Sunday, April 02, 2023  |



Will Premier Boxing Champions burn out … or burn brighter?

Photo credit: Tom Uhlman/New York Times
Fighters Network

This is Part II of a column by’s Michael Woods. Please click here for Part I.


Mark Twain, I think, would have gotten a kick out of Premier Boxing Champions and the persistent chatter about its wellness, or lack thereof, and talk of its imminent demise.

The reports of the death of the Al Haymon creation, an experience and experiment in innovation, spurred by a nostalgia-fueled desire to restore a once proud and popular sport to former glory, started not long after the series kicked off in March 2015.

This cannot be sustainable and must, then, be on life support, coroners ahead of the curve said, because this burn rate won’t allow for a long life.

The death chatter is helped along by the culture of non-transparency in which the PBC was born. Haymon regards press as apartment dwellers see bed bugs. So when there are periods of silence, during weeks when there is little PBC product available and relatively no info on forthcoming features, the chatter picks up. It’s to be expected, from my line of thinking. When a vacuum forms, it will get filled by whomever is dispensing material to fill it. That material doesn’t have to be factual and can be pure opinion with a topping of informed speculation. Tidbits which escape from the semi-silent cone which envelopes PBC, such as when Gary Russell Jr. publicly complains that he thinks his purses should be higher, contribute to the chatter. Most of that, from what I glean as I survey the polling place that is the Twittersphere, comes in the form of scorn toward the athlete and the entity. Many responses boil down to, “What has Russell done?” “Who has he beaten?” and “What sort of attraction has he been to demand beefier purses?”

But we digress, slightly; the main vein of focus here and now is this: Is PBC burning out or, actually, poised to burn brighter?

If I had to guess – and that’s all I can do – not being privy to the Haymon sanctum, I’d say 2017 is setting up to be a period of growth for PBC. Honestly, however, the last couple months have been rather stagnant.

But we’re now hearing that a new rights deal is in the works and then this down period makes sense. Haymon kept powder dry in this same manner in 2014. His boxers took safety zone bouts, keeping them in the win column and untouched by opposition while he put together the splurge-a-thon time-buy/orgy-buying spree. The result was like an orgy, the one which actually occurs and not the one imagination conjures. Yeah, reality didn’t match the wished-for picture as composed in his mind’s eye. Ya know: single dudes outnumbering gals, more cellulite and stretch marks evident than imagined.

(Maybe it did; maybe this was a part of the plan…As we noted before, a small circle of people interact with Haymon and I’m not in the circle. Maybe he simply wanted to get a generation of fighters paid like they should be if the universe were fair and not a dog-eat-dog endeavor, without having to run through a CTE gauntlet as past pugilists have had to.) And the high expectation that attended the unveiling of the concept resulted in a backlash among some fans and more than some media, who figured that more bang should have come from all those bucks spent.

I’ve tried to take the long view but, darn right, as a fan, it didn’t compute when I saw the PBC fare, which ran on ESPN after Haymon purchased the time buy (which ultimately blew up “Friday Night Fights” and gave us main events that were often of a lower tier than what FNF offered). So count me among the sometimes frustrated who voices dismay and bewilderment at the PBC planning.

Writers not used to being shut out, not surprisingly, weren’t inclined to take things laying down. They’d been used to being treated respectfully, typically, by the astute businessman Bob Arum, CEO of Top Rank Promotions, who has always understood that it is better to be a honey pot than a vinegar sprinkler, when it comes to dealing with press. Not being in the loop, regarding PBC matters, didn’t make some press persons inclined to give benefit of the doubt to the PBC plan and accelerated the “PBC is dead or dying” conjecture.

We talked of that supposed “burn rate” in Part One. How much cash has seemingly been spent already, that gets oft-illuminated by folks predicting the PBC demise? I asked and contributor Philip Michael to weigh in on this sphere, as he traffics in it quite a bit.

“I’m in the same boat as (former Golden Boy Promotions CEO) Richard Schaefer,” Michael told me. “You have to be an idiot to blow through half-a-billion in one year. And Al Haymon doesn’t have the track record of being that.

“And you have to remember that, according to that Sports Business Journal report, which came with PBC collaboration, the venture was capitalized to be the irrational player for a period of three-to-five years, which is very common.

“I agree that the empty schedule is puzzling but I’m more inclined to believe that it’s the calm before the storm. Just look at the slow 2014 and what happened next. I would never bet against that dude.”

I try to get PBC intel when I can but, even among those who’d you’d figure would know, specifics are not readily available. Trainer and ESPN analyst Teddy Atlas came on my EVERLAST podcast “TALKBOX” and I asked him if ESPN would still be broadcasting boxing in 2017. Yes, he told me he’s not been told otherwise and he expects to be calling PBC fights on ESPN in 2017. As for why we didn’t see Haymon A-graders on ESPN, which seems a no-brainer from an armchair programmer standpoint, Atlas said, “The plan right now – I’ll tell you what I know – is to go forward in April.” And overall, talk to me about PBC: Good or bad or is the jury still deliberating? “The idea was good. I think the idea of it was good. The execution of it hasn’t been perfect because, whenever you’re going forward with an idea, you never know until you know.” If and when PBC starts employing more of a mentality from the 1980s, which Atlas describes as the last boom era, then their eyeball collection will accelerate and rumors of their demise won’t. “The best were fighting the best; that’s the key,” he declared. And guess what? Chatter today is about the potentially imminent Keith Thurman-Danny Garcia clash for the first half of 2017. OK, maybe that’s not Marvelous Marvin Hagler-Thomas Hearns but it relatively fits the “best fighting the best” descriptor for the modern-day. Atlas trotted out the Bill Parcells line about not being the grocery buyer when I asked why we didn’t get prime steak on ESPN this year. He would have liked to see top fare, he said, prime HBO-level quality tussles. “We got it a few times but I would have liked to have gotten it at a more consistent level,” he said, adding that ESPN has non-niche sports to cover and show on its platform, so that doesn’t lend itself to making A-tier fights on “The Worldwide Leader.” “ESPN is doing NFL and all those other things too,” he said. “Boxing isn’t the highest priority when you’re ESPN,” he said, giving the Bristol, Connecticut crew credit for sticking with boxing since 1979.

Promoter Lou DiBella is his own entity but is the promoter of record for many PBC shows. I asked him about the “PBC is dying” talk and he said people make mountains out of ant hills. “First of all, it’s not like HBO is having a banner year,” he said, by way of comparing and contrasting but, in fact, offered a parallel place to park a point of view. He noted their schedule has been sparse and pay-per-view heavy. As for this “down period,” DiBella said it was no secret that PBC would be light around this time frame, in the late-summer/early-fall. “This Saturday, I’m watching college football.” And the same thing is said in too many other households, he said, making this a smart time to stash your powder. “It’s even more of an issue in a time-buy situation because you’re not going to get advertising support. All in all, though, budgets are not out there and a lot of fighters are turning down fights. You’ve had a slew of pay-per-views and that mode is dying. Top Rank is feeling it; the only reason Terence Crawford fought again this year is because Bob Arum took it on the chin for him and I give Bob credit for that. That pay-per-view was almost similar to a time-buy, to keep a fighter busy. And, by the way, you have the political atmosphere in New York factoring in. So there’s not a rush for fighters’ services. It’s a tough time in boxing overall, with this fall freeze in the biggest market in the country.”

And as we move toward the holidays, and see past college football freeze-outs and Major League Bsaeball post-season taking up space time, we get more news of PBC dates. Spike will run PBC shows in November and December, according to PBC spokesman Tim Smith. There will also be a “PBC on Showtime” show, as well as one more Bounce card. “That’s close to 90 (shows) in 18 months, more than anyone else in that stretch,” Smith said. The 2017 PBC schedule will come out next week, he said, and will properly answer all the calls of imminent near-term demise.

We also see that WBC welterweight titlist Danny Garcia is gloving up again on Nov. 12. Word is he will not be targeting a Godzilla, not until next year, when maybe he and WBA beltholder Keith Thurman tango. I don’t know – and you don’t know – why and how Garcia has taken on the schedule he has since late-2013. Maybe the easiest answer is this: He has because he could.

Great pay for taking on opposition regarded as not great. Hey, sounds like a good deal. Faded Erik Morales in 2012, then-unranked Rod Salka, vets like Paul Malignaggi and Robert Guerrero seeking but unable to match past glories can’t be construed as taking on the sternest tasks.

But how long can that be sustained? And one’s legacy likely won’t reach the place one wants if one’s resume is built on so-so foes. It’s only when one tests against the best and rise or fall does one undergo the rigorous examination, which allows the masses to gain true knowledge of a fighter’s measure.

I have to think, and I do hope, that all the PBC fighters and, for that matter, non-PBC boxers as well, will come to understand that dictum has not – and will not – change. The best fighting the best consistently will be the way to get the “PBC is dying” rumors to cease. For the fighters to achieve and know their full worth. For the sport to be able to truly make a hard run at a new age of popularity and respect. For the sport to get back to where it belongs, not in the niche bin but an endeavor engaged by the most stout-hearted and superlatively schooled and conditioned athletes. My desire is that PBC and all the various leagues, entities, promoters and platforms look to this point forward, look to the coming New Year, as a reset point, a turning point, to get the sport back on a winning track. That will easily occur if walls come down, bridges get built and rivals stow the daggers and instead share the peace pipe – and do deals together. This will make for better fights and a resurgent sport.

As I’m typing, I am watching the latest episode of Jim Lampley’s “The Fight Game,” which debuted Wednesday night on HBO. The Hall of Fame blow-by-blow man editorialized a flurry at PBC, saying, “If PBC disappears, there will be an urge to see that as a devastating loss. In truth, it was predictable…Boxing’s next shot in the arm will emerge gradually, as the high-profile and highly-skilled fighters on the PBC roster begin to achieve free agency and re-integrate into the upper landscape.”

Not the stuff of bridges being built, it seems more like a wall-strengthening exercise. As HBO will not look back at this rebuilding year, as a whole, with pointed pride, what with the Sergey Kovalev, Andre Ward and Gennady Golovkin stay-busies on their schedules, you can give Lampley an extra point on your scorecard for exhibiting such moxie within that context. The PBC gang will likely respond with a counterpunch.

So the two giants of industry continue to slug it out. If that consistency of action were to translate to the ring, well, the sport as a whole would benefit.

My informed guess is that PBC will be around for the foreseeable future, to kick around and/or provide thrills and chills outside the pay cable/PPV realm. It feels like the sport’s programming behemoths are still locked into divide-and-conquer mode than come together-and-flourish mode. A pity, I think the boxing nation could flourish, same as our nation, with less mud-throwing and lack of cooperation and community among rivals. Don King and Arum could put business interests ahead of enmity. PBC can elevate itself by banding together with rivals instead of ignoring or steamrolling them. All parties can and should seek to pivot away from slurs and such and just give the people what they want and deserve. The obvious matches being made, pitting the best versus the best.

I’m not sure if Twain had a quote about this sort of thing not being his day’s equivalent of brain surgery but the sage of Americana surely would have if he lived to see these days. But he could have, for sure, trotted out the “rumors of demise” line about PBC and labeled them as greatly exaggerated.




The reports of Michael Woods‘ demise have, too, been greatly exaggerated. Turns out he just passed out at his desk.



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