With red, white and blue bunting draped across stadiums, it's easy to see that baseball's opening week is upon us. So is boxing's opening week. You heard me right. Boxing's opening week is here. The fight game might not have a league, a players union or a commissioner, but boxing does have a season. It runs from now through early September.
You think I'm crazy? You've never heard of a boxing season? Think about this. Have you noticed that there isn't any consistent TV boxing in late October, November or December? Our "Friday Night Fights" series goes dark come the fall. Other networks fall in line. Baseball's postseason, Thanksgiving, college bowl games and various other football conflicts have forced TV programmers down certain roads. At ESPN, that road has become a warm-weather boxing super-highway.
The fast pass lane has "Wednesday Night Fights" making its debut this week. That means two things -- multiple live weekly boxing broadcasts for fight fans and my family wondering if I still live with them. The Teddy and Joe Show is hitting the road. This is our Summer of Glove.
Our temporary residence this week will be New Orleans. The Crescent City is doing a good job of getting up off the canvas after Katrina. Now we will find out if a few veterans can do the same for their careers. The main event is Verno Phillips vs. JC Candelo (Wednesday, ESPN2, 10 ET).
Phillips isn't far removed from his title reign, while Candelo seems to have gotten closer to the form that made him a consistent top-10 contender. It should be a very good fight. Add in the fact that power punching Antwun Echols is in the co-feature, and it's a nice way to start off the season.
It's not just the Bristol Boys who are hip to idea of a boxing season. Look at the slate of high-profile fights that are locked in from now until July: Mayweather-Judah, De La Hoya-Mayorga, Tarver-Hopkins, Castillo-Corrales III, Taylor-Wright, Mosley-Vargas II, Baldomir-Gatti.
This is the time of the year to take advantage of the lulls in the sports calendar. Let's be honest in acknowledging that the American sports world revolves around two power players, football and March Madness. Those two properties garner the highest TV ratings and the most gambling dollars, the latter many times producing the former.
Boxing slices the rest of the pie with the other non-NASCAR niche sports. Out of that group there aren't any sports that can generate $15 million pay-per-view evenings. Boxing will do it a few times during this stretch. There are sports that will show up plenty of times on TV during this same season, yet you're clueless if you think those sports would be able to find 400,000 households willing to pay $50 to watch a single broadcast.
Late spring and summer TV programming is a good fit for boxing. Look at what ESPN alone plans on doing with the sport: "Wednesday Night Fights" will complement "Friday Night Fights" for the next 18 weeks. Another live "Contender" special is slated for Thursday May 3 from Las Vegas on ESPN, then Season 2 starts up in July for a run of weekly shows outside the constraints of "WNF" or "FNF." Add in the fact that ESPN Classic is starting "Best of Friday Night Fights" marathons and you have a network that is committed to using boxing as a major programming entity with a clear-cut season.
Much like boxing, the PGA Tour and NASCAR are full of individuals competing for their own fame and financial success. But unlike boxing, those two leagues recently took a strong look at their TV season and made a move. Both tours figured out a plan that grows the sport and adds revenue.
Creating a championship portion at the end of the schedule makes sense on those tours. Could it work in boxing? In a taped reality-TV setting "The Contender" does it in a different sort of way. But wouldn't it be interesting to see eight top-tier fighters in a specific division sign on to have a spring through summer tournament schedule?
Take the cruiserweight division for example. It is highly competitive but grossly underexposed by the TV networks. It is a division full of athletic power punchers who don't loaf through 12 rounds like most of these mediocre heavyweights who have been forced on us do. Plus, none of the top cruiserweights are making boatloads of money as it is. So why not break the mold? They should all commit to a made-for-TV tournament in the form of this new boxing season.
Think about the possibilities. This is one of those moments when you wish boxing had a centralized league with one singular vision. You could morph Paul Tagliabue and David Stern into one "Super Commish" and it would still be a challenge. With all the promoter fiefdoms and their understood self-interests, there doesn't seem to be much hope. However, with 37 ESPN boxing broadcasts between now and Labor Day, TV slots are available to make it happen.
Cruiserweight champ O'Neil Bell would be the No. 1 seed. He would fight eighth-seeded Felix Cora in the first round on a "Wednesday Night Fights" in April. Two days later you would have No. 2 seed Jean Marc Mormeck against No. 7 Dale Brown on "Friday Night Fights." And so on. That first round would be four weeks covering eight consecutive ESPN shows, producing four winners.
At the end of June or in the first week of July, there would be a Final Four cruiserweight week on ESPN. With loads of promotional momentum, and viewers with an established connection, the Wednesday/Friday Final Four would create big buzz.
The two winners would then have time for a full training camp to prepare for the Labor Day weekend finals. I assure you that this fight would generate the most money and attention for the cruiserweight division since Evander Holyfield was at 190 pounds.
Although it's strictly a product of TV programming, boxing does indeed have a season. This weight-division tournament concept would provide the one thing boxing doesn't have: a conclusion to a season. Wouldn't it be grand to have a championship that is the end result of a clearly defined season? Makes too much sense for this game, doesn't it? Enjoy the boxing season. We're so happy it has arrived.
Joe Tessitore is the blow-by-blow announcer on ESPN2's "Friday Night Fights."