Premier Boxing Championships on CBS report 5-9 – Figueroa vs. Burns

By Jeremy Wall

Premier Boxing’s second show on CBS took place Saturday afternoon, May 9th with a main event of Omar Figueroa (25-0-1, 18KO) defeating Ricky Burns (37-5-1, 11KO) by unanimous decision at super lightweight. Also on the CBS broadcast, Jamie McDonnell (26-2-0, 12KO) beat Tomoki Kameda (31-1-0, 19KO) by unanimous decision to retain the WBA World Bantamweight title. They were probably the two best action fights Premier has promoted thus far. The show took place at the State Farm Arena in Hidalgo, just on the other side of Mexico and in the same state as the Canelo Alvarez fight at Minute Maid Park in Houston later that night.

The show aired on CBS from 4pm ET to just after 6pm, as they were running short on time with both fights going the distance. McDonnell-Kameda filled the first hour and Figueroa filled the second. CBS changed the broadcast team compared to their first Premier broadcast on April 4th. The omnipresent Mauro Ranallo replaced Brent Stover on play-by-play, whereas Paulie Malignaggi and Virgil Hunter returned on colour. Ranallo broadcasts for boxing on Showtime, which is owned by CBS. Ranallo is the best in the business and although the Premier broadcasts on NBC have the bigger names in sports broadcasting, the combo of Ranallo and Malignaggi along with two good action fights made this the highest quality Premier card yet. Hunter was okay as the third man, but not as well-spoken as his two broadcaster partners.

Figueroa, from Weslaco, Texas, went into the fight undefeated, with the only blemish on his record being a split draw against Arturo Quintero in 2010. He had won fourteen fights since that draw, most recently a ninth round knockout of Daniel Estrada last August in California. Figueroa, 25, is a major star in Texas, with many of his fights taking place in San Antonio. Figueroa is the former WBC Lightweight champion, but vacated the title after retaining against Estrada to move up to Super Lightweight to face Burns.

Figueroa missed weight for the fight against Burns, weighing in at 141 1/2 pounds. Burns weighed in at 139.2 pounds. Figueroa was the favourite going into the fight, but Burns made the bout more competitive than many figured. It was Burns’ debut in the US. He had gone through problems with his promoter in Britain and had also recently gone through a personal bankruptcy. He fought like someone who knew he wasn’t going to get many more chances.

The bout was mostly all action, with what Ranallo described as a “phone booth fight” where both fighters stood touching heads in a clinch, delivering nasty shots. Burns opened the fight scoring well with jabs, but Figueroa started landing more power shots as the bout wore on, particularly uppercuts in the clinch.

Referee Laurence Cole deducted two points from Burns for holding after a number of warnings. One point came off in the eighth round and the second in the eleventh. The deductions were controversial because both fighters were holding and so much time was spent in the clinch. Cole has a terrible reputation as a referee, once telling Juan Manuel Marquez that he was up on the scorecards between rounds. Cole continually pulled Burns’ arm away while Burns and Figueroa were in the clinch and it was pretty obvious that Cole was bias towards the hometown favourite Figueroa.

Poor refereeing didn’t make a ton of difference in the fight, though, as Figueroa came on stronger as the bout wore on and Burns, 32, started to fade. Judges scores were 116-110 twice and 117-109. The extra two points deducted off Burns would have made the scores closer, but they wouldn’t have changed the result of the fight. Cole actively pulling Burns’ arm away and favouring Figueroa probably didn’t make a major difference in the end, either.

Burns was clearly brought in as a showcase fighter for Figueroa, who has major star potential and came off like a rising star on this broadcast with the Hidalgo crowd treating him like something special. They were pressed for time, but were still able to get a short post-fight interview in with Figueroa, which I think is important to sell a fighter’s personality. Figueroa has charisma and is someone to keep an eye on.

The opening bout was a WBA Bantamweight title match between the defending Jamie McDonnell and Tomoki Kameda. McDonnell, 29, went into the fight without losing a bout since 2008 and was coming off two wins in title bouts in London last year. Kameda, 23, is a Japanese transplant who moved to Mexico to train in boxing at the age of fifteen. He was unbeaten in 31 fights going into the match, coming off wins in four straight title fights.

The original idea was that the fight would be for McDonnell’s WBA bantamweight title and Kameda’s WBO bantamweight title. But the WBO refused to recognize McDonnell as the WBA champion due to the “regular” status of McDonnell’s belt. Juan Carlos Payano is the current WBA Super Bantamweight champion. Meaning, he is the “super” champion of the bantamweight division, not the champion of the super bantamweight division, or the super champion of the super bantamweight division, which the WBA calls the unified championship that belongs to Guillermo Rigondeaux. And the boxing people wonder why no one gives a crap about their title belts.

Kameda ended up vacating the WBO title anyway. The WBO sent a letter to Kameda in April telling him he was risking the possibility of being stripped of the title if he went ahead with the bout against McDonnell.

“I have decided to relinquish my WBO belt. My main focus is to fight the best fighters in the world regardless of titles,” said Kameda. “I respect the WBO’s decision to not sanction the fight and thank them for the opportunity to be their world champion. I’m very excited to be fighting on CBS and being part of a effort to better the sport where it’s all about the boxers.”

The WBO and Al Haymon, Premier Boxing’s tsar, have issues. The WBO came out in support of the Association of Boxing Commissions’ request for the US Justice Department to investigate Haymon for violations of the Ali Act. “I’m in agreement with the ABC’s request to the US Attorney General to investigate Haymon,” said Francisco Valcarcel, president of the World Boxing Organization, on Twitter. “The time is right to investigate him & all of us!” So, we might be seeing more Haymon fighters vacate WBO belts as time goes on should the WBO’s stance continue.

The title belt situation with Premier has been interesting. Premier broadcasts refer to championships belts, but they never mention the alphabet organizations by name. For instance, Ranallo called McDonnell a bantamweight champion, but didn’t say which bantamweight title McDonnell held. The rumour is that Premier will introduce its own titles, which is probably wise for long-term business and obviously part of Haymon’s plan to monopolize boxing using the UFC as the obvious model.

“Some fights don’t need titles and this is one of them,” said McDonnell.

“This is the type of fight that you dream of having as you work your way up,” added McDonnell. “A big name opponent, a big pay day and a big fight in America. It’s a great experience for me. I’ve been able to take my family out for the build-up, completely focus on preparing for it. It’s a shame it isn’t in Las Vegas like what was originally planned but it’s still great to be fighting in America, on national TV over there.”

The bout between Kameda and McDonnell was close and all action from start to finish. Kameda knocked McDonnell down in the third round with an overhand right, the first time McDonnell had ever been knocked down in his career. McDonnell came back strong, though, and nearly every round was close. McDonnell threw more volume and Kameda threw with more power.

The scores were 114-113 across the board, which would have been 115-113 if not the third round knockdown. McDonnell clearly won the twelfth round, which won him the fight. The score was fair and the fight could have been judged either way. Kameda probably had a harder time with McDonnell than anticipated because Kameda is young and seems like a rising star and McDonnell is a mid-level veteran, so this is a bit of a stumbling block for Kameda. That isn’t to say Kameda fought poorly or that the fight was bad, because neither was the case. It’s just that Kameda was expected to have an easier time than this against McDonnell.

Between rounds late in the Figueroa fight, they also showed highlights of Austin Trout (29-2-0, 16KO) stopping Luis Galarza (20-3-0, 14KO) in the seventh round at middleweight. The fight took place at 157 pounds catchweight and Galarza came in on three days’ notice, replacing Anthony Mundine, who bowed out injured.

This was the second broadcast of Premier on CBS. The debut on CBS drew 1.4 million viewers and a 1.0 rating on April 4th. It’s hard to say whether that number was good or bad because one would need to compare it to how CBS normally draws on Saturday afternoons, as well as what past sporting events on CBS and the other networks draw on Saturday afternoons. It was a better number than all of the biggest HBO and Showtime fights, but not as strong as Premier on NBC, although it wasn’t going to be with the NBC shows airing in prime time. NBC aired boxing on a Saturday afternoon last September, which drew 763,000 viewers, so 1.4 million was probably a major win for Premier.

Premier’s drawing power for their Saturday afternoon CBS shows will be more clear after this show. Premier had a bigger name fighter for their CBS debut last month in Adonis Stevenson, plus the debut is naturally going to draw more viewers, so I expect viewership to be down a bit more this time. They should be able to keep it above 1 million viewers, though, which is typically what most HBO and Showtime fights draw.

The broadcast featured more variety of commercials compared to previous Premier broadcasts on NBC and CBS, which means they are selling more ad time. They need to be able to sell ad time to make back the money they are paying to the networks for the television space. There still aren’t that many ads and much of the commercial space was dedicated to hyping Premier itself, as well as the rebroadcast of the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight and the exclusive interview with Mayweather that accompanies the rebroadcast. CBS also used the time to hype much of their major shows, including the final episodes of Letterman, as well as NCIS, and 60 Minutes (“Why Cross Fit is Sweeping the Country!”), among other shows.

It’s going to take this year to determine whether Premier has any real legs as a promotion. Premier is still in the rollout phase, as they haven’t debuted on ESPN or ABC yet and may have some other time buys popping up. They are also still debuting fighters on Premier broadcasts, as we haven’t seen any fighters return for second matches on Premier broadcasts. Ratings for returning fighters will give an idea of whether they have created new stars and whether the promotion’s business model of doing time buys, selling ad time, and creating new stars to possibly headline pay per views is working.

Jeremy Wall can be contacted at jeremywall1984@gmail.com

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