Boxing After Dark: My How the Mighty Have Fallen

21.08.06 – By Anthony Coleman: People have a tendency to romanticize the past. If you let an old veteran tell you the story of history, they’re bound to tell you the story about the “good ole days”. You know the story I’m talking about. Everybody under the age of forty has heard this story at least three times: “Everything was better in the good ole days. Music, food, movies were better than today and there was no such thing as heart disease. These modern times are just terrible and nothing can compare to yesterday.”

However, back in the real world the story isn’t so one sided. The myth of the good ole days is precisely that: a myth. In reality the past wasn’t much better or worse than the present: it’s really just an overly sentimental reaction to the days when you were young and had full head of hair and girls seemingly threw themselves on your knees as you walked on your imaginary red carpet. OK maybe the past was better for you, but to the rest of the world most of the past wasn’t this special wonderland of dopeness. However, there is and exception to this rule: HBO’s “Boxing After Dark”.

Boxing fans who watched the old series can agree in unanimity: the old series was excellent; the new incarnation is just plain awful. “Boxing After Dark” made its premiere in 1996 as a showcase for talented boxers who usually wouldn’t get exposure on televisions (read fighters below the Welterweight division). What separated B.A.D from HBO’s flagship series “Championship boxing”, was due to the fact that the company paid for individual fights rather than showcase fights for HBO contracts boxers. This allowed for the producers of the show to broadcast exciting and enticing matchups. The early years of the show featured such fights like Marco Antonio Barrera’s brawl with Kennedy McKinney, Vince Phillips’s stirring upset over Kostya Tszyu, and Arturo Gatti’s melodramatic come from behind KO over Wilson Rodriguez. “Boxing After Dark” was the show boxing fans came to for excellent action packed pick’em fights.

Unquestionably, the high water mark of the series came in 2000 and the broadcast of Erik Morales-Marco Antonio Barrera I. For 12 violent rounds, Morales and Barrera alternated between slugging and tactical boxing that left the crowd and the people watching at home exhilarated and speechless. The fight won Ring Magazine’s “Fight of the Year” award and is rightfully considered an all-time classic.

Ever since the broadcast of the fight however, B.A.D has been on a huge decline as the series switched from being a showcase for excellent fighters to the Championships Boxing’s minor leagues. In the past four years in particular, the series served as being a rehab shelter for HBO fighters, like Fernando Vargas and Wladimir Klitschko, who had hit hard times. Or at its worst, B.A.D became a mismatch showcase: a place for superior boxers, like Rafael Marquez and Antonio Margarito, to show off their talents against overmatched foes. That is exactly what Saturday night’s broadcast of Paul Williams bludgeoning of Sharmba Mithcell was.

This fight crystallizes most of HBO’s post-Dibella era B.A.D match making: head scratching and infuriating. I’m sorry but why in the world would HBO offer the 88 year ghost of Sharmba Mitchell as a sacrificial lamb to Paul Williams? Boxing fans don’t want to see horrible one-sided set up fights. The fight itself was a farce and it furthered soiled the good name of “Boxing After Dark”. I cringed while watching Williams pound on the overmatched Mitchell and I felt angry with the fact that I was wasting my Saturday night watching this crap. Basically, this fight was indicative of recent telecasts of B.A.D

The woes of the series don’t end with the fights. The new broadcast team of Fran Charles, Lennox Lewis and Max Kellerman also has been underwhelming. In all of their broadcasts together I’ve asked myself numerous times, “where are Lampley, Merchant and Manny when you need them?”

To be fair, let me say that Lennox Lewis is improving with each episode and that I’ve grown to appreciate Max from the years he was at ESPN (though he can still occasionally irritate me). The major problem with the show is Fran Charles. I’m sorry to say this about the man because he seems like a nice guy, but his broadcast skills leaves much to be desired. Alright I’ll just say it: he has been bad. I’m talking about ESPN’s Cold Pizza bad. His commentary is extremely bland and his voice is about as unpleasant as listening to the last Ying Yang Twins album. OK that last line was a little harsh, but it is not that far from the truth.

Add it all together and “Boxing After Dark” is about as much a chore to watch as it is to listen to “Uncle Old School” ramble about the “good ole days”. I’d rather wash clothes than watch this show. But I’m not losing hope for this series. If the producers and matchmakers at least took the time and studied what made the show great in the first place, maybe HBO can start giving us excellent pick ‘em fights once again. Until then I’m just reminiscing and hoping for the return of the “good ole days” of “Boxing After Dark”.

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