THE broadcast landscape, both in the UK and the US, is undergoing some significant changes. Last week of course saw the announcement that Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing will end their longstanding contract with Sky Sports this year and move fully to streaming service DAZN.
Sky have since confirmed that they have partnered with Top Rank and BOXXER (previously Ultimate Boxxer) to air their shows for UK audiences. The Top Rank content deal actually kicked off over the weekend with the broadcast of Shakur Stevenson’s pedestrian win over Jeremiah Nakathila in Las Vegas, with the likes of Naoya Inoue and Vasyl Lomachenko also scheduled to headline Top Rank cards that will air on Sky this month.
It’s an interesting move from Sky. On the one hand, they’re coupling with an established entity in Top Rank (who have the potential to stage big shows in the UK with the likes of Josh Taylor), but on the other they are investing in a very new brand with BOXXER.
It’s unclear what BOXXER cards will look like, though when the company was operating as Ultimate Boxxer, its shows worked in a similar format to Prizefighter where eight lesser-known boxers would compete in a tournament of 3x3min-round fights, all completed in one night. These shows also featured music performances and celebrity appearances; there was a clear focus on the entertainment side of things.
While that format might remain, Sky and BOXXER will also surely stage more traditional cards as well with a main event, chief support etc. Their schedule will be released in August, but this deal could open the door for a lot of young and upcoming British fighters to get much more exposure.
Over in America, the future of Triller might be in jeopardy. After losing YouTuber Jake Paul to Showtime, it now seems lightweight king Teofimo Lopez will also not be sticking with the broadcaster beyond his next fight. Despite Triller putting up an enormous purse bid for Lopez’ mandatory title defence against George Kambosos Jnr, the unbeaten star will return to ESPN in October.
It was confirmed that Lopez has resolved his disputes over pay with his promoters Top Rank and has pledged his immediate future to the company, and their broadcast partner ESPN, through to 2023.
This will come as good news to fans of Lopez, as there was really no telling what Triller’s plans were and if their previous broadcasts were anything to go by, Lopez’ career may not have thrived there. ESPN has a significantly bigger audience in the US, and this keeps the prospect of a rematch with Lomachenko alive, as well as a possible move to 140lbs to face undisputed champion Taylor.
It would also be disingenuous to not admit that there is some relief that Triller will be losing their main, and perhaps only, claim to airing legitimate boxing.
Sky Sports News reported that Anthony Joshua will be fighting mandatory challenger Oleksandr Usyk at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium later this year, in September. Hearn later confirmed that terms for the fight have been agreed.
Aside from being a fascinating fight, it could also serve as a significant event for sports in the UK. Crowds at sporting events are still limited due to Covid-19, but with the government pushing for the lockdown measures to soon be lifted entirely, that could change dramatically. At this stage, with the vaccine rollout continuing to prove successful, it’s likely that full crowds (or near enough) will be allowed at major sporting events by September, meaning that Joshua and Usyk could be ushering a return to normality for British fight fans.
Speaking to talkSPORT, Billy Joe Saunders hinted at the possibility of retirement in the wake of his defeat to pound-for-pound king Canelo Alvarez. After outlining the experience of his fight-ending eye injury in grisly detail, the Brit said there is a 50-50 chance he hangs up his gloves. He stated that the decision largely lies with his father, and that he would follow his advice.
Whatever you may think of Saunders or his past actions and comments, it would be a real shame for his career to be cut short through injury. There was always concern after the fight that the damage could prevent him from fighting again, and if it is that bad then he should of course stay away. As with any boxer, his health is the most important thing.
The broadcasts in question here weren’t technically boxing ones, though they both featured prominent female boxers. Firstly, pound-for-pound star Claressa Shields made her mixed-martial arts debut on ESPN-2, winning via stoppage after recovering from a rocky start.
The following night, fellow multi-belt world champion Amanda Serrano fought in a professional MMA bout on UFC Fight Pass, winning via submission in the first round. This was her third MMA bout, having last fought in the octagon three years ago.
It appears to be a strange reversal of the situation for male MMA fighters. Pay for fighters in the UFC is small when compared to boxing, and we’re seeing more and more mixed-martial artists taking part in boxing matches (even against YouTubers like Paul) for more money than they’ve ever earned.
In boxing, female fighters are paid significantly less than their counterparts in the UFC and MMA, because there is less attention on them. So, elite talents like Shields and Serrano are dabbling in a different sport to earn more money. Power to them. It seems both are planning on moving back-and-forth between boxing and MMA which, while potentially troublesome for their performances, will surely raise their profiles considerably.
In the case of Shields, she made more headlines for her MMA debut than from any of her previous fights. Given the channel she was on – in the main event, no less – it’s likely she was also watched by her biggest audience to date as well.