Better production doesn't guarantee better experience
By Lyle Fitzsimmons,
Contributing Boxing Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Years ago, it was must-see TV.
During my initial period of intoxication with boxing -- ages 10 to 18, or thereabout -- I can vividly remember turning down all manner of social interaction to make sure I wouldn't miss the weekly fight cards broadcast on a then-novel cable entity called ESPN.
Family going to a late dinner? Sorry, can't make it.
Friends assembling a street hockey game? No can do, guys, find another goalie.
Pressing homework assignments past due? Oh well, guess I'll take the zero.
Back then, my devotion to house fighters like Dio Colome, Robin Blake and Freddie Roach -- yes, that Freddie Roach -- and voices named Al Bernstein, Randy Gordon and Sal Marchiano was far stronger than anything short of breathing, eating and, well... you know.
If it was Thursday and there was a fight show, I was watching.
The infatuation eventually gave way to jobs, girlfriends and college entrance exams, prompting a period of nearly two decades between stages where I'd consider myself a "regular" viewer of the four-letter network's late-week offerings.
Oh sure, I'd catch the occasional Top Rank Boxing special or have an occasional living-room drive-by with its subsequent progeny -- Friday Night Fights -- but it never got to a point where familiarity with Mssrs. Tessitore, Atlas and Kenny was anything close to what it had been a generation before.
But I've tried to change things lately.
Beginning a few weeks back with the 2011 season debut, I've made a concerted effort to reconnect with my past in a way that simultaneously provides a benefit toward what's become my career of choice.
Go figure, huh? Watching a weekly fight show might be a plus for a boxing writer.
I assume it'll pay off handsomely in a few years, when teenage prospect Ray Ximenez Jr. -- whom I saw on the live show from Texas before the Super Bowl and interviewed via telephone a few days later -- wins a championship and becomes a star.
Message to Team X... I'll be expecting an exclusive interview.
Anyway, now that I've officially become part of the FNF viewership, I've noticed a handful of things in the way of comparison with its Thursday night Bob Arum-signatured grandfather.
Superior technology, options for instant interaction and a more slickly produced overall product surely give the thing a more professional feel than the thrown-together nature from a quarter-century past.
The mid-show updates and reports from the Bristol studio are a particularly strong addition, especially when a high-end boxer or one of the sport's premier power-brokers is there to comment on breaking news, an imminent big event or some other relevant news item.
Even if you can't stomach Dan Rafael, his contributions are nonetheless significant, and Atlas' "Keys to the Fight" are a slam-dunk positive as well, providing insight to the main event competitors' styles and sequences to watch for once the opening bell rings.
So from top to bottom, there's no question it's a better show... in 2D or 3D.
But the reality doesn't change. I watch it now and still long for days gone by.
While the announce team is strong and the top-to-bottom package more complete, the sentimentalist in me simply recalls a more palpable anticipation and intrigue leading into the shows of the 1980s.
In truth it may be no different and perhaps it's only because I was a kid, but it somehow felt as if an upset or surprisingly competitive fight happened more regularly back then, more so than with today's scripted, "this house fighter will beat that opponent en route to bigger PPV shows" routine.
Instead of an ESPN date being a sign a fighter has made the big time, a weekly appearance now too often reeks of a carefully arranged, drama-free stepping stone.
The former left it all in the ring. The latter expend little now and save more for later.
And because they were fighting for more with each show, identifiable past characters like Mario "Bucket of Blood" Chavez, Kenny "Bang Bang" Bogner and Eric "The Prince" Martin seem far more romantic and interesting than the Shawn Porter, Demetrius Andrade and Chris Arreola ilk of 2011.
Another sure favorite of the old days was the annual ESPN tournament, in which the network would arrange a handful of bouts leading to the crowning of various weight-class champions -- who then would occasionally defend the belts in subsequent title bouts.
Some of my fondest memories revolve around those fights and those titles, and even the gimmicky sudden-death 13th round that would occur when a close bout ended -- prompting the referee to tell the corners not to cut gloves off -- and was scored a draw after 12.
Imagine such a scenario today.
No promoter in his right mind would suggest it. No manager in his right mind would consider it. No fighter in his right mind would agree to it.
And sadly, no young fan will ever experience how fun it all was.
Sometimes it's hell getting old.
This week's title-fight schedule:
WBC light flyweight title -- Merida, MX
Gilberto Keb Baas (champion) vs. Jose Antonio Aguirre (No. 8 contender)
Baas (34-20-4, 21 KO): First title defense; Lost first two title shots at 112 pounds
Aguirre (35-9-1, 21 KO): Fourteenth title fight (8-5, 5 KO); Held WBC title at 105 (2000-04)
Fitzbitz says: "Skidding ex-champ probably too far beyond vintage." Baas by decision
WBO flyweight title -- Chihuahua, MX
Julio Cesar Miranda (champion) vs. Arden Diale (No. 8 contender)
Miranda (34-5-1, 27 KO): Third title defense; Last 15 victories by stoppage
Diale (14-5-3, 3 KO): First title fight; Five-fight unbeaten streak since 2009 (3-0-2, 2 KO)
Fitzbitz says: "Streaking incumbent should continue run against youngster." Miranda in 10
Last week's picks: 2-1 Overall picks record: 271-91 (74.8 percent)
Lyle Fitzsimmons is a veteran sports columnist who's written professionally since 1988 and covered boxing since 1995. His work is published in print and posted online for clients in North America and Europe. Reach him at email@example.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/fitzbitz.