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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Good analysis Eddie
Good analysis Eddie
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Good analysis Eddie

By Blogger Kid Hersh, at 8:16 PM  

Good analysis Eddie

By Blogger Kid Hersh, at 8:17 PM  

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