SAN DIEGO, March 7, 2015 – Unless you count “The Contender,” it’s been nearly three decades since boxing appeared on prime time American network TV. NBC ends the drought starting Saturday with the return of boxing via its “Premier Boxing Champions” series (8:30 p.m. ET/5:30 p.m., PT).
In a highly anticipated initiative, boxing manager and fighter agent Al Haymon has partnered with NBC Universal’s networks to bring championship level boxing back to several of its networks. Saturday’s card from the MGM Grand in Las Vegas is the first of 11 cards on NBC, including five on Saturday nights, the rest on Saturday afternoons, plus another nine cards on cable channel NBCSN and several more on SpikeTV.
The timing couldn’t be better, with boxing buzz building thanks to Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. The casual boxing fan can whet his or her appetite on these events, which don’t require paying for a premium network subscription, and save their bucks for the big May 2 pay-per-view. NBC is backing the venture with lots of advertising and a top-notch broadcast team including veterans Al Michaels and Marv Albert and commentary from Sugar Ray Leonard and Laila Ali. Michaels called the Hagler vs. Hearns bout and is among the best in the business. It’s a shame his ringside voice has been sidelined for so long.
The series kicks off in style by featuring two fan-friendly fighters who promise plenty of entertainment. Welterweight Keith “One Time” Thurman (24-0-1, 21 KOs) defends his title against Robert “The Ghost” Guerrero (32-2-1, 8 KOs) in the main event. In the co-main event, former title holder Adrien “The Problem” Broner” (29-1, 22 KOs) faces John Molina Jr. (27-5, 22 KOs) at junior welterweight. Former three division champion Abner Mares (28-1-1, 15 KOs) continues his fight back to the top against Arturo Reyes (18-4, 5 KOs) of Mexico in a featherweight contest.
Thurman is a thoroughly entertaining boxer with an engaging personality. NBC couldn’t have tapped a better ambassador for its debut. Thurman is working hard to build his fan base beyond hard core boxing heads, and he’s got a golden opportunity to do it. Thurman likes to mix it up and has the power to back up his aggressive style.
Thurman’s opponent doesn’t intend to make it easy. Guerrero made a good showing in his loss to Floyd Mayweather in 2013. After a 13-month layoff, he came back last June to win a wild, crowd-pleasing fight consisting of nonstop power punches in a unanimous decision over Yoshihiro Kamegai of Japan.
Both fighters are in phenomenal condition. Guerrero took up CrossFit training last year and gives the discipline credit for getting him into top shape after his layoff. He claims he doesn’t go looking for slugfests, but says he loves to give the fans what they want and if someone wants to bang with him, he’ll bang. But it would be a mistake, because Thurman is the naturally bigger, younger man. Guerrero can take punishment; Thurman hasn’t been tested in the way Guerrero has, and he’s never been down. Thurman’s highly motivated. With a win, Thurman could put himself in line to get his own shot at Mayweather someday. It’s his fight to lose.
Regular readers of this column know there’s little love here for Adrien Broner. Broner fancies himself the heir to Floyd Mayweather. The Cincinnati native loves the loot and the ladies, but he needs to do a lot less squawking and a lot more fist-talking.
John Molina Jr. is fearless and has a height advantage over Broner. But he may have a hard time finding the target against Broner, who is adept at slipping punches. If Molina can’t connect with his full power, he will have a tough time scoring against Broner.
Broner can win a decision and still lose without a good showing. He’s faced few real threats, with the excpetion of Argentina’s Marcos Maidana, who pummeled Broner and got to face Floyd Mayweather as his reward. Broner failed to make the welterweight limit, something he’s had a problem with several times. He gets a pass since it isn’t a title fight, but it shows a lack of discipline by an athlete, and nothing irritates me more. You all know who I will be rooting for. Buena suerte, John.
Three-time world champion Mares (28-1, 15 KOs) is waiting to avenge the loss of his belt to Johnny Gonzalez, but he’ll have to wait and make time with the journeyman opponent Reyes, a solid but less skilled fighter. Mares is among many good athletes in the lightweight division, including Nicholas Walters, Vasyl Lomachenko and Leo Santa Cruz.
HBO2 Happy Hour Boxing from Macau: In a happy hour contest live from Macau, China, native star Zou Shiming (6-0, 1 KO) hopes to win the IBF flyweight title against Amnat Ruenroeng (14-0, 5 KOs). Shiming is leading Top Rank’s push to popularize boxing in China. After a lengthy amateur career, the 34 year old Zou has been working with trainer Freddie Roach and looked far better in his last bout, a lopsided decision victory against previously undefeated Kwanpichit Onesongchaigym. Zou and Amnat have met three times as amateurs; Zou won twice. Junior middleweights Glen Tapia (22-1, 14 KOs) and Daniel Dawson (40-4-1, 26 KOs) fight on the televised undercard. Tapia is also trained by Roach. TV start time is 5 p.m. ET/2 p.m .PT on HBO2.
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is president/owner of the Falcon Valley Group in San Diego. She is also a serious boxing fan covering the Sweet Science for Communities. Read more Ringside Seat in Communities Digital News. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego.
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