The new season of "Solo Boxeo Tecate" begins on Saturday night after being off the air in January -- but it returns with several changes.
For years, the weekly Spanish-language boxing series aired on Telefutura, a sister network to Univision. But Telefutura was renamed UniMas on Jan. 7 as part of a company re-branding. The good news: If you got Telefutura before, you'll get the newly named network on the same channel, with the 90-minute cards beginning at either 11 p.m. ET/PT or midnight ET/PT.
Also, for the past few years, almost all of the shows were promoted by Golden Boy, with a few shows mixed in from Don Chargin and Miguel Cotto Promotions (who got their dates from Golden Boy's allotment).
This year, Golden Boy likely won't be doing any shows, and Top Rank -- which started the series in 2000 and once controlled all of the dates -- is back as the main supplier. Top Rank will put on at least 26 shows this year, although a handful of them might be fights from its vast library rather than live events. The promoter also might pick up more live dates.
UniMas has changed its business model from that when it had been Telefutura. Rather than UniMas doling out a weekly license fee to the promoter, Top Rank will bring sponsors and generate revenue from sponsors as well as its international television rights and gate money.
Doing the series is no money maker. Top Rank's hope is to simply not lose too much. The cards are essentially a way for the promoter to invest in its fighters by keeping them active and getting them exposure. The series will offer a place for fans to watch the development of young fighters such as standout prospects Jessie Magdaleno, Jose Ramirez, Oscar Valdez and Felix Verdejo.
Although Top Rank hopes to make the new model work, Golden Boy -- which has more television dates than Top Rank, including a slew on Fox Sports Net/Fox Deportes -- is not inclined to continue with UniMas under the new model, according to Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer. If it wants to, however, Golden Boy could pick up around 24 shows.
"If [UniMas] is changing their model and it's a time buy in an attractive time slot, that's one thing," Schaefer said. "But if it's a time buy at 11 p.m. on the West Coast or midnight, it doesn't do much good other than to build up the record of the fighters. So I am not jumping into it, because it's not a model I like -- but I'm thinking about it. A time buy is a difficult thing to sustain."
Top Rank declined to discuss the series because, although it begins Saturday night (midnight ET/11 PT), the contracts have not been executed yet.
The season opener will take place in McAllen, Texas and will be headlined by a lightweight bout between promising Jose Felix Jr. (22-0-1, 18 KOs) and Gerardo Robles (16-10, 7 KOs).
Although the bout isn't scheduled for the broadcast, super middleweight contender Andre Dirrell (20-1, 14 KOs) -- promoted by rapper 50 Cent (aka Curtis Jackson) and appearing on the card because Top Rank's Bob Arum is doing Jackson a favor -- will face Ghana's Michael Gbenga (13-6, 13 KOs) in a 10-rounder. Dirrell, a 2004 U.S. Olympic bronze medalist and former title challenger, has had just one fight since suffering a head injury in an 11th-round disqualification win against Arthur Abraham during the second stage of the Super Six World Boxing Classic in March 2010. In his only fight since then, Dirrell stopped Darryl Cunningham in the second round in December 2011.
Top Rank has three additional dates on the schedule so far:
• Feb. 9 in Mexico City, where welterweight Daniel Sandoval will meet Miguel Callist.
• Feb. 16 in Tijuana, Mexico, where Alejandro Lopez will face Jhonatan Romero for a vacant junior featherweight world title (the belt vacated last fall by Nonito Donaire).
• Feb. 23 at a site to be determined. One of the bouts on the card will involve 2012 U.S. Olympian Jose Ramirez, a lightweight, in his second pro bout.