Friday, May 1, 2020

Promoter Snapshot: Premier Boxing Champions

This article is the second in my Promoter Snapshot series and will focus on the entity known as Premier Boxing Champions, commonly referred to as the PBC (Click here for Part I of the series on Golden Boy). To start, some immediate clarifications are required. Premier Boxing Champions is not in it of itself a promoter, but a company led by Al Haymon that provides boxing content for television networks such as Fox and Showtime. Many of the fighters who appear regularly on PBC broadcasts have management or advisory contracts with Haymon, but certainly not all of them do. In a general sense, the boxers mentioned in this piece are the ones who appear on PBC platforms. The PBC has a unique stable of fighters, and while there may be some overlap and joint agreements with other entities (for example, specific boxers with Mayweather Promotions), most of their fighters are unaffiliated with other major promoters. 

From my perspective, writing about Golden Boy, Top Rank and Matchroom Sport without including the PBC would fail to capture the state of contemporary boxing, especially in North America. To ignore the PBC's considerable success and strong position in the marketplace based on definitional dogma of what does or doesn't constitute "a promoter" misses the bigger picture; the PBC is a huge player in the sport.

Errol Spence, one of the best in the sport
Photo courtesy of Amanda Westcott/Showtime

Similar to the Golden Boy article, I'll be listing the PBC fighters in various categories. In particular, the PBC has a number of recent high-profile champs whom I have put in a separate category. The fighters listed in this article don't represent the complete PBC roster, but I believe what is included should provide a solid overview of their stable.

As for other aspects to consider, I'll be examining the PBC similarly to how I looked at Golden Boy, and intend to analyze Top Rank and Matchroom Sport in future articles. How have they gotten to their current position within the sport? What are their challenges? Where have they excelled? What are the strengths and weaknesses in their stable of fighters? Who is coming up in their fighter pipeline? What is their media strategy? What will be their key questions to consider over the next 12-18 months? So, let's get to it. 

Company: Premier Boxing Champions

Company Overview: Starting with an impressive stable of fighters and hundreds of millions in investment capital, the PBC began with a strategy that mixed time-buy purchases on various platforms (CBS, NBC, ESPN, Fox) with fight cards on other channels (Showtime, Spike) where they were paid rights fees for their content. The PBC now has consolidated their broadcast platforms, with fights televised by Fox, Showtime and FS1. These entities (Showtime and Fox/FS1) pay the PBC rights fees. 

Their 2018 deal with Fox brought a dedicated return to boxing on American network television, which had been mostly absent from the sport over the last 20 years. In addition, the PBC also negotiated with Fox for shoulder programming on the network, which would provide a more robust promotional vehicle for their fights and boxers (this has become "Inside PBC Boxing"). Fox has also agreed to significant promotional spends for their PBC pay per view fight cards.  

The PBC's stable features many of the best African American boxers in the 29-35 age range. The company has forged strategic partnerships with power brokers in the sport such as Luis DeCubas and Samson Lewkowicz, which has expanded the demographic profile of their stable, bringing several Latino and other international boxers into their mix. Many of the PBC's best fighters are among the top draws in North American boxing and are in the prime earning phase of their career; as a result, pay per views have become a necessary part of the PBC's broadcast strategy. The company currently has most of the top players at junior middleweight and welterweight.  

Elite Fighters: Errol Spence, Manny Pacquiao

Champions: David Benavidez, Caleb Plant, Jermall Charlo, Jermell Charlo, Jeison Rosario, Leo Santa Cruz, Gary Russell Jr., Rey Vargas 

Interim Champions: Jean Pascal, Chris Eubank Jr., Erislandy Lara, Brian Castano, Mario Barrios, Gervonta Davis, Chris Colbert, Brandon Figueroa, Stephen Fulton, Guillermo Rigondeaux 

Recent High-Profile Champions: Deontay Wilder, Andy Ruiz, Anthony Dirrell, Julian Williams, Tony Harrison, Jarrett Hurd, Danny Garcia, Shawn Porter, Keith Thurman, Adrien Broner, Robert Easter, Luis Nery

Other Notable Fighters: Luis Ortiz, Adam Kownacki, Dominic Breazeale, Marcus Browne, Caleb Truax, Sergey Derevyanchenko, Erickson Lubin, Sergey Lipinets, Yordenis Ugas, Devon Alexander, Omar Figueroa, Rances Barthelemy, Javier Fortuna, Rau'shee Warren

Sleepers and Potential Spoilers: Jamal James, Terrell Gausha, Abel Ramos, Bryant Perrella, Tugstogt Nyambayar, Wale Omotoso, Nathaniel Gallimore, Argenis Mendez, Immanuwel Aleem, Charles Martin, Matvey Korobov, Jamontay Clark, Ahmed Elbiali, Omar Douglas, Hugo Centeno

Top Prospects: Efe Ajagba, Eimantas Stanionis, Michel Rivera, Omar Juarez, Frank Sanchez

Under-the-Radar Prospects: David Morrell, Gary Antonio Russell, Gary Antuanne Russell, Rolando Romero, Jesus Ramos, Joey Spencer, Sebastian Fundora, Vito Mielnicki, Karlos Balderas

Stable Evaluation:

The PBC has achieved stunning success with their current wave of fighters aged 29 to 35, They've had more than a dozen champions in this crop. So many of these boxers have become big names in the sport (Wilder, Thurman, Danny Garcia, Porter, Broner, Santa Cruz, Spence, the Charlos, Russell, etc.) Even several years into this run, the PBC still has five champions in this age bracket. 

However, if one were to analyze the PBC's stable of fighters from 22-28, the quality and quantity in this group doesn't compare favorably with the older cohort. There are a variety of factors that account for this drop off. Perhaps most importantly, the American amateur scene hit a trough during this period. Although there are extremely talented American fighters in this age bracket, there isn't the same quantity of talent as in past eras. Furthermore, the marketplace to sign emerging American and North American fighters has been as competitive as it has been in a long time. Top Rank has always been able to sign top fighters. But Matchroom Sport has made in-roads into the American market. Golden Boy and Mayweather Promotions (who sometimes, but not always, works with the PBC) have done well in acquiring West Coast amateur boxing talent.

Deontay Wilder, looks to reclaim his heavyweight belt
Photo Courtesy of Tom Casino/Showtime

What's interesting when evaluating the PBC's under-25 stable is how diversified it is ethnically and geographically. Davis, Colbert and Fulton are young African American fighters on the move. Michel Rivera is from the Dominican Republic. Efe Ajagba comes from Nigeria. Frank Sanchez and David Morrell are from Cuba. Eimantas Stanionis hails from Lithuania. Benavidez, Barrios, Juarez, Fundora and Figueroa are Latino-Americans. Spencer and Mielnicki are American Caucasians. By necessity or design, the PBC has become a much more cosmopolitan organization, which will continue to make them an attractive option for fighters of all backgrounds and nationalities.

Starting in 2019 the PBC has provided more hometown defenses for their champions. In that time, Jermall Charlo, Errol Spence, Julian Williams, Jarrett Hurd, Gervonta Davis and Caleb Plant had the opportunity to fight in front of their local fans. Historically, the PBC has not consistently attempted to build their fighters at the grassroots level, and were more inclined to have them box in neutral venues such as Barclays Center in Brooklyn or on cards in Las Vegas. In particular, Davis, Spence and Plant generated excellent attendance figures and local media coverage for their hometown fights. Hopefully, this approach will be utilized more extensively by the company. (Naturally, roadshows will be restricted to a degree as boxing emerges from the coronavirus shutdown.) 

One issue the company has faced at 154 pounds is that despite years of matching the best versus the best, no one has been able to emerge as the true champ. Every notable boxer of theirs currently in the weight class except Brian Castano has taken a loss (though he did receive only a draw in his biggest opportunity to date); all except two (Jeison Rosario and Castano) have lost in a title fight. Thus, the company has resorted to an almost egalitarian approach in marketing their junior middleweights. Overall, it's been a mixed bag for the company. On one hand, the fans have been treated to a variety of excellent fights. However, there's been truckloads of money thrown at this division, yet no one has emerged as a truly elite fighter or consistent ticket seller.

The PBC has embraced interim titles (other promoters have also jumped at this route). At least 10 of their boxers currently have an interim belt. Furthermore, the company doesn't necessarily push for its interim beltholders to fight for the full championship. And while it's nice for everyone to get some hardware, this approach has led to confusion regarding who the real champs are in a given division, which I would argue is a net-negative for the sport.  

Media Contracts and Assets: Fox, FS1, Showtime

Media Overview: Throughout 2019 the PBC delineated a clear pecking order for its content. For their biggest fights, they used Fox as their pay per view arm, and Fox delivered with significant marketing muscle. For their premium content, the PBC gave Fox many of their best fights, although Showtime received a few as well. Showtime mostly broadcasted a number of the PBC's marking-time fights for its champions and high-profile names. It should be noted that Haymon and Stephen Espinoza, the head of Showtime Sports, have worked well together for many years; it wouldn't surprise me to see Showtime's overall profile of fights increase in 2020.

"Inside PBC Boxing" has become an enjoyable addition to the boxing landscape. The show, which airs monthly on Fox, uses a studio host (Kate Abdo) and several current or retired fighters to examine the key matchups taking place in the sport. To this point the series has been well-produced, mixing serious analysis with fun, lighter moments. Plus, the series has emerged as a platform to help promote the bigger events in the PBC orbit, which is a positive development for the company and the sport. 

The PBC has also featured a consistent online presence, with numerous videos, podcasts, articles and interviews with its top fighters. They utilize different techniques to engage through social media and on-line marketing. Not all of them have succeeded, but there is a concerted attempt to try new things, and innovation is certainly welcome. 

Gervonta Davis, a rising star in the sport
Photo courtesy of Amanda Westcott/Showtime

There is always a question of how much control a promoter, or boxing entity in this case, has in terms of the presentation of fights on TV. Although Fox and FS1 have gotten some things right during their boxing broadcasts – their audio and lighting are very good, their camera work is incisive – their broadcasts have at times been disjointed and their announce teams have lacked cohesion, detracting from the overall quality of their broadcasts. 

Brian Kenny, who as of now is the play-by-play voice on Fox, can be unnecessarily argumentative with his fellow broadcasters and lacks the gravitas to handle big moments in the sport. Chris Myers, who has done play-by-play on FS1, doesn't seem to have a significant foundation in the sport and relies too heavily on round-by-round punch stats. Kenny Albert, whom I liked a lot, and Ray Mancini, whom I didn't, have already left or been reassigned. Joe Goossen has continued to provide good insight on the Fox broadcast. Marcos Villegas has done an excellent job as the unofficial scorer on FS1. By contrast, Larry Hazzard Sr. has had several questionable cards as the unofficial scorer on Fox and his explanations of them haven't provided the viewer with particularly meaningful insights. I've enjoyed Dan Conobbio's punch volume profiles for major fighters. And Kate Abdo has proven to be an excellent host, whether on-site during live coverage or on "Inside PBC Boxing." 

Of course, there would always be growing pains with a new network delving into the sport (DAZN has certainly had a choppy start as well); however, I'm not sure that Fox is out of the woods yet. The quality of their broadcast pales in comparison to Showtime's. Hopefully the PBC will continue to work with Fox Sports to improve their overall boxing presentation.   

Other Assets: Strategic partnership with Barclays Center, Deep relationships within the U.S. amateur scene, Partnerships with other U.S. and international promoters, Strong relationships with several top African American trainers 

Company Outlook: The PBC presently has more fighters who are at the pay per view or premium level than any other company that competes in the American boxing marketplace. In the current economic environment, this may present several challenges. Fighters such as Deontay Wilder and Manny Pacquiao have significant per-fight minimums. Errol Spence and Gervonta Davis will be expecting pay per view opportunities in 2020. Keith Thurman, Danny Garcia and Shawn Porter routinely make seven figures per fight. But what happens when there are events with no fans, and thus no live gates for the foreseeable future? And with unemployment expected to top out at close to 20% in the U.S., the robust pay per view market of 2019 already looks like a relic of the past. The company and their premium fighters will have some pivotal decisions to make. 

Which of their top boxers will want to fight for potentially less money and which won't mind sitting out until the things stabilize within the sport? Who will get dates and who won't? There will be some tough conversations to have with fighters who are in the prime earning years of their careers. Will the burgeoning fan bases and earning power of Deontay Wilder, Errol Spence and Gervonta Davis continue to grow, or will they stagnate during this period? Fighters such as Caleb Plant and David Benavidez were building significant momentum heading into 2020. What will this pause mean for them? They are fighters who are being looked at as key torch carriers for PBC's next generation. All promotional companies will be facing similar quandaries following the re-start of the sport, but perhaps the PBC will be most affected by this transition period in that so many of its best fighters are in their prime.

In the medium and long term, the PBC will need to be more aggressive in acquiring top amateur talent. They have been outbid on several top amateurs in recent years, and similar to all boxing promoters, your prospects will be the key to your future. The PBC's prospect stable isn't barren, not by any means, but it certainly could be more robust. There are several intriguing names on its roster, but few are A-plus talents. Some key acquisitions of free agent talent, preferably those under 30, wouldn't hurt either.  

Overall, the PBC will enjoy its continued dominance at junior middleweight and welterweight over the next few years. They are currently shut out of the heavyweight title picture, but Deontay Wilder will have another shot soon enough. As for a number of the other divisions, they are going to have to work with other big promoters in the sport to ensure that their top guys get significant fights. Al Haymon has prospered in boxing due to the sense of loyalty he has created with his fighters, but all (or almost all to be more accurate) will want a crack at the best, or a big money opportunity. The recent thaw in the relationship with Top Rank and the excellent co-promotion for Wilder-Fury II could be a beneficial development for both parties. Each company has divisions in which they dominate and others where their fighters are practically orphaned due to the lack of attractive and/or available in-house opponents.  

The next few years will be important revenue-generating ones for the PBC as their current veteran wave crests. As of now, their next crop of young fighters doesn't look to be as strong as their current veteran core. Of course, this is boxing, and things can change in a hurry. No one does well when the sport has to suspend operations, but in my estimation no company had as many potential big fights in the pipeline than the PBC did. It will be fascinating to see how they view the chess board once boxing resumes. How viable is pay per view post-coronavirus and during an economic downturn? What does the big-fight experience look like with no fans and reduced media attention? I have a feeling that the PBC, due to the economic factors of their top fighters, will need to dip their toes into these waters. The PBC has never lacked boldness during their time in the sport. That they have several fighters at the peak of their earning power demands that they be bold once more.    

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook. 

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