Top Rank's partnership with ESPN is officially in full swing.
The long-running promotional company recently entered a deal with the 24-hour sports network, which kicks off with the legendary Manny Pacquiao in a welterweight title defense versus unbeaten mandatory challenger Jeff Horn. The two will meet this Saturday in front of an estimated crowd of 55,000 at SunCorp Stadium in Brisbane, Australia, an event that also marks the first time since 2005 where Pacquiao has appeared in a non-Pay-Per-View telecast as the Sunday morning timing in Australia allows for the show to run live in primetime Saturday evening on ESPN.
A key component of the series includes ESPN ancillary programming to accompany its boxing events, a deal that has produced Top Rank's next two fight dates on the network.
Following this weekend's 3 1/2 hour telecast, the next ESPN boxing event will take place on August 5. Headlining the show is arguably the greatest amateur boxer of all time, reigning super featherweight titlist Vasyl Lomachenko whom defends versus fringe featherweight contender Miguel Marriaga. Their potential mismatch will air live from Nokia Theater in Los Angeles, California.
Far more significant to the boxing world is the title unification bout planned two weeks later. Pound-for-pound star Terence Crawford and Namibia's Julius Indongo collide in a battle of unbeaten, unified super lightweight titlists (Crawford is also recognized as the division's World [lineal] champion) which will air live on August 19 from Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Nebraska—home to the University of Nebraska's men's and women's basketball teams and an hour southwest of Crawford's Omaha hometown.
Both bouts were announced by Top Rank brass Thursday evening on ESPN and released through the network's press office early Friday morning.
“Pound for pound, no one can match the talent of Vasyl Lomachenko and Terence Crawford,” said Top Rank president Todd duBoef, who was instrumental in putting together the deal between the two companies. “They drew the best ratings on premium cable this year [HBO], and now everyone will be able to see them when they defend their world titles in all-action fights in August, live on ESPN.”
Added ESPN EVP Burke Magnus: “ESPN is thrilled to bring these two new title fights to fans. There is a lot of buzz around boxing right now and much of it centers around these two great champions – Lomachenko and Crawford. We are excited and proud to showcase these two great events on our all our platforms.”
While all three events feature the brightest talent in the Top Rank stable, all seem to come with its share of baggage.
Pacquiao is a 6-1 favorite to turn away the challenge of Horn (16-0-1, 11KOs), an unbeaten 29-year old whom will come in as the crowd favorite in his Brisbane hometown, although at a severe disadvantage in nearly every other category. The 2012 Australian Olympian has been slow to build in the pro ranks, his best wins to date coming over retreads Randall Bailey and Ali Funeka.
Still, the thrill of Pacquiao making his debut in the land Down Under has created quite the buzz on location, with Saturday evening (Sunday morning locally) already slated to go down as the biggest boxing event to ever take place in Australia.
Crawford-Indongo is an appealing matchup as it marks just the fourth time in history where all four major belts (WBC, WBA, IBF, WBO) will be at stake in a major prizefight.
Every other occasion has involved Bernard Hopkins, whom unified all four middleweight titles with a 9th round body shot knockout of Oscar de la Hoya in their Sept. '04 meet—becoming full-time business partners at Golden Boy Promotions less than a month later—and successfully defended all four belts in a 12-round win over Howard Eastman in Feb. '05 before conceding his throne to then-unbeaten Jermain Taylor five months later. Hopkins also came up short in their rematch later that December, although the IBF title was vacated by the time their sequel materialized.
It remains to be seen if the U.S.-based sanctioning body will take similar action heading into the August 19 matchup, as it has yet to sanction the bout despite promotional insistence suggesting otherwise. Mandatory challenger Sergey Lipinets was guaranteed next in line for the IBF 140-pound title, but has been put on ice ever since a stay-busy win this past March. Indongo unified the IBF and WBA titles in a 12-round whitewash of Ricky Burns this past April in Glasgow, Scotland—which came on the heels of a stunning 1st round knockout of Eduard Troyanovsky last December in Russia. His clash with Crawford will mark his third straight in or near his opponent's home base, although this one is being threatened with legal action from Lipinets' handlers.
As for Lomachenko's August 5 showcase—it's just that. The supremely gifted boxer who challenged for a world title in just his second pro fight and achieved the goal one fight later is considered among the very best in the world today and prides himself on being fast tracked in the pro ranks.
However, this matchup leaves a lot to be desired. Marriaga is a fringe featherweight contender at best, and is coming off of a competitive but clear points loss to two-time Mexican Olympian and current featherweight titlist Oscar Valdez this past April in Carson, California. Aside from the prospect level, his lone other career bout of note resulted in the other loss on his ledger—a 12-round defeat to an overweight Nicholas Walters in their June '15 title fight.
Somehow, the 30-year old Colombian boxer finds himself in a third career title fight in just over two years—this coming against one of the very best in the world today.
More boxing and especially on platforms such as ESPN is always a good thing. Through three fights, however, Top Rank's series is already appearing A-side heavy (although there's no disputing Crawford-Indongo is the very best available matchup at 140 today) and with talks of its bigger fights to take place on Pay-Per-View.
The staff at FightNights.com will hold out hope for the best, but will continue to monitor the development of this series.