By Jeremy Wall
Danny Garcia (31-0-0, 18 KOs) stopped Paulie Malignaggi (33-7, 7 KOs) in the ninth round of the main event of the second PBC on ESPN card Saturday, August 1st. The show, which included an opening fight where Daniel Jacobs (30-1, 27 KOs) beat Sergio Mora (28-4, 9 KOs) in the second round when Mora injured his right ankle, took place at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn and went up against UFC 190 on pay per view from Brazil with the UFC prelims airing on Fox Sports 1. Local promotion for PBC was handled by Lou DiBella.
It was the second straight UFC pay per view that PBC on ESPN has gone up against. PBC debuted on ESPN on July 11th with a show featuring Keith Thurman, replacing the long-tenured Friday Night Fights on ESPN2. I thought it was a mistake for PBC to debut on ESPN going up against UFC 189 with the Conor McGregor title fight.
I also thought it was a mistake for ESPN to air its second PBC card this weekend against a UFC pay per view headlined by Ronda Rousey. Although the UFC show took place at the HSBC Arena in Rio de Janeiro and UFC pay per views in foreign countries are typically expected to draw weaker buy rates, I think that Ronda has become such a box office draw that holding her fight in Rio won’t do too much damage to the show’s pay per view buy rate. Also, the timing of “Rowdy” Roddy Piper’s death meant a swell of media attention for his namesake “Rowdy” Ronda. Smartly, Ronda dedicated her fight to the late Rowdy one.
The debut of PBC on ESPN on July 11th drew a flat rating of 799,000 viewers against the Conor McGregor title fight. It was outdrawn by the UFC prelims on Fox Sports 1 the same night, as well as being outdrawn by previous live event programming ESPN has aired on Saturday nights. If I am correct in assuming that Ronda’s drawing power will overcome the disadvantage of UFC holding a pay per view in Brazil instead of state-side, then I expect a second flat rating for PBC on ESPN.
Besides the UFC pay per view, PBC on ESPN also went up against a strong WSOF show on NBC Sportsnetwork, although I doubt the WSOF will have much of an impact if any impact at all on either PBC or UFC.
PBC returns to ESPN on August 29th for a show headlined by undefeated Leo Santa Cruz against Abner Mares at featherweight. Santa Cruz was last seen fighting on the pay per view undercard of the Mayweather-Pacquiao extravaganza. The August 29th show is again being used as counter-programming against a pay per view, but instead of a UFC show this time it is a pay per view featuring Shane Mosley vs. Ricardo Mayorga. That show is being promoted by Mosley and takes place in Inglewood. Mosley claims that he will need a minimum of 40,000 buys on pay per view for the show to break even. With PBC airing on ESPN opposite Mosley’s card, it will make it more challenging for Mosley to hit that magic number.
Saturday night’s PBC main event on ESPN featured Danny Garcia’s debut at welterweight (147 pounds). Garcia came in at 146 3/4 pounds, the heaviest he has ever been for a fight. Garcia last appeared on his PBC debut on April 11th, barely squeaking by Lamont Peterson with a majority decision victory fought at a catchweight of 143 pounds. Garcia is the former WBA Super Super Lightweight and WBC Super Lightweight champion, holding wins over notables like Peterson, Rod Salka, Mauricio Herrera, Lucas Matthysse, Zab Judah, Erik Morales (twice), and Amir Khan, among others. He has been criticized of late, however, for taking fights against handpicked opponents. Garcia has vacated one belt and is expected to vacate the other soon with his move up to welterweight.
Garcia, 27, was one of the many names in the rumour mill for Floyd Mayweather’s supposed final fight on September 12th, which supposedly has gone to Andre Berto although nothing has been officially announced. Instead, Garcia was used to headline the second PBC on ESPN show and given Malignaggi, an opponent who has a bit of a name as both a fighter and broadcaster and would give Garcia an interesting bout, but would have virtually no chance of beating Garcia.
Malignaggi, 33, hadn’t fought since a fourth-round TKO loss against Shawn Porter on April 19th, 2014. He was widely considered a disappointing challenger for Garcia’s welterweight debut. Before the Garcia fight, Malignaggi had lost two of his last three fights, with the other loss against Adrian Broner by split-decision on June 22, 2013, and the win coming against Zab Judah by unanimous decision on December 7th, 2013. Malignaggi was the former WBA Welterweight and IBF Super Lightweight champion, having lost the Welterweight title to Broner. Malignaggi also had a few notable loses earlier in his career, to Amir Khan via eleventh round TKO on May 15th, 2010; Ricky Hatton also via eleventh round TKO on November 22nd, 2008; and, Miguel Cotto via unanimous decision on June 10th, 2006.
Attendance was announced at 7,237. Malignaggi is from Brooklyn and was the hometown favourite against Garcia, although Garcia had his supporters, too, which made for a hot crowd. Garcia is from Philadelphia, but his last three fights including the Malignaggi bout have been at the Barclays Center and Garcia has fought at the venue a total of five times during his career, so it is his home away from home.
After the fight, Malignaggi was talking retirement. “I’m probably not fighting again,” he said. It was not exactly a retirement speech, but Malignaggi is one of the better colour commentators in boxing, working for PBC, so he has another job to fall back on, which is a job that doesn’t require taking more physical damage.
Garcia earned $1.25 million for the bout compared to $550,000 for Malignaggi.
Garcia connected 121 of 485 punches for 25-percent. Malignaggi connected on 77 of 335 punches for 23-percent. Even though the punch stats appear close, Garcia handily won every round (although ESPN colour analyst Teddy Atlas did give one early round to Malignaggi). Malignaggi’s offense was weak and Garcia appeared unblemished after the bout. Malignaggi, on the other hand, suffered a bad cut over his right eye. The cut was opened in the third round. The right eye kept getting worse and worse until the bout was stopped in the ninth with Garcia battering Malignaggi against the ropes. Garcia was leading on all three scorecards when the fight was stopped with 79-73, 79-73 and 78-74.
After the fight, Garcia raised Malignaggi’s hand, which received an ovation from Malignaggi’s hometown crowd. It was nearly an identical scene to what was going on far away in Rio de Janeiro when Stefan Struve raised Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira’s hand after beating Nogueira in front of Nogueira’s hometown crowd.
Since beating Malignaggi, Garcia talked about facing either Keith Thurman or Shawn Porter, both fighters coming off wins on key PBC broadcasts. “Keith Thurman and Shawn Porter are great fighters in this division. If they want, we can make it happen,” said Garcia.
Either would be a great fight. If I were PBC, I would be looking to put Garcia-Porter or Garcia-Thurman (or Thurman-Porter, for that matter) on pay per view, with the idea that their wins on free television built their names and subsequent PBC broadcasts can be used to build hype for their pay per view fights.
In the opening fight on ESPN, Daniel Jacobs, 28, beat Sergio Mora, 34, when Mora collapsed in the second-round due to a right ankle injury. The fight looked exciting, as both Mora and Jacobs scored respective knockdowns in the first round. In the second round, both fighters showed flash until Mora’s injury.
Jacobs earned $500,000 and Mora earned $225,000 for the fight.
The bout was put together clearly to give Jacobs a showcase win. It was Jacobs’s second fight on PBC after beating Caleb Truax on Spike TV on April 24th. There is talk about Jacobs facing Peter “Kid Chocolate” Quillin. Quillin fights September 6th against an opponent yet to be named. A proposed bouth between Jacobs and Quillin would take place after that date.
“I want Peter Quillin next. It’s a fight the fans deserve,” said Jacobs. “Brooklyn always supports both of us and it would be a great way to close out the year.”
PBC also had a show scheduled for Bounce TV on Sunday, August 2nd at Full Sail University featuring Juan Carlos Payano (16-0, 8 KOs) against Rau’shee Warren (13-0, 4 KOs) for the WBA Super Bantamweight title held by Payano, whose nickname is “Baby Pacquiao”. It is PBC’s debut on Bounce. Bounce is a competitor for BET for African-American cable television viewership. A few weeks ago BET aired a timebuy that featured the return of Andre Ward. That fight was promoted by Jay-Z’s Roc Nation, a competitor of PBC (Jay-Z and Haymon have a long history in the music industry and have a grudge against one another).
The way matchmaking has worked in the main events of the first two PBC on ESPN cards is to take a great fighter in his prime who has star potential and put him against an opponent that allows that great fighter to showcase his skills and hopefully get over with a new audience. With the first PBC on ESPN show, that star was Keith Thurman, who was in his second PBC fight after being on the debut PBC on NBC broadcast in March. Garcia also fought on NBC earlier this year for PBC, and was the star fighter on the second PBC on ESPN card. The next star that PBC is pushing in the main event of its third ESPN card later this month is Santa Cruz.
The question then becomes whether the fighter that PBC is trying to push got over. I think both Thurman and Garcia did. The wins for both fighters on ESPN were good, although Thurman was admittedly a tad shaky early in his ESPN fight. The problem is that ESPN is putting PBC boxing against UFC and later this month against the Mosley pay per view. I believe that when you counter-program against stiff competition, you have to come out with an exceptional card that will make fans skip the expensive pay per view to watch the better card on free television. Counter-programming using star building fights against enhancement talent doesn’t work.
Fortunately, I cover boxing for a pro wrestling site, which means I can break out a dated pro wrestling reference to illustrate my point. Let me take you back to March 27th, 1988. I have no clue what was going on in boxing that night, but in the pro wrestling world WrestleMania IV was taking place at the Trump Plaza in Atlantic City and airing on pay per view and CCTV. The show featured a one-night tournament for the WWF title headlined by a tournament bout that rematched Hulk Hogan against Andre the Giant from their famous WrestleMania III bout a year earlier.
Elsewhere in the United States, Crockett Promotions aired the first Clash of the Champions the very same night, broadcasting on TBS with a headline of the young upstart Sting challenging Ric Flair for the NWA title. The card also featured an NWA Tag title match and a bout that teamed the Road Warriors with Dusty Rhodes.
It drew a 5.8 rating and a 13 share against WrestleMania, which were the best numbers for wrestling on TBS in many years. The 7.8 peak quarter hour for the Sting-Flair main event was the highest quarter hour in the history of wrestling on TBS, also making it the most watched wrestling match in the history of cable television up to that point in time. Importantly, WrestleMania also drew well on pay per view, as two strong shows going up against one another created a new audience rather than splitting the audience if they had both aired weaker shows with less hype.
The idea of the first Clash was to air on free television against the WWF pay per view. It was revenge for WWF debuting the Survivor Series on November 26th, 1987, up against Starrcade the same night, as well as WWF airing the Royal Rumble for free on the USA Network on January 24th, 1988, against the Bunkhouse Stampede, the latter of which aired on pay per view. The Rumble did an 8.2 rating, the largest rating for pro wrestling on the USA Network up to that point in time.
The point I am attempting to make by bringing up these three old examples is that when you counter-program against a competitor’s pay per view by broadcasting a free TV fight on the same night, you have to come in with a great card and not a card that is focused on building new stars. WWF created both the Survivor Series and the Royal Rumble with gimmick matches that became long-term draws of their own accord. WWF put those matches against Crockett’s Starrcade and Bunkhouse Stampede. Much later WWF also ran loaded house shows the night before WCW shows in the same market in order to damage WCW’s drawing power, which is funny because that is somewhat similar to the tactics Al Haymon has been accused of in running shows in California.
The idea with the Survivor Series, which aired on pay per view, was to bump the Starrcade pay per view from as many systems as possibly as the WWF gave cable systems an ultimatum of which show to broadcast, one or the other, and most went with the WWF show since it was the proven brand and because WWF also said that any system that aired the Crockett show also wouldn’t get the next WrestleMania, which was a cash cow. The Royal Rumble was created because cable systems wouldn’t let WWF give that ultimatum again, so WWF just aired the Rumble on free television instead. Crockett struck back by airing the first Clash on free TV against the WWF’s flagship event, WrestleMania.
In the latter two circumstances, the Rumble against Bunkhouse Stampede and Clash against WrestleMania, fans were able to watch a free television show that was as good as or better than the wrestling show airing on pay per view. The Rumble was a gimmick match much like the Stampede gimmick match, but was free. Clash had much better matches than WrestleMania IV. In these circumstances, both the WWF and Crockett Promotions didn’t counter-program with matches building new stars, but put on the best possible cards to try and deflate the pay per view buy rate of their competition.
Yes, Sting became a star by going to a draw with NWA Champion Ric Flair, but that would be more akin to PBC counter-programming against UFC by having Garcia or Thurman fight Floyd Mayweather on free television. The Crockett equivalent of what PBC is doing on ESPN is to counter-program a WWF pay per view by having Sting face enhancement talent instead of facing Ric Flair. Obviously the Crockett show would not draw as well without Flair’s star power going against WrestleMania.
If you’re going to go on free television up against the major pay per view of a competitor, you have to bring tremendous hype and tremendous star power or forget about it.
This is where the PBC on ESPN shows aren’t working. The first show drew flat ratings going against Conor McGregor on pay per view. Yeah, the show pushed Thurman as a star, just like this past Saturday’s show pushed Garcia as a star. But people aren’t going to skip a WrestleMania-level pay per view headlined by Conor or by Ronda to watch a rising boxing star fight enhancement talent.
The better idea for PBC on ESPN is to put PBC on Saturday nights where there isn’t much competition. Or, to skip Saturdays altogether and aim for Friday or even Sunday night fights. You need as many people to tune in as possible in order to create a new star. If your television ratings are stifled because you went up against a much bigger and better show from your competition, then fewer people are watching your new star. You want as many people watching your guys being pushed as new stars as possible, which means putting these fighters on nights with less competition. If PBC wants to go up against UFC, PBC needs to come in with a strong main event and a good card overall, not a card built around a new star fighting enhancement talent.
I think the boxing world is full of hubris when it comes to the UFC. Stephen Espinoza, an executive with Showtime Sports, was on Twitter Saturday night after the UFC show claiming that Showtime is responsible for making Ronda Rousey into a star. “UFC can’t claim to father RR after saying females would never fight in UFC. RR succeeded despite UFC, not because of them,” tweeted Espinoza, who also tweeted, “As if Ronda has never been on SHO. We built her.”
He’s delusional. All the talk of the last twenty-four hours of Ronda Rousey possibly being “TBE” is due to UFC’s careful and exceptional marketing of Ronda’s star power. She’s a great fighter and is becoming more exceptional with every fight. But no one took UFC seriously when they decided to headline a pay per view with Ronda’s UFC debut against Liz Carmouche. A couple of years later and people think Ronda is the greatest fighter ever. That has nothing whatsoever to do with Showtime and everything to do with exceptional star creation by the UFC.
Showtime is, of course, one of the major boxing broadcasters, along with HBO and the PBC family of shows. They once aired Strikeforce MMA, where Ronda got her initial break. Showtime actually works largely with Al Haymon since the launch of PBC earlier this year, although they do air lesser boxing cards handled by other promoters.
I think many of the executives in boxing don’t take the UFC seriously, nor do they understand why UFC draws as well as it does. I think the so-called comeback of boxing in 2015 due to the debut of the PBC and the Mayweather-Pacquiao hype has filled those who run boxing with an arrogance about boxing’s drawing power and their ability to create new stars. Boxing does have drawing power and it does have the ability to create new stars, without question. But boxing doesn’t have so much drawing power and such strong ability to create new stars that it eclipses whatever the UFC is doing, to the point where people in boxing can claim to have created UFC’s biggest star and to the point where PBC can air mediocre boxing cards on ESPN against strong UFC pay per views and expect to do well in the ratings.
The other problem with PBC is that even if they can create new stars with a wider audience than the people who typically watch boxing, they haven’t shown an ability to follow up on creating those stars by putting those stars in interesting fights that garner significant public interest. Yes, Mayweather-Pacquiao was brilliantly hyped and led to record setting business. But that was a once in a lifetime fight. PBC has indeed created a little collection of star fighters, but they haven’t done anything with the newfound star power of these fighters.
I still can’t comprehend PBC’s business model. When they debuted in March with time buys across a multitude of networks and cable stations (adding more and more stations as the year rolled on), it looked like the idea with the PBC was to turn the time buys into a situation where the networks paid PBC for their shows. To do that, PBC would have to draw strong ratings to convince network executives that their fights are worth paying for. Alternatively, if PBC wasn’t looking to get paid for their shows, but wanted to continue with a time buy or some kind of hybrid time buy business model, they would have to sell enough advertising to sponsors in order to overcome the costs of paying to air on network television and turn a profit. The final way which PBC could make money would be using the network time buys to create new stars, eating the losses on the time buys, and then playing these new stars off one another on pay per view, turning a profit by having the time buys hype the pay per views enough to create profitable buy rates.
PBC has done none of this. They have sold advertising, with a much wider variety of sponsors now in August compared to when they started in March. But since PBC isn’t a public company, it is difficult to ascertain whether the sponsorship money is generating enough revenue to overcome the costs of airing on network television. My guess would be probably not, considering the expensive productions associated with PBC (although I believe the networks are eating some of those costs).
But PBC hasn’t turned their time buys into a situation where they are getting paid to sell fights, at least not that anyone is aware of (although I suspect Spike TV has been paying them since day one, although that’s merely conjecture on my part). And boxing has a full slate of pay per views from now until Christmas. Yet, oddly enough, only one of those pay per views is promoted by the PBC people, which is the Floyd Mayweather-Andre Berto fight at the MGM Grand on September 12th. And even that fight was rumoured to be airing on CBS instead of pay per view. Mayweather-Berto is also the weakest pay per view fight on tap in boxing, with the others being Cotto-Canelo and Golovkin-Lemieux, with both being broadcast on pay per view by HBO.
The obvious business model for PBC would be to use time buys on network and cable television in key dates and timeslots to create new stars, and then to put those stars against one another on pay per view and draw strong enough revenue on pay per view to offset the expense of the time buys and turn a profit. This is similar to what the WWF did in the 80s and what UFC did in 2005. In both cases, it worked. But PBC just keeps airing star-making fights on a variety of networks, without any clear direction to what these fights are meant to lead to.
The business model I would be looking at if I ran the company would be to use time buys to build new stars, selling advertising on those time buys to offset their cost, and then put those new stars against one another on pay per view and use the time buys on network and cable TV to hype the pay per views, and subsequently turn a profit on pay per view and also foreign broadcast rights.
Quite frankly, however, PBC makes absolutely no sense. I’m curious as to how much money they have spent since starting in March, because even if they get to the point where they turn a profit, my guess is that the start-up costs were so incredibly high that they would have to turn a profit for a long while in order for the venture to have actually made money for its hedge fund investors.
The hype for the September 12th Mayweather-Berto fight hasn’t even begun and that show barely more than a month away. I think part of the reason Mayweather-Pacquiao drew so well on pay per view was the additional advertising of that fight during PBC broadcasts. PBC needs time to hype Mayweather-Berto in order for it to draw well, especially considering people think of the fight as something of a joke.
After September 12th and Mayweather-Berto are behind us, we can start to watch what PBC is doing for its future. If PBC doesn’t start putting on more pay per views, or turn time buys into pay situations, then there is going to be a problem. On the other hand, if PBC is able to take one of its fresh new stars, put them on pay per view, and draw a profitable buy rate, then the future is looking promising.
Jeremy Wall can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and found on Twitter @jeremydalewall.