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Eddie Goldman is the host and producer of the No Holds Barred international podcast and the publisher of the No Holds Barred blog.

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Monday, November 12, 2018

Oleksandr Usyk, Leading Candidate For Fighter Of The Year 


by Eddie Goldman

It is pointless to be obsessed with year-end awards in boxing and assume that they all represent major historical feats. Some fighter of the year awards are more notable than others, since they are restricted to whatever 12-month period is being considered, an arbitrary time span which may or may not coincide with great performances by great fighters. The last few years have seen split decisions over who has been designated fighter of the year by the so-called media pundits of boxing, as they often are just paying homage to those fighters' promoters, whose bidding they are really doing. And of course this year still has several major fights to go, and we can always expect the unexpected in boxing, so no final verdict can be made yet anyway.

But we have seen enough of 2018 boxing to establish that some fighters have made their historical mark this year, and are leading candidates to win that award, and perhaps be the undisputed fighter of the year, to mix some of boxing's mythical categories.

One such fighters is the 25-year-old Japanese phenom Naoya Inoue, known simply as the "Monster". Now with a record of 17-0 and 15 KOs, his two fights in 2018 lasted a grand total of three minutes and two seconds. In May, in his first fight at bantamweight since moving up from super flyweight, Inoue scored a knockout at just 1:52 of the first round over then-WBA champion Jamie McDonnell, a fighter who never previously had been knocked out and who had only lost two close decisions, both early in his career. Inoue returned in October, in the opening round of the World Boxing Super Series bantamweight tournament, to face Juan Carlos Payano, a former WBA champion whose only loss coming into this fight was a debatable majority decision to Rau'shee Warren. Payano lasted just 70 seconds before losing by a devastating knockout by the "Monster". Inoue's next likely victim is the 19-0 IBF bantamweight champion Emmanuel Rodriguez, who faces him sometime next year in the tournament's semifinals.

As devastating and impressive as Inoue has been this year, he is still new fighting at this new weight and, while the tournament favorite, has yet to prove that he can clean out the division. He may yet do so, and all eyes should be on him in 2019, but this one important detail may work to place him just behind a fighter who has already achieved such an historical accomplishment. This of course is but a subjective evaluation, but so is this whole fighter of the year thing.

The most impressive fighter this year is unbeaten and undisputed cruiserweight champ Oleksandr Usyk of Ukraine, now 16-0 with 12 KOs. Usyk was a 2012 Olympic gold medalist at heavyweight, where that Olympic weight class is actually almost the same as cruiserweight in the pros. He turned pro the next year, and won the WBO cruiserweight belt in 2016 in just his tenth pro fight. In Sept. 2017 he had his first fight in the cruiserweight tournament of the newly-founded World Boxing Super Series, where he was seeded number one. Fighting as he often does on the road, this time in Germany, Usyk stopped the veteran Marco Huck, who is based in Germany, in the tenth round to advance to the semifinals. Usyk ended 2017 with a record of 13-0 with 11 KOs.

Those semifinals pitted him on Jan. 27, 2018, against then-unbeaten WBC champ Mairis Briedis of Latvia, in Riga, the capital of Latvia. It was a close, action-packed battle, which afterward Usyk said included "the most difficult rounds I've had in my career". The fight went the distance, with Usyk taking a majority decision over the hometown hero with scores of 115-113 twice, and 114-114 even, scores which were arguably a shade too close. It also was an early candidate for 2018 fight of the year, perhaps equaled or surpassed by the World Boxing Super Series' other cruiserweight semifinal the next week between two more unbeaten fighters, Murat Gassiev and Yunier Dorticos, a thrilling fight won by Gassiev with a 12th-round, last-minute TKO.

Gassiev's victory gave him both the IBF and WBA belts, with Usyk holding the WBO and WBC belts, so their World Boxing Super Series tournament final was also a fight to determine the undisputed cruiserweight champion of the world. After their fight was originally scheduled to take place in Saudi Arabia, Usyk and Gassiev finally met on July 21 of this year, again in the home country of Usyk's opponent, in Moscow, Russia.

There were fears before this fight that if it went to the judges, that the Russian Gassiev would get the nod, deserved or not, over the Ukrainian Usyk, especially given the continuing tensions between the two governments following Russia's annexation of Crimea and backing of separatists in Eastern Ukraine. But those fears proved unfounded, at least in this fight.

The fight opened with the southpaw Usyk jabbing, moving, controlling the action, and stymieing most of Gassiev's attempts at offense. This was thought to be a 50-50 fight coming in, but Usyk continued to put on a virtual boxing clinic throughout, being elusive, more active than Gassiev, and just about getting a shutout. The final scores were 120-108 and 119-109 twice, all for Usyk, in what was perhaps the best performance of his career. In doing so, Usyk had now won all four major cruiserweight belts along with the World Boxing Super Series' Muhammad Ali Trophy as the cruiserweight tournament victor.

Just about the only piece of the puzzle left for Usyk to clean out completely the cruiserweight division was the former WBC champ Tony Bellew of the U.K. Bellew won that belt in 2016 and defended it once, before moving up to heavyweight for a pair of highly charged fights with David Haye, who was favored in both of them. As you likely know, Bellew stopped the oft-injured Haye both times. The popular 35-year-old Bellew, looking to end his career on a high note, agreed to return to cruiserweight to face the undisputed champ Usyk, who had called him out, whether on his own or not, after his tournament win.

The build-up to this fight, which took place on November 10 in Manchester before an energetically pro-Bellew crowd, was marked by Bellew's emotional promises that he had the will to overcome the admittedly better-skilled Usyk. There were none of the shenanigans, trash talk, and WWE-like theatrics which have degraded so many other fights, as it was high respect all around for each other. But Usyk, although fighting once more on the road, was expected to win easily.

Usyk sometimes starts slowly in his fights, gauging distance, power, positioning, and speed of his opponents in the opening rounds. This was the case here, as during the feeling out rounds Bellew was more active than Usyk and succeeded in landing some rights on him, although little damage was done. By round three, however, Usyk closed the distance better on Bellew, let his hands go a little more, and was now in irreversible control of the fight. Usyk ratcheted it up a bit more each round, while using angles and timing to stifle Bellew, But he had yet to dominate the game Bellew, who still was getting through with some right hand shots. In the fifth, Usyk continued to pick Bellew apart. By the sixth, Bellew's output had visibly dropped even to his dearest admirers. The assault by attrition continued, and in the eighth round, Usyk saw it was time for this pugilistic drama's denouement. The end came at exactly two minutes into round eight, as a series of punches highlighted by a picture perfect left hand ended Bellew's night and almost sent him through the ropes and into the arms of his promoter, Eddie Hearn. Bellew had had his moments, but it was Usyk who prevailed and showed why he should be the leading candidate for 2018 fighter of the year.

If you haven't yet seen this fight, the judges' scores at the end of seven rounds were the product of pure home cooking. Yes, there were some close rounds which a casual observer of boxing, who did not understand the nuances of what Usyk was doing, might have thought were closer than they actually were. But that these official judges had Bellew ahead after seven was, as we hear more often in the U.K., rubbish. Two judges had Bellew ahead by scores of an egregious 68-65 and 67-66, while one had it 67 apiece, meaning he had scored an even round somewhere. Taking nothing away from the disciplined and gutsy performance of Tony Bellew, he won two and, being generous, perhaps three rounds out of the first seven before being stopped in the eighth. This was actually better than many had predicted for Bellew beforehand, especially in light of Usyk's near-shutout win over Gassiev in his previous fight. All these scores show is that trickeration is alive and well in boxing all around the world and after the Halloween candy has been eaten, gone rotten, or thrown out.

As for boxing's mythical pound-for-pound lists, just about everyone has Usyk near the top of these. It could be argued that there are a couple of fighters who deserve to be ahead of him there, but Usyk's 2018 feats reflect an important advantage he has over them: he had the chance in the World Boxing Super Series tournament to face the best of the best, regardless of promoter, sanctioning body, or network. Top level fighters like Terence Crawford and Vasiliy Lomachenko are hamstrung in displaying their talents by their promoter, Bob Arum's Top Rank, which protects their fighters by keeping them out of the World Boxing Super Series. They can only face other Top Rank fighters or those contracted to smaller or cooperative promoters, and not on networks which are rivals to those with whom Top Rank currently works, in today's instance ESPN. Thus Crawford cannot face top welterweights like Errol Spence Jr. because he is part of a rival quasi-league, Al Haymon's Premier Boxing Champions, which has exclusive U.S. TV deals with Fox and Showtime. Likewise the lightweight fight all boxing aficionados would love to see between Lomachenko and Mikey Garcia, also tied to the PBC, is in effect blocked until there is enough pressure and/or money involved to force such a fight. Until then, it means that the best won't fight the best at most weights outside the World Boxing Super Series. This gives fighters like Usyk in 2018 and the World Boxing Super Series bantamweight and super lightweight tournament winners in 2019 a better stage on which to shine than most other top fighters. And for fighters like Crawford and Lomachenko, their best bet for becoming monumental superstars would entail untangling and ending their contractual commitments to Top Rank, which, as Mikey Garcia found out, at best would rob them of some of their best years while stuck in a legal purgatory.

So the World Boxing Super Series, shunned by the mismanaged and now almost shuttered HBO boxing program, as well as Showtime and ESPN in the U.S., is the best thing in boxing today. It generally has many of the best fights, and is becoming one of the best ways for a boxer to become the fighter of the year.

With his business more or less finished at cruiserweight, the logical next step for Usyk appears to be a move to heavyweight. The Bellew fight was on Sky Sports Box Office in the U.K. as well as streamed on DAZN in several countries, both of course tied to Eddie Hearn's Matchroom Boxing, so an eventual fight with their heavyweight star Anthony Joshua would seem to be a likelihood in the future. The undefeated, undisputed cruiserweight world champion and 2012 Olympic heavyweight gold medalist vs. the undefeated, unified heavyweight world champion and 2012 Olympic super heavyweight gold medalist, both of whom won their gold in London, would sell out instantly and possibly crash all sorts of TV and streaming viewership records.

At the postfight press conference after the Bellew fight, Usyk was asked when he wants to fight Joshua, and he cracked, in English, "Tomorrow." More realistically, after he takes time off to visit, as he said, Santa Claus's home, his move up to heavyweight will begin more modestly, as he adjusts to the size, pacing, and power of that division. Usyk, who turns 32 in January, still seems to have peak years remaining in his career, especially if he stays at heavyweight where many fighters do well in their thirties.

There are many excellent boxers active today who excel at their craft and art, far beyond the big punchers who too often get the most attention. Few of them, however, can be categorized as masters, similar to the great masters of other, non-sporting arts. This is entirely separate from the feudal and anachronistic title of "master" given to instructors and coaches in the martial arts, and often to themselves.

The boxing masters belong side-by-side with the great masters in art, literature, and music, lists which must include those from all cultures and lands and not just the ones taught in most Western schools and universities. Likewise, the boxing masters come from all parts of this Earth. It should have already been known that their ranks include that cruiserweight southpaw from Ukraine, Oleksandr Usyk. If he indeed gets recognized as 2018 fighter of the year, it is hoped that his mastery of his art will be celebrated as well.

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Monday, October 29, 2018

No Holds Barred: Demetrious Johnson-ONE Championship Conference Call 


On this edition of No Holds Barred, host Eddie Goldman presents the international media conference call featuring MMA fighter Demetrious "Mighty Mouse" Johnson, who just signed with ONE Championship following an unofficial "trade" from his previous organization. He was the first UFC flyweight champion, holds the record for the most number of UFC title defenses, and was undefeated for seven years before dropping a close split decision in August. He is regarded as one of the top pound-for-pound MMA fighters of all time, and arguably the best at any weight of the past decade.

On this call, which took place Sunday U.S. time and Monday Singapore time, he was joined by Chatri Sityodtong, the chairman and CEO of ONE Championship. They both answered questions from the international media.

You can play or download No Holds Barred here and here. If one link does not work, please try another.

No Holds Barred is available at Google Play Music.

Also, No Holds Barred is available through iTunes.

You can also listen to No Holds Barred via Stitcher through iOS or Android devices or on the web here.

The PodOmatic Podcast Player app is available for free, both for Android at Google Play, and for iOS on the App Store.

The No Holds Barred theme song is called "The Heist", which is also available on iTunes by composer Ian Snow.

No Holds Barred is sponsored by:

The Catch Wrestling Alliance, resurrecting and promoting the sport of authentic catch-as-catch-can wrestling. The Catch Wrestling Alliance provides tournaments, seminars, and training as well as education about catch wrestling. Join the movement and keep real wrestling alive. For more information, go to CatchWrestlingAlliance.com.

Skullz Double-End Bags, the perfect bag for your combat sports training. Skullz Double-End Bags provide a realistic striking target, and help improve timing, distance, and hand and eye coordination. Hang it and hit it right out of the box! No pump required. For more information, go to SkullzDeBags.com.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2018

No Holds Barred: Daniel Jacobs, Sergiy Derevyanchenko, Eddie Hearn, Lou DiBella, The Middleweights 


On this edition of No Holds Barred, host Eddie Goldman previews the October 27 fight between Daniel Jacobs and Sergiy Derevyanchenko for the vacant IBF middleweight belt. This fight takes place at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden, and will headline a card shown in the U.S. on HBO on its next-to-last boxing telecast.

We spoke with Daniel Jacobs, Sergiy Derevyanchenko, and promoters Eddie Hearn and Lou DiBella on this week's media conference call about this fight. We also discussed the possibility of creating a tournament to unify the various middleweight titles.

Before that, an analysis is given of why there are now five so-called middleweight world champions, and the obstacles to unification. Besides the usual suspects of the sanctioning bodies, the effect of these recently-signed big money TV and streaming deals in the U.S. in blocking the best from fighting the best is examined.

(Photo of Demetrius Andrade and Walter Kautondokwa, Ed Mulholland/Matchroom USA.)

You can play or download No Holds Barred here and here. If one link does not work, please try another.

No Holds Barred is available at Google Play Music.

Also, No Holds Barred is available through iTunes.

You can also listen to No Holds Barred via Stitcher through iOS or Android devices or on the web here.

The PodOmatic Podcast Player app is available for free, both for Android at Google Play, and for iOS on the App Store.

The No Holds Barred theme song is called "The Heist", which is also available on iTunes by composer Ian Snow.

No Holds Barred is sponsored by:

The Catch Wrestling Alliance, resurrecting and promoting the sport of authentic catch-as-catch-can wrestling. The Catch Wrestling Alliance provides tournaments, seminars, and training as well as education about catch wrestling. Join the movement and keep real wrestling alive. For more information, go to CatchWrestlingAlliance.com.

Skullz Double-End Bags, the perfect bag for your combat sports training. Skullz Double-End Bags provide a realistic striking target, and help improve timing, distance, and hand and eye coordination. Hang it and hit it right out of the box! No pump required. For more information, go to SkullzDeBags.com.

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Friday, October 19, 2018

I Spit On The Grave of Pay-Per-View 


by Eddie Goldman

The critters who run boxing have made an art and a science of emptying the wallets of the sport's fans better than any knife-wielding, mask-wearing robber. For years they have convinced a small but declining section of the public to pay, pay, and pay again for their "must-see" and "great" fights, including several declared to be "the fight of the century".

You could once watch boxing on TV for free or listen to it on the radio in the U.S. several nights a week. There were far fewer programming choices in those days of the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, than there are now.

Even then the wheels were in motion for colossal rip-offs. From exclusively showing major fights in movie theaters for inflated prices from the 1940s to the 1970s and after, and to hiding them behind the paywalls of premium cable and pay-per-view when access to those became widespread enough, the lords of boxing managed to enrich themselves while taking boxing from a major mainstream sport into a niche venture whose top fighters were unknown to succeeding generations. The top boxers used to be household names, and all sports fans knew who the heavyweight champion of the world was, especially since in the past there was usually just one. Pay-per-view took care of that inconvenience to the promoters' and networks' capital accumulation.

Oh yes, there were a few breakout stars during this pay-per-view period, such as Mike Tyson, Oscar De La Hoya, Floyd Mayweather, and, to a degree in some places, Saul "Canelo" Alvarez. But just ask people who are not in AARP who Roy Jones Jr., Bernard Hopkins, Andre Ward, and the Klitschkos are. If they are not dedicated boxing fans, you will likely get answers ranging from basketball players to indicted co-conspirators in the Mueller investigation.

But even more than the damage caused by the cancerous growth of sanctioning bodies, titles, and weight classes, the closeting of boxing's top stars gradually made them and their sport not only a niche product, but usually a culturally and socially irrelevant one, too. Pay-per-view has been killing boxing, and thus itself, just like a slow-acting poison murders its victim. The difference in this case is that all this was self-inflicted.

And now, it pleases me to report, the chickens have come home to roost. The recent exit of HBO from boxing not only signifies that "adapt or die" is still a potent maxim, but also that the pay-per-view model, pioneered by them, has collapsed, and fast and hard.

This Wednesday it was announcement that Canelo, the last boxing pay-per-view star, and now former HBO fighter, had signed a reported five-year, 11-fight, $365 million deal with the DAZN streaming service. Along with him came his promoters, Oscar De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions, which will put on up to 10 fight nights a year on DAZN starting in 2019.

Critical to this deal, and not highlighted by most of the commentaries on it, is that the announcement of it said: "These fights will be available in all DAZN markets, including the United States, Canada, Italy, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Japan." So as DAZN, which only started showing live events in the U.S. last month, expands to more countries and gains rights to show more sports in each of them, the audience for these Golden Boy and Canelo fights will expand accordingly.

Canelo's first DAZN fight will be on December 15 against WBA super middleweight champ Rocky Fielding, and take place in Madison Square Garden. DAZN, whose subscription fee is about ten bucks a month after a one-month free trial, promised to make this fight available for free to non-subscribers and subscribers alike.

What was most likely the last HBO pay-per-view took place last month and featured Canelo fighting Gennady Golovkin in a rematch of their controversial draw from last year. The price for this card alone was about $85 on cable. Now you can watch all of Canelo's fights on DAZN, including all their various boxing and other sports shows, for that one fee. There is no dealing with the stankiest of companies, the cable monopolies, unless you rely on them for overall Internet access anyway. Cable, which once disrupted the broadcast TV business, has itself been disrupted by this emerging technology.

While this signing may be viewed as an historical turning point for boxing, it is only part of a greater transition from the dominance of cable in the U.S. to a new paradigm where streaming on all sorts of connected devices existing and yet to come takes precedence.

If you want to watch the latest "Star Trek" series, including both "Discovery" and a new untitled one starring Patrick Stewart, you need to subscribe to the CBS All Access streaming service, whether that is the logical thing to do or not. Disney is rolling out new streaming services which will become the exclusive online home of their movies and shows, which will soon be pulled from competing services like Netflix. There is a growing list of these streamers, known in the bizarre industry jargon as over-the-top or OTT services. The expected rollout of 5G in the U.S., which promises super-fast connections, and has already begun in a few trial areas, will only accelerate these developments.

Just where this all ends, which ones survive and which fail, and which ones merge and gobble up the rest, is not yet known. But it is clear that we are increasingly living in an OTT world, and resistance is futile.

Boxing has ridden the crest of emerging technologies, at least since Thomas Edison filmed a boxing exhibition between James J. Corbett and Peter Courtney in 1894, through the days of talking pictures, radio, broadcast TV, cable, and now Internet and mobile. That does not mean, however, that the companies using these new technologies immediately were economically viable. That may take years to accomplish.

In the 1870s, a new, struggling company tried to sell its patents to Western Union, then one of the largest companies in America. Western Union, after a patent fight, declined to work with them. That little company soon became known as the Bell Telephone Company, and later AT&T.

In 1954, the Time-Life media conglomerate launched a new magazine. It would lose money for about a decade, and take that long to hone its content. That magazine is Sports Illustrated, today with new owners, a web site, and available on all the modern conveniences. (While studying magazine publishing at NYU's grad school in the 1980s, we were clearly taught that successful big magazines should expect to lose money for at least five years before they became solvent.)

In 1994, a pie-in-the-sky online bookstore was launched in a garage, soon after the World Wide Web became widely available. In those days it was sometimes on the verge of bankruptcy, and was often ridiculed by the old guard of the business world. That company, Amazon, is now a profitable, multi-billion dollar operation.

Another company, founded in 1997, tried to make a go of it by renting DVDs and shipping them out via the post office. After unsuccessfully trying to sell this money-losing company, they figured out how to innovate and survive. That company then, and now, is known as Netflix.

Tellingly enough, an article in a fixture of the old media which is trying to prosper in today's world, The New York Times, said that Netflix had an "unorthodox media model." They are betting on a formula of: "Spend big now, and reap a massive subscriber base (and big profits) later. Possibly much later." Yet such a model is actually quite common for media companies, even if most fail.
(https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/17/business/media/netflix-streaming-competition.html)

None of this, of course, is any guarantee that DAZN won't end up on another list that includes the Edsel, Kodak, Blockbuster, MySpace, Radio Shack, and more recently Toy R Us. But to attack DAZN now as a flop awaiting collapse, as some of boxing's bought-off "media" are already saying or implying, is nothing short of propaganda for the few beneficiaries of the actually collapsing boxing pay-per-view model.

DAZN has only been around since 2016, starting in the U.S. and Italy this year. It is backed by the multi-billionaire Len Blavatnik and his Access Industries. Originally from the Ukraine in what was then the Soviet Union, Blavatnik now is a citizen of both the U.S. and U.K., and is reportedly the richest man in the U.K. and 50th richest in the world. Since 2011 one of his companies has owned the Warner Music Group. A 61-year-old, short, pudgy, balding man, Blavatnik can be seen hobnobbing with an assortment of celebrities and ruling class figures in a recent in-depth but unflattering profile in The Hollywood Reporter called "Music's Mystery Mogul: Len Blavatnik, Trump and Their Russian Friends", at https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/features/why-is-warner-music-group-owner-len-blavatnik-russia-probe-1150550.

The Perform Group is the parent company of DAZN, but news reports indicate that Perform is seeking to split into two, sell off its non-DAZN operations, and rename itself the DAZN Group. (https://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2018/10/14/billionaire-blavatnik-plots-break-sale-perform-empire-fund-netflix/)

The cash from these sales would be added to its coffers as it buys up sports rights around the world in its quest to become the mythical "Netflix of sports". The Canelo-Golden Boy deal must be seen in this light.

Just like magazines initially lose money as they pay for compelling content to attract a paying audience, DAZN is in the early stages of acquiring that content through different marquee sports in countries where the rights are available. Some of that means getting out-of-market streaming rights, like to the NFL in Canada or MLB, NFL, and NBA in Europe, and some of that is getting the streaming rights to top-tier events in their home countries, like Serie A football in Italy and Matchroom Boxing and Bellator MMA in the U.S.

For boxing, besides the Canelo-Golden Boy deal, DAZN began its U.S. streaming operation with a slate of at least 32 Matchroom cards per year, half from the U.S, and half from the U.K. and Europe. With Matchroom promising to expand to more countries, presumably all those cards will be streamed in the U.S.

That gives DAZN, on about its one-month anniversary in the U.S., access to the fights of the top two stars in the world in boxing, unified heavyweight champ Anthony Joshua and unified middleweight champ Canelo.

DAZN also streams the universally-acclaimed World Boxing Super Series in the U.S. and Canada. These tournaments pit most of the best fighters in each of its weight classes against one another, answering one of the most common complaints about boxing's refusal usually to have the best fight the best, and the fragmentation of titles through a dense maze of sanctioning body hooey.

There is nothing today, not even the robust roster of talented fighters who appear on Premier Boxing Champions' telecasts on Showtime and soon on Fox, that matches the depth and breadth of the boxing competition that is shown on DAZN. And that's after only one month.

And still, it might yet tank for any number of reasons. Unresolved technical glitches and outages, scandals and chaos embedded in boxing's history and organization, general economic and political crises, and running out of money before acquiring a large and stable enough subscriber base all are possibilities.

But they do have a large and experienced technical staff, and they have a growing pile of cash to spend. Whether that will see them through world and boxing-related crises is the question that they are trying to answer every day. To write them off today, simply because it will take them time to make it, is unhistorical sophistry fueled by envy and connections to the dying businesses which the OTT world is disrupting and destroying. Let the compromised media vultures find another carcass upon which to chew. And let those uneducated in these historical processes learn critical thinking better than they have at present.

No doubt the older technologies will survive and unpeacefully co-exist with the newer ones for some time. Radio is still around, although millions no longer flock around the living room radio to catch regularly scheduled shows by people like Arthur Godfrey, Jack Benny, and Burns and Allen (you young whippersnappers can remove your VR headsets and earbuds and Google the names of these classic entertainers of the past, since I'm almost done writing this piece).

Thus, in the U.S., boxing on DAZN will compete with the Top Rank and international shows on ESPN and its ESPN+ streaming service, and the PBC shows on the old premium cable network Showtime and broadcast network Fox. Time will tell which ones or one will be left standing, although generally the one with the strongest tie to the newest technologies prevails.

There is bound to be a shakeup and series of mergers and consolidations among the increasingly fragmented OTT services. Enough people will just not subscribe to numerous separate and competing services at once for sports, movies, TV shows, different individual networks, and the rest, in order for them all to survive. Don't be surprised if in several years we have something like DEZPN, or that DAZN, if they are a winner, swallows up one or more of these services.

We thus bid farewell to boxing's pay-per-view rip-off era. This model has been disrupted and destroyed by the forward march of technology and the short-sightedness of its purveyors. There will still be some feeble attempts in the U.S. to keep it on life support, but its condition is terminal. Good riddance to it, and I spit on its grave.

(Photo by Amanda Westcott/DAZN.)

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No Holds Barred: ONE: Heart Of The Lion Conference Call 



On this edition of No Holds Barred, host Eddie Goldman presents the international media conference call for the ONE: Heart Of The Lion card. This call took place Thursday (Wednesday in the U.S.) to preview this show, which takes place Friday, November 9, at the Singapore Indoor Stadium in Singapore.

In the main event of this card, ONE women's strawweight champion Xiong Jing Nan of China will defend her title against ONE women's atomweight champion Angela Lee of Singapore, who is moving up in weight and trying simultaneously to hold two belts. In the co-main event, ONE bantamweight champion Bibiano Fernandes of Brazil will defend his title against ONE interim bantamweight champion Kevin Belingon of the Philippines in a unification bout.

On the call were ONE Championship chairman and CEO Chatri Sityodtong, Xiong Jing Nan, Angela Lee, Bibiano Fernandes, Kevin Belingon, and multiple-time MMA champion Eddie Alvarez of the U.S., who just signed with ONE Championship.

After the opening remarks, there were questions from the international media.

You can play or download No Holds Barred here and here. If one link does not work, please try another.

No Holds Barred is available at Google Play Music.

Also, No Holds Barred is available through iTunes.

You can also listen to No Holds Barred via Stitcher through iOS or Android devices or on the web here.

The PodOmatic Podcast Player app is available for free, both for Android at Google Play, and for iOS on the App Store.

The No Holds Barred theme song is called "The Heist", which is also available on iTunes by composer Ian Snow.

No Holds Barred is sponsored by:

The Catch Wrestling Alliance, resurrecting and promoting the sport of authentic catch-as-catch-can wrestling. The Catch Wrestling Alliance provides tournaments, seminars, and training as well as education about catch wrestling. Join the movement and keep real wrestling alive. For more information, go to CatchWrestlingAlliance.com.

Skullz Double-End Bags, the perfect bag for your combat sports training. Skullz Double-End Bags provide a realistic striking target, and help improve timing, distance, and hand and eye coordination. Hang it and hit it right out of the box! No pump required. For more information, go to SkullzDeBags.com.

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Thursday, October 11, 2018

No Holds Barred: Naoya Inoue, Terence Crawford, and Life After HBO 



On this edition of No Holds Barred, host Eddie Goldman discusses the recent fights of top ten pound-for-pound fighters Naoya Inoue and Terence Crawford, who both formerly fought on HBO in the U.S., as well as the critical success of the World Boxing Super Series. Also previewed is Crawford's next fight, on October 13 against Jose Benavidez Jr., which will air on ESPN in the U.S. We spoke with Crawford on last week's media conference call.

(Photo of Naoya Inoue knockout of Juan Carlos Payano by Naoki Fukuda/World Boxing Super Series.)

You can play or download No Holds Barred here and here. If one link does not work, please try another.

No Holds Barred is available at Google Play Music.

Also, No Holds Barred is available through iTunes.

You can also listen to No Holds Barred via Stitcher through iOS or Android devices or on the web here.

The PodOmatic Podcast Player app is available for free, both for Android at Google Play, and for iOS on the App Store.

The No Holds Barred theme song is called "The Heist", which is also available on iTunes by composer Ian Snow.

No Holds Barred is sponsored by:

The Catch Wrestling Alliance, resurrecting and promoting the sport of authentic catch-as-catch-can wrestling. The Catch Wrestling Alliance provides tournaments, seminars, and training as well as education about catch wrestling. Join the movement and keep real wrestling alive. For more information, go to CatchWrestlingAlliance.com.

Skullz Double-End Bags, the perfect bag for your combat sports training. Skullz Double-End Bags provide a realistic striking target, and help improve timing, distance, and hand and eye coordination. Hang it and hit it right out of the box! No pump required. For more information, go to SkullzDeBags.com.

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Tuesday, October 02, 2018

"HBO Was Bad For Boxing" on Deadspin 


Here is my piece for Deadspin, which just was posted today.

"HBO Was Bad For Boxing" on Deadspin, by Eddie Goldman

https://deadspin.com/hbo-was-bad-for-boxing-1829440237

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Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Anthony Joshua and the Elusive Quest for Greatness 


by Eddie Goldman

In the excruciatingly extended, contrived, and boring soap opera about the alleged negotiations to sign a fight to crown a new undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, what is largely being lost is just who the leading candidate is and how and why he got there.

The consensus top heavyweight is, of course, Anthony Joshua of the U.K., who turns 29 on October 15. With a stellar record of 22-0 and 21 KOs, he holds three of boxing's major sham sanctioning body heavyweight world titles. He also was a 2012 Olympic gold medalist boxing in the super heavyweight division.

Joshua first came to major international attention in 2011 at the 2011 AIBA World Boxing Championships in Baku, Azerbaijan, amateur boxing's highest level tournament, in which he entered as an unseeded fighter. He had only been boxing for a few years, which included some run-ins with the cops for criminal activity, and having to wear an electronic tag on his ankle in 2009. But success on the British and European amateur scene, plus not wanting to become yet another statistic, helped Joshua mature, clean up his act, and focus on his career as a boxer.

In the 2011 amateur worlds, Joshua surprised many by first making it to the quarterfinals where he faced 2004 Olympic bronze medalist and 2008 gold medalist and top seed Roberto Cammarelle of Italy. Joshua won by a score of 15-13, under AIBA's Bizarro points scoring system. After winning in the semis, the opponent in the finals for Joshua, just 22 years old, and just about three years into the sport, was 25-year-old Magomedrasul Majidov of the event's host country of Azerbaijan. Majidov, also making his amateur world debut, won a close contest by a score of 22-21. But unlike Joshua, Majidov has never turned pro, and as recently as 2017 won gold for the third time in the amateur worlds again.

In the 2012 London Olympics, Joshua again made it to the finals, and again faced the defending gold medalist Cammarelle, who was ten years older than Joshua at 32. After a sloppy first two rounds -- this still was amateur boxing, after all -- Joshua fell behind by a 13-10 score. But with a delirious partisan crowd cheering him on, Joshua came back in the third and final round, finding his range a little better and landing enough clean shots to even the score at 18-18. They then had to go to the count-back, meaning the total punches landed, which went to Joshua, 8-5. Anthony Joshua was the 2012 Olympic gold medalist boxer in the super heavyweight division.

The result of that final, however, drew some criticism, as many Olympic boxing matches do. On the U.S. telecast, boxer and broadcaster B.J. Flores previewed this fight by calling Joshua "a superstar in the making." But after the fight, he said Cammarelle deserved to win and "they gave it to the hometown guy again."

Nonetheless, it was Joshua who rose to international fame and soon announced that he would be turning pro. This was an incredible turnaround for Joshua, who as late as 2011 was busted for possession of herbal cannabis with intent to supply, was suspended from the British amateur team, and narrowly avoided jail time by accepting community service for a year. Roberto Cammarelle, by the way, stuck around the amateurs, where he took bronze in the 2013 amateur worlds, and has never boxed as a professional.

With all this adversity -- which is not that well-known among the non-British boxing world -- out of the way, Joshua joined up with Eddie Hearn's Matchroom Boxing in 2013. There a well-designed, deliberate, and step-by-step plan was carried out to develop Joshua into a professional world champion by about 2017 or so.

He started as a pro in 2013, fighting the usual suspects. By the end of 2014 Joshua was 10-0 with 10 KOs. In late 2014 and 2015 he took a step up and faced journeymen Matt Skelton, Konstantin Airich, Denis Bakhtov, Michael Sprott, Jason Gavern, Raphael Zumbano, and Kevin Johnson. He stopped them all. Then it was the unbeaten and popular Scottish local fighter Gary Cornish, a boxer not destined for greatness. He lasted just 1:37 of the first round. Joshua closed out 2015 with a seventh-round TKO over amateur rival and then-unbeaten pro Dillian Whyte, who had defeated Joshua back in 2009 in the amateurs. Whyte rocked Joshua in round two but did not score a knockdown. With another setback avoided, Joshua would thus capture the vacant British heavyweight title, and close out 2015 with a record of 15-0 and 15 KOs.

In early 2016, he became a beneficiary of a series of unlikely events which caused chaos in the heavyweight division. Tyson Fury's November 2015 points upset of then-unified heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko, a dreadful fight to be sure, triggered a contractual clause for an immediate rematch. But the IBF, one of whose sham titles Fury had won, forbade this, and summarily stripped Fury of this belt.

A fight for the vacant IBF belt took place in January 2016 between two unbeaten fighters, Vyacheslav Glazkov and Charles Martin, neither of whom were considered to be in the top tier of the division. After two uneventful rounds, the fight was more or less even, but in the third, Glazkov's right knee went out and he could not continue. Martin, unceremoniously and by default, was the winner and new IBF heavyweight champion. Glazkov, bu the way, has not fought since.

What this turn of events meant for Anthony Joshua, already working his way up these rankings, was an unexpectedly early graduation from the ranks of the good prospects to becoming a title challenger. A major belt was there to be had, and his management team cleverly got Joshua the fight. Martin never had a chance, lasting just two rounds, and in his 16th pro fight, Anthony Joshua was close to the top of the heavyweight division.

Next came Dominic Breazeale, who went down in seven, and Eric Molina, who only lasted three rounds, and at the close of 2016 Joshua was 18-0 with 18 KOs, with a strap around his waist way ahead of schedule.

Joshua's 19th fight has already gone down in boxing history as a heavyweight classic, and another turning point in his accelerating rise to top of the weight class. That was his April 2017 fight with Wladimir Klitschko, his first since losing to Fury, for the IBF and one of the WBA belts. Klitschko had been waiting around for the Fury rematch, which was put off twice, until Fury tested positive for PEDs, admitted using cocaine and binging on alcohol, ate himself up to about 400 pounds, and eventually relinquished the two major belts he had. Fury was suspended and lost his boxing license, so now that he was out of the picture for a while, the match that made the most sporting and business sense was Klitschko against Joshua.

As the world knows, Joshua knocked down Klitschko in round five, was himself knocked down and almost out in round six, but eventually recovered and came back to drop Klitschko twice in round 11 and then have the ref stop the beating, for a TKO win at 2:25 of that round. It is a fight that can be rewatched and rewatched, even when you know what ensued. It deservedly was widely recognized at the 2017 fight of the year. And in it, Joshua had once more demonstrated that even when down and almost out, he could get off the deck, overcome the adversity, and in the end triumph.

Now as unified champion and atop the heavyweight rankings, it almost seemed as if he had to slow down to catch his breath, if not physically then mentally. A tenth-round stoppage of late replacement and IBF mandatory Carlos Takam had him looking less than stellar, even disappointing. A March 2018 unification fight with unbeaten WBO champ Joseph Parker went the distance, the first time in Joshua's pro career. Joshua won and now had three major belts, but the fight had few fireworks and Joshua's knockout streak had ended, with his new record 21-0 with 20 KOs.

With all these belts came all their mandatories, deserved or not, at least until he or someone becomes accepted as undisputed heavyweight champion of the world and would not care if he were stripped for not facing them. So next up was one of those deserving mandatories, Russia's Alexander Povetkin, a 2004 Olympic gold medalist who entered his September 2018 bout with Joshua at 34-1 with 24 KOs. His only loss was a decision in 2013 to that same Wladimir Klitschko, meaning Povetkin had never been stopped.

When Joshua and Povetkin fought in London's rain-swept Wembley Stadium before some 80,000 or so fans, Joshua went in a huge favorite over the 39-year-old Povetkin. That, however, did not deter the veteran Povetkin.

Although Joshua had a substantial height and reach advantage over Povetkin, he opened the fight almost in a crouch, fighting small with his left hand low. Towards the end of a close first round, Povetkin scored what turned out to be his best shots of the fight, a left jab-right uppercut-left hook combination that wobbled Joshua and left his nose bleeding. From rounds two through five, Joshua had little effective offense against Povetkin and was fighting with his mouth open. The tide turned, however, in the sixth when, again facing adversity in the ring, Joshua started to let his hands go.

Scores of the fight through six rounds varied all over the place, with many impartial and seasoned observers having what was inarguably a close fight 58-56 for Povetkin or even at 57-57. The three official judges, though none of whom were from the U.K., laughably had it 59-55 and 58-56 twice, all for Joshua. But none of this ended up as anything other than footnotes in the seventh round.

Joshua finally landed one of his powerful right hands on Povetkin, who was visibly hurt. Next came the combinations punctuated by another right, which dropped Povetkin, who almost fell clean out of the ring. He somehow beat the count and arose, although looking as if he could be knocked back down by almost anyone or anything. He took a few more punches before being decked again, just as referee Steve Gray stopped the fight, with Povetkin's trainer frantically gesturing on the ring apron.

The official time of the stoppage was 1:59 of round seven, with another TKO victory upping Joshua's record to 22-0 with 21 KOs. The knockout streak had resumed, he had stopped an opponent who had never before been stopped in his previous 35 fights, and his belts had been retained, but Anthony Joshua had to dig deep once more and overcome what should have been a deficit on the scorecards in order to prevail.

In the postfight press conference, a calm Joshua matter-of factly-explained his view of what had happened.

"Just got to take your time," he said. "It's all about instinct what life is. We tend to lose it as you get older because we listen to the crowd, we listen to opinions, 'You're not quick enough, you're not this, you're not that.' But I believed in myself. I knew when the time was right. You could see the chink in their armor fading. I know he's strong to the head but weaker to the body. So I worked to the top, worked to the bottom, break him down, both ends. And then when the opportunity came, I saw and I just took it, really."

There are those who think that Anthony Joshua will always make good on his belief in himself, and those who insist he is still overrated, untested, and unworthy. But his last nine opponents had a combined record of 259-7-1 before he faced them, held numerous belts, and included two Olympic gold medalists and five who were unbeaten as pros. Of The Ring's latest heavyweight rankings, Joshua is number one and has already defeated four of the other nine. Along with the victory over Klitschko, which led to his retirement as a fighter, there is no other heavyweight active today whose resume even comes close to Joshua's.

But the time-tested and detestable tribalism and nationalism that have long been incorporated into boxing's modus operandi makes its adherents always dissatisfied when one not from their camp is atop the weight class. They tell us that Joshua hasn't yet fought in America, he can't take a punch, and, most dogmatically, he is afraid of Deontay Wilder, the WBC champ who holds the last piece of this undisputed heavyweight champion puzzle.

Yes, Joshua shows vulnerabilities, he can be hit, and even he admits that he is still learning on the job. But he and his management team say, convincingly, that he will eventually fight the winner of the Deontay Wilder-Tyson Fury bout, said to be scheduled for December 1, and maybe one day in the future the loser as well. He is close to cleaning out what is still not a particularly deep division, and he may accomplish this before his 30th birthday.

Before his fight with Wladimir Klitschko, and to the astonishment of some including even some British boxing writers, I said that Anthony Joshua had the potential to become as popular as Muhammad Ali. Now Joshua was named the most marketable athlete in the world in any sport by SportsPro Media in 2017, and number two in this category in 2018. He has drawn hundreds of thousands of fans in his last four fights, two in Wembley Stadium and two in Cardiff's Principality Stadium. He is the top draw on the U.K.'s pay-per-views on Sky Sports Box Office, and the DAZN streaming service timed its American kickoff to feature his fight with Povetkin. And his future plans include not only fights in America, but in Africa, especially because of his Nigerian heritage, and Asia and continental Europe. He has called himself a citizen of the world, and a world tour might be on tap if or when he becomes undisputed champion.

I will add that Anthony Joshua is well on his way to being Sonny Liston without the mob, Muhammad Ali without the Nation of Islam, and Mike Tyson without Don King. Joshua may yet lose along the way, as they all did, but history shows that he will quite likely recover and be the one standing at the end.

(Photo of Anthony Joshua and Alexander Povetkin from Matchroom Boxing.)

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Thursday, September 20, 2018

No Holds Barred: Anthony Joshua on Fighting Alexander Povetkin 


On this edition of No Holds Barred, host Eddie Goldman presents a two-part, multimedia show and analysis.

The written part of the show has an analysis of the Canelo-Golovkin rematch, the emergence of DAZN in the U.S., the PBC deals with Showtime and Fox, the international stardom of Anthony Joshua, and more. It can be read on the No Holds Barred site here.

The audio of the comments by Anthony Joshua about his September 22 fight with Alexander Povetkin can be played or downloaded at here and here. If one link does not work, please try another.

No Holds Barred is available at Google Play Music.

Also, No Holds Barred is available through iTunes.

You can also listen to No Holds Barred via Stitcher through iOS or Android devices or on the web here.

The PodOmatic Podcast Player app is available for free, both for Android at Google Play, and for iOS on the App Store.

The No Holds Barred theme song is called "The Heist", which is also available on iTunes by composer Ian Snow.

No Holds Barred is sponsored by:

The Catch Wrestling Alliance, resurrecting and promoting the sport of authentic catch-as-catch-can wrestling. The Catch Wrestling Alliance provides tournaments, seminars, and training as well as education about catch wrestling. Join the movement and keep real wrestling alive. For more information, go to CatchWrestlingAlliance.com.

Skullz Double-End Bags, the perfect bag for your combat sports training. Skullz Double-End Bags provide a realistic striking target, and help improve timing, distance, and hand and eye coordination. Hang it and hit it right out of the box! No pump required. For more information, go to SkullzDeBags.com.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The Anthony Joshua-DAZN-PBC Era 


by Eddie Goldman

One of the benefits of aging is that it encourages you not to waste time and to get right to the point. In about six months I will turn 70, unless someone destroys the world and/or me, and I'm not taking odds on any of that happening. But a lot has been happening in boxing recently, a lot has been said and written about what has been happening, and a lot of it isn't worth the bandwidth it uses up, so I'll dive right in here with some capsule analyses, which are, of course, No Holds Barred.

Canelo-Golovkin 2. This was a very close fight with a few indistinguishable rounds, and could have gone either way. I thus have no quarrel with the majority decision for Canelo using boxing's ten-point must system. Canelo did the most damage, but needed to work a bit more to convince those who thought Golovkin won. Golovkin was busy with the jab, but inexplicably did not, as many have pointed out, hardly go to the body. Canelo landed fewer but harder shots than Golovkin. So how do you balance all these factors? It would be interesting if there were a way in close fights to score the whole fight rather than just round by round. That creates its own set of problems, but in some fights where the fighters fight to a stalemate and it is inconclusive who had the advantage, the ten-point must system and round-by-round scoring are sort of like trying to appreciate a great work of art by chopping it up into small pieces and examining them separately. But I'm not offering scoring the whole fight as THE solution. In a close fight in a sport where scoring is by definition to a large degree subjective, there may be no solution, except rematches and perhaps allowing judges to score even rounds without the commissions disapproving -- and, of course, not having the promoters pay for or have any say in the selection of the judges.

This was a good fight but not a great fight. There just were not enough moments of high drama, and the fighters often nullified each other and prevented sustained offense.

Even if you thought Golovkin squeaked out a points victory, this was not a robbery as some have claimed, such as the ESPN clown duo of Smith and Atlas. True, Golovkin would have had to smash in Canelo's head to get a decision on a Golden Boy show in Las Vegas, and Canelo did get the benefit of the doubt on many close rounds. That we knew already. But fair-minded and unbiased people could make a strong case that Canelo deserved to win.

Now Canelo and Golovkin may or may not have a third fight next year, and who knows on what network, since their deals with HBO have reportedly expired. HBO was roundly criticized for their production and announcing of this show, with long downtimes and absurdly biased announcing. U.S. rivals Showtime, ESPN, and even Fox have all said they want to run pay-per-views, so if HBO cancels or more severely slashes their boxing program, there are more networks willing to try to grab your bottom dollar to watch major fights.

The only exception to this greedy lot among major players in the U.S. is the upstart streaming-only service DAZN, which just started with a small MMA show last week and has their first live boxing telecast this Saturday, September 22, with the Anthony Joshua-Alexander Povetkin heavyweight title fight from London.

While DAZN itself will not do evil by showing pay-per-views, and you can get all their shows in the U.S. for $9.99 a month, there is a catch to this. The main boxing telecasts on DAZN are from the U.K.-based Matchroom Boxing. Their major cards are on pay-per-view on Sky Sports Box Office, although they charge roughly half of what pay-per-views cost in the U.S. But that means that the primary revenue streams for these Matchroom Boxing cards are the pay-per-views and the live gate, which is also considerable since Joshua usually gets between 80- and 90,000 fans packed into football stadiums to see his fights. So they can afford not to run pay-per-views on the DAZN shows aimed at the U.S., and still get the benefits in their main market.

It's also been widely discussed that DAZN is just starting out in the U.S., is a work in progress, and has a long-term plan to grow and make lucrative bids to acquire the rights to many mainstream sports when they become available in a few years. While they are starting off with a good lineup of combat sports, including the Matchroom cards from both the U.K. and U.S., the highly acclaimed World Boxing Super Series, and what seems like a revitalized Bellator MMA, their key to stability in the U.S. will be breaking through with some combination of NFL football, NBA basketball, Major League Baseball, and/or NHL hockey. Note that DAZN does have many of these rights outside the U.S., so they already have a relationship with these leagues. Until then, they are creating a base of American fans with the combat sports.

With more and more people cutting the cord from the despicable cable companies and a growing number of younger people never bothering to deal with such outfits, and presumably technology continuing to march forward, streaming is certainly here to stay and the future of how sports and all video are and will be watched. But that transition will take many years, and there is no telling to what degree traditional TV will remain popular. A lot of us still listen to AM and FM radio, even on radios themselves, so there may be a not-so-peaceful coexistence of these old and new technologies for some time to come.

This is why the main winner in all this recent media reshuffling in boxing, for the present anyway, is PBC. They were counted out by the tools and fools in the so-called boxing media. They were the subject of spurious lawsuits by those trying to save a dying business model, the Top Rank and Golden Boy promoters. And even some in the MMA world who know less than nothing about boxing thought they wanted to be a monopoly like the odious so-called UFC tries to be.

In the end, or so far anyway, PBC's big gamble paid off. They raised tons of cash in order to buy time on most U.S. TV networks in the hopes of sooner rather than later getting one or more of these networks to cough up rights fees for their shows. Their shows started airing in 2015, but they actually were on too many networks at once for the average fan to keep up with them, and did not have the following of the NFL or MLB, which have big and established enough audiences to thrive on multiple networks. For the last year or so, when they obviously had burned through a lot of their original investments, it looked like they only were getting TV revenue from Showtime.

But then DAZN came along and upped the ante with their announced eight-year, billion dollar commitment. Plus, and more importantly, the media reshuffling was taking place across the entire U.S. sports scene. The Fox networks went through a major reorganization, selling off their TV studio and popular networks like FX to Disney. They did keep the main Fox broadcast network and FS1 and FS2, but needed reliable sources of programming now that they didn't have direct access to their studio. So the focus of Fox switched to live sports. They got Thursday Night NFL Football, always a ratings winner. In so-called sports entertainment, they got one of the WWE weekly shows. But they refused to meet the outrageous demands for the declining UFC brawls which they had been showing, and UFC jumped to Disney's ESPN and their streaming service, ESPN+. Now Fox had a hole in their programming lineup and more cash to spend, and in came PBC. Good timing plus opportunity equals success.

The Fox deal is for major PBC shows ten times a year on free broadcast TV, 12 more shows a year on FS1, Spanish telecasts on Fox Deportes, and they tell us "more than 175 hours of original PBC boxing content per year across its channels". With Fox's reach and the ability to have many millions of people watching live boxing, this is easily the biggest and most far-reaching TV deal for American boxing in years. Couple this with the recently announced PBC-Showtime deal for major monthly shows, this means that PBC will have about three or more shows a month on TV between Showtime, Fox, and FS1, perhaps for as many as 52 shows a year. This easily makes them the biggest boxing organization in America.

For hardcore boxing types in the U.S., with all this televised and streamed boxing, there will be almost no more free Saturday nights. That should be better anyway than going to some overpriced club filled with drunks, hustlers, thugs, freeloaders, and future indicted politicians.

Matchroom Boxing is bigger overall in the world than PBC, but it is premature and lazy thinking simply to speak of a "DAZN era" today, as some already have. Even though the reported yearly budgets for boxing shows on DAZN in the U.S. and for PBC on both Fox and Showtime appear to be in the same range, it will take time for DAZN to establish itself in America. That will likely eventually happen, but let's not run up the "W" flag just yet, so let's leave that to the Cubbies.

Of course, for the PBC deals to work, they will have to showcase and develop stars, and have better cards on Fox than they have had recently, where former champions on the downside of their careers have been in the main events. But PBC has an incredibly deep talent roster in many weight classes, including Errol Spence Jr, Keith Thurman, the Charlos, Deontay Wilder, Jarret Hurd, Shawn Porter, Danny Garcia, Mikey Garcia, Leo Santa Cruz, Gary Russell Jr., Abner Mares, Erislandy Lara, and many more.

The biggest loser in all of this is ESPN. Their main boxing writer continued to disgrace himself as a witless propagandist by calling the PBC-Fox deal "a modest victory". Although ESPN has many more subscribers than HBO and Showtime, and is obviously well-established as a sports network, the Top Rank on ESPN shows have recently drawn miserable ratings, in the 500- to 600,000 range, approaching the dismal numbers their old "Friday Night Fights" cards got a few years ago leading to that show's cancellation. They have had to overpay fighters like Terence Crawford who they hid on the ESPN+ app recently before an audience which had to be a small fraction of what they even get on TV on ESPN. Right now they keep the viewership numbers for ESPN+ secret, which would no doubt interest Disney's shareholders. The Top Rank on ESPN boxing shows often start late and run long, as they are put after live events from other major sports, which are what ESPN really cares about. Top Rank has a lot of great and up-and-coming fighters, so it's a shame these fighters are stuck with this bad deal. And the addition of the Frank Warren-promoted shows from the U.K. to ESPN+ in the U.S. will only give them a very modest boost.

HBO lost a long time ago, with collapsing budgets and an uncertain commitment to boxing from the new ownership of AT&T. Their boxing program is terminal, so it's just a matter of making funeral arrangements now.

While PBC is firmly in the lead in America, they, too are tied to aging technology. There are some statements about streaming buried in the announcements of their Fox and Showtime deals, like that is some afterthought and minor point. With the new super-fast 5G being tested and rolled out starting this year, streaming will become easier than ever. This situation reminds me of the early days of cable in the 1970s and 1980s, when mainstream TV types regarded it as a trashbin of reruns, soft-core porn, and amateur programming. Adapt or die, the maxim goes, and there will be a lot more bodies lying on the roadside before this latest technological upheaval is done, of course only to make way for the next one, and the next one, and the next one, if we don't destroy humanity and the planet first.

It is DAZN, though, which holds an ace that no one else can match. That is the 28-year-old, charismatic, undefeated heavyweight champion of the world, Anthony Joshua. Besides drawing live crowds the size of entire cities, Joshua holds the top two spots on pay-per-view in the U.K., getting over one and a half million buys for his 2017 triumph over Wladimir Klitschko, and slightly under than for his 2018 title unification fight with Joseph Parker. Unlike almost all other fighters and especially heavyweights, Joshua has widespread international appeal. Last year he was named the most marketable athlete in the world, in any sport, by SportPro Media. This year he slipped, but only to number two, behind Paul Pogba of Manchester United and the French national football team. No other boxer made the top 50 of this list. And if you dismiss this because SportsPro Media is based in the U.K. and not up on U.S. sports, the country with the largest number of athletes on this list was the U.S., with 22 out of the top 50.

Joshua's next assignment, as you no doubt already know, is this Saturday, September 22, against former WBA champ and fellow Olympic gold medalist Alexander Povetkin of Russia. Joshua is a huge favorite and rightly so, as the 39-year-old Povetkin possesses power and good boxing skills, but is not a match for Joshua in any department, save for professional experience.

To get some idea of what to expect, we spoke with Anthony Joshua on last week's media conference call. His answers to these questions were widely quoted by media around the world, but the questions and answers were not posted.

I mentioned that I had just rewatched Povetkin's 2013 fight with Wladimir Klitschko, and said, though he and Klitschko have different styles, he will have the same height and reach advantage over Povetkin. I then asked what we can expect from this fight given his height and reach advantage and given Povetkin's history of fights.

"I look at like different fights, like the Marco Huck fight, the David Price fight more recently, then the Christian Hammer -- I don't know. Povetkin fights differently in all of his fights. I think the thing with him and Klitschko," he said, "he really wanted to prove himself. Then you look at the fight with Christian Hammer where it was a 12 round breeze.

"But with that being said, how am I going to approach the fight? However I want to approach it. Maybe I might just box and keep it simple. Maybe I might keep a tight guard and go pound-for-pound with him, trade-for-trade. It just really depends how I feel, but the reason why I say that is because I'm versatile. I can keep it long or I can slug it out. It depends what I analyze from my opponent as soon as I get in there for a minute or two," he said.

"I never really go in there with exactly what I'm going to do from round one to whenever I'm going to get him out of there. I just analyze them punch by punch, and I'll switch up my styles as the rounds go along."

Asked to make a prediction for the fight with Povetkin, he replied, "12 rounds, probably. 11, 12 rounds. He's a tough cookie. He will stay around for a while. And I'll win. I'll win. Yes, we're at an elite level now. These guys, they don't just come with skill. They come with a lot of determination as well."

And he added, with a laugh, "Anything shorter than that is a blessing."

Soon we shall find out.

There are, as is typical in boxing, some wild cards in its immediate future. Promises continue of an imminent official announcement of the Deontay Wilder-Tyson Fury fight, which was announced last month but without a date or location. Chatter, rumors, and leaks pollute the Internet about a Mayweather-Pacquiao rematch, about which only those two seem enthused. Just don't expect too much from all the overseers, lords, and vassals in boxing, and then you won't be disappointed.

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Sunday, September 16, 2018

No Holds Barred: Declan Hill on Sports Gambling and the Fight for Sports Integrity in the U.S. 


On this edition of No Holds Barred, host Eddie Goldman once again spoke with investigative journalist, academic, consultant, and expert on match-fixing and corruption in international sports, Declan Hill.

He has just started a new teaching position as an associate professor in the Investigations Department at the Henry C. Lee College of Criminal Justice and Forensic Sciences at the University of New Haven in New Haven, Connecticut. This unique position, which he calls a "professor of investigations", has him teaching a graduate course focusing on corruption in sport and what the recent legalization of sports gambling in the U.S. means for American society.

We spoke with him by phone Wednesday.

"This is an epic-changing moment in American society," he said. "It's comparable with the repeal of Prohibition, because sports gambling has effectively been illegal for over a century. And it's been driven by the trauma of the Chicago White Sox fixing the World Series of baseball in 1919. That Shoeless Joe Jackson trauma 99 years ago has cast a pall over American sports leagues since that time.

"And only this year, only in 2018, on May 14th, did finally the U.S. judicial system say, 'Hey, it's OK for people to gamble on sports.'

"So this is a massively complex question. It's massively complicated, with good stuff on both sides of the issue, bad stuff on both sides of the issue. All kinds of societal stuff, all kinds of religious stuff, all kinds of social stuff."

The debate in the U.S. over the next steps, however, have been dominated by two types of groups which only are serving their own interests, he noted. First are those with their own commercial agendas, including the gambling casinos and the relatively new group of sports gambling monitoring companies. They are trying to ensure a major stake in the legal sports gambling market in the U.S., which it is estimated will grow to hundreds of billions of dollars.

The second group, he said, are those with a "geopolitical agenda". Much of agenda in the U.S. is being pushed by the Middle Eastern monarchy of Qatar -- the same country whose government was accused of massive bribery to get the hosting rights for the FIFA World Cup in 2022. This monarchy, he said, has founded an organization "purportedly" fighting for sports integrity and which is in the forefront of the discussion on sports gambling in U.S. They also, doing what they are paid to do, seek to deflect discussion away from Qatar's role in sports corruption, he said.

While little useful debate is going on about the effects of sports gambling, it is expected that massive amounts of gambling will take place not only on the largest sports in the U.S., but, judging from how gamblers have operated around the world, on the minor leagues of professional sports as well as college and even high school sports.

"Fixing turns sport into theater," he said, and we will see more of it on all levels of sport in America.

In order to address these dangers, he made a proposal.

"It is absolutely clear what American sports needs," he said.

"It needs an Environmental Protection Agency. It needs a meat-packing inspector agency. A similar independent agency needs to be set up at a federal level to protect the integrity of sport.

"And it needs to be funded by a one percent tax on legal gambling. So every sports bet that takes place in the United States, a very small section of it, one percent, goes to setting up that agency, funding it, staffing it with good people."

We discussed the need for independent intelligent discussion on these issues, problems like sports gambling addiction and what happens when illegal bookmakers try to go legal, how sports gambling may kill off some sports, the opposition to forming an independent sports integrity agency, and much, much more.

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