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PBC on Spike report: Erislandy Lara vs. Delvin Rodriguez

By Jeremy Wall

Spike TV aired its latest broadcast of PBC boxing Friday, June 12th from the UIC Pavilion in Chicago. The show featured a double headline of Erislandy Lara shutting out Delvin Rodriguez by unanimous decision in one of the dullest fights yet promoted by PBC. Lara has a terrible reputation as a boring fighter and this fight was a classic example of a fighter losing reputation with a bad win. In the other bout broadcast by Spike, Artur Beterbiev had another star making performance by stopping Alexander Johnson in the seventh round. This was Beterbiev’s second appearance on a PBC broadcast after knocking Gabriel Campillo in the fourth round on PBC’s debut on CBS on April 4th.

The 32-year old Lara (21-2-2, 12 KOs) was defending his WBA Super Welterweight championship against 35-year-old Rodriguez (28-8-4, 16 KOs). As per PBC convention the title wasn’t mentioned on the Spike broadcast by name. It was a total mismatch anyway. To be clear, Lara holds the regular WBA Super Welterweight title, whereas Floyd Mayweather Jr holds the WBA Super Super Welterweight title (which the WBA calls the Super World Super Welterweight title, which I guess to them sounds a bit less ridiculous). If PBC accomplishes anything, I hope that it is cleaning up the title situation in boxing and making it less of a joke.

It was a battle of the B-sides as both Lara and Rodriguez had been opponents for bigger name fighters in recent years. Lara was coming into the fight off a win over Ishe Smith by decision in December, but previous to that was the most notable fight of Lara’s career when he lost a dull split-decision to Canelo Alvarez at the MGM Grand last July. Rodriguez hadn’t fought since going to a split-draw with Joachim Alcine last May, but previous to that was stopped by Miguel Cotto in the third round in October 2013.

Rodriguez was handpicked as an opponent to showcase Lara in front of the Spike audience, to build Lara up as a credible opponent for another bigger name under the PBC banner. Lara knocked Rodriguez down in the sixth round and shut him out on the scorecards with scores of 120-107, 120-107 and 120-107. But in the world of combat sports you can’t control what happens in the ring and the two had a complete snorefest that damaged Lara’s reputation more than an exciting loss would.

Lara, of course, was oblivious. “This was really a great performance tonight,” Lara said after the fight. “I was able to land my left. Delvin was really just trying to survive in there, so I knew what I was doing was working.” Despite Lara believing he put in a great performance, the crowd began to boo the fight in the fifth round and didn’t stop until it was over.

“I’m going to sit down with my team and Al (Haymon). The future is clear,” Lara said in his post-fight interview with Jimmy Smith. “We want the best. We want Floyd Mayweather. We want Miguel Cotto. We want Gennady Golovkin at 160 pounds.”

He is probably getting none of those fighters. Maybe with a great performance here he could have gotten his name in the mix as Mayweather’s opponent for September 12th. But after the way Lara fought Rodriguez, I can’t see that happening. Cotto will be fighting Canelo. And Golovkin doesn’t fight on PBC.

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Beterbiev’s performance against Alexander Johnson at light-heavyweight in the opening bout on Spike was far more intriguing. The 30-year-old Beterbiev is only 9-0 as a pro, but he had a long amateur career which included two Olympic appearances and amateur championships. He has knocked out all nine of his opponents, now two of them on national television.

He knocked Alexander Johnson (16-3, 7 KOs) down four times during their fight, twice in round five and twice more in round seven. Johnson fought defensively and was clearly trying to survive for as long as possible before Beterbiev finished him in the seventh. Johnson’s performance wasn’t impressive, but he was the first fighter to take Beterbiev beyond four rounds in a professional fight.

Beterbiev did have a bit of a problem with Johnson being a southpaw, as Beterbiev was originally scheduled to fight the orthodox DouDou Ngumbu, who pulled out nine days before the fight.

"This is a big plus for me and great experience for my pro career. I'm very happy to have gone past four rounds tonight,” said Beterbiev. “Nothing was really working that well for me tonight though. I like to box smart and find the right openings. Maybe the righty to lefty switch in the last week made a difference.”

Last week PBC announced that Beterbiev had signed a long-term contract with both Al Haymon and Montreal-based promoted Yvon Michel, who worked with Haymon to promote the April 4th CBS broadcast in Quebec. I was a bit surprised to read that, since Beterbiev had already fought for PBC in April. I’m unclear on whether Beterbiev had a short-term contract with Haymon and then signed a long-term extension, or if he fought in April without being under contract to Haymon.

“The only disappointment he’s had in his career is that he hasn’t fought for a world title yet. He’s willing to fight anybody in boxing in the light heavyweight division,” said Yvon Michel. “There’s a lot of talent in the light heavyweight division now. There’s WBC champion Adonis Stevenson. There’s Sergey Kovalev, who has the other three belts. There’s a guy here [in Chicago] who I have a lot of respect for, Andrzej Fonfara … it’s a very, very interesting weight division. Artur Beterbiev wants to play a major role in it.”

Fonfara was ringside for the fight. He is under contract to Haymon and recently beat Julio Cesar Chavez Jr on Showtime in a Haymon card that wasn’t promoted under the PBC banner. He also had a great fight against Adonis Stevenson in Montreal last year. He’s an exciting fighter and would be a good higher profile opponent for Beterbiev. Fonfara has a reputation for being an underdog that upsets better fighters, so it would be a good test to see where Beterbiev stands as a fighter before graduating to fight the elite.

Between Adonis and Kovalev, it would seem more likely that Beterbiev would face Adonis for the WBC belt. Adonis is under contract to Haymon. Kovalev is promoted by Main Events and fights on HBO. One of the biggest potential fights in boxing is Adonis vs Kovalev, but because they are under contract to opposing promoters it has been nearly impossible to put that fight together. The negative is that if Beterbiev faces Adonis, he will invite unfair comparisons to Kovalev, who is similar to Beterbiev in that they are both power fighters from Russia in the prime of their respective careers. Kovalev is a champ and has been around as a pro longer than Beterbiev, though. Kovalev is defending his three light-heavyweight titles against Nadjib Mohammedi on HBO July 25th. Adonis last fought in April on CBS and currently has no fight scheduled.

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The last PBC on Spike show with Amir Khan beating Chris Algieri by decision to possibly setup Khan facing Floyd Mayweather in September drew 811,000 viewers on average in the DVR +3 ratings, peaking at 1.3 million. The live average was 772,000 viewers with a peak of 1,120,000.

In March, PBC on Spike drew 869,000 viewers and peaked at 1 million. In April, it drew 569,000 and peaked at 761,000. PBC airs on Spike from 9pm ET to 11pm.

The live average for the three PBC on Spike broadcasts has been 736,667 viewers. It is better than what Glory draws on Spike, and in the same range as what the weaker Bellator shows draw, but not as good as the strong Bellator shows.

I suspect this most recent broadcast to have low viewership considering the main event was weak both from a box office perspective and from a fighting perspective. Bad fights between relative unknowns isn’t going to draw an audience on Spike. PBC has struggled a bit more on Spike compared to NBC or CBS, probably because boxing skews older and Spike skews younger, so PBC would have a hard time winning over Spike’s demographic. Spike’s demo of young men is strong from an advertising stance as that demo commands better ad rates, so PBC increasing their penetration with males 18-34 is one of the many roadblocks PBC has in winning its war for boxing.

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On the Spike broadcast PBC also announced that former light-heavyweight champion Antonio Tarver (31-6, 22KOs) would return to the ring for PBC to face Steve Cunningham (28-7, 13KOs) at heavyweight.

Tarver is 46-years-old and currently works as a colour commentator for PBC on Spike. His last high profile fight was in May 2009, a unanimous decision loss to Chad Dawson at light-heavyweight on HBO.

Tarver has been active since losing to Dawson, moving up to heavyweight and fighting in a series of low-profile bouts. His last fight was December 11th, 2014, a seventh-round TKO over Johnathan Banks. Tarver came into the fight at 225 pounds. Fighting on Spike, however, will be Tarver’s highest-profile match since 2009.

I think what’s notable about Tarver fighting for PBC is that with boxing’s comeback we will likely see a number of stars from the past attempt returns to the ring to cash in on the sport’s increase in popularity. There is a major promotional war happening between Haymon’s PBC and HBO. Similar to how UFC and Bellator are using aged stars from the past as chess pieces to try and steal market share from one another, PBC and HBO will likely end up doing the same.

Tarver will likely beat Cunningham. If Tarver has a good fight, he could be someone used to put over Deontay Wilder, the WBC Heavyweight champion under contract to Haymon who has tremendous star potential and could use a few wins over big names to build his box office appeal.

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Speaking of aged fighters seeking just one more chance at faded glory, after the PBC show, Spike aired shoulder programming for the Ken Shamrock vs. Kimbo Slice fight on Bellator next Friday.

It was a talk-show format with Jimmy Smith hosting. He interviewed Michael Chandler, Bobby Lashley, and then Kimbo and Ken separately, and then interviewed Kimbo and Ken together.

Chandler and Lashley came across as likeable. But Ken is still one of the best promos in MMA. They talked vaguely about the fight between Kimbo and Ken that never happened years ago and positioned the bout as MMA vs streetfighting with Ken seeking to prove to Kimbo that technique trumps brawling.

Ken still has all the same fire and intensity he had years ago for his fights against Tito (and even longer ago for his fights against Severn and Royce Gracie). It is that same intensity that Ken was never able to successfully import into his pro wrestling career. Ken looks old facially, though. With Kimbo it is harder to tell because he wears the cap, the sunglasses, and the giant beard.

The fight is the most ridiculous MMA match in many years. But Spike has done everything to promote it as well as they can, so we will see if these two can still bring the ratings.

But really, neither of these guys belongs in the ring in 2015.

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