Premier Boxing Championships on NBC report – James DeGale vs. Andre Dirrell as British gold medalist goes for world title

By Jeremy Wall

James DeGale defeated Andre Dirrell by unanimous decision on Saturday, May 23rd to become the first British boxer to win both an Olympic gold medal and a major world championship, in this case the vacant IBF Super World Middleweight title (168 pounds). The fight took place at Agganis Arena in Boston and aired in the late afternoon as the main event of a Premier Boxing Champions broadcast on NBC. Scores were 114-112, 117-109, and 114-112.

“I am world champ. I made history – the first British Olympic gold medalist to become world champion,” DeGale told Skysports.com. “I am back now and injury free. I will take on any super-middleweight in the world. I am hard to beat when I am at my best.”

DeGale (21-1, 14 KOs) went into the fight having won ten fights in a row. The only loss of his career was by majority decision to George Groves in May 2011 in a fight that one judge scored 115-115 and the other two scored 115-114 for Groves. Dirrell (24-2, 16 KOs), on the other hand, went into the bout riding a six-fight winning streak. Before facing DeGale, the only loss of Dirrell’s career was by split-decision to Carl Froch in October 2009. Both DeGale and Dirrell were making their debut for Al Haymon’s PBC and it was also DeGale’s debut in the United States. Both also prefer fighting southpaw, although DeGale switched between stances late in the fight.

It was a close fight. Dirrell began solid in the first round and was also winning the second round when DeGale scored a flash knockdown with a left hook. Dirrell immediately got back up, but DeGale dropped him again with another hook. It was a strange round because Dirrell was winning the round until he got knocked down twice. Dirrell’s poor defense, though, allowed DeGale to get ahead on the scorecards early in the fight.

Degale, however, faded somewhat as the fight went on. Dirrell never had DeGale in any real danger in the later rounds, but appeared to win a serious of close rounds late in the match. DeGale was cut above his right eye about halfway through the bout from big left hands by Dirrell.

There were a number of close rounds late in the bout that could have gone either way, which explains how two judges saw the fight as 114-112 for DeGale, but another saw it as 117-109. If DeGale hadn’t scored those two knockdowns in the second, though, the result may have been completely different as the rest of the fight was much closer.

“They said I ran from Carl Froch and they took that fight from me. He ran tonight and they gave it to him. All he did was run, no way I lost this fight,” said Dirrell.

The win establishes DeGale as one of the best boxers at 168 pounds. Of the four major boxing titles, PBC now has control over two as DeGale holds the IBF version and Badou Jack holds the WBC version, which he won by defeating Dirrell’s brother Anthony on a PBC show in April.

It was recently announced that terms have been reached for Jack to defend his belt against George Groves, one of Britain’s top boxers. The fight will take place in the US, likely as part of a PBC broadcast. The agreement between both sides prevented a purse bid from happening on Friday, which likely would have been won by PBC since Haymon (through intermediary promotions) uses his hedge fund money to win every purse bid by a wide margin.

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The other super middleweight champions are Art Abraham (WBO), Fedor Chudinov (WBA regular), and Andre Ward (WBA super). Abraham defends his title against Robert Stieglitz in Germany on July 18th. Ward is facing Paul Smith in a non-title bout on June 20th as part of a time buy on BET by Jay Z’s boxing promotion Roc Nation. Chudinov just won the vacant WBA regular title against Felix Sturm in Germany on May 9th.

The biggest names that DeGale could face at super middleweight are either Carl Froch or Andre Ward and neither fight is likely to happen. Froch is talking about retiring, or possibly fighting Gennady Golovkin and then retiring. He already holds a win over Dirrell.  Ward, on the other hand, is promoted by Jay Z, who is a rival to Haymon’s PBC.

The winner of Jack-Groves is a possible opponent for DeGale. This would be especially interesting if Jack won because both Jack and DeGale are under contract to Haymon (Groves isn’t) and that would give Haymon two of the five major champions at super middleweight. There has been a rumour since PBC began that the promotion is looking to create its own titles, much in the same way as the UFC. If PBC did a champion versus champion fight with Jack and DeGale, it would be interesting to see if they used that fight as a springboard to create their own promotional titles.

PBC is careful on all of its broadcasts not to refer to the alphabet name of whatever belt is being fought for. For instance, commentator Kenny Rice only referred to DeGale as the new Super Middleweight champion, rather than specifying that he was the IBF champion. Ring announcer Michael C. Williams also announced DeGale as the new Super Middleweight champion and never specified which alphabet title DeGale won. PBC has been vague about these titles since the promotion began in March.

I personally like the idea of one major boxing promotion handling its own titles. The UFC title situation isn’t perfect, but it is significantly less confusing than the title situation in boxing. To paraphrase John L. Sullivan, most boxing titles aren’t worth hanging around the neck of a goddam dog. Boxing has way too many titles in way too many weight divisions, including things like Super titles, Diamond titles, Silver titles, and so on. Having too many confusing titles and no real linear champions in most weight divisions means that these titles are worthless in the eyes of the casual fan, which is the opposite of what world titles are meant to accomplish.

The fight between Dirrell and DeGale was promoted by Warriors Boxing promoter Leon Margules on behalf of Al Haymon’s PBC. On March 10th Margules won the purse bid for the fight, using Haymon’s hedge fund money to outbid DeGale’s promoter Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Boxing. If Hearn had won then the fight likely would have taken place in Britain. DeGale and Dirrell each received $1.55 million.

The NBC broadcast of PBC also featured the first two rounds of a bout between Edwin Rodriguez (26-1, 17 KOs) and Craig Baker (16-1, 12 KOs). Neither round was particularly exciting. The NBC broadcast ended at 6pm ET sharp and the bout between Rodriguez, 30, and Baker, 31, continued on NBC Sports Network. Rodriguez was the hometown favourite. Rodriguez stopped Baker in the third round. The stoppage was premature, as Rodriguez had Baker against the ropes and was pummeling him, but Baker still seemed in the fight when the referee stepped in and called the match.

PBC made changes to the broadcast team for the third show. Many of the big name sports broadcasters from the first two PBC shows on NBC weren’t back, probably because this was an afternoon show and the other two PBC shows on NBC were in prime time. Kenny Rice of Inside MMA provided play-by-play. Rice had previously worked as a backstage interviewer on the first two PBC shows on NBC. He has also worked as a play-by-play broadcaster for WSOF on NBC Sports Network. Rice is often criticized for his work on Inside MMA, but he does a good job as a play-by-play man and did well on this show. Sugar Ray Leonard was back as a colour commentator and the third man was BJ Flores.

It was PBC’s third broadcast on NBC, but the first on NBC that aired on a Saturday afternoon rather than Saturday night. The show started at 4:30pm ET and ran until 6. At that point, the bout between Rodriguez and Baker continued on NBC Sports Network. It was a strange time slot, not just the late afternoon start, but also airing at half past the hour rather than at the top of the hour.

This was only PBC’s second broadcast after the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight on May 2nd. The first PBC broadcaster after the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight was the Figueora-Burns match on May 9th, which was an afternoon broadcast on CBS. That means PBC has yet to air a show in prime time since the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight. PBC probably dropped the ball, because this show took place 21 days after Mayweather-Pacquiao. PBC should have had a prime time broadcast within a week of Mayweather-Pacquiao to take advantage of the short amount of time that boxing had a higher profile in mainstream media.

HBO has aired a couple of fights since Mayweather-Pacquiao that have drawn well. Canelo Alvarez’s fight against James Kirkland a week after Mayweather-Pacquiao drew 2.146 million viewers on average, the highest rated fight on HBO since 2006. The week after, HBO drew 1.338 million viewers on average for Gennady Golovkin putting on drama show against Willie Monroe Jr. That was the third highest rated fight on HBO of the year, behind the Wladimir Klitschko heavyweight title defense that took place at Madison Square Garden a week before Mayweather-Pacquiao.

PBC’s third broadcast on NBC was an important show to determine the longevity of ratings for PBC on network television. The first PBC show on NBC drew 3.4 million viewers on average in March, peaking at 4.2 million. The second PBC show on NBC drew 2.9 million viewers on average, peaking at 3.4 million. The second show had a drop in average viewership of approximately 15-percent.

The afternoon timeslot prevented PBC from going up against the prelims for UFC 187 on Fox Sports 1, as well as the UFC pay per view broadcast. The show was over well before UFC began. Also, Saturday night is a major night for both the NHL and NBA playoffs, as well as MLB.

The change in time slot, however, will make it difficult to compare the ratings for this show with the ratings for the two previous PBC shows on NBC. A better comparison might be the ratings PBC drew for its two Saturday afternoon shows on CBS. The debut of PBC on CBS drew 1.4 million viewers on average for a 1.0 rating. The second PBC show on CBS drew 1.3 million viewers on average for a 0.9 rating, down 8-percent from the debut.

PBC has also run two shows on Spike on Friday nights. The first drew 869,000 viewers on average and the second drew 569,000 viewers on average. That was a 35-percent drop in viewership.

If I were to guess as to why the viewership on Spike dropped more sharply than the viewership on NBC or CBS, I would say that it is because Spike‘s audience consists of males 18-34 in higher concentration than either NBC or CBS, the latter two of which probably have a higher cross-section of different people in their respective audiences. Boxing viewership skews older, so maintaining ratings with males 18-34 is going to be much harder for PBC and the sharp decline in ratings on Spike is an example of that. Getting young men to watch boxing is one of the major obstacles PBC has to overcome in order to be successful because males 18-34 are highly coveted by advertisers because that demographic has such high disposable income. PBC needs to make money by selling ad space and the more males 18-34 that watch PBC, the more money PBC can make off ads.

There will be a major decline in ratings from the second PBC show on NBC compared to the third show that aired this past weekend because of the change in timeslot. A show that airs Saturday night is obviously going to draw better ratings than a show that airs Saturday afternoon. The real comparison will be whether this Saturday’s show sees a substantial drop from the ratings PBC has garnered for their two Saturday afternoon shows on CBS. Another comparison would be the 0.8 rating that NBC average for boxing that aired on Saturday afternoons from 2012 to 2014. So, this weekend’s show should see an average viewership of about 1.3 million people, or so. Anything significantly under that number would be a failure.

A few major television executives have recently been interviewed in regards to Haymon’s promotion of PBC. In a private media conference, Sean McManus, Chairman of CBS Sports, and Mark Lazarus, Chairman of NBC Sports, were asked about the success of PBC by Richard Sandomir of The New York Times.

“I think Al looks at what’s happened with UFC and the explosive growth in that product and says to himself, ‘Why can’t I create that kind of excitement around the boxing world? Why can’t I take unknown boxers, put them on NBC and CBS and Spike and as many networks as I possibly can, and why can’t I create the kind of stars that boxing used to see in the 70s and 80s’,” said McManus. “The other obstacle I think he’s got to overcome is that the advertising support for boxing has been pretty weak throughout the years and I think he’s got to sell his case to the advertising community that the demographics are good and that the sale makes sense because the way it’s now being structured to a large extent on advertiser supported networks he’s counting on that as being the major part of his revenue and I think that’s one of the obstacles he has to overcome.”

“The roadblock he’s got to come over is building some names and getting them to fight regularly to continue to heighten their exposure and fan appeal,” said Lazarus. “For us, being involved with it, as well as Sean is, I admire his courage and business planning. In success, it’s going to be good for the sport and good for sports in general.”

Stephen Espinoza of Showtime was also recently interviewed by R. Thomas Umstead of Multichannel News in regards to the future of Floyd Mayweather and the possibility of a rematch between Mayweather and Pacquiao.

“It far exceeded our expectations, even what we were expecting late in the week. We were monitoring pre-buys all week but there was nothing in the ballpark to compare it to … they were so high we couldn’t use it to extrapolate any numbers. We were largely flying blind,” Espinoza said in regards to the buy rate for Mayweather-Pacquiao.

“One of the elements that made it hard to predict was that we did message so heavily on early buying by the viewer to avoid technical difficulties, so we weren’t sure how much of the early activity was in response to that messaging and how much was genuine overall excitement and enthusiasm for the fight,” Espinoza continued. “I guess our first real indication that there was a huge expansion of the audience was during the telecast itself when we starting getting some reports that some operators were experiencing technical difficulties processing the huge volume of orders that were coming in on Saturday evening. Ultimately we were able to buy some time by stalling the main event and that hopefully that allowed everything to get cleared up in time for a successful main event telecast.”

Espinoza continued by discussing the future of boxing’s popularity in mainstream media. “What it means for the fight and the sport is sort of a new measuring stick for mainstream appeal of boxing. It’s been decades since the sport has received this level of attention and maybe not even then,” he said. “To be able to capture the imagination and attention of the mainstream audience in such a short period of time on a very, very busy sports weekend speaks volumes about the continued appeal of this sport. Having said that, not every fight is going to be Mayweather/Pacquiao, but for the right matchups there’s still tremendous appeal and demand for boxing.

Regarding Mayweather’s next fight in September, Espinoza said “Floyd has continued to tell us that he intends to fight Sept. 12 and that it will be the last fight of his career. So we are beginning the very preliminary preparations for exactly that. We will be getting into discussions about an opponent for him very quickly. We will look to ride the momentum of this event and capitalize on the fact that Floyd has now distinguished himself as the fighter of his era.”

Regarding a rematch between Mayweather and Pacquiao, Espinoza sounded more optimistic about its possibility compared with Mayweather in the latter’s interview with Showtime a week after the fight took place. “I think we have to remain open to it,” said Espinoza. “There’s a lot of chatter on both sides about the possibility – once Manny successfully recovers from [shoulder] surgery, if there a demand and if Floyd is still active or would consider coming back to being active then it would be a topic of conversation. But it will be driven by demand.”

Next week, PBC returns to Spike with Amir Khan versus Chris Algieri on Friday night from New York. If Khan gets past Algieri (likely to happen), then he is rumoured to be on the short list of possible opponents for Mayweather in September.

On June 6th, Miguel Cotto faces Daniel Geale on HBO in New York in a fight that should setup Cotto vs Canelo Alvarez later this year on pay per view. PBC also has another Saturday afternoon show on June 6th in Carson, CA, with Robert Guerrero vs Aron Martinez. Guerrero is coming off a loss to Keith Thurman in the debut of PBC back in March.

June 12h PBC is back on Spike again with Erislandy Lara versus Delvin Rodriguez for the WBA regular Junior Middleweight title. June 13th HBO has Nicholas Walters versus Miguel Marriaga for the WBA Featherweight title in New York and the same night Showtime has Deontay Wilder defending the WBC Heavyweight title against Eric Molina. Wilder is a Haymon fighter and is super charismatic and they are making a mistake by putting him on premium cable instead of network TV, although maybe Wilder has a contract with Showtime and they have to do it that way.

On June 20th PBC returns to prime time on NBC with Adrian Broner versus Shawn Porter. That will be the most important PBC show during the promotion’s first few months because it will be the fifth show on NBC, but the third on NBC in prime time. Also, Broner and Porter are both coming off wins on previous PBC shows with Broner beating John Molina Jr on PBC’s debut on NBC back in March and Porter beating Erick  Bone on PBC’s debut on Spike, also in March. When Broner and Porter meet in prime time on NBC we will see if PBC was able to turn the two into stars with their high profile wins on American television, as the rating for that fight will be an important indicator of PBC’s success going forward.

The Broner-Porter fight goes up against Andre Ward debuting on BET against Paul Smith. Ward is promoted by Jay-Z, who has terrible bad blood with Al Haymon dating back to Haymon’s days as the preeminent R&B promoter in the US. The Ward fight is part of a time buy that Jay-Z is doing on BET and that he is putting Ward’s fight against an important PBC fight is not an accident.

And if that isn’t all, on June 20th David Lemieux faces Hassan N’Dam in Montreal for the vacant IBF Middleweight title. The fight is being promoted by Golden Boy. It will air on pay per view in Quebec, but Golden Boy doesn’t have a broadcaster in the US yet. De La Hoya said he is trying to work something out and that the fight will air in the US, which will make for three major boxing matches in one night on American TV. I would say it probably ends up on HBO, since De La Hoya has been working with HBO recently and Haymon works with Showtime and probably wouldn’t be pleased with Showtime putting a major fight against his important PBC show on NBC that night.

Then, believe it or not, the next day on June 21st PBC is back for another CBS show, this time on a Sunday afternoon with Rances Barthelemy versus Antonio DeMarco. That means PBC has back-to-back network television shows on June 20th and June 21st.

On Friday, June 26th is another boxing ratings war with four different broadcasters airing boxing the same night. Showtime has Dominic Wade vs Sam Soliman on ShoBox (their show for featuring up-and-coming fighters) as part of a triple header on that station that I believe is promoted by Haymon. TruTV has a Top Rank broadcast. Fox Sports 1 has a Golden Boy broadcast. And CBS Sports Net has minor league boxing. Then, the next night on June 27th HBO has Timothy Bradley versus Jessie Vargas for the vacant WBO Welterweight title.

On July 11th, PBC debuts on ESPN, replacing Friday Night Fights, which recently had its final broadcast.