Boxers aren’t first responders, but they’re often the last to say “No.”
Boxing is a poor people’s sport. — Gabriel Rosado
Boxing just can’t win.
Don’t count it out though.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship returned May 9 (March 14) with UFC 249. Justin Gaethje finished off Tony Ferguson at 3:39 in the fifth round to become the interim Lightweight champion. Ferguson was initially set to face Khabib Nurmagomedov on April 18. According to John Ourand of Sports Business Journal the event had over 700,000 pay-per-view purchases at $64.99 plus the $4.99 monthly subscription for the ESPN+ app. ESPN staff writer Marc Raimondi reported Gaethje earned a $50,000 bonus for Performance of the Night, and both men picked up the $50,000 Fight of the Night bonus.
After boxing’s return on June 9, a Top Rank card which aired on ESPN, Boxingscene.com writer Keith Idec reported a peak audience of 609,000 viewers tuned in near the time of the main event. The average number of viewers was 397,000 over the telecast’s originally planned for four hours. Rio Games silver medalist and current WBO Featherweight champion Shakur Stevenson easily defeated Puerto Rico’s Felix Caraballo in the main event via sixth round technical knockout. The show opened with a first round knockout by the Cuban Olympian who kept Stevenson from winning the gold medal in Rio – Robeisy Ramirez.
Another participant in Rio, Mikaela Mayer, was supposed to fight in the co-main event, but a positive COVID-19 test days earlier scrapped her scheduled 10-round bout with Helen Joseph. Mayer’s misfortune elevated Toledo, Ohio Heavyweight Jared Anderson into the co-main, and the 20-year old walked over Johnnie Langston with a third round technical knockout. Fellow Top Rank promoted Heavyweight Guido Vianello drove a right hand down onto the side of Don Haynesworth’s head before reaching the first minute of their scheduled six-rounder. After Ramirez’ punishing stoppage, Middleweights Quatavious Cash and Calvin Metcalf actually gave viewers a chance to recognize the crowd noise ESPN pumped into the MGM Grand Conference Center-Grand Ballroom from a website ESPN provided for interested viewers. Cash was too skilled for Metcalf’s rugged pressure approach, and a worsening cut above Metcalf’s left eye led to the fight being stopped in the final round. Cash won by unanimous decision.
Stevenson appears to be a future pound-for-pound champion, and Bob Arum touted the kid’s upside as being able to exceed the accomplishments of Floyd Mayweather. The 22-year old’s first title defense slated for March 14 became boxing’s first major event to be disrupted by the ongoing pandemic. In Anderson, fans got to see the fighter credited as being the major driving force in Tyson Fury’s camp that helped him to dethrone Deontay Wilder in the seventh round back in February. Robeisy, actually a two-time Olympic gold medalist, extended his win streak to three after surprisingly dropping his first professional fight by decision.
Seems like only about 397,000 fans of the sweet science really cared about any of these storylines.
Who knows if a factor like unemployment levels hovering at historic highs contributed to the lesser than stellar TV numbers. Or, whether fans who usually tune in were out participating in the ongoing nationwide protests that are a response to police brutality and a call for equal justice.
Maybe the fights were just too noncompetitive. Maybe Arum and his team could’ve explored organizing a heavily discounted pay-per-view featuring Shakur versus some Top 15-ranked Featherweight opponent.
Maybe people could try to consider what was in the works, what is in the works, and how it all works towards what’s to come in the future. Great, Dana White can celebrate UFC 249 doing one million pay-per-view buys while the curve was in the process of flattening. This past Tuesday night Top Rank wasn’t trying to maintain status quo regarding boxing’s track record with failing to consistently match the best against the best. The long-time promotional entity was leading the way in figuring out how boxing can exist in the era of a lethal health hazard that hasn’t been seen in 100 years.
Maybe those knocking the June 9 card will view it differently once the NBA resumes its season in late-July. According to former player Matt Barnes, players from some of the NBA’s contenders are mulling over whether or not to suit up in Orlando. Stevenson and Anderson at least fought June 9, and then donned their Black Lives Matters tee-shirts after their respective fights. Barnes suggested NBA players may sit out the action as a response to Minneapolis’ police-involved killing of George Floyd, the sum of the after effects of the ongoing protests, issues with being separated from families and COVID-19 concerns.
Many fighters, and those in and around boxing, often speak about success in the game requiring the fighters to lead a Spartan life. Fighters often post “boxing isn’t a sport, it’s a lifestyle.” At this challenging moment we can choose to pile it on when discussing one of the oldest sports in the history of the world. But, know one thing. Through it all – economic downturns, international conflicts and wars, work stoppages in professional sports – boxing is amazingly consistent at always being here. Numbers may very well never lie, but they don’t always tell the full story neither.
Personally, tonight I’m tuning in for Magdaleno-Vincente and Lopez-Coria. On June 16 I look forward to checking out Joshua Greer Jr. versus Mike Plania, and two nights later Jose Pedraza versus LesPierre. The following week on June 20, the hard working WBO Junior Featherweight Emanuel Navarrete faces Uriel Lopez. Alex Saucedo versus Sonny Fredrickson close out the month’s action on July 30. Maybe all I can realistically expect to join me June 18 to see if high-stepping Clay Collard can capture another highlight moment is 396,999 other boxing fans. I know how much I missed it when boxing went away after March 13.
All photos by Hector De La Cruz/Top Rank