For over the past decade and a half, ESPN along with several other mainstream media outlets have trumpeted the “Boxing is dying” angle. Despite the sport selling out arenas nationwide, and more importantly worldwide, ESPN has in their eyes relegated the sport to a niche genre. Apparently the PGA tour, Tennis, and college sports are either more important or more compelling than world championship Boxing. That is if you’ve joined in the ESPN perspective for the last several years.
But, then whenever a huge fight like the numerous Floyd Mayweather super fights with Oscar De La Hoya, Manny Pacquiao and Canelo Alvarez take place or this September’s upcoming mammoth-showdown between Triple G and Canelo, the mainstream media comes barging in and cannot get enough of what is supposed to be a dead sport.
This time however, it was not even a super fight or really anything close to one that drew in the worldwide sports leader known as ESPN. Why is it that ESPN suddenly drew a massive interest in what was perhaps the least significant fight for Manny Pacquiao in 12 years? Was it because Pacquiao-Horn and the “Battle of Brisbane” which ESPN promoted as if it was the “Thrilla in Manilla” was just that great of a fight? Could it be that Pacquiao-Horn really was more important than Canelo-Chavez Jr, GGG-jacobs, Jack-Degale, Spence-Brook, Thurman-Garcia, and Ward-Kovalev 2?
No, unfortunately not. What are the two things all of those fights listed above have in common? For one, they were all far better match ups (save perhaps Canelo-Chavez) that had much more at stake. And also more importantly, none of them were broadcasted on ESPN. ESPN promoted this thing to the hills because they got their cut, not because it deserved more journalistic attention than those fights. It is as simple as that.
ESPN, the worldwide leader, is supposed to lead by example and cover the sporting events that really are the most significant, and subjectively the best. There were better, more significant fights that ESPN hardly touched on, if at all.
The facts are that unlike the three letter professional sports organizations known as the NBA, MLB, NFL, NHL, PGA, MLS, and now even the WWE, big-time Boxing event did not take place on ESPN. ESPN has a stake in each of those organizations. They broadcast Monday Night Football, the NBA on Wednesday and Fridays, they have NHL games, MLS games, they broadcast major PGA and Tennis events as well as MLB games. It has been and will continue to be in their corporate interest to cover these games and events over Boxing no matter how much more exciting or significant a fight may if ESPN does not in fact have their cut.
If you want proof of that, again just look at Pacquiao-Horn. After hosting a national televised live weigh-in, ESPN went into an hour and a half special edition First Take with Max Kellerman and Stephen A Smith in a week in which they hadn’t done a show up until that point. During each of their various NFL Live, Dan Lebatard or SportsCenter shows, they would give the fight full promotion and exposure. Like the NBA and NFL, Boxing was finally getting the ESPN treatment.
The upside to ESPN’s blatant shilling for their own bottom line however, was that…well Boxing got the ESPN treatment! It was great for the sport, and the aforementioned hour and a half special ESPN provided on First Take gave a great platform for the entire sport. Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman touched on GGG-Canelo, and numerous great fighters like Terence Crawford, Vasyl Lomachenko, Andre Ward, Errol Spence and others got some name recognition and attention thrown their way.
Despite potentially drawing in the eyeballs the sport needs, the downside to Boxing ever truly getting in ESPN’s good graces could also be well…the ESPN treatment. ESPN has for years now tended to get really sensational rather than settle in on some good journalism. For example rather than actually playback the footage they of the fight with a former champion or fight expert, to have that person break down the key moments in the bout, they just had Stephen A entertain people and shout. If ESPN felt that the fight was a robbery, they should educate the fans at home as to why it was, by-the-punches. Not have Stephen A Smith shout that we need to find these judges or their addresses. It is funny stuff, but not exactly solid objective sports journalism.
Boxing has some of the most knowledge and passionate fans in all of sports. Most Boxing fans don’t care about the kind of TMZ-outside of the ring drama (unless it pertains to the actual fight) that ESPN tends to do with other sports. ESPN may have to adjust some of their coverage to the traditional class that has surrounded Boxing since it has been on television. But more than likely, Boxing fans would have to adjust themselves to ESPN’s broadcasts and talking heads.
The point is though, ESPN exposed themselves once again as being a sporting journalism media conglomerate that serves their bottom line before they serve the entire sporting world. A lot of people know this, but there are a huge chunk of mainstream sports fans that believe they haven’t seen Boxing or information about the sport on the channel they watch every day because it simply has not been significant enough to garner the sporting world’s attention. Pacquiao-Horn proved that to be true. Pacquiao-Horn showed that if you take the money out of Showtime and HBO’s wallets and put it in ESPN’s, Boxing is alive and well on the worldwide leader.
This is a good thing though, because the two may need each other. ESPN has shelled out hundreds of millions of dollars for the rights to programming such as NCAA sports, and Billions of dollars to the NBA, NHL and MLB. For what would probably be a pretty small fraction of those prices, ESPN could have been securing the rights to high-profile fights featuring high-profile fighters. Boxing needs the exposure, and ESPN needs the ratings, diversity and attention with all the other mediums of media outside of television growing.
Boxing fans have always believed that amateur (they are not professionals) sports such as NCAA Basketball and Football were not as significant or “better” than world-championship Boxing. They’ve always believed that Boxing is just as “good” and significant, or even better at times than the NFL and all of the other major professional sports. Perhaps ESPN is finally starting to see what they have known all along: that Boxing never died and never will, that it continues to be a great sport, and that they can make money off of it.
Two of the very best (maybe even THE best) fighters in the world in Terence Crawford and Vasyl Lomachenko will be fighting on primetime just as Pacquiao did on ESPN in August. Top Rank and Golden Boy have both struck deals with ESPN to put Boxing on the network throughout the year. The momentum is not slowing down, and with the right fights and fighters, there is no reason it should. Let us just hope that this relationship can bring nothing but prosperity for Boxing, it’s fighters and it’s fans.