The Dawn of a New Boxing Era
January 6, 2019
Anthony Saldana (93 articles)
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The Dawn of a New Boxing Era

By Anthony “Stacks” Saldaña

 

In the 1970’s and continuing into the 1980’s boxing had what the consensus say was the “Best Era” in Boxing history. Heavy Hitters such as Ali, Foreman and Frazier entered the squared circle and battled it out for supremacy. Other champions such as Roberto Duran, Alexis Arguello, Bob Foster, Jose Napoles, Wilfredo Gomez, Carlos Zarate and Carlos Monzon just to name a few all became fan favorites. The sport of boxing was at shining and the momentum of the 70’s carried over to 80’s. Ali was no longer in the picture, but a fresh new face exploded onto the scene his name “Iron” Mike Tyson. Other such as “Sugar” Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran, “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler and the “Hitman” Tommy Hearns took their rivalry and boxing to another level.  From the “No Mas” fight, to Hagler vs Hearns at Cesars Palace, the 80’s were truly the ‘Golden Era” of boxing. Fans witnessed tragedy in the ring as Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini and Duk Koo Kim brutally battled it out for 15-rounds leading to Kim losing his life several days later and the WBC Rule changes that followed ending 15-round championship fights. “El Gran Campeon Mexicano” Julio Cesar Chavez became a Mexican hero and a three division world champion after knocking out Roger Maywether in 1989. Boxing was a regular staple on broadcast TV and in the 80’s alone HBO had broadcasted 87 championship fights, little did fans know boxing had peaked before our eyes.

 

When the Legends like “The Four Kings” Leonard, Duran, Hearns and Hagler, all began to retire boxing saw a birth of a new set of stars names like Oscar De La Hoya, Floyd Mayweather, Evander Holyfield, Felix “Tito” Trinidad and Roy Jones Jr. were responsible for keeping the sport alive. The 90’s kicked off with a fight in Japan that would shock world, in February 1990, James “Buster” Douglas a 42-1 underdog would go to Tokyo and knockout Mike Tyson. Tyson would lose all three of his titles (WBC, WBA and IBF) and that night on the HBO broadcast Larry Merchant would comment “This makes Cinderella look like a sad story, what Buster Douglas has done here tonight.” Tyson would go on to get arrested for rape in 1991 and the heavyweight division would never be the same. Sure you had Holyfield and Lennox Lewis and later the Klitschko brothers but the buzz of the division was dead, the casual fans had lost interest. Boxing now also had a new rival to deal with the UFC.

 

Since the 90’s yes there have been numerous amount of great fights from Diego “Chico” Corrales taking on Jose Luis Castillo to the Vasquez vs Marquez trilogy to the “Irish” Mickey Ward vs Arturo Gatti fight boxing has survived. What didn’t was the fan base, and unless your name was Mayweather, De La Hoya or Pacquiao you weren’t selling more than a million PPV’s that’s just a fact. Boxing was no longer mainstream and HBO and Showtime pretty much controlled the fights fans watched. Then came the 2012 London Games, it was a chance for Great Britain to showcase to the world their great amateur program. A program that had sent their largest ever boxing team in history to the summer games. That year fighter such as Andrew Selby, Anthony Ogogo and Savannah Marshal shined and Anthony Joshua and Luke Campbell walked away with Gold. Promoter Eddie Hearn of Matchroom boxing used the limelight of the London Games, and his experience he learned from his father longtime business man Barry Hearn to begin to market boxing to the general fans who usually watched rugby or soccer. He sold tickets at affordable prices, made quality matches and used his marketing background to turn Great Britain into a hotbed for boxing.  That started the Golden Age of boxing for Great Britain and with the number of quality fighters, a huge rivalry between Matchroom, Sky Sports and Box Nation, the UK was put on the global boxing map. It wasn’t long after that, that the success of what Eddie Hearn had done in the UK was noticed and began to change the shape of boxing in the United States. As Al Haymon and his investors started Premier Boxing Champions. Haymon reached multi-year deals with NBC, Spike, CBS, ESPN, Fox and BounceTV to air cards through their outlets on either weekend afternoons or on Primetime TV. Boxing was back on mainstream television. Although HBO and Showtime were still players as far as televising boxing matches it wasn’t long before Oscar De La Hoya and Golden Boy Promotions would follow the lead of bringing boxing back to mainstream media by signing a 42 fight card deal with ESPN. The deal included 18 cards in 2017 and 24 more fight cards in 2018. Bob Arum and Top Rank would follow suit. When Manny Pacquiao faced Jeff Horn in Australia on July 2nd  2017 it was televised live on ESPN, it was the first time Pacquiao had not fought on PPV since 2005 and it was only the beginning for major fights that would begin to air on ESPN. Burke Magnus, ESPN executive vice president of programming and scheduling.  Stated after the deal between Top Rank and ESPN was signed “We believe in a new vision for boxing that will super-serve existing boxing fans and create legions of new fans through world class boxing content across multiple ESPN platforms — 365 days a year. Together, ESPN and Top Rank will build the superstars of tomorrow through unrivaled exposure, original content and cutting edge technology.” A year later Top Rank and ESPN announced a new seven-year contract they called “the most comprehensive, exclusive rights agreement in the history of boxing.” The contract, which immediately replaces a four-year deal that began the year before between the two companies runs through August 2025. Under the  deal Top Rank and ESPN will broadcast 54 fight cards per year and will include 18 cards that will air on ESPN, 12 more prime-time cards that will stream exclusively on ESPN+ and 24 “premium international events” on ESPN+. Including undercard coverage of all 54 events on ESPN+. It was the birth of a new era in boxing.

 

With all three major US promotional companies now bringing boxing back to the fans either through streaming services or network television it was time for Eddie Hearn to bring that type of exposure back to the UK. What Eddie did however would change the sport of boxing and how fans watch it forever. Hearn would sign a 1 billion dollar, eight year deal with a streaming sports company out of Germany, DAZN. The deal allows Hearn and Matchroom Boxing USA to promote 16 fights per year in the United States. The streaming service DAZN is Matchroom’s exclusive US broadcast partner while the fights are broadcast by Sky Sports in the United Kingdom. In addition to the 16 US fights, the 16 fights promoted by Matchroom in the UK can also be streamed on DAZN, providing fight fans a glimpse of fighters who have previously flown under the radar in the states. Then in October of 2018 DAZN made even bigger waves in the boxing world by signing a landmark five-year global partnership with Golden Boy Promotions and Saul “Canelo” Alvarez to the live and on-demand service for 11 iconic fights. The deal also guarantees that Golden Boy will provide 10 major fight cards to DAZN in 2019.

 

With PBC broadcasting boxing on Network television, Golden Boy, Top Rank and now Roy Jones Jr. using streaming services to bring the fights to the fans that only meant one thing. After 45 years, more than 1,000 fights and some of greatest boxing matches of all time, HBO was forced to throw in the towel. Jim Lampley, Max Kellerman, the ringside scorer Harold Lederman and the former boxing champions Andre Ward and Roy Jones Jr., who work for HBO as freelance commentators are no longer a staple of the what we were used to watching. When a 20 year old Mike Tyson became the youngest heavyweight champion in history by knocking out Trevor Berbick in 1986, he did it on HBO. When he lost to Buster Douglas in Tokyo it was an HBO fight. So was the June 1990 fight between Meldrick Taylor and Julio Cesar Chavez that became one of the most controversial fights in history. At the end of the day HBO stated “Boxing has been part of our heritage for decades. During that time, the sport has undergone a transformation. It is now widely available on a host of networks and streaming services. There is more boxing than ever being televised and distributed. In some cases, this programming is very good. But from an entertainment point of view, it’s not unique.”

 

In the 70’s and 80’s cable television transformed the way fans watched boxing. HBO and Showtime killed the Closed Circuit Platform. Boxing was a staple on regular TV and the sweet science had one of the best era’s in its history. By the 90’s weather it was lack of big names in the heavyweight division of boxing, or Showtime and HBO once again changing the landscape of the television by forcing PPV on fans and taking boxing from network television, something slowed down the momentum that boxing had carried over from the 80’s. However boxing survived. It survived the decades of the PPV model, the emergence of the UFC, and the millions of dollars networks pumped into the MLB, NBA and the NFL. Now although in its early stages, it’s the dawn of a new era, a streaming era of boxing. No matter our thoughts on this, streaming services are her to stay. Fans now have the opportunity to watch fights from around the world. New global superstars are emerging, names like Anthony Joshua, Oleksandr Usyk, and Naoya Inoue are becoming household names. The majority of these streaming services bring more to the table than just boxing. These are streaming sports networks which gives all sports fans access to boxing events, both live and on demand. The new landscape and future of boxing has arrived before our eyes.

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Anthony Saldana