A pay-per-view card for people who hate money
Even with the marketing power of HBO’s “24/7” behind them, Joe Calzaghe and Roy Jones couldn’t come close to reaching pay-per-view sales expectations in the relatively early days of this economic recession/depression/apocalypse.
Four months later, without the help of “24/7,” with the unemployment rate up nearly 2 percent and with Jones’ relevance having taken another hit in his non-competitive defeat to Calzaghe, the former pound-for-pound king is right back on pay-per-view.
Against Omar Sheika.
Directly opposite March Madness basketball on free television.
Even the folks at CNBC could probably make an accurate prediction about the financial future of this little venture.
There are two types of PPV shows these days: The fights that are so big that you’re leaving money on the table by doing them on HBO or Showtime, and the smaller fights that simply can’t find a logical TV home anywhere other than PPV. The Jones-Sheika event emanating from the Pensacola Civic Center this Saturday night falls into the latter category. Nobody’s expecting to shatter revenue records with this show. They just want it to sell well enough to come out in the black.
And in hopes of accomplishing that goal, Jones’ promotional company, Square Ring, is taking an experimental trip down a road that hasn’t been traveled yet, at least not on television: They’re combining boxing with mixed martial arts.
Though the MMA side of the bout sheet keeps changing, thanks to an injury to Seth Petruzelli and a positive steroid test for Ken Shamrock, the PPV promises five fightsÔÇötwo boxing, three MMA.
Interesting? Perhaps. But if you’re a boxing fan who doesn’t care for MMA, how likely are you to part with $30 to watch two fights? Especially when those fights are as irrelevant as Jones vs. Sheika and B.J. Flores vs. Jose Luis Herrera? It’s basically an ESPN2 Friday Night Fights card that’s enhanced by the presence of one huge name. And if it was an FNF show, we might be criticizing ESPN2 for buying it.
Putting this event on pay-per-view is akin to asking people to pay for the horrendous Manny Pacquiao-Oscar De La Hoya undercard without giving them the Pacquiao-De La Hoya fight.
Add it all up and, at least purely from a boxing standpoint, this might just be the worst card ever offered on pay-per-view.
“It’s a ridiculous idea because they’re different sports,” said Kevin Iole, who covers both boxing and MMA for Yahoo! Sports. “I think our crossover is probably only 15-20 percent. The boxing fans are going to tune in to watch the boxing if they buy it, which I don’t think too many will, and same thing on the MMA side. A few MMA fans will tune in to watch the MMA fights and turn it off when Roy comes on.”
Iole said the MMA portion of the show is “better than some MMA cards that are out there, but certainly nothing that people will be drooling to buy.” He described Shamrock, the intended MMA headliner, as the Octagon equivalent of Evander Holyfield, only more faded. The only fight that’s set for sure is a heavyweight bout between Roy Nelson and Jeff Monson, which Iole said could interest hardcore fans, though he labeled it more an ESPN2-level fight than an HBO-level matchup.
On the boxing side, there’s the 40-year-old Jones, who continues on in that past-his-prime-but-not-quite-shot category, taking on a brave but one-dimensional slugger in Sheika who’s dropped six of his last 10 and really hasn’t mattered since losing back-to-back thrillers against Scott Pemberton in ’03 and ’04. And there’s Flores, undefeated but perhaps a bit overprotected, facing the upset-minded Herrera, who usually comes up short against credible opposition but has been known to spring a shocker from time to time.
Jones’ efforts to sell his fight have been almost comical.
“[Sheika] beat Glen Johnson,” Jones said, referring to a controversial decision win for Sheika in 2000. “If I can’t get Glen Johnson right now, I’ll take the next best thing, Omar Sheika.”
Calling Sheika the next best thing is like saying John From Cincinnati was suitable to fill the void left by The Sopranos.
But wait, Jones’ quotes get better.
“I never thought I’d be the baddest thing walking around at 40 years old, but I am still the baddest. And I still look good on top of it. That’s what really surprised me. I didn’t think I would stay this cute for this long.”
Step aside, Will Smith. There’s a new half-assed Muhammad Ali imitator in town.
One thing we must admit, though, is that Square Ring has gotten the show some quality free publicity by adding MMA to the card. It’s something that’s never been done before on TV, and that gets people talking, even if the fights themselves are somewhat lacking.
Veteran California-based promoter Roy Englebrecht is among those who have tried the boxing/MMA fusion. His first “Worlds Collide” event drew a near-sellout crowd of 4,000 to Buffalo Bill’s Casino in Primm, Nevada, on February 14, and they will continue on a regular basis, but Englebrecht says the approach and atmosphere need to be right in order to combine the two sports successfully.
“Other promoters tried to combine boxing and MMA, but we were the first to integrate them,” he said. “The reason it didn’t work for some other people, from what I heard, was they did four boxing bouts, one right after another, and then they did four MMA bouts. To me, that is stupid. When we did it, we did a boxing four-rounder, then an MMA fight, then boxing, then MMA.”
For what it’s worth, that’s how Saturday’s Jones-Sheika show will be handled.
“I wasn’t sure if fans of one sport would boo the other, but they really got into it,” Englebrecht continued. “What you can’t do is try to force MMA on boxing fans or vice-versa. I had an MMA show last Saturday, our ‘Spring Fist’ show. Then I had my ‘Battle In The Ballroom’ boxing show two weeks ago. On the club level, if I would have put an MMA bout on my Battle In The Ballroom boxing, my fans would have not been happy. And if I would have put a boxing bout on my Spring Fist MMA show, with my very young crowd, they would have booed them out of the ring. They are two different audiences for these sports.”
All it takes is one peek at an online message board, where MMA fans are trashing boxing and boxing fans are thumbing their noses at MMA, to know that crossover fans are not made overnight. Even Iole, whose career path forced him to cross over, needed some time before he could appreciate both sports.
“When I first started watching MMA, I thought it was bad boxing,” Iole said. “It took me a long time to understand: It’s not that these guys are bad boxers, it’s that they need to take different stances and fight a different way. Once I learned MMA, I loved both sports equally. But I don’t think you’re going to educate somebody just on one night.”
And it’s especially difficult when the fights being offered are sub-standard. If you showed the younger people who love MMA last month’s spectacular battle between Juan Manuel Marquez and Juan Diaz, you’d stand a chance at converting them.
But Jones-Sheika and Flores-Herrera? That’s not going to create any new boxing fans.
It’s going to be tough enough for an event like that to even interest the existing ones.
ÔÇó I attempted to get a quote from Square Ring CEO John Wirt to offer a counter-opinion in my column, and I thought it best to reveal my unfavorable angle up-front, rather than ambush him. Wirt’s response, sent via e-mail: “It doesn’t surprise me that you have taken such a negative attitude towards our event. I’m sure that this article would be much different if Golden Boy were the promoter.” I told him I was sorry he felt that way and that he was welcome to provide a specific example of any undue preferential treatment THE RING had ever given a Golden Boy fight or fighter, rather than offer hollow, unsubstantiated conspiracy theories. But he ignored that appeal and wrote back, “My quote stands and make sure that it is printed.” Well, at least one of us is honoring the other’s request.
ÔÇó I’m not going to say the count Lindsey Page gave Fulgencio Zuniga on Friday night was slow, but I will say that Marlon B. Wright was watching on his couch at home, yelling at Page to hurry the heck up.
ÔÇó Lucien Bute’s performance against Zuniga was outstanding on every level, but particularly impressive was that he recognized he wasn’t going to hurt the Colombian with a shot to the chin and instead committed to the body. It’s refreshing to see a smart game plan pay off for a smart fighter.
ÔÇó Amir Khan should probably be the main story after his confidence-building win over Marco Antonio Barrera on Saturday night. But the image that sticks with me is of Barrera, one of many to get the “next Julio Cesar Chavez” label as a young man, fulfilling that promise by looking exactly like Chavez did in his first fight against Oscar De La Hoya. I’m not just talking about all the blood. I’m also talking about the resigned look on his face.
ÔÇó It’s early, but so far the post-Joe Calzaghe era isn’t going so well for Enzo Calzaghe.
ÔÇó I loved the little touch on the British fight broadcast of showing the betting odds on the evening’s matchups, then showing them changing mid-fight. When it comes to filler material, I’ll take that over Karyn Bryant interviewing the cast of Dexter anyday.
ÔÇó Two observations about the assorted commentary teams on the Barrera-Khan pay-per-view broadcast: First, we should have known it might be a bumpy ride when, all of five seconds into the show, Benny Ricardo welcomed us to “Khan vs. Marrera”; and second, I know the text graphic on the screen told me the color man was Jim Watt, but I’m still convinced I spent all afternoon listening to Groundskeeper Willie. I wonder if in his fighting days, Watt used to get into opponents’ heads by telling them, “I’m going to kill the whole lot of ya’ and burn the town to cinders!”
Eric Raskin can be reached at [email protected]