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Opinion: ESPN’s coverage of Manny Pacquiao-Jeff Horn was shambolic

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If ESPN has rekindled its interest in boxing, they need to do much better with their coverage than the awful Manny Pacquiao vs. Jeff Horn broadcast.

Manny Pacquiao v Jeff Horn Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images

Jeff Horn pulled off the improbable unanimous decision upset of Manny Pacquiao in Brisbane, Australia. Two judges had it 115-113 for the Australian, while Waleska Roldan had a completely befuddling 117-111 tally. This was the first installment of Top Rank Boxing’s return to ESPN, as the network embarks on replenishing its once-barren boxing cupboard, brought on by the cost-cutting termination of Friday Night Fights and the financial failure that was/continues to be Premier Boxing Champions.

While the fight itself hasn’t produced consensus agreement on who was the rightful winner, I think we can all concur that ESPN’s coverage is in desperate need of improvement following Saturday night’s disaster. It really encapsulated much of the deserved scorn and ridicule that has been hurled at the network for several years.

The ominous sign that we were in for a terrible night was the needless inclusion of human megaphone Stephen A. Smith, who was joined by host Steve Levy for some studio “analysis.” Smith repeatedly shoehorned Floyd Mayweather into his drivel, and for all of his supposed boxing expertise, decided to make fun of the names on Jeff Horn’s resume. He described Ali Funeka and Randall Bailey as no-names (they’re not, and Bailey literally held a major title a few years ago), and painfully mispronounced another fighter’s name for good measure. He also said pre-fight that Pacquiao losing to Juan Manuel Marquez was a stain on his career, which is laughable.

In the aftermath of the decision, Smith then spouted this silly “these decisions don’t happen in the UFC!” garbage that MMA fans could easily refute.

He was obnoxious, ill-prepared, uninformative, which is a long-winded way for me to state that he was his usual self. Showtime’s Al Bernstein tore him to shreds on Facebook, and rightfully so. Smith shouldn’t be anywhere within a country mile of a boxing broadcast. His schtick on First Take (where he can pretend to be in a constant state of rage on other sports) is already bad enough and has propelled him to perplexing popularity with a viewing audience that seems to soak it all up, such is the procedure for these horrendous “debate” shows across sports and politics in the United States.

Then we get to the commentary. Woof. Joe Tessitore is normally a solid blow-by-blow voice but he was overhyping far too many exchanges and had extended stretches where he flat out wasn’t calling the action. If I can provide a defense for Tessitore, Teddy Atlas and Timothy Bradley were unlistenable and just talked way too damn much without providing much in the way of substance. Atlas and Bradley dedicated almost the entire first round of the Shane Mosley Jr-David Toussaint fight to discussing fatherhood instead of what was transpiring in the ring. Teddy banged on and on about how Teiru Kinoshita was a taller fighter than Jerwin Ancajas, and how southpaw vs. southpaw styles can lead to head clashes. He seems to have totally abandoned actual tape study for certain fighters and resorts to looking up Boxrec to judge a fighter’s quality “blindly” based on the records of his opponents. It’s lazy and stupid.

Timothy Bradley was uh ... well the only credit I’ll give him is that he saw Pacquiao-Horn far more objectively than the relative blowout Atlas believed it was. He was the only one who thought there was a chance the judges would award Horn the decision. If only he knew which country he was in.

Earlier in the show, as ESPN’s commentary trio ludicrously hyped up a very obvious mismatch between IBF super flyweight champion Ancajas and Kinoshita, a mere minutes after Stephen A. Smith disparaged the comparatively far more competitive main event as a joke, Bradley showed off his incredible knowledge of Japanese boxers.

Atlas went into full meltdown mode when the scorecards were read, and turned the controversy into some rant about participation trophies.

Viewers were then “treated” to this truly dreadful display of discourse between Smith and Atlas, featuring speculation about fixing the fight against Pacquiao.

While it’s completely valid to question the scoring of this fight, they didn’t help themselves one bit by not finding the official scorecards as soon as possible, and failed to note that two of the three judges were American, which they should’ve done during their seemingly endless buildup to the main event. I mean, why bother to do the legwork when you can instead have angry shouting sans pertinent information to drive up those ratings?

The production left much to be desired on multiple fronts. Michael Conlan’s third-round TKO win over Jarrett Owen was erroneously displayed on the graphic as a second-round TKO, Teddy Atlas’ scorecard for the Mosley-Toussaint fight was flipped the wrong way around after four rounds, and they missed the bell to signal the start of a new round at least once during the main event. On numerous occasions in multiple bouts, rounds appeared to end several seconds early due to ESPN’s clock graphic not being in-sync with the actual timekeeper. There was no mention of this in commentary, so someone screwed up, and nobody addressed it. I’m tempted to cut ESPN some slack on the dreadful pacing, which led to Pacquiao vs. Horn starting at midnight ET, as I would think this being an Australian PPV with the fight having much higher meaning there would result in ESPN not having full control of the proceedings.

As it stands, ESPN has a two-year agreement with Top Rank, and unlike Friday Night Fights or nearly all of the PBC cards they televised, they are expected to be hosting HBO-quality cards, which means the onus is on them to step up their game.

I want Top Rank Boxing on ESPN to succeed, but the product needs to be presented in appropriate fashion. For starters, a 100% reduction in people named Stephen A. Smith is my preferred approach. If you are one to forgive them for the hurried nature of an overseas broadcast, the next two Top Rank shows are based in the US. Vasyl Lomachenko is the main event on August 5th in Los Angeles, but the real test for them is the August 19th showdown between junior welterweight champions Terence Crawford and Julius Indongo. It is extremely rare to have all four major belts at stake in boxing, Crawford has potential to be a massive star, and it’s in his home state of Argentina Nebraska, so this should be treated as a matchup worth heavily promoting.

Until then, hopefully Saturday night’s poor showing isn’t a sign of things to come from the Worldwide Leader in Sports.