No matter what you hear via media speculation, nobody outside of Haymon Boxing and their direct business contacts knows the long-term strategy of the Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) project.
Could they be angling for an exclusive network deal? Maybe the goal is a dedicated 24-7 cable network with weekly high-end live fights. Maybe the naysayers and dedicated critics are right and the goal is to create a UFC-like stranglehold on the sport.
We simply don’t know what the end game plans are and we won’t likely know until they are revealed to the public.
But, regardless of the long-term vision of Haymon Boxing and PBC, there are some key questions to be asked of the braintrust when it comes to the actual boxing element of their product. Here’s just a quick look at some unanswered questions that will need answering as soon as possible.
Who will break through?
Looking through the Haymon Boxing roster, it’s hard to see one specific fighter with the ability to break through to mainstream stardom like Floyd Mayweather or even Manny Pacquiao. Having at least one or two fighters with potential crossover appeal is key to the PBC project’s long-term success, but it doesn’t seem to be there at the moment. They have a lot of very solid fighters with limited mainstream potential (Many of whom, by the way, are being murdered by anti-Haymon boxing media people and made to look absolutely foolish for recent business decisions made. Names like Danny Garcia and Peter Quillin come to mind). Keith Thurman has real potential for mainstream success, but he’s limited by some lingering technical and tactical issues that could make him vulnerable to a momentum-killing upset. Whether Thurman can be that breakthrough mainstream star or not, the success of PBC may hinge on the ability to create another half-a-billion dollar superstar to replace Mayweather.
In a perfect world, the Haymon Boxing breakthrough fighter would be Deontay Wilder. He’s the first American heavyweight titlist since 2007. He’s also blessed with big power and the perfect “look.” It would be a no-brainer. But in this real world, Wilder is still little more than a presence with a punch. And that would be okay, if he weren’t the reigning WBC world champion just a half-step from possible embarrassment, in a division where fans are notoriously impatient with champions intent upon learning on the job. As we all saw on Saturday night against journeyman-in-training, Eric Molina, Wilder is incredibly vulnerable and, from the looks of things, he may not even be aware of how vulnerable he really is. His mandatory is Alexander Povetkin, arguably the best heavyweight in the world not named Klitschko at the moment, and there is great, great danger of being Seth Mitchelled in that bout. Haymon Boxing will have to exercise some real boxing business acumen to wriggle free of that WBC-mandated defense in favor of another Top 15 patsy while they get their fighter some much-needed pro seasoning.
What about matchmaking?
Admittedly, it’s a tough balancing act involved in keeping the PBC project afloat. You have to make compelling match-ups, but you also have to understand that this is a long-term project and you simply can’t exhaust all of your talent right off the bat. So, even if you’d like to make Thurman-Khan tomorrow with an Adonis Stevenson-Artur Beterbiev co-feature, you need to take into consideration that killing off one star gives the other nothing to do and nothing to build towards. And that also means less than compelling bouts across the board for the foreseeable future. It’s definitely a balancing act. This doesn’t mean, however, that good rivalries can’t be created from these building-block match-ups. And this is the one area where PBC has fallen short consistently. There’s nothing wrong with manufacturing some rivalries and tweaking public perception a bit. Use those between-rounds fighter vignettes to build storylines, rather than spotlight bland, repetitive fighter quotes like: “I’m so and so, I train hard and I’m going to do whatever I can to make it to the top.” For instance, when they were building towards Danny Garcia-Lamont Peterson, why not use each successive vignette to tell a story like this:
Danny Garcia: Ladies love me, I don’t get any respect, blah, blah, blah…on April 11, I get that respect by stopping Lamont Peterson.
Lamont Peterson: I’ve come from being homeless to the top of my division and nobody’s beating me.
Garcia: Peterson’s got a good story to tell, but I tell my story in the ring…
Peterson: Lets see if the ladies still love him after I get through with him (laughs)
Garcia’s Dad: RANTS typical Papa Garcia stuff….
Peterson: Dad’s got a lot to say, but he can’t do your fighting for you, Garcia…
The end result would be interesting PBC content all throughout the main program as well as a YouTube-friendly collection of audio/video soundbites that fans can watch (and share) to get an immediate idea of why this fight matters and why they need to watch. The hardcore fans will watch because a fight like Garcia-Peterson is just good matchmaking. The casual fans need to be drawn in and sold on the sizzle.
And the live gate?
The live gate has been weak and attempts to paper arenas have given dedicated media critics yet another tool to try and humiliate the company and diminish the impact of the project. Financially, the live gate is a smaller part of the money equation than ever before, but having an arena packed with screaming fans adds to the excitement of a bout and keeps fans watching. Seventeen fans in the stands, half of them checking their email during the bout, diminishes the importance of what fans are watching, regardless of what’s actually happening in the ring. The solution is in taking the fighters back to their home bases. Forget Vegas casinos and sterile big city auditoriums in favor of hometown crowds filled with fans who actually care about the fighter and his contest. Booking Erislandy Lara-Delvin Rodriguez in Chicago made no sense and it resulted in Spike TV having to amplify the crowd noise from the very few actually in attendance. The upcoming Adrien Broner-Shawn Porter “Battle of Ohio” should be in Broner’s hometown of Cincinnati, with screaming pro-Broner fans in competition with Porter supporters making the trip from Akron, not in Vegas where few in attendance will actually care about who wins. However, Keith Thurman’s upcoming bout is scheduled to take place in Tampa, Florida, just about 40 minutes from his hometown of Cleartwater, so maybe the folks at PBC have picked up on this important factor.
Championships or No Championships?
The people behind PBC are going to have to decide whether they will be recognizing world titles or not. It’s clear at this point that they aren’t keen on mentioning the sanctioning bodies, but they have made several mentions of world titles when it suits their promotional purposes. Pretending that there aren’t four sanctioning bodies, recognizing four different sets of world champions isn’t an answer and the sins by omission work to make something innocent look shady. If the rumors are true and the PBC brand aims to name their own champions, then come out and say it, but make the titles open to any and all challengers. Don’t turn them into meaningless “in-house” Haymon vanity belts.
Can you work with others?
Haymon and his company represent a real threat to the status quo in boxing and have earned some real enemies in the boxing business and within the sport’s media. We’ve talked about those issues before in the Rant. At some point in the not-so-distant future, PBC’s success will hinge on being able to make bouts with some of the sport’s reigning top stars and recognized champs like Wladimir Klitschko, Sergey Kovalev, Gennady Golovkin, Miguel Cotto, Saul Alvarez, Terence Crawford, etc. This means that they will also have to deal with HBO and the two or three major promoters who have been very unfriendly to the Haymon Boxing concepts. Cooperation on all sides would be beneficial to all parties involved, but is Haymon willing to negotiate big TV paydays for fighters not contractually bound to him? Similarly, would HBO or Top Rank, for example, be willing to loosen their exclusive grip on certain fighters in order to make these boxing-beneficial blockbusters? More and more, it looks like for one side of this great boxing standoff to succeed, the other side may have to be destroyed.
You can email Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org or meet him in person every Sunday as he dines at Tortas Don Gus in Ciudad Hidalgo, Michoacan, Mexico. You can also buy his book, Notes from the Boxing Underground! Paul is a full member of the Burger King Kids’ Club, a born iconoclast, and an ordained minister in the Universal Life Church.