Premier Boxing Champions will make its Spike TV debut on Friday night. With the addition of boxing, Spike is looking to become the household name in combat sports with Bellator and GLORY already in its stable. The fight card begins at 9 p.m. ET from the Citizens Bank Arena in Ontario, California, and the main event is a welterweight clash between Andre Berto and Josesito Lopez.
Antonio Tarver, the former light heavyweight and cruiserweight champion, is part of the Spike commentary team along with Jimmy Smith and Scott Hanson. He told MMAmania.com he is glad to make a return behind the mic as an analyst.
"I'm excited. I'm stoked," said Tarver, who previously worked as an analyst for Showtime. They rolled the red carpet out for me and we had a big media day. Now we are here in Ontario and we are getting ready for it. Everybody is stoked about it. Shawn Porter, Roberto Garcia, Andre Berto, and Josesito Lopez. Two of the biggest names in the game of boxing in a head-on collision in the main event.
"All these fighters have their backs against the wall. They need a very impressive performance to continue their rise. With that type of pressure on, you can pretty much guarantee that they are going to lay it all on the line."
The debut of PBC on NBC last week, marked the first time in over three decades that professional boxing was seen on that network. And the ratings were terrific. Promoter Al Haymon has struck deals with NBC, CBS and Spike TV in a bold attempt to bring boxing back into the mainstream and into every household.
Will this big push equate to a surge in popularity and newfound fans for the boxers that are being featured on PBC?
"The Magic Man" says "most definitely."
"It's always worked that way," he continued. "Even USA (USA's Tuesday Night Fights) had the network TV that would really push the fighters and allow them to get that notoriety and into the home that we would never get on premium television. It just wasn't available. The first fight on NBC maxed out around four million viewers. That is crazy. If we even can do half of that or even something close to that... It's a new day in boxing. I really believe it's a new era. They are only going to fall in love with boxing all over again. How can they not?"
WIth the majority of boxing being seen on HBO, Showtime or pay-per-view, the exposure for fighters is limited, especially if they aren't on the main event. Casual fans know the big names like Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, but their interest wanes for lesser known fighters.
Fans and media have said that boxing has been on a steady decline for years now. Some fans have even said after Mayweather and Pacquiao on May 2, 2015 the sport of boxing has nothing left to offer.
Tarver said don't go digging any graves just yet.
"It's not going anywhere. We know that," he said. "I think it's time. It's been 30 years since you've had a home on network TV that consistently showed great fights. When you see these fighters on a regular basis you fall in love with them. It's just hard to see them. They aren't exposed to everyone in America. There are only so many homes that have premium television. You take a way a lot of viewership.
"Looking at the match ups, you can see them and say 'I don't have to go to HBO or Showtime and I can go to NBC or Spike to get this type of fight' you are excited about that. When I was watching Prime Time Boxing last Saturday I felt so good inside just to be a part of something like this, historical. I think it is going to work."
Tarver, 46, began his career in 1997. His most recent fight was a TKO victory over Jonahton Banks this past December and he's looking to fight Shannon Briggs next. The Olympic Bronze medalist and former champion recalled the fighters he watched on TV when he was growing up.
"You look at Marc Breland, and how famous guys like Evander Holyfield where when they started out," Tarver recalled. "Lou Duva had them on NBC. Before that, Sugar Ray Leonard on NBC. I remember watching Danny 'Little Red' Lopez, guys like Ray Mancini and Livingston Bramble on these regular network TV shows.
"I think that is what boxing needs. I'm glad that Al Haymon is the innovator. He took this big risk, stepped out and said 'listen we are going to do something different.' He got the support of NBC, as well as CBS and Spike TV. We are rolling right now."