THE MODERATOR: This Saturday, September 26 at 8:30 p.m. Eastern, NBC has its first primetime heavyweight championship bout in 30 years and features the American heavyweight Deontay Wilder.
Joining us on today’s call are our on air team: Marv Albert, Sugar Ray Leonard and BJ Flores, and our coordinating producer David Gibson.
DAVID GIBSON: We are very excited at NBC about covering a live heavyweight championship bout in primetime, and documenting what makes Deontay Wilder so special, both inside and outside of the ring.
It’s our first heavyweight championship bout in 30 years, as Dan just said, and the man with the blow by blow that night 30 years ago when Larry Holmes faced Carl “The Truth” Williams, Marv Albert, will also call Saturday’s action.
MARV ALBERT: I was ten years old at the time, but it does feel like yesterday. As one who would listen to all the heavyweight championship bouts most of the time, they were on the radio, and then I was actually at the Ali-Frazier fight at Madison Square Garden. So that was a thrill. That was Larry Holmes against Carl “The Truth” Williams, and actually Holmes had a tough time of it against Carl “The Truth;” and it’s as David mentioned, the last heavyweight title fight on primetime network television.
So, this is a kick for me, because after watching Deontay Wilder in several of his fights, he’s such an exciting fighter, quick hands, long arms – and I know Ray and BJ will have more to say about that – aside from the fact that he is so likable.
And the key will be eventually, when he goes up against Alexander Povetkin and Wladimir Klitschko, which we hope will happen down the road.
So, I’m really excited about the fight.
SUGAR RAY LEONARD: I can reiterate what Marv just stated there. I’m excited, naturally, because it’s been a while since there was a heavyweight champion from the States, from the USA.
And, Deontay Wilder, being that he’s not that seasoned, yet, but he has all the tools with height, reach, incredible jab and a powerful and lethal right hand, which will pretty much be his bread and butter on Saturday the 26th.
I’m excited about this, and this is what boxing needs, especially being back on primetime television live. Outstanding, can’t wait.
BJ FLORES: I just want to reiterate, it’s such an honor to be on with Marv. Marv Albert called the Larry Holmes fight 30 years ago and my father was a huge, huge Larry Holmes fan because he had that tremendous left hand and left jab.
I remember the Carl Williams fight. My dad had them all on tape; and then the Michael Spinks fight after that. Just an incredible era in heavyweight boxing, and just to have a piece of that with Marv Albert and having him come back to revisit the air on NBC, it’s incredible. It’s like a dream come true.
I think it’s a dream come true all the way around, because what we have been missing in America for a long time is heavyweights, and that’s a division that we can really get excited about. We have a card with action packed heavyweights with two different Olympians in Dominic Breazeale and Deontay Wilder; and then also the Olympic alternate on the 2012 team, Charles Martin.
It’s an action packed night of heavyweight boxing in America and there’s no place I’d rather be besides Alabama this Saturday night. Really excited.
My question, any of you guys can take this one on. I understand there is a level of excitement in the fact that you have Wilder defending his title on primetime on network television. It’s been a long time as you talked at least 30 years on NBC, so something new, something different. By the same token, there’s a lot of boxing fans that look at it, while they are excited to get a chance to watch Wilder fight again because he’s exciting, there’s something to be said for the level of the opponent he’s facing. He’s unknown even to hard core people like myself, very, very under the radar. Can you talk about just on the one hand, the excitement level of having this heavyweight title bout on the network in front of a big, big audience, but having an opponent who is completely unrecognizable to everybody?
SUGAR RAY LEONARD: The fact of the matter is the heavyweight division has not been cream of the crop for a number of years, and without that notoriety, especially without use of primetime television, there was no way for these guys to gain the exposure, the television exposure, that will allow them to be household names.
The thing I like about Deontay, and I don’t care if he fights Joe Schmo; the fact that this young man who is champion is going to grow, and if he keeps it on the right path, he’ll get better. Powerful right hand.
One thing he needs to do, I would say is to learn that once he hurts his man, to settle down and put his punches together and be a lot more effective and productive.
Again, I’m just excited about the heavyweights.
MARV ALBERT: Yeah, really, I understand your points, but as I look back in boxing history, particularly heavyweights, it’s always a process. And I know that Johann Duhaupas is not exactly a household name, perhaps even in Abbeville, France that might be the case.
But, I think it serves a purpose to get Wilder ready, and I think once, hopefully, that he goes up against Alexander Povetkin and Klitschko, those will be the fights that obviously people will get really excited about.
But, I think there’s still excitement. In fact, I watched the Molina fight again the other night and obviously he did not have an easy time of it. Molina happens to be around 6’ 3”, 6’ 4”, so I thought he contributed and did not get rattled at all. I thought he did a great job, even though he was knocked down four times. Those are the kind of fights that Wilder needs.
I just think it’s just a step-by-step process, and hopefully this is the last unknown to fight. The fight against Bermane Stiverne, I thought, certainly did prove something for Wilder, but I think that after this, hopefully it will be Povetkin and then Natali or Wladimir. Natali is busy as mayor.
Obviously you want to hype this up, heavyweight title fight but how do you go about on your telecast about presenting this to your audience in an honest way that here is a top notch heavyweight in Deontay Wilder, we are watching him in front of his hometown crowd, they are excited about it. But by the same token, to recognize the heavyweight world champion is, in fact, Wladimir Klitschko, who has held for over nine years, has dominated the weight class for the better part of a decade, has beaten all the top contenders; and that’s the guy that Wilder hopes to get to in the not too distant future.
MARV ALBERT: I agree, I don’t think there should be an oversell. And I plan to say that you talk about a major underdog. It would be a huge upset if Duhaupas would do well or if he would hang in there for a while. Yeah, you have to look at Duhaupas as competition. This is a huge step for him. I don’t plan to hide that at all.
I mean, as far as positioning Wilder as certainly a top heavyweight, and he has a title belt, and props to him for that and he’s defending at home. But, to the boxing world at large, Wladimir Klitschko is the recognized champion dominating for over a decade in the weight class holding his title for nine plus years.
MARV ALBERT: I guess Ray and BJ should address this but I think that point will be made. I agree. I agree with everything you say.
BJ FLORES: I agree 100 percent, and that will definitely be recognized that Wladimir is the top guy in the division and Deontay is working to get a shot at Wlad.
But at the same time it’s exciting to have heavyweight boxing in America. We are not going to oversell, like Marv said and we’ll still call it what it is. That’s my intention and I think that’s the right thing to do. We all know Wladimir is the guy, but this is a young, new potential superstar with Deontay Wilder, and we’re just going to talk about him and his potential.
SUGAR RAY LEONARD: I agree with what BJ said. It’s a potential superstar, what we have in Deontay Wilder.
Yes, is he green? Yes, he’s green. The fact that he’s gearing up towards having that vision of fighting, hopefully, against Klitschko. But I think the fans will see for themselves the talent this young man has. He has the whole package. He just has to put it all together.
This fight, a lot of the emphasis is on Wilder as people said because he’s viewed as the top American heavyweight today. But there are a lot of other young undefeated, relatively young, undefeated heavyweights out there from other countries that are not getting the attention, such as Erkan Teper of Germany and Anthony Joshua, who is the 2012 Olympic Gold Medalist from the U.K., and a number of others. What do you think has been the effect of nationalism in terms of both helping and hurting the standing of boxing as a sport? There are a lot of sports as we know around the world where there are people outside the United States where people are elite including boxing or baseball or tennis or whatever and they have international followings. Boxing, there don’t seem to be as many in the heavyweight division with an international following.
SUGAR RAY LEONARD: What’s happening right now: Getting them on primetime television, getting them the exposure. Letting the fans see for themselves who they like and have that vested interest. It’s a process that’s in the makings.
What do you think the reaction has been, for example, to Klitschko over the years, for several years, he was on North American television while he was on German television getting in with millions of people watching him fill up 50,000 seat stadiums and so forth, yet he wasn’t even available in the last year or so. What do you think of the different perceptions in the US and Europe in what makes a good or exciting heavyweight?
SUGAR RAY LEONARD: For me as a boxing fan, if I see a guy out there with power, a guy with speed, a guy who has charisma, a guy who can connect with the fans, it’s a whole package.
And BJ, you can jump in here and kind of clear things up a little bit if you can.
BJ FLORES: Yeah, I just think that with social media nowadays, it didn’t exist ten, 15 years ago like it does now. So people are much more aware of what’s going on and who is fighting and when it’s happening and people are Tweeting in between rounds.
So there’s a lot of advantages to get names and get people out there. I think with names like Erkan Teper and Anthony Joshua, I would say those guys have huge followings over in the U.K.; and they are talking about Teper fighting Robert Helenius; and then if he wins that fight, possibly fighting Anthony Joshua. Joshua is just absolutely huge over there.
I feel like those guys are getting great exposure over there, and now finally in America, our heavyweights are going to be making a name; and not only Deontay, but Breazeale and Charles Martin will also be getting great exposure. It’s three nice names that are thrown into the mix with a lot of the other great other young heavyweights in the world like Joshua and Teper. And you have guys like Povetkin and other guys that are just talented heavyweights all around the world. I think we are getting into the mix with the heavyweights and it’s nice to be there.
Without taking anything away from Deontay, he holds a belt and is unbeaten, but would you rather see less of an emphasis on nationalism and more of an emphasis on promoting all of these talented fighters, regardless of where they come from?
BJ FLORES: A 100 percent, but at the same time I understand how difficult these deals are, and it’s a procedure. If you want to fight Alexander Povetkin or if you want to fight Wladimir Klitschko, there’s a lot of things when you sign those contracts, that you have to adhere on what they want on a lot of those things. It’s a process and it’s not just a fight that can be made in 30 or 45 days. Sometimes it takes a little time.
I understand where Deontay is at and where PBC is at with not having those kind of fights just yet, but I think Deontay’s next fight is going to be Alexander Povetkin, and they are working on that and negotiating that now. I think if we are just a little more patient, we are going to see those type of fights, but we are definitely taking a step in the right direction.
MARV ALBERT: The other factor is, do you think there will be primetime fights on TV if a guy from Czechoslovakia is fighting someone from Serbia? Right now in the United States, because Wilder is such a prospect, you have to go with somebody like Deontay Wilder and then hope that others will develop to the point where they will be on the card with Wilder and/or will fight him eventually.
Even a guy like Alexander Povetkin, as good as he is, is going to have a mandatory challenge possibility but people really don’t know him. Klitschko, they know and hopefully we get to the point where it is he can’t get better in terms of market ability, an American fighter going against a Russian or Ukrainian fighter, even though he lives in L.A. and spends most of his time in L.A.
You’ve done a ton of big time heavyweight fights. Can you compare Wilder to anybody else that you have broadcasted, a big time heavyweight championship fight to?
MARV ALBERT: Thank you for the compliment, also. But I don’t recall anyone who was taken seriously that was 6’ 6” or 6’ 7” back in the days when I was doing boxing at NBC in the 90s. I don’t recall a heavyweight. Maybe BJ or Ray would.
They were always converted football players, people like the Dallas Cowboys “Too Tall” Jones, people like that, who were not necessarily taken that seriously. Mark Gastineau at one time tried it but that was just a publicity stunt.
So it’s very hard to find an athlete like Wilder who also has quick hands and he has long arms. He was also, he did play football and basketball in high school, as did Breazeale is on the card who is really in the earlier stages.
It’s very difficult to think of anybody who was really somebody you would respect that was in that class. We are looking at Deontay Wilder right now. Again as we have discussed before, Wilder still has to prove himself, and those fights are in front of him now.
Ray, you have obviously been in this position before where you are the heavily favored fighter, fighting maybe in your hometown against a guy you may not know a whole lot about. What are the challenges for Wilder, because he has that to get in there and square off against this guy, as much as everybody is building this up as an easy fight. You’ve lived that before. What are the challenges that Wilder will face in that regard?
SUGAR RAY LEONARD: Well, Wilder, I mean, the difference with me, I fed off that. I fed off all the odds or being favored or the pressures. All those things made me a better fighter.
With Deontay Wilder, he just needs to maintain his composure. And again, I mentioned earlier that one thing I saw in him, that’s a flaw, but has not been exposed yet is that when he hurts his opponent, he kind of gets excited, which most of us do. But you have to control that and pick your shots.
But I like Wilder. He’s an all-around athlete and he is one of few athletes, I should say, that could jump into boxing and really perform at that level. But every fight, that bar should be raised a little bit more each and every time.
Did you have a specific fight where you knew very little about the other guy, and if so, how big of a concern was it, or were you even concerned?
SUGAR RAY LEONARD: My second professional fight was Willie Rodríguez in Baltimore and I didn’t know the guy could hit that hard. He knocked my tooth out; I bought a new one. But I didn’t know much about that kid, and he showed me that he can punch.
Wilder can’t be too reckless. He has to be very careful and cautious and use his height, reach and power.
You touched on this a little bit but I want to go back to that hometown angle. You mentioned it’s going to be a bit of a hometown fight for Deontay and even Peter Quillin had this a little bit in his hometown of Brooklyn earlier in the year. With that crowd there, does it give Wilder an advantage, or do you think that may even add to more pressure and the atmosphere as a whole? Just kind of discuss that.
SUGAR RAY LEONARD: That’s a good question, though, and it can work in both ways. It can make you so pumped up that you’re so excited and you go in there and you blow your man out of the water. Or, it can reverse itself and put too much pressure on you and you’re trying to impress. So it can be either way. It depends on how you deal with that.
And just to follow up with that, in general, in fights that you’ve seen throughout your career, what’s your take away from that, and obviously depends on the fighter individually, but overall, what’s your take on that?
SUGAR RAY LEONARD: I think it pumps him up. For me, it motivated me and you really, really want to look impressive for your hometown crowd.
There’s been quite a few PBC broadcasts thus far this year both on NBC and a couple other networks. Can you just give a sense of what you think the PBC has done for boxing, the sport of boxing thus far? Do you feel like there’s more attention and what do you think the reaction has been with this many fights on network television and on cable now?
MARV ALBERT: From a personal point of view, I haven’t had people comment to me, be it walking down the street, airports, whatever, about boxing or seeing something on television in years. Even though HBO and Showtime have done great jobs and have put on some excellent fights.
But now that the fights are on NBC, some are on CBS, still on Showtime and still great fights on HBO, it’s more and more and we’re seeing, not only the fact that we have Deontay Wilder and people are getting more and more familiar with him because he is an American heavyweight; but until I got back into it, I didn’t realize how many terrific middleweights and welterweights there are out there.
There are so many good fighters, but they just were not being seen. I know Ray alluded to it; so did BJ, and that’s the key. And then when you get out over the air on network television, it makes it even more so because of the exposure and the ratings have been good and they are going to get better and better, I think.
But people are now becoming accustomed to knowing names of some of the better fighters because of this, and it’s been awhile, I think, aside from some of the Pay Per View, obviously the big build ups with Pacquiao and Mayweather and a couple others. There really haven’t been many other boxers who would make it on Pay Per View these days.
It used to be in the past it would strictly be heavyweights or it would be Ray and Hagler, Hearns, or Ray against whoever. That’s what would make people come and pay the money, either in a movie theatre or in an arena.
But now to get some of the better fights on national TV, particularly on Saturday nights or Saturday afternoon, it’s made a difference and it’s early. We’re early into this and it’s great to see.
SUGAR RAY LEONARD: A day doesn’t go by, as much as I travel, a day doesn’t go by, that somebody doesn’t approach me, a boxing fan in particular, saying thank you for bringing boxing back to primetime television.
And they would tell me the day they would sit on their father’s or grandfather’s lap and watch boxing on primetime. It’s a good feeling. For me it’s like déjà vu. I remember the moments walking towards the ring; remember the moments having my hands raised in victory. It’s so special to me and I love being at ring side with my guys and just bringing boxing giving boxing what boxing needs, and that’s exposure.
BJ FLORES: I agree. I think it serves two purposes. Boxing on network TV – obviously the first thing I want to address as a fighter is it’s created this whole new market besides just Floyd and Manny being on Pay Per View. The guys who make HBO have created this whole new market for 99.9 percent of other fighters; that now we can have fights on TV, and now we can make more money for ourselves and for our future. And this is really, really exciting.
The second part of that, it also just really opens up a whole new demographic of fans because not everybody can afford HBO and Showtime and Pay Per View and it makes it nice for the normal guy who comes home from his 9 to 5 to be able to sit down in his living room and watch guys like us fighting on a regular basis and create a relationship with those fighters.
It serves two purposes, and like Marv and Ray both said, people are excited about it and it’s only going to get bigger, I believe, in the next few months and years.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks everyone for joining us today. We are looking forward to the fight this Saturday, 8:30 p.m. Eastern on NBC.