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Fight fans win as Universum embraces web

The Internet, obviously, has changed the way we Fight Freaks follow boxing. Newspapers have become irrelevant if you want more coverage than just a story or two during the week of a big fight or a couple of paragraphs with a fight result the day after. Magazines either don't cover boxing regularly or, if they do, don't offer news in a timely fashion.

Bottom line: If you want to follow boxing regularly and in a serious manner, you need to do it online. That is one of the major reasons I decided to leave my post as boxing beat writer at USA Today after five years and accepted the gig at ESPN.com in 2005.

But not only has the Internet changed the way we follow boxing, it also has changed the way many of us actually watch the fights. Of course, there still is plenty of boxing available on American television with ESPN2, HBO, Showtime, Fox Sports Net, various Spanish-language broadcasts and pay-per-views. You can also do what I have done for more than 15 years, which is to get DVDs (it used to be tapes) of fights that aren't on American television by trading with a handful of folks I deal with regularly.

Promoters are finally getting into the act and taking advantage of the Internet. For example, Don King has dabbled with putting live shows on his website. Golden Boy's "Fight Night Club" cards are simulcast on the Ring magazine website it owns. And Top Rank has begun regularly streaming its untelevised undercard bouts on its site. ESPN2's "Friday Night Fights" is simulcast weekly on espn3.com.

But the Web has also opened the doors for us to see numerous other bouts that would otherwise go unseen in America because there is no television outlet. You can watch low-cost Internet-only pay-per-view shows on sites such as gofightlive.com or NESportsTV.com. Some foreign networks make their boxing telecasts available for free internationally on their websites. And of course, you can scour video sites for fights old and new. Usually, the most notable fights each week are uploaded by fellow Fight Freaks within hours -- sometimes minutes -- after the conclusion of a bout.

One of the recent developments that I'm loving comes courtesy of German promoter Universum Box-Promotion. Rather than hide its vast library of fights the way a lot of promoters do, Universum has embraced the Internet like no other promoter I'm aware of.

Recently, it opened its vault with the creation of its YouTube channel at youtube.com/UBPboxing, and it's definitely worth a look.

According to Universum's records, over the past 26 years it has promoted nearly 300 cards and more than 2,100 bouts, including more than 250 world title bouts. Now many of the fights in its vast library are available in full length and in gorgeous quality on its YouTube channel, including several recent ones that have been done with an English commentary track.

"We've opened our treasure chest for everyone," said Klaus-Peter Kohl, the Universum boss. "There will be something for every boxing fan."

There are fights featuring Wladimir Klitschko and Vitali Klitschko from their early days when they were promoted by Universum, as well as numerous title bouts from the careers of Dariusz Michalczewski and Artur Grigorian, among many others. Of Universum's active fighters, there are bouts involving Juergen Braehmer, Sebastian Zbik, Vitali Tajbert, Dimitri Sartison, Marcos Maidana and Firat Arslan, to name just a few. If you are a hard-core fan with a desire to see many of Europe's best fighters, this is the place to be.

"We're currently digitizing our fight library and making it available to the fans all over the whole world," Kohl said. "There is nowhere better for this than YouTube. We're very excited about this new partnership. We have cabinets full of archive material. Now any boxing fan can again sit at ringside, only now he can also press pause and rewind. A real treat for me are the matches from our first event, on Feb. 24, 1984."

When Universum put on a major card May 22 in Rostock, Germany, I didn't have to search the Internet looking for a bootleg stream or various sites hoping somebody had posted videos of the fight. Instead, I went to Universum's YouTube channel the next day and watched the heavyweight title eliminator between Ruslan Chagaev and Kali Meehan, former heavyweight titleholder Sergei Liakhovich's slugfest with Evans Quinn, and junior lightweight titlist Tajbert's defense of his title against Hector Velazquez, among other bouts from the show.

After eight years, Universum's contract with the German television network ZDF is about to run out. It isn't being renewed -- despite robust ratings and an average of 4.6 million viewers per show, according to the promoter -- so the company is looking for another broadcast partner (which I hope it finds).

But Universum still has three more shows before the deal ends. There's a card Saturday, when Arslan meets Steve Herelius for an interim cruiserweight belt. On July 17, Braehmer defends his light heavyweight belt against Alejandro Lakatos, and Alexander Alekseev faces Denis Lebedev in a cruiserweight eliminator. And finally, on July 31, Universum closes out its ZDF deal when Zbik defends his interim middleweight belt against an opponent to be named and Sartison defends his super middleweight belt against Khoren Gevor.

All of those upcoming fights have one thing in common besides the promoter: Thanks to the Internet, I'll be watching them in perfect quality on Universum's YouTube channel the next morning, something unimaginable just a few years ago.