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Weekend boxing coverage: CBS/Showtime doubleheader

by Jeremy Wall

PBC had a double-header on Saturday, July 18th with two shows in front of 9,245 at the Don Haskins Convention Center in El Paso. The first was headlined by the US debut of IBF Super Bantamweight champion Carl Frampton and aired Saturday afternoon on CBS. The second show wasn't officially a PBC show, but featured fighters signed to Al Haymon. It aired on Saturday night on Showtime and was headlined by the return of Julio Cesar Chavez Jr after Junior's devastating loss to Andrzej Fonfara earlier this year. The show was promoted by Leon Margules of Warrior Boxing, who has worked as the on-site promoter for PBC before.

CBS aired two fights during the afternoon show, which began at 4pm ET. In the main event on CBS, Carl Frampton (21-0-0, 14KOs) made his shakey debut in the US by defeating Alejandro Gonzalez Jr (25-2-2, 15KOs) by unanimous decision to retain his Super Bantamweight title. Frampton, 28, is from Northern Ireland and continues the recent theme of Irish fighters coming to the US to try and become stars. It was Frampton's second defense of the IBF title. Gonzalez is the son of former world champion Alejandro "Cobrita" Gonzalez Sr.

Frampton struggled in his American debut and was knocked down twice in the first round against Gonzalez. They were the first and second knockdowns Frampton has ever suffered. Frampton, however, came back and outboxed Gonzalez for most of the rest of the fight. Gonzalez, 22, was also consistely hitting Frampton below the belt and lost two points in seperate rounds for low blows, one in the third round when the fight was close and one in the eleventh when Frampton had clearly secured the decision.

Frampton connected on 246 of 692 punches for 36-percent and Gonzalez connected on 145 of 593 punches for 24-percent. Scores were 116-108, 116-108 and 115-109 for Frampton. He came into the weigh-ins at 121.6 pounds compared to 121.4 for Gonzalez. Although Frampton wasn't weighed again the day of the fight, he looked massive the next day and had clearly rehydrated back to a much heavier weight.

Frampton is large for a super bantamweight and has talked about moving up to featherweight soon. There is talk of Frampton facing the winner of Leo Santa Cruz vs Abner Mares in a fight that airs on ESPN on August 29th. Santa Cruz fought on the pay per view telecast of the undercard of Mayweather-Pacquiao in May and has tremendous potential. A fight between Frampton and Santa Cruz would definitely be interesting, although some of the lustre is off Frampton because of how he struggled against Gonzalez on CBS. The plan for Frampton is to get his next fight on the east coast, where he is more likely to draw Irish supporters in larger numbers.

Frampton is one of many European fighters to have signed with PBC. Others include James DeGale, Amir Khan, Beibut Shumenov, and Marco Huck, among others. PBC also won a purse bid for Badou Jack vs George Groves for the WBC Super Middleweight title that Jack won on a PBC broadcast a few weeks ago. Groves is a star European fighter.

The opening match on CBS saw Chris Arreola (36-4-1, 31KOs) go to a pathetic majority draw with Fred Kassi (18-3-1, 10KOs) at heavyweight in a bout that was meant to set Arreola up as a challenger for Deontay Wilder's WBC Heavyweight title on NBC on September 26th. The opening rounds of Arreola-Kassi went up against the Michael Bisping-Thales Leites main event on UFC Fight Night from Glasgow on Fox Sports 1.

Scores were 95-95 twice and 96-94 in favour of Kassi. The scoring was fair. The fight could have reasonably been judged either way. A draw was fair, too, and may have been the most fair result because neither fighter was in danger at any point in the fight. Arreola landed 97 of 317 punches for 31-percent and Kassi landed 135 of 534 punches for 25-percent.

When asked in the post-fight interview on CBS whether he did enough to earn a title shot against Wilder, Arreola responded, "Personally, I don't think so. I know that if I was to get Deontay Wilder, I would be in much better shape and a lot better prepared. Not that I wasn't prepared [for Kassi] because I was very prepared for Kassi. He just came in here and came with a good fight."

Arreola was going into the fight with Kassi off a sloppy unanimous decision win over club fighter Curtis Harper on Spike TV on March 13th. Arreola didn't look much better against Kassi. Kassi is a no-name journeyman who was brought in to give Arreola a showcase fight to generate interest in Arreola challenging Wilder for the title and was coming off a seventh-round knockout loss to Amir Mansour last November.

Arreola looked out of shape weighing in at 246 pounds, but he was actually lighter than the 262 pounds he weighed in for the Harper fight in March. In his prime, Arreola typically weighed in around 240 pounds. His physique, however, looked lousy this time, so even though Arreola weighed in at his typical competitive weight, he obviously wasn't in the same physical shape as in his prime.

Arreola is probably pegged as the next opponent for Wilder because Arreola has a bit of a name from challenging Bermane Stiverne twice in 2013 and 2014 in major heavyweight matches, the latter being for the then-vacant WBC Heavyweight title that is now held by Wilder, as well as from challenging Vitali Klitschko for the WBC belt in 2009. Arreola also holds a first round knockout win over Eric Molina from 2012. Molina recently challenged Wilder for the title. Arreola is currently ranked eleventh at heavyweight by the WBC.

Wilder is making his network television debut in September after fighting on Showtime twice this year. Getting Wilder to network TV was important because of all the possible stars Haymon has under contract, Wilder is the one with the most breakout potential. He's young, flashy, a good (but not great) fighter, and has tremendous charisma. He has room to improve as a boxer, being early in his career still. Arreola is a good opponent to showcase Wilder's debut to a wider audience on NBC, because Arreola has somewhat of a name as a B-side opponent for bigger stars and is a former title challenger, but is well past his prime and should make for easy work for Wilder and setup Wilder's mandatory title defense owed to Alexander Povetkin at the end of the year.

On Showtime, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr (49-2-1, 32 KOs) recovered from his recent loss to Andrzej Fonfara at light-heavyweight to defeat Marcos Reyes (33-3, 24 KOs) via unanimous decision. Scores were 98-91, 97-92 and 96-93 for Chavez.

I was unable to watch the fight because Showtime does not air in Canada and they currently have no contract with another Canadian broadcaster to air Showtime boxing. They were airing on SuperChannel, which is a premium movie channel in Canada, until the end of last year. The Stiverne-Wilder fight from January aired on TSN, but TSN hasn't picked up any more Showtime fights. One would think Showtime boxing would be a natural fit for the Fight Network. Perhaps Showtime wants way too much money for Canadian broadcast rights to their boxing. Boxing isn't popular in Canada at all outside of Quebec, even though pro wrestling and MMA are both popular here.

Reports were that Chavez looked terrible and even though he was fighting just across the border in El Paso, the crowd totally turned on him. The fight took place at light-heavyweight, which looks to be Junior's new home even though Junior's people claim he will continue to fight at super-middleweight. Reyes was fighting for the first time at light-heavyweight after a career of fighting at super welterweight and middleweight and was brought in as a showcase opponent for Chavez.

The fight was originally booked at 168-pounds, which is the super middleweight limit. The idea was obviously that Chavez was fighting in a weight class with opponents that were way too large at light-heavyweight, so they put him in a fight against a smaller opponent at super-middleweight, which was how Chavez was booked before facing Fonfara. Chavez, however, was unable to make weight and the fight was moved to 170-pounds and Reyes was paid an undisclosed amount for the short-notice weight limit change. Could you imagine that happening in the UFC?

To top it off, even with the increase in the weight limit, Junior still missed weight, coming in at 170.8 pounds. Reyes weighed 168.4 pounds. Junior blamed the scale in his hotel room being inaccurate as the reason why he missed weight, which doesn't make a bit of sense if you think about it for more than a couple seconds. Chavez's next fight will apparently be at 168-pounds again, though.

Chavez's drawing power was severely damaged by the loss to Fonfara, a fight where Chavez quit on the stool after the ninth round. Prior to that fight, Chavez was one of the best drawing boxers with his fights topping out the list of the most-watched matches on HBO. Not anymore. The fight against Fonfara in April only drew 618,000 viewers on average and peaked at 836,000. In comparison, Chavez's two fights with Bryan Vera on HBO drew 1.416 million and 1.39 million in 2013 and 2014, respectively. After the loss to Fonfara and the poor showing against Reyes, I suspect Chavez's drawing power will continue to drop, even with all of the additional promotion from CBS.

Chavez is a fighter with a laundry list of problems, ranging from missing weight, to fighting poorly, to DUIs, failed drug tests, and so on. But because he has the same name as the Mexican legend and is a competent fighter when matched against easy opponents, Junior has made a career as a box office draw. Those days look finished, although there is talk of Chavez fighting the winner of Badou Jack vs George Groves, who face each other for Jack's WBC Super Middleweight title on Showtime next month.

The afternoon CBS broadcast was clearly used as a lead-in to sell the Showtime fight. Both CBS and Showtime are owned by the same company. The idea was clearly to use the CBS broadcast to sell the Showtime fight, as much of the advertising on CBS was for Chavez's fight on Showtime later that night. It is a business model that makes a bit more sense compared to what PBC is doing on the other networks, as the idea for turning a profit on CBS is clearly to get people to pay extra to subscribe to Showtime in order to watch Showtime boxing and use CBS to create new subscribers. It is more or less the same business model as using a free television show to hype a pay per view.

Production values for the CBS broadcast were restrained. PBC usually doesn't go out in terms of production for its afternoon shows on CBS and NBC. They had the huge stage and the fancy entrances for last week's debut on ESPN, but not this weekend on CBS. Television advertising has become more varied rather than just ads for Corona shown over and over again (as well as that stupid Jake Gyllenhaal boxing movie), but PBC scaling back production costs is not a good sign and is worth keeping an eye on if that trend continues.

PBC's debut on ESPN last weekend drew 799,000 viewers and a 0.3 rating among adults 18-49 in the 9pm to 11pm ET timeslot. It went against the last hour of the UFC pay per view prelims on Fox Sports 1 and the first hour of the UFC pay per view. The UFC prelims from 8pm to 10pm ET drew 847,000 viewers and a 0.4 rating. NBC Sports won that night with 3,216,000 viewers and a 0.6 rating for the Nascar Sprint Cup from 8pm to 11pm ET.

PBC on ESPN was outdrawn in recent weeks in the same timeslot by UFC (on the same night), HBO Boxing, and the College World Series on ESPN. It was also outdrawn by an afternoon broadcast of a hot dog eating contest on ESPN that aired July 4th weekend. Compared to July 4th, ESPN drew 1,108,000 for its afternoon coverage of Wimbledon and ESPN2 drew 1,129,000 for a lunchtime airing of a hot dog eating contest. The week before, Bradley vs Vargas on HBO on Saturday night drew 1,121,000. And on Saturday, June 20th, ESPN drew 1,085,000 for the College World Series between Florida and Virginia from 8pm to 11pm ET. Past Saturday night live events on ESPN have been around the 799,000 rating that PBC drew last weekend.

Relative to the ratings for the UFC prelims the same night, as well as recent boxing on HBO (which has far less clearance than ESPN, not even close), and ratings on ESPN for other events in Saturday night time slots, the debut of PBC on ESPN was a major disappointment. It was interesting how the ratings were covered by the boxing media. It was widely reported as a win for PBC, with few major boxing sites mentioning that PBC was outdrawn by the UFC and even fewer putting PBC's ratings on ESPN into context relative to previous Saturday night ratings on ESPB.

Instead, it was widely reported that PBC on ESPN outdrew ratings for Friday Night Fights on ESPN2. Well, of course it was going to outdraw ratings for Friday Night Fights on ESPN2. That's like reporting that ratings for Bellator were a win because it outdrew past UFC shows that aired on Fox Sports 2.

If PBC on ESPN was a major win for both companies, it would have outdrawn the UFC prelims and shown audience growth relative to what ESPN normally draws for live events on Saturday nights. But it did neither. PBC picked a bad night to debut on ESPN, going against the Conor McGregor breakout show on UFC.

CBS ratings for PBC have been in decline after being steady for the first few broadcasts. The latest PBC show on CBS that took place June 21st drew a 0.8 rating, which is down from April 4th (1.1) and May 9th (0.9) on CBS. PBC has also aired afternoon shows on NBC, with a May 23rd show drawing 0.85 and a June 6th show drawing a 0.95.

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