Thursday, November 13, 2008
Updated: November 14, 8:20 AM ET
Canceled shows a low blow to boxing industry
First it was ESPN2's "Wednesday Night Fights" being canceled last month. Then came even worse news last week -- Spanish-language network Telefutura will pull the plug on "Solo Boxeo" after the Dec. 19 card, ringing a final bell for the excellent series that ran for almost nine years. Ouch, babe. The end of both series was due in large part to increasingly tight budgets in a difficult economy. This is horrifying news for boxing fans and an ailing industry as a whole. I'm not one to sound the alarm too often, but this is scary. Between the two shows, we're talking about roughly 60 dates per year, gone. Poof. Like that.
That's at least 120 bouts -- a minimum of two fights per two-hour broadcast -- so that's a lot of work for fighters that has simply vanished like so many other jobs in our workforce. It's crushing for loyal fans and devastating to the sport in the United States, especially the death of "Solo Boxeo," which didn't just air during the spring and summer like "WNF" did. "Solo Boxeo" aired week in and week out save the occasional week off for a major holiday. It has been the home to countless rising prospects and contenders, a place for star fighters to stay busy while waiting for that big fight and a place for beaten stars to embark on the comeback trail. And it produced numerous entertaining scraps over the years regardless of the level of the fighters involved.
Even if you don't understand Spanish, the show was still enjoyable. A good fight is a good fight in any language.
Ironically, on Friday, the day on which the promoters that shared the roughly 48 dates per year -- Bob Arum's Top Rank, Oscar De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions and Don Chargin -- were informed of the show's demise, featherweights Rogers Mtagwa and Tomas Villa waged a sensational fight of the year candidate in the main event in Tuscon, Ariz. Mtagwa went down in the ninth and rallied to score three knockdowns in the 10th to win the all-action fight.
Philadelphia promoter and Hall of Famer Russell Peltz, who has been watching TV fights since 1959 and going to fights since 1960, co-promoted the show and told me he ranks Mtagwa-Villa in his personal top-10 fights of all-time. If you know Peltz, that is a massive statement. So with just a few shows remaining, at least it's going out with a bang.
How these dates will be replaced is anyone's guess. The hard truth is that they almost certainly won't be. Even if Versus continues with its commitment to boxing, it surely won't do 60 shows next year. Series like "WNF" and "Solo Boxeo" are critical to boxing because they are important breeding grounds for the young fighters who eventually wind up on HBO, Showtime or pay-per-view. ESPN2's "Friday Night Fights" and Versus' "Fight Night" cannot carry the load alone.
It's time for fighters, promoters and managers to prepare for a bumpy ride. Everyone is going to need to tighten their belts and understand the new realities of the market. Boxing isn't Major League Baseball or the NFL or NBA, which have lucrative contracts locked in with the networks.
Hey, maybe Congress can pass a financial bailout plan for boxing, too? It sure won't cost $700 billion, but our sport needs one very badly.