If you are going to kick off a big, new block of boxing and are trying to dredge up more interest (and money) in the sport—one chockful of interesting talent—you cannot go wrong too much showcasing two of the biggest mouths and colorful personalities in it in Keith Thurman and Adrien Broner. Broner is the classic "guy you love to hate", who is models himself after Floyd Mayweather, Jr. (big hint right there), is blindingly arrogant, and is one of the most physically-gift boxers around (and his father also combs his hair after every win—another big hint). Thurman, who is slated to defend his WBA World Welterweight Championship in the main event, is a notorious trash-talker, but not only can he do so with scholarly articulation, he can back it up in the ring just as well. Both are capable of putting on crowd-pleasing performances, have skill, power and speed, and naturally make themselves easy to route against (though Thurman's the more likable of the two). They are inspired choices, to say the least, and when you need talking segments and people casual or non-fans can grab an interest in, they are the best two for the role.
Their foils on PBC are just as wise a selection. John Molina, Jr., Broner's opponent, is a hard-nosed, dogged pugilist who battled Lucas Matthysee in one of the very best fights last year (before finally succumbing in the penultimate round). Robert Guerrero, the challenger to Thurman's crown, is an everyday, blue-collar type who has had to deal with multiple setbacks and his wife's battle with cancer, making him an ideal, relatable person who audiences can rally behind. The veteran is a good match-up for the young up-and-comer, but at the same time, both he and Molina are benchmarks that, while tough, are relatively beatable for the two. Thurman is more steady and astute than Guerrero, who doesn't always come through on the biggest stage, whereas Broner is faster and more skilled than the limited Molina.
However, that is the chief point: to give national exposure to two bright, marketable stars and pitting them against good opponents with good credentials that are capable of putting up a good fight and entertaining showings, but are vulnerable enough to not completely upturn the proverbial cart. Conversely, Molina and Guerrero are also built-in "insurance policies", meaning that should they upset their opponents, you have instant figures you can market around and a relative assurance that you can either get a good action match out of them with another fighter, or try to feed them to the next young gun, marketing them as "Rockys" or upsetters in the process. Barring poor showings, dull fights, bad decisions, or draws, it is difficult to go wrong with whoever comes out on top (if you're Haymon).
I usually dislike fights that appear "ensured", but it is more sensible in what is basically a showcase event, especially when the stars are not being paired with tomato cans. The overarching downside, however, is that I could see both fights ending before the fifth, if not the fourth. There is also no mention of any other fight either in the TV listings or on the official website, but with a 2 1/2 hour runtime, I would expect Abner Mares-Arturo Santos Reyes and Jorge Lara-Mario Macias to round out the undercard.
Thurman TKO6 Guerrero [outclasses to a stoppage]
Broner KO4 Molina [too much speed, plus pop]
Mares TKO8 (Santos) Reyes [surprised Mares isn't getting much of a spotlight]
Lara TKO3 Macias [Good exposure chance for Lara to make an impression]
A lot of stoppages, but would not say those are definitive expectations, either. That said, the likelihood is high, given the match-ups and this being Premier Boxing Champions' premiere (though I do love seeing such best-laid-plans go up in smoke…). Future fights look pretty enticing, too, and if this is to the greater benefit of boxing and creating good matches, then I'm game. We'll see long-term, however, and how the televised product and presentation shapes up (I'm not too wild about NBC's announce team, for starters…), but best of luck to them…
[And in, true HD fashion, you can also tune in online and watch every fight—for free—at NBC Sports' boxing site!!]
Thurman UD Guerrero
Broner UD Molina
Mares UD (Santos) Reyes
Lara TKO1 Macias
Despite the 2 1/2 hour length, that was the appropriate amount to house just two 12-rounders (I believe I have been conditioned by Friday Night Fights to expect more fights in that time frame due to them often being half the length, or less…). I wish there was something to say about Broner-Molina, but there was not. Both fighters underperformed in a match that wasn't a complete stinker, but was far from inspiring at the same time, with Broner taking a slow-and-steady boxing approach and Molina not doing much else beyond trying to land that home-run hit. There were a few good flurry spots by both, but "few" is the operative word.
Broner showed little of the offense flair he is capable of and fought with the same kind of excessive caution that someone does after a crushing outing (Broner basically stated this, in relation to his Maidana loss, in his post-fight interview). Molina, on the other hand, might have been the most egregious, as he did not do nearly enough to make a good case for himself or take the fight to a tentative Broner. While he experienced some success when he actually did—"The Problem" apparently still has a problem with avoiding looping power shots to the head—he did nothing of note for stretches of the bout and allowed the former champion to bicycle his way to a decision victory. With their performances, how often they were booed, and how dry they looked, I cannot say I would be eager to pen either in for a prominent spot on a card in the future, not when they nearly torpedoed a big series its an all-important opener.
Thankfully for Premier Boxing Champions, its audience, and Al Haymon, Thurman-Guerrero made up for the slack. Both men delivered in a very good match-up full of action, with special commendations going to Guerrero, who got knocked down and narrowly escaped a stoppage at the end of the ninth. Prior to that, Thurman had a firm control of the fight, but had to contend with a Rahman-style knot on his forehead from a headbutt early on and a "Ghost" that fought with more vigor and urgency than he had in recent memory. As usual, the champion was very sharp with his use of physicality and skill, but the veteran did not show much intimidation in taking it to him and landing some good, flush shots in the process.
However, Guererro's activity began to subside past the mid-point and Thurman was able to assert himself more, culminating in the fight-turning Rd. 9. The scare appeared to relight Guerrero's flame as he dug in deep to trade hard with Thurman, who appearing to tire in the latter portion of the fight. Despite giving some of the final rounds away, Thurman had won many of the earlier rounds to secure the victory. Such a feat did not come easy and while it was clear, he had to battle and keep a grasp on his title. For someone that prides and markets himself on his KO ability, "One Time" sorely needed a fight like that, where he could not rely on that and had to do so with his skill and, towards the end, his fortitude (being forced to do a better job guarding certainly helped, as well). He did not look sprite towards at that point in the match and even went on his bicycle a bit (hard to blame him with that huge knot on his skull) but he made it through against an experienced fighter who gave him all he could handle.
Thurman-Guerrero was the exact opposite of Broner-Molina, as both combatants truly fought like they wanted to win, as opposed to just doing enough to survive or not taking the initiative. It was also highly important to make a great showing on the national platform of free network television to increase their profile and future top billings. Of the three most notable fights on the card, only former proved to be entertaining, and Guerrero perhaps reaped the most with his inspiring performance and life story. Conversely, Abner Mares showed in his fight with Reyes, which took place on NBCSN following the close of NBC's telecast, that he was clearly not the same fighter he used to be. While gaining the win, Mares ate and was effected by far too many shots and seemed listless at times (though he claimed to be battling an illness afterwards). Reyes fought tenaciously, but got knocked down in the second and was still outworked, overall. Suffice to say, it was a good thing that the fight did not appear on the main broadcast, after all…
As a whole, Premier Boxing Champions got off to a decent start. The lackluster quality of the opening bout was out of their control, but thankfully, the main event helped make it an afterthought. The production set-up and presentation was very nice and a good show of effort was put in by the commentator team, though the magnificent stat board above the ring seemed to dwarf the entire arena and there were more people than necessary on said team. Nonetheless, it is a start and a mostly positive one for future installments of PBC—the nearest of which is this Friday on Spike TV, showcasing Andre Berto vs. Josesito Lopez and Shawn Porter vs. Roberto Garcia.
[EDIT (03/09/15): Outcomes and post-fight comments added.]