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ESPN’s telecast of Manny Pacquiao-Jeff Horn was the clearest warning to UFC not to leave Fox

By Zach Arnold | July 2, 2017

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By ESPN standards, hype week for the Manny Pacquiao/Jeff Horn fight in Brisbane, Australia was decent in terms of effort. By normal respectable TV standards, it was a half-assed job. Such is life in Bristol, Connecticut.

The new marriage between ESPN & Top Rank has all the good and ugly features of Bristol politics. Joe Tessitore apparently got the memo the last two weeks to call Floyd Mayweather a no-action, selfish moocher who takes but never gives back to boxing. Teddy Atlas is about showcasing Teddy Atlas. Jeff Horn was barely mentioned by name for fight week. The only semblance of an attempt to showcase Horn was a pre-fight video package. There was a Friday night dump pre-taped version of First Take with Andre Ward.

In other words, hype week encapsulated all the managerial issues that have dogged ESPN for the past five years when it comes to promoting non-football or NBA programming.

Then came fight night. There was no advanced notice of two other fights airing on TV, including Mick Conlan. The fights just aired. And did you know that Steve Levy and Screaming Stephen A. Smith would have frequent TV appearances during the night? I’m certain that Max Kellerman, given his contractual obligations to HBO, wasn’t available but that doesn’t diminish expectations of competency for SAS. Unfortunately, SAS didn’t pass muster and got worse as the night went on.

Which brought us to Manny Pacquiao and Jeff Horn. Joe Tessitore did a good sell job on the 51,000 fans in Brisbane. The rugby stadium looked great. Michael Buffer was Michael Buffer. Then came the fight and Tessitore doing his damnedest hard sell for the first two rounds. As the fight wore on, it was relatively clear that Pacquiao was going to cruise to a decision victory. Then came R9 in which Horn got rocked hard and under different circumstances with perhaps a more respected finisher (at this point in time), the referee would have stopped it. Referee Mark Nelson almost did. But he let things go on. At that point, Horn was looking to survive and save face.

When the scores were read – 117-111, 115-113 x 2 – I was nodding my head and waiting for Pacquiao’s hand to be raised. When Jeff Horn was declared the winner, I lost it. Everyone lost it. But true to form for ESPN Embrace Disgrace, writer Steve Bunce declared the negative reaction as drama queen material and called for Pacquiao to retire.

The conflation of two entirely different issues, in order to score cheap clickbait points, is what brings out the worst in Bristol.

The warning signs for UFC

As the outrage was unfolding on live television, viewers were girding their loins on the impending eruption of Atlasville and the U.S.S. SAS. Atlas lived up to his end of the bargain, going so far as to say that it was outright intentional corruption that Horn won. Screaming Stephen A. Smith called for the “mugshots” of the three judges and demanded addresses to send them some gifts. He completely lost it when he found out that two of the three judges were American. That’s kind of a big detail to leave out of the immediate “home cooking” post-fight story line.

Even worse for the judging analysis, there was no attempt within an hour of post-fight coverage to GET THE ACTUAL SCORE CARDS in order to look at how the fight was scored round-by-round. Instead, viewers were treated to Screaming Stephen A. Smith proclaiming that this horrible decision was exactly why UFC is taking over while boxing is bleeding like a stuck pig. A creative narrative to pull off given ESPN proclaiming Top Rank to be “the NFL of boxing” and ESPN as a network “leading the resurgence in boxing” by airing Top Rank fights that HBO didn’t want to pay for any longer.

Ignorance and lack of detail permeated the post-fight coverage. It was exactly the kind of parody someone from the outside who hated ESPN would have conjured up in a cartoon come to life.

It was a clear and present warning to UFC not to leave Fox Sports. Fox Sports has an exclusive negotiating window with UFC right now. Ari Emanuel and WME-IMG have a reported desire to split the UFC product onto multiple networks in order to cash in. If they choose to split part of their product with ESPN, they’ll be giving up some of the production control to the network they do business with. ESPN’s handling of the Manny Pacquiao-Jeff Horn fight should be a five-alarmer for every UFC fan.

ESPN does train wrecks, personality debates, and Embrace Disgrace. Fox Sports is unfortunately headed in the same path. The difference between the two networks is that Fox will let UFC do what it needs to do to produce the right kind of show. There is no such quality quality in Bristol and it showed.

Topics: Boxing, Media, UFC, Zach Arnold | 1 Comment » | Permalink | Trackback |

One Response to “ESPN’s telecast of Manny Pacquiao-Jeff Horn was the clearest warning to UFC not to leave Fox”

  1. Tradition Rules says:

    Boxing in itself is fine…the boxers are fine athletes.

    But decisions like this, prove that the governing bodies are corrupt, worthless, and have zero credibility.


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