Good News from "TV Man" Lou


25 May, 2006 by Lou Ciaccia


ESPN 2's fight viewership in 2006 appears to be on the upswing again, as much as 10% over last year. To date, television ratings for Friday Night Fights have averaged a .67 ratings point, or nearly 600,000 homes in 2006. Ratings for the series in 2005 averaged about a .6 ratings point, or about 555,000 homes. It must be kept in mind that last year's numbers include the summer months, when television viewing in general is down, and which haven't figured into 2006 stats yet. Wednesday Night Fights has been doing a respectable .6 rating itself this year. The three televised professional wrestling programs weekly do about five million homes in all. That's down from seven million some ten years ago when the WWE had competition with WCW.


While the ratings are still a way off from Friday Night Fights' best days, this would be three consecutive years of ratings increases for the series. Low ratings several years ago prompted the network to drastically reduce the license fees it paid to promoters, and it's taken some time to build back the level of quality match-ups fans want to see. Considering how many boxing slots ESPN 2 has to fill – 48 Wednesday and Friday Night Fights shows this year – the network has provided fairly consistent quality.


While the network continues to headline on occasion with veterans like Montell Griffin, J.C. Candelo, and Vince Phillips, in whom fan interest is waning, ESPN 2 has seen a significant increase in fights the hardcore fan can view as relevant. In recent weeks, two proposed challengers of recognized super-middle king Joe Cazalghe saw the opportunity of their lifetime slip away on the network's airwaves. On Wednesday Night Fights on April 26, hot contender Allan Green (20-0, 14 KO's) was beaten within an inch of his perfect record by journeyman Donnie McCrary (17-4-2, 10 KO's), before whacking McCrary in the 6th stanza. The shaky performance supposedly cost Green his shot against Cazalghe on HBO later this summer.


Then last weekend, the then-undefeated Yusaf Mack (22-1-2, 14 KO's) went into a Friday Night Fights main event as the recently-mentioned possible foe for Calzaghe on HBO. Mack's experience on ESPN 2 was worse than Green's, as he was thoroughly whipped and humiliated by slugger Alejandro Berrio (25-4-0, 24 KO's). Berrio went so far as to kiss his opponent good night, planting a smackaroo on Mack's pate shortly before launching the assault that ended the evening early in the 6th. The explosive Berrio is a made for TV fighter – with his four losses all by stoppage, he's only seen the scorecards once in his career, let's hope he hits the airwaves again soon.


ESPN 2 also has two "world" title fights on the docket for coming weeks, with junior lightweights Manuel Medina and Cassius Baloyi squaring off on May 31 and junior welters Juan Urango and Naoufel Ben Rabah clashing on June 30. Both bouts are for vacant IBF titles. Add that to the Vlademir Pereira - Fahprakorb Rakkiatgym featherweight tilt that opened 2006's Friday Night Fights, and it will be three times the vacant IBF title has been decided on ESPN 2 airwaves this year. I'm not sure how much that reflects the upgraded nature of the network's programming and how much it's a statement on the prestige of the IBF right now.


Finally, come July 18, ESPN 2 will kick off The Contender's second season, this time featuring welterweights. Originally scheduled to start in April, the debut was pushed to July. It may be just about time for fresh Contender blood, as the buzz surrounding the original Contender fighters may finally be dissipating. While last year's Contender rematch special pairing champion Sergio Mora and runner-up Peter Manfredo, Jr. scored an eye-popping 1.4 rating and more than 1.2 million homes tuned in, subsequent specials have produced more typical boxing ratings for the network. February's "East Coast Pride" special scored just a .51 rating, while the recent "Latin Warriors" card did somewhat exceed the Friday Night Fights average with a .72 rating. To be fair, "East Coast Pride" was rescheduled from its original Sunday evening slot to Monday night after bad weather in Providence forced a postponement of the event, and neither special had the benefit of the big college football lead-in which benefited the 2005 special.


Showtime is finally fleshing out their summer schedule in the face of HBO's strong charge. June 3rd's Diego Corrales – Jose Luis Castillo rubber match has been set for some time, but now it appears that July and August are coming together. On July 8th, junior middleweight titlist Roman Karmazin will face former undisputed welterweight champion Corey Spinks. It will be good to see Karmazin finally back on TV after his upset of Kassim Ouma, and we'll have to wait and see if Spinks can manage to bring his lack of power with him as he jumps divisions.


The July 4th weekend, and the usually pathetic television viewing numbers that accompany it, forced this edition of Showtime Championship Boxing away from its traditional spot on the first Saturday of the month. However, several reports have Showtime scheduling a special edition of ShoBox on July 1 to hold to its "first Saturday" commitment. ESPN has reported that a multi-card gimmick special featuring children of past greats (Buddy McGirt, Jr, Ronald Hearns, etc) has been considered.

August's Showtime card is reported to feature the Marquez brothers, with bantamweight titlist Rafael possibly reprising with Silence Mabuza. Rafael Marquez stopped Mabuza in an entertaining four back in November on the network. No word on an opponent for featherweight standout Juan Manuel Marquez, but I wonder if Rocky Juarez would be considered. All in all, it's not going to put HBO's summer schedule to shame, but you might say Showtime is "staying busy."


When those two ESPN IBF title fights are completed, the aforementioned Rafael Marquez's bantamweight IBF belt will be the only IBF divisional belt from flyweight to heavyweight that has changed hands in the ring more than one time before coming to rest with the current "champion". To put it another way, besides Marquez, every one of the IBF champions will be either wearing a belt that had been stripped from or vacated by another fighter, or won that belt from someone who picked it up in a vacant title fight. The exception is the welterweight belt, which did in fact change hands in the ring twice, but inexplicably not when it should have, when then-champion Zab Judah lost to Carlos Baldomir. The old saying "To be the man, you have to beat the man," just doesn't apply in the IBF. How much longer will the boxing media continue to recognize this title as a "world" title, before resigning it to the world of the IBO's and IBA's? Of what worth is a title that changes hands in the board room as often as the between the ropes?

Lou Ciaccia

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