see what this second Spike show does. Premier on Spike has the potential to draw larger audiences than boxing on HBO, which typically peaks out close to 1.5 million viewers for that station's biggest fights. But the floor is also low as Glory Kickboxing has frequently been far below 500,000 average viewers for their shows.
There was also an interesting article last week by Bill King in the Sports Business Journal about Premier's business model and financing. It's a free article and worth reading if you have any interest in what is going on in boxing. The article was based on an interview King conducted with Ryan Caldwell, Premier's chief operating officer.
King wrote that Premier received a pledge of up of $425 million from a $40 billion fund that Caldwell managed for Waddell & Reed before leaving that company to join Premier. The fund is called the Ivy Asset Strategy Fund and it is the same fund that invested $1.5 billion in Formula One and it is the largest institutional investor in CBS. In the article Caldwell noted that he talked to the UFC about investing in a minority stake in their promotion, but UFC had already sold shares to Zap Entertainment, a media company owned by Abu Dhabi.
One of the holdings in the fund is Media Group Holdings LLC, Series H, which is actually Haymon's boxing company. The fund has $371.3 million invested in Haymon's company.
A second Waddell fund, WRA Asset Strategy, has also invested in Haymon. According to the Waddell & Reed web site, the market value of Media Group Holdings in the WRA Asset Strategy fund was $42,156,907.00 as of December 31st, 2014, with Haymon's company taking up 1.27% of the fund's net assets.
A third fund, Ivy Funds VIP Asset Strategy, is invested for $18.5 million. There are also likely other funds run by Waddell & Reed invested in Haymon's company at smaller positions, with the total investment currently up to $432 million. Caldwell said the plan was to invest about 1-percent of the primary $40 billion fund into Haymon Boxing, with the willingness to lose the entire investment if the company doesn't succeed.
The article also wrote about Haymon's business model. Revenue is generated by the 15-percent cut that Haymon takes from the fighters who compete on Premier, which typically only kicks in after the fighter earns at least $100,000. Haymon takes that cut because he is technically the manager of the fighters and not the event promoter.
The article also said that Premier is collecting some television rights fees, but also paying for time. My guess is that they are collecting rights fees from Spike, based on comparisons of advertising between Premier broadcasts on Spike and Premier broadcasts on NBC or CBS. NBC is covering at least some of the production costs for their broadcast of Premier and is covering the cost of the broadcast talent. Premier’s television situation is more complex than a simple time buy.
“It’s not a time-buy,” said Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC. “The reason we’re not selling it is because you couldn’t have six different networks out there selling the same product — and certainly not a product without a track record. So you have one group selling everything. And that’s really the brilliance of the concept.”
To garner sponsorship money, Premier has hired SJX Partners to market advertising opportunities on Premier broadcasts. Premier also hired Bruce Binkow, the former chief operating officer for Golden Boy, to create relationships with brands already involved in boxing. This seems to be how Premier connected with Corona, which also seems to be the only company sponsoring Premier right now.
“What we anticipated was this: We think there’s a latent boxing audience that is unreached by the current distribution system," said Caldwell. "We think if we expose the sport and the kids and their stories to that audience we can immediately have a bigger fan base than exists in the sport today because it is underserved. We think there’s a demo overlay that fits on top of those ... fans that advertisers would love to get to as the face of this country continues to look different over the next 10 years."
Not everyone has been impressed with Haymon's work. "I wasn't happy necessarily on Chavez's loss because, you know, what took us eight or nine years to build, fucking Haymon destroyed in one fucking night," said Bob Arum of Top Rank in an interview with BoxingScene.com in reference to Chavez's TKO loss to Andrzej Fonfara on Showtime last weekend. Arum was Chavez's promoter until last year when Chavez signed with Haymon, resulting in Arum filing a lawsuit against Chavez that was settled out of court a few weeks ago.
Nevertheless, Premier continues to roll on. They are back on May 9th for their second CBS show, airing at 4pm ET with Figueora vs Burns from Hidalgo. On May 23rd they do their third show on NBC with Andre Dirrell vs Degale from Boston. That show has a 4:30pm ET start time, much earlier than the prime time broadcasts Premier had for their first two shows on NBC. On May 29th they are back on Spike for Khan-Algieri from the Barclays Center at 9pm ET and then again on Spike on June 12th for Huck vs Glowacki from Chicago. They debut on ESPN on July 11th, replacing Friday Night Fights, which currently airs on ESPN2. They also have shows scheduled for NBS Sportsnet and CBS Sportsnet.
Elsewhere, Saturday night Wladimir Klitschko defends all of his Heavyweight belts against Bryant Jennings on HBO at Madison Square Garden; Top Rank debuts on truTV on May 1st for a show used to hype future HBO boxing broadcasts, probably as an aggressive response to what Haymon is doing (they are back on truTV on May 8th and May 15th); Canelo Alvarez fights James Kirkland on HBO on May 9th in Houston; Gennady Golovkin is scheduled to fustigate Willie Monroe Jr on May 16th in Inglewood on HBO; the series finale for Friday Night Fights on May 22nd from Corona; Miguel Cotto vs Daniel Geale in New York on HBO on June 4th; and Andre Ward returns to boxing from a long layoff, debuting for Jay-Z’s Roc Nation promotion on June 20th against Paul Smith in Oakland on BET as part of a time buy.
And of course, Mayweather fights Pacquiao on May 2nd.