The resulting fight, aired on HBO World Championship Boxing, was a middleweight clash for the ages, with Pavlik down and nearly out early only to roar back with a thrilling come-from-behind knockout victory to secure the title. As I can attest from being in attendance, the raucous crowd had a tangible impact on the electric atmosphere that night. It’s unlikely they made much impact on Pavlik’s mid-fight resurrection, but they certainly made the night more memorable.
When the dust settled, Pavlik was a new star and Taylor, despite the loss, actually improved his standing amongst fight fans after yawn-inducing performances against Kassim Ouma and Cory Spinks in previous bouts. A great fight was staged, a new champion was crowned, and the fans were entertained and uplifted. Everybody left the arena satisfied.
This Saturday, January 29, two more undefeated Americans will square off for divisional supremacy, as Timothy Bradley and Devon Alexander battle to see who the best 140-pound fighter in the world (Amir Khan notwithstanding; he will very likely have his opportunity to face the victor later this year to establish the undisputed champion of the division). It is the most anticipated, important, high-level fight between two undefeated Americans since Pavlik-Taylor I; unfortunately, it has been treated by its promoters like it’s just another fight.
Instead of capitalizing on Alexander’s popularity in St. Louis (where fans are so dedicated they long supported the boxing equivalent of a John Tesh album, the aforementioned Spinks) by holding the fight somewhere accessible to his many supporters, Alexander promoter Don King and Bradley promoter Gary Shaw reached an agreement to stage the fight at the Pontiac Silverdome in Pontiac, Michigan.
According to Google Maps, the Silverdome is approximately 9.5 hours from St. Louis, a daunting drive for even many diehard Alexander fans. Bradley fans, meanwhile, best make their airline reservations for next weekend, unless they’re into road trips big time. The drive from Bradley’s home of Palm Springs, California to Pontiac is a cool 1 day, 12 hours. A 36-hour drive to see a roughly 45 minute fight? Who wouldn’t sign up for that?
As a result, ticket sales are reported by some to be pathetic, though of course the usual obfuscation and indignation by the promoters muddies the water somewhat.
So why did King and Shaw decide that economically depressed Pontiac, Michigan was the most logical home for a fight between a St. Louis fighter and a California fighter? According to Michael Marley, “Shaw and King just banked $225,000 each as their share of the site fee.”
I guess a few bucks in the pocket are worth a few thousand asses in the seats, to horribly mangle/paraphrase (manglephrase?) the cliché. King and Shaw may be boxing promoters by trade, but this is yet more evidence that their primary interest is promoting the health of their own bank accounts, no matter the fallout for the fighters or fans.
Because he’s already pocketed his cash, it’s easy enough for Shaw to say things like, “I don’t care if we draw 500 people,” as he did in USA Today. Is it absurd for the promoter of a fight to flatly declare his lack of interest in selling tickets for said fight? It would be almost anywhere, except in boxing.
So if the promoters are less than interested in making the fight itself a must-see spectacle, at least HBO, which will be broadcasting the fight live, must be motivated to draw big-time ratings for this fight and potentially build a major star out of one or both of these fighters, right?
HBO’s failed build began in December, after Amir Khan outpointed Marcos Maidana in an outstanding fight to close the 2010 boxing season on HBO. Like Bradley and Alexander, Khan is one of the top 140-pound fighters in the world. With all three fighters entering their prime at roughly the same time in the same weight class, they could potentially provoke a similar explosion of interest in the junior welterweight division as Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales, Manny Pacquiao, and Juan Manuel Marquez did in the featherweight division in the last decade, or Sugar Ray Leonard, Tommy Hearns, and Roberto Duran did in the welterweight division in the 1980s.
However, instead of capitalizing on Khan’s impressive victory with a lengthy post-fight interview, instead of alluding to the possibility of Khan facing the Bradley-Alexander winner to crown a true champion at junior welterweight, instead of whetting the fight fan’s appetite prior to a month-plus long layoff from boxing on HBO, instead of serving their own self-interest by hyping an important fight that will air on their network, one that could very realistically catapult the winner towards the type of future stardom the network covets, HBO asked Khan one question and cut to a preview for their 24/7 special about a hockey game.
Since then, HBO has hyped the Bradley-Alexander matchup by… well, it’s on their schedule, so that’s good. And they sometimes even have commercials for it. And there are plenty of articles and videos about it on their Web site, though I know few fight fans that regularly frequent the HBO Boxing Web site. But since starting the critically lauded 24/7 series in 2007, HBO has gradually stopped producing the excellent half-hour Coundown shows they used to put together for nearly every big fight. Because 24/7 is much more expensive than the Countdown shows, HBO reserves 24/7 for potentially lucrative pay-per-views. Thus, major HBO World Championship Boxing cards like Bradley-Alexander receive no extended promotional hype from the network. None. And they wonder why ratings are down.
It should be noted that HBO aired a Countdown special for Pavlik-Taylor I before that fight.
Shaw is quoted by USA Today saying, “[T]he fight is bigger than the site.” Unfortunately, neither promoter, nor HBO, is treating it that way. Shaw, King, and HBO are acting as though this is just another fight card, taking the quick money from site fees rather than staging the fight at a logical location, failing to capitalize on opportunities to expose the fighters to captive audiences, and failing to put much extra effort into raising the profile of the fighters through television specials or any creative promotional efforts whatsoever.
Just as the Pavlik-Taylor I fight poster perfectly embodied the hype and anticipation for that matchup, so too does that Bradley-Alexander poster speak to the laziness and general ineffectiveness of the promoters in stoking interest in this fight. Poor poster, poor planning, poor promotion – it’s a shame that such a shoddy effort is compromising the exposure of such a wonderful fight.
(Marketer A: How can we communicate how unique and special these fighters are, and how rare and exciting a matchup this is? Marketer B: Let’s have them generically posed on a stand-up comedy stage with vacant or pained expressions. Marketer A: Brilliant!)
Great read, Scott. I always appreciate your take on things. I made my husband read this one. Too much good stuff for me to sit here and read the highlights to him. (One of my 'job duties' as 'Homemaker' seems to be to keep up with boxing news and pass along condensed versions and highlights.)
Great piece Scott. I too was at the Taylor-Pavlik fight in AC and remember being quite pissed at the fact I couldn't purchase one of those awesome posters. Had to settle for a t-shirt from a bootlegger. Unfortunately, I don't think Saturday's bout will come close to matching Taylor-Pavlik's in-ring fireworks.
@MikeCoppinger Thanks Mike. I had the same problem with the poster, but a friend of mine managed to find one online, so it's out there somewhere. We probably have the same bootleg shirt, too.
While I agree SK that there's plenty of mistakes that have been made on a micro level in the making of this fight by those stakeholders with an actual piece of it (HBO, Shaw, King etc.), on a macro level, this is a fight the should sell itself if the sport was truly thriving. The fact that it isn't speaks volumes and perhaps is a culmination of years of poor decisionmaking coming home to roost. Perhaps the powers that be should be scratching their collective heads and wondering why the heck a 5 star match up between two of their rising stars which they have oh so carefully groomed and "developed" to this point is being met with a collective yawn by the public at large (relative to the hardcore boxing fan which is pretty psyched about it).
I agree SK-- this is precisely the kind of legitimate divisional fight at 140 that HBO should be marketing the heck out of and get the sport back to its foundation. I guess they only bring out their marketing muscle for those cross-divisional "carnivale" matchups that I care so little for. Maybe next they will add Adrienne Barbeau to their broadcast team. Couldn't hurt.
@WILLFRANK Thanks WF. Unfortunately, all most of these promoters know how to do now is sell a star (a guy like Warren notwithstanding). If Manny or Floyd is involved, they know how to make an event out of it. But they have no idea how to sell a fight anymore, and it doesn't seem like they're even trying too hard.
We can b*tch and moan all we want about how the Cold War between Golden Boy and Top Rank hurts the sport, but Scott's excellent piece shows that we really don't want the sport in the hands of money grubbers like King and Shaw, do we?
I think Frank Warren is one of the most underrated promoters in the world. The guy puts on really solid cards with regional and local appeal in the UK, such as the recent Magnificent Seven. He put a nice crowd into Upton Park in London for the fight between West Ham supporter Kevin Mitchell -- a natural promotional tie-in for a bout at West Ham's home pitch -- against Michael Katsidis.
Warren has a real knack for building fighters' profiles in the UK, using Sky Sports and other promotional vehicles very deftly.
Too bad Warren loses some of his top guys to Top Rank and Golden Boy once they become North American attractions, like Hatton and Khan. But guys like Shaw, King and even Arum and Schaeffer could learn from Warren's carnival barking and solid, top-to-bottom shows.
@PaulKelly Thanks PK. And you're right about Warren, he combines old-fashioned guerilla marketing with traditional promotional outlets like TV and makes good top to bottom cards. If more American promoters followed his blueprint it wouldnt be such a shame that he loses control of those guys when they get big.
One of the problems is that there isn't a figure whose only concern is the health of the sport as a whole, everybody is just trying to get the biggest piece of the pie while they can. That never bodes well for long-term development.
RE: the undercard -- they should've put some local fighters on the card. Hearns, Bundrage, whatever Detroit/Michigan boxers they could get.
@tstarks Hell, I would have taken a celebrity boxing match between Bill Laimbeer and Kevin McHale. Try and tell me half of Detroit wouldn't come see that.
@pong, I was having a similar conversation about Shaw the other day with a friend. While some other promoters ruffle my feathers more with some of their actions, as far as the meat & potatoes of promotion goes, Shaw suffers in comparison to the others.
@PJ, The undercard is definitely a little weak, but I'm not sure how big the Hispanic market is in Detroit. Julio Diaz is showcased though, so there's that. And after looking at the card, I'd put Kendall Holt on serious upset alert. Lenin Arroyo is a tough, tough cookie and Holt hasn't looked focused in awhile. Also, Trinidad & Tobago Heavyweight Champion Kertson Manswell is on the card, who needs the TV safety net???
honestly i blame gary shaw i mean most his fighters could fight on one card and draw badly.take bradley for example i remember reading the BN preview of his fight with Witter and thinking how have i not heard anything about this young undefeated yank prospect with a good am background i mean usual they receive mega hype.shaw is a tv producer not a promoter without the safety net tv provides i doubt he would be able to survive
Completely agree. Bob Arum can promote a bad fight better than king and shaw can promote a potentially great fight. What is with no proper undercard to target boxings large hispanic fanbase.
Indeed, I can understand Don King, he probably needs the cash to bounce back, and he has been a rogue since a long timer ago anyway. As for Gary Shaw, well, now that sure is blatant ...
Well, too bad for these 2 boxers, they should have chosen Top Rank or Golden Boy
Lol...the poster comparison is absolute money. Thanks for bringing some perspective with Taylor-Pavlik.
"Just as the Pavlik-Taylor I fight poster perfectly embodied the hype and anticipation for that matchup, so too does that Bradley-Alexander poster speak to the laziness and general ineffectiveness of the promoters in stoking interest in this fight. Poor poster, poor planning, poor promotion – it’s a shame that such a shoddy effort is compromising the exposure of such a wonderful fight. "
You nailed it.