The HBO series “The Fight Game with Jim Lampley” entered its third season this past Saturday night. The show is hosted by Jim Lampley and features segments by Max Kellerman, an blow-by-blow commentator who the network’s heir apparent to Lampley as well as a beat writer of some kind. The object of the show is to showcase important events in the boxing world. It is intended to be a news show. As such, it has certain responsibilities. I’m a fan of the show and I like its potential a great deal but it leaves much to be desired. Above all, a devotion to truth and to the honest-to-goodness news. It must stay relevant and can’t be seen as shilling for the network airing it.
At the very least, if “TFG” is looking to be a beacon of any kind, it can’t make mistakes it did on Saturday’s broadcast.
For instance, host Lampley had ESPN’s Dan Rafael on the show discussing various news stories. One of which, a story about Mikey Garcia suing his promoter Top Rank Promotions, was attributed by Lampley to Rafael. That story was in fact broken by Jeandra LeBeauf of BadCulture.net.
“Danny broke some big news this week [out of Top Rank],” said Lampley.
Rafael did not correct him, showing bad form in not giving badculture.net its just due. I don’t care if you are Dan Rather or Dan Rafael; you cite the reporter who broke it. If you don’t, at least don’t take the credit when it is falsely attributed to you. LeBeauf didn’t just print a brief with vague details (still not a justification for being ripped off). Her story printed Garcia’s legal documents. Producers should have vetted that and prepped Lampley beforehand. It was careless and an opportunity missed both for the profile of BadCulture.net and for good reporting.
Another mistake was Lampley shooting down the relevance of Adrien Broner’s comeback fight against Carlos Molina by stating that the public could not be sure of his condition due to the fact that he has been in jail for some time.
There are two Carlos Molinas. One is the former lightweight fighting Adrien Broner. The other is a former 154-pound titleholder now is custody for various legal infractions.
Look, I’m not terribly crazy about the fight or the recent rash of mismatches in the sport. I like competitive fights. But get it right - and shoot it down because of the prepackaged nature of the match-up and placing it on a pay-per-view. Slap the fight around on that basis but don’t be wrong and tell me it’s because dude has been in jail. I’ve had to make some corrections or clarifications in my time but two that could be easily avoided in one show is bad and reinforces a boxing public’s cynical view of this dirty business of boxing.
Mistakes happen. They can be avoided but hey, it happens. Let’s talk content.
Lampley went into a breakdown of the recent Manny Pacquiao-Tim Bradley rematch. In the past, “TFG” has done a breakdown of the first fight, one in which Bradley was awarded a decision many felt Pacquiao deserved as an example of terrible judging. Lampley is convinced that the judges got it wrong and that it was such a bad decision, it needed its own show. And maybe it did. But here, after Bradley has lost a decision by brawling early on and fading instead of boxing and moving as he did the first time, Lampley asserts that this change in strategy is proof Bradley lost the first fight.
In fact, the rematch has little or nothing to do with the first fight for one simply reason: Manny Pacquiao was knocked cold in the interim. Out. Finito. Now entering hyperspace for at least a minute or so. Manny Pacquiao was so knocked out by Juan Manuel Marquez that in some other parallel dimension, he is still out cold. For Pacquiao, that fact means he will do his best to be a boxer who occasionally reminds you he is also a puncher from here on in. For Bradley, who is cutting muscle weight like crazy to make 147, the decision to try and catch Pacquiao with a big shot and turn his lights out (and the hype machine on for a Mayweather fight) seems a completely sane one. It’s not born of anything other than that in my opinion.
It seemed odd that a segment seemed devoted to this “A-HA!” moment.
And here we get into brands and impressions. Manny Pacquiao is HBO’s brand. With Mayweather gone to Showtime, HBO has no true seller like Pacquiao except the man himself. The “TFG” segment felt as if we were being told that Manny has been here all along and the KO loss is something that happened someplace else.
To this writer, subject matter and opinions will always be points of contention. What one reporter finds important, another may not. But seeing reality should be a goal. This brings me to Max Kellerman.
I’ll be honest. Obviously, this is all my opinion but Kellerman is just not ever going to do it for me. I don’t like his voice. I can’t stand how he enunciates every single syllable of sentences that I could not care less about almost every time out. Max, “Speak the speech, I pray you, trippingly, on the tongue.” He’s like Stephen A. Smith, far too aware that he is now a personality of some kind. Added to this, Kellerman is a believer in “pound-for-pound,” the least relevant list of all time. P4P lists literally mean nothing except these certain guys are likely the best fighters in the sport. Of course, every list is subjective as hell but Kellerman rattles it off as it means something.
Kellerman’s segment took a bizarre turn when he got on a soapbox about how entertaining Andre Ward is despite the fact that he simply isn’t. I’ve covered Andre Ward for a long time. I have talked to him at length multiple times. He’s not the most dynamic guy in the world. He’s kind of reserved. He’s an intelligent, at times eloquent speaker and he knows the sport well. No doubt he is a supreme champion who owns his division but he’s not entertaining. Maybe he is your thing. Cool if it is. He’s not what I would call entertaining no matter what he’s accomplished just like James Kirkland isn’t great no matter how exciting I find him.
However, the whole point on a boxing news show of even bringing up Andre Ward seems pointless as he has no fight scheduled any time soon - near or far. The only fight he has going is with his promoter, Dan Goossen. So why are we discussing him back and forth regarding his entertainment value? I don’t know. Maybe Max has nothing else to say. I don’t know where he stands on improving safety standards or enforcing the Muhammad Ali Act. What does Max think of anything besides P4P, how great Andre Ward is or how much he compares Pernell Whitaker to Zab Judah?
In short, I am done waiting for Max to be more than what he is. His analysis is so-so. The very sound of him made me have to stop the show three times to make it through his segment. And I have to just listen. I can’t watch him. He’s not going to grow into Larry Merchant because he’s never going to be a beat reporter like Merchant was and like “The Fight Game” needs.
The show has an anchor, which is Lampley. He’s perfect for the job. His voice makes everything sound immediate and important. I think he is ready to take on the powers that be. But he can’t do it with Rafael, who is not that kind of reporter. And he certainly can’t do it with Kellerman, who is no kind of reporter at all. For “TFG” to be relevant and timely with stories that matter, it needs to search in the field for the Steve Kims and Kieran Mulvaneys of the world, reporters in different regions taking us into the fight game. Lists and omissions of truth or pushing products because HBO bought them and needs to move them won’t do.
“The Fight Game’s” heart is in the right place. While my review might be deemed rude or blunt, these days, I am couch-side as something of a consumer more than a reporter all the time. I’d love a show to exist like the one I described. “TFG” is close. It edges toward it and then slides away. Here’s hoping “TFG” expands and grows into a news show that covers the sport like a “20/20” or even a “Real Sports” on some level. I like that Lampley is an optimist who understands the realities of the sport and hopes for the best anyway. We need more of that to be certain.
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