By Jeremy Wall
Adonis Stevenson knocked out Tommy Karpency 21 seconds into the third round to retain the WBC Light-Heavyweight title in the main event of PBC on Spike on Friday, September 11th. With the win, Stevenson, 37, improved to 27-1 with 22 knockouts and Karpency, 29, fell to 25-5-1 with 14 knockouts. In the co-main event on Spike, Errol Spence Jr, one of boxing’s top prospects, stopped Chris van Heerden in the eighth round. The show took place at Ricoh Coliseum in Toronto.
Adonis is probably the biggest boxing star to ever fight in Toronto. And it is not that Adonis is such a big star, but more that Toronto never gets championship boxing. Toronto is a weird market because it gets so little boxing even though both WWE and UFC draw well there. In Canada, boxing is only a draw in Quebec. WWE and UFC draw well throughout the country. Toronto in particular has been a hotbed for pro wrestling and MMA, with both WWE and UFC having drawn money for major shows at the SkyDome.
PBC’s venture into Canada is co-financed by Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment (MLSE), which is significant because MLSE is the institution that runs the sports industry in Toronto. MLSE is the parent company of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Raptors, and also owns Rogers Center (Leafs home) and Ricoh Coliseum (home of Leafs’ AHL affiliate Toronto Marlies). The MLSE in turn is co-owned by Rogers and Bell, Canada’s two telecom giants that frequently behave more like cartels than companies. Rogers also owns the Blue Jays and SkyDome (“Rogers Centre”) and Bell owns the Toronto FC of Major League Soccer. Bell also owns TSN, home of the UFC and some PBC boxing in Canada, and Rogers owns Sportsnet, home of WWE and the lucrative Canadian NHL broadcasting contract.
That Al Haymon has gotten co-financing from these people is significant because it means political and marketing weight will be thrown behind PBC in Toronto. Toronto is a great market to try and open because combats sports are popular there, but UFC doesn’t run often enough. UFC hasn’t been to Toronto since 2013. Toronto could be a lucrative market for PBC and running a major boxing show there is clever.
PBC came to Toronto with a star main eventer in Adonis and a top prospect in Errol Spence Jr. They also added 51-year-old Canadian boxing star Donovan “Razor” Ruddock to the undercard to help move some tickets. Ruddock, from Ontario but born in Jamaica, is best known for two bouts against Mike Tyson in 1991. Ruddock, 40-6-1 with 30 knockouts, has staged a comeback in 2015 after retiring in 2001. At Ricoh Coliseum, he was defeated by 29-year-old journeyman Dillon Carman of Mississauga, who improved to 9-2 with 8 knockouts. Ruddock got quite a bit of local press in Toronto for the fight.
Adding Ruddock to the undercard was also a clever move to try and sell tickets in Toronto. But PBC still made some mistakes with this show. They had the star in Adonis, but they should have opened Toronto with a stronger main event. Karpency was considered a joke opponent at best and clearly had no business being in the ring with Adonis, who barely broke a sweat knocking Karpency down in the second and then knocking him out in the opening seconds of the third. I don’t have an attendance figure for Ricoh Coliseum, but the arena looked dark on television.
If had opened Toronto with a major opponent for Stevenson, such as Artur Beterbiev or a rematch with Andrzej Fonfara, they might have been able to run a larger venue than Ricoh. Ricoh is the afterthought arena in Toronto saved for smaller shows that aren’t strong enough to draw at the Air Canada Centre, even though both arenas are located more or less in the same part of the city.
The obvious fight to open Toronto would be Adonis vs Sergey Kovalev, assuming PBC goes into Toronto with Adonis as a headliner. But Kovalev fights for HBO and politics has prevented that fight from taking place.
The truth is that even though Toronto is fertile grounds for combat sports, there really isn’t a major boxing match that could draw serious box office there. Ontario has no real local stars, which is why Razor Ruddock was on the undercard. Lennox Lewis was brought in as a public face for local promotion, which was run by Yvon Michael and a company called Global Legacy Boxing run by Les Woods. Lewis is a Canadian citizen and won gold representing Canada at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. He has also been named to the Order of Canada.
Despite Lewis’ celebrity status in Canada, he only ever had two fights in the country. Both fights took place before Lewis was a box office draw. The first was at the Memorial Auditorium in Kitchener in December 1989 and the second was at a night club in Kitchener in July 1990.
Lewis holds dual citizenship in Canada and Britain. When he was a major star in the late ‘90s he probably would have been a draw in Toronto. For instance, if his fight with Mike Tyson in 2002 was held in Toronto instead of Memphis, they might have been able to run SkyDome with it. Tyson also would have been a draw in Toronto in his box office heyday.
But there are no local draws in Toronto right now, which means that if PBC wants to continue running the city and eventually turn it into a hotbed they have to create stars. Adonis is probably the biggest Canadian star that PBC has under contract. Lucian Bute is also a star in Montreal, but just returned in August after nearly twenty months off due to injury. The other major Canadian star is Jean Pascal, but Pascal fights for HBO and not PBC. The other major Canadian name is David Lemieux. Lemieux has only became a name in the past year, though, and he fights for Golden Boy and not PBC, although I would covet Lemieux if I was running a boxing promotion in Toronto because I think he has tremendous box office potential in Canada.
The thing with these Canadian stars is that they are not really Canadian stars, but more specifically are stars in Quebec. I actually doubt anyone in the general public outside of French speaking areas of Canada even know Adonis, Bute, or Pascal. Boxing fans in Canada know who they are of course, but if you went to Calgary or Vancouver or even Toronto before a few weeks ago and asked a hundred random people who Adonis Stevenson was, you probably would get all sorts of crazy answers.
However, since Bute is just returning and Pascal fights for HBO, that made Adonis the default biggest star to open Toronto in September. They could have run with Bute next year (and maybe they will), but I also think Stevenson has more crossover appeal with English Canadians than Bute anyway. The problem is that PBC just doesn’t have the right opponent to fight Stevenson on a major show in Toronto, which is why they went with the handpicked Karpency. If PBC did have a major opponent for Adonis, they could probably run Air Canada Centre. Even if locals in Toronto weren’t into the fight, Montreal is only about a five hour drive from Toronto and for a major Adonis fight PBC could probably get fans to drive in from Quebec. With great local promotion in Toronto, for the right fight PBC might be able to sell Air Canada Centre. But other than an Adonis bout against Kovalev, I don’t know what that fight would be. Sometimes the drawing card just isn’t there.
What was weird, too, was that the show was available as a pay per view in Canada through Indigo. Canadian fights are frequently blacked out on television in Canada and instead offered as expensive pay per views. Indigo was asking for $59.99 for the fight in HD. I’m unsure of whether the fight was available for free on Spike in Canada, since from what I understand Spike airs the same schedule in the Canada as in the US. It also may have been blacked out in Quebec only, since Indigo is a pay per view provider in that province. I’m not sure about any of this since I watched the fight in the US and not in Canada. But no matter what, imagine trying to open Canada as a new market by marketing star fighters and instead of offering the fight on free television, trying to get people to pay $60 for it on pay per view. You can’t create new stars that way.
Adonis called Kovalev out afterwards. “C’mon Kovalev – it’s time to fight for the unified title.”
Kovalev was less than impressed. On Twitter he wrote, “Adonis "Piece of shit" Chickenson got his next win today with very easy opponent.
Congrats you CHICKEN !!!”
Adonis has the WBC belt and Kovalev as the all the other belts. Adonis versus Kovalev almost went to purse bid earlier this year. Adonis is promoted by Yvon Michel, but his manager is Al Haymon. Kovalev is promoted by Kathy Duva of Main Events. Duva ended up withdrawing Kovalev from the purse bid because there was no way that Al Haymon was going to lose the bid. Haymon wins every purse bid he wants using his Wall Street financing. Kovalev has an exclusive with HBO and this bout has been one of the toughest to put together in boxing, even though it would be a box office draw on pay per view.
Another possible opponent for Adonis is Artur Beterbiev, who is a Russian fighter that trains out of Montreal. He comes off like PBC’s version of Kovalev. It’s like when Crockett had the Road Warriors, then WWF had Demolition. It’s kind of the same gimmick with two different fighters for two different promoters. That’s not to say that Beterbiev is a bad fighter. In fact, he’s excellent and might be able to beat Adonis. That Beterbiev has already fought twice for PBC makes Beterbiev more likely as an opponent for Adonis than Kovalev.
Adonis needs a major opponent soon, though. Haymon has been protecting Adonis with easy opponents, although Fonfara gave Adonis a surprising run for his money at the Bell Centre last year. Adonis has been criticized for avoiding major fights not only with Kovalev, but also with Bernard Hopkins. Hopkins was defeated by Kovalev last year. Adonis is 37 years old, having become a major star late in his career. Right now PBC is using Adonis as their major Canadian star in Montreal and Toronto, but once they’ve gotten as much mileage out of him in those two cities then PBC needs to cash out and setup a bout with Kovalev and maybe Hopkins.
Michael Woods of The Sweet Science spoke to Kathy Duva about the chances of Adonis facing Kovalev. On Twitter, Woods said that Duva responded, "Ha! Ha! I am certain that we will speak next week. We already have a... ...appointment to talk about the two upcoming mandatories where our fighters are matched."
CTV Montreal ran a news story saying that Spike TV picked up about 75-to-80-percent of the costs of the show. CTV also reported that Yvon Michel was looking to run Toronto about three or four times a year from now on.
In the co-main on Spike, Errol Spence Jr stopped Chris van Heerden at welterweight in the eighth round. Spence knocked van Heerden down twice in the seventh round. With the win Spence, 25, improved to 18-0 with 15 knockouts and van Heerden, 28, fell to 23-2-1 with 12 knockouts.
Spence is considered one of the top prospects in boxing and a future potential box office draw. He dominated van Heerden, landing 49-percent of his power shots compared to van Heerden’s 25-percent. Spence also outlanded van Heerden in total punches 40-percent compared to 22-percent. The fight easily could have been stopped earlier. This was Spence’s third fight this year. He has yet to fight for a major title at welterweight, but that opportunity is probably coming soon.
The show aired on Spike and went up against Top Rank boxing on TruTV, which was headlined by Oscar Valdez stopping Chris Avalos in the fifth round at the Cosmopolitan Chelsea in Las Vegas. The fight on Spike was the bigger deal between the two broadcasts because of the importance of the fight running in Toronto, but the TruTV show received more press in the boxing media because so many journalists are in town for the Mayweather fight Saturday night at the MGM Grand. I’m in Vegas for the fight, too, but opted to stay in my hotel and watch the fight on Spike.
PBC hasn’t drawn strongly on Spike, ranging from 446,000 viewers for a show on June 12th to 869,000 viewers for the PBC on Spike debut on March 13th. Average viewership over five PBC shows on Spike has been 667,000. With the rumour that Glory might not be renewed by Spike and could be leaving for Showtime, it will be interesting what Spike does in the future for its “Friday Night Lights Out” themed combat sports shows on Fridays, which includes Glory, PBC, and Bellator, the latter of which is owned by the same company that owns Spike.
Jeremy Wall can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @jeremydalewall.