- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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Through the first four shows of the Main Events-promoted "Fight Night" series on NBC Sports Network, we've seen name fighters such as Zab Judah and Tomasz Adamek in notable bouts, the emergence from obscurity of American heavyweight prospect Bryant Jennings with two strong wins, and Gabriel Rosado score two impressive victories and crack the 154-pound top 10.
That's a pretty good start for the series.
And there is, hopefully, more to come now that NBC Sports Network has renewed the show through 2014 -- including at least one card that will air live on NBC (and possibly a second one). NBC proper hasn't aired live boxing in years, aside from the first-season finale of the "The Contender" reality series in 2005 and a few Saturday afternoon dates with Main Events the previous year. It has been an even longer drought for boxing on the other broadcast networks.
NBC Sports Network, which announced the renewal on Monday, picked up the show for a minimum of 12 cards (at least six in 2013 and six more in 2014), although the network said it could increase that total to as many as 16. The first two dates of 2013 were also announced: Jan. 19 and March 9.
I would expect the NBC Sports Network to wind up doing closer to 16 than 12 shows, based on the fact it already picked up additional shows from its original order this year. The network has been quite happy with the show so far -- and why not? The fights have been solid, and the folks at the network say they are happy with the ratings.
"'Fight Night' has been a tremendous success," said Jon Miller, NBC Sports and NBC Sports Network programming president. "NBC is committed to the property, and we are looking forward to expanding the series from six telecasts to up to 16."
The most exciting part of the deal that was announced Monday, however, is the major-network aspect. Besides the 2013 and 2014 cards, an additional card was added for 2012, and that one will take place Dec. 22 on NBC from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. ET.
A lot of promoters have talked about bringing boxing back to network television, where it once thrived. Main Events' Kathy Duva has actually done it and deserves congratulations and credit.
"I'm pretty happy about it," she said. "My head is swimming with the possibilities."
Duva is particularly happy about the late-afternoon time slot.
"Being on from 4 to 6 is a big improvement," she said, comparing it to the earlier-afternoon slots she had on NBC in the early 2000s. "This time slot gives us the ability to expand our budget for the fights because of foreign sales. That means we will have the opportunity to put on fights that we couldn't afford to do on an evening budget."
The reason is simple: If it's 4 p.m. on the U.S. East Coast, it's prime time in Europe, where Duva can generate money to help her supplement NBC Sports Network's low six-figure license fee. That means we likely will see a significant Adamek fight on Dec. 22, because it will generate big money on pay-per-view in Poland, where he is a star. So if Adamek wins a Sept. 8 fight in Newark, N.J., against a yet-to-be-determined opponent, he'll likely be back Dec. 22 in the United States.
"Obviously, we are targeting a fight with Adamek for that date [Dec. 22]," she said. "But he has to win Sept. 8."
Even without the NBC aspect of "Fight Night," the series couldn't be working out better for all involved, including boxing fans.
"It's going exactly as I had hoped," Duva said. "Boxing needs stars, but nobody sat down and said, 'Let's make Bryant Jennings a star.' No, he filled in on five days' notice [in January] and seized the opportunity. Nobody planned it. Nobody anointed him. This is back to the way boxing used to be. He got his opportunity, he took advantage of it, so he got another opportunity and he won that fight, too. If you keep capitalizing, you become a star. So maybe he's not a star, but a lot of people are interested now in following him and seeing him, and that's the whole point. Now he's a bona fide prospect. You want to follow him, and we are fortunate to be able to provide the platform for him and others.
"Rosado is another guy nobody predicted anything for, but he has taken advantage of his opportunities, too. He just needed a platform. There will be others who do the same thing."
Duva said she is pleased to work with other promoters with no strings attached. She has worked with Don King on two fights and Dan Goossen, along with Russell Peltz, her partner on the series.
"We are once again reaching out to all promoters to get involved in the series," Duva said. "The multiple-promoter format worked incredibly well during Season One, and we are hoping to continue to build on the momentum. All fighters who are willing to further their careers by engaging in compelling, interesting, meaningful matches are welcome."