PHILADELPHIA—They clapped in the NBC production truck. Not to stay warm from the earlier snow fall and frigid temperatures outside, but to applaud something that NBC is hoping turns into something bigger.
The premiere episode of Fight Night on the NBC Sports Network received a strong start Saturday night at Asylum Arena, and as the final seconds began ticking away in the heavyweight fight between unknown, undefeated prospects Bryant Jennings and Maurice Byarm, the production team had the feeling they witnessed something good.
How often are expectations met in boxing? Not often.
But they were on Saturday, and to some degree they were exceeded, as a capacity-filled arena witnessed Jennings hand Byarm his first professional defeat and junior middleweight fringe contender Gabriel Rosado scsore an impressive fifth-round stoppage of rugged veteran Jesus Soto-Karass.
“We’re very pleased with our first go at this,” said Gary Quinn, the Senior Director of NBC Sports and the NBC Sports Network executive who’s overseeing the network’s new foray into boxing. “This was a great start, something to build momentum off of, and hopefully it’s going to stir more interest in the second fight we have in March featuring a headliner like Zab Judah. But you have to give Jennings and Byarm a lot of credit. They really went at each other. I was in the truck watching that fight, and the guys afterward just started clapping as soon as the fight was over. We got to know the guys tonight, and hopefully, they can begin building off of this.”
Rosado (19-5, 11 knockouts) probably made the biggest leap. The face-first junior middleweight’s career has been uneven. He’ll look good one fight, but suffer lapses in others. Until Saturday, fans hand’t seen what Rosado can really do when motivated. Of the televised fighters in action, he probably shined the brightest, backing Soto Karass into a corner before referee Steve Smoger jumped in to stop it at 2:06 of the fifth.
“I was so comfortable tonight and 100-percent confident in my ring identity,” said Rosado, who’s lost tough decisions to Chris Gray, Joshua Onyango, Fernando Guerrero and local foe Derek Ennis, in July of 2010. Since the loss to Ennis, Rosado has reeled off five-straight victories, including three stoppages.
“I did exactly what I planned to do,” Rosado said. “That hasn’t always happened. I backed [Soto Karass] up and I used smart counters and old-school defense, catching his shots with my elbows, his jabs with open gloves and slipping his counters. I think this win, on this NBC show, is going to make me more recognizable. It was big for me. I took this seriously, especially opening up on a new network and the first show. I just wanted to give the fans a hell of a show. I think I did, and I helped myself, too. But I’m a danger to anyone out there. Do you think [Miguel] Cotto is going to fight someone like me now?”
There also has to be something said about two heavyweights willing to risk undefeated records on five days notice, and Jennings willing to step in against a southpaw in Byarm, whose father, Lionel, once fought at Madison Square Garden to launch a boxing brand name everyone knows, Evander Holyfield.
“When is the last time you saw a heavyweight fight with that much action?” asked Hall of Famer promoter J Russell Peltz, who was the matchmaker for the Main Events show. “Jennings has never gone over six rounds before. It was very important for the first show to get off to this kind of start, with action-packed fights.”
For Jennings (12-0, 5 KOs) it was the culmination of both a nightmarish and dream week.
“We both took a lot of shots,” Jennings said. “This was a tough fight, a very tough fight. But I had a great camp, I came into this in great condition, and hopefully I can grow from this. This was very big. I wasn’t thinking about being on TV or anything.”
But somewhere behind the arena watching in a truck, a production team was counting and hoping that Jennings and Rosado stirred a few more fans into thinking about tuning into Fight Night again.
Photo / Mike Greenhill