NEW YORK -- True to form, Al Haymon never actually showed his face or addressed the media at Wednesday’s news conference announcing his plans to bring boxing back to network TV in prime time.
But the reclusive and powerful adviser/manager’s actions spoke volumes as it pertains to the future of the sport thanks to his multiyear deal with NBC Sports to produce a new series titled “Premier Boxing Champions,” featuring 20 overall dates and five that will air Saturday nights on NBC.
Fans and critics have debated over the past few years whether the intentions of Haymon, who doesn’t speak to the media and is known for getting his fighters the most money for the least amount of risk, are a good thing for the overall health of the sport.
Haymon’s response to those questions came through loud and clear on Wednesday. And it’s clearly hard to argue with the idea of bringing big-time fights back to the masses on free TV, provided of course that the level of quality for each card remains on par with the first two that were announced: Keith Thurman-Robert Guerrero and Adrien Broner-John Molina for March 7 and Danny Garcia-Lamont Peterson on April 11.
And that, of course, is where the proof needs to actually show up within the pudding over the long haul. Critics have a right to withhold their celebration when you consider Haymon’s history of matching his fighters soft on both HBO and Showtime.
The good news is that there’s clearly enough incentive this time around for Haymon to consistently put on great fights when it’s he who is fronting the money as a time buy. But can that model sustain itself in the long term, relying on advertising to pay for the fights? Will that fact alone affect the quality of fights over time?
Boxing as a whole limped through an awfully disappointing 2014, with much of the blame falling on Haymon’s perceived unwillingness to match any of the marquee names in his star-studded stable of more than 150 fighters against each other. The result was one unexplained mismatch after another on premium cable.
And while the announcement of the “PBC on NBC” goes a long way toward explaining why last year was so painful, does it make it right? Why did the networks, Golden Boy (which has acted as Haymon’s promoter of choice in recent years) and, most importantly, the fans need to suffer in order for Wednesday’s long-rumored announcement to create such cheerful feelings? (And why were those fights allowed to air by the networks in the first place?)
Does Haymon’s new plan only feel so good because our expectations have been lowered so far? As much as fights like Thurman-Guerrero and Garcia-Peterson are appealing, couldn’t they have taken place just as easily one year ago?
Being a boxing fan makes it easy to start preparing for rain on such a sunny day as this one. It’s an aptly titled cruel sport that not only takes more from its combatants than it ever rewards, it very often breaks the heart of a fan just as quickly as it captures it.
But despite what it took to get to this point, the star-studded arrival of Haymon’s PBC -- with the news conference held in the same studio where “Saturday Night Live” is filmed -- is a breath of fresh air for the crossover potential of a sport longing to reconnect with a faded casual fan base.
Those close to Haymon said all the right things on Wednesday, including a willingness to work with any promoter and the announcement of an advanced drug testing plan. And despite initial rumors, fighters who appear on the PBC won’t be exclusive to the series, giving them the option to float between pay cable and pay-per-view in search of the biggest opportunity.
Haymon has used the shadow of his reclusiveness to work the magic of his great influence and Harvard-educated mind behind the scenes, graying the definition of his title as adviser by those who believe he has just as easily acted as a promoter and matchmaker. And there’s little question the launch of the PBC could be just the beginning of Haymon’s attempt to take over control of the sport.
One thing we do know is that Haymon has long been a tremendous advocate for the entity within boxing that most often gets the shortest end of the stick: the fighters. But provided he continues to use his vast powers for the good of the fans, Wednesday’s announcement could go down as a turning point for the sport.
And that's something to be excited about.