NBC enters fight game with Haymon

NEW YORK -- Boxing is returning to prime-time network television in a big way.

NBC Sports made official the news that has swirled around the sport for months, announcing Wednesday at a news conference in New York that it has entered into a multiyear agreement with Haymon Boxing, the company headed by powerful adviser and manager Al Haymon, and will televise the first 20 cards this year.

The series, titled "Premier Boxing Champions" -- "PBC on NBC" as executives are calling it -- will include five cards on NBC on Saturday nights, six on NBC on Saturday afternoons and the remaining nine in prime time on NBC Sports Network.

The first two cards are high-level fights on par with the best bouts put on by premium cable networks HBO and Showtime, where most of boxing's most significant matches have taken place for decades.

The series will kick off March 7 (9 p.m. ET) at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas with interim welterweight titlist Keith Thurman (24-0, 21 KOs) facing former two-division titleholder Robert Guerrero (32-2-1, 18 KOs) and former three-division titleholder Adrien Broner (29-1, 22 KOs) facing John Molina (27-5, 22 KOs) in the junior welterweight co-feature.

The second card, slated for April 11 at a site to be determined, is one of the most anticipated bouts in boxing -- a junior welterweight title unification match between Danny Garcia and Lamont Peterson.

"I'm excited, man. It's a dream come true for me," Garcia said of fighting on network television. "Words can't explain the feeling. I'm just so excited for the sport of boxing. I love it. Now it's just finally getting the exposure it deserves."

NBC and Haymon Boxing promised similar quality fight cards throughout the series.

"We know the responsibility that comes with being in prime time on NBC," PBC chief operations officer Ryan Caldwell said.

"When the customer goes to the grocery store and sees USDA on the steak and wants to buy it, we want it to be the same for fans seeing PBC on the telecast and knowing it's high quality and competitive matchups." Lamont Jones, VP of operations
for "PBC on NBC"

Said Lamont Jones, vice president of operations for the series: "When the customer goes to the grocery store and sees USDA on the steak and wants to buy it, we want it to be the same for fans seeing PBC on the telecast and knowing it's high quality and competitive matchups.

"I think the guiding principle and guiding vision of this series is presenting compelling and high-quality matchups to the fans. ... Al Haymon has more than 150 fighters, and we are just trying to make the best fights for the fans. And if that requires making matchups with fighters we don't manage, then that is certainly possible."

Jones' statement is contrary to what Haymon has mostly done with his fighters the past few years, when they were regularly matched softly while fighting on Showtime and HBO.

Garcia-Peterson is a fight Showtime desperately wanted to make last summer, but Haymon refused to make it and Showtime wound up televising Garcia and Peterson in a pair of brutal mismatches with the explanation that it had been promised the bout for later in 2014.

Based on the announcement of the first two cards, Haymon appears to have changed his tune about tough matchups.

While HBO and Showtime pay millions for their top fights, NBC is not paying a rights fee for the bouts. Multiple sources have told ESPN.com that Haymon's organization, backed by big-money investment firms, has purchased the time on the networks for at least $20 million a year with millions more earmarked for promotion and marketing.

The headline fighters are expected to earn seven-figure purses -- even greater than what they had earned on Showtime and HBO.

"We are looking forward to presenting the PBC on NBC to develop a new and exciting platform, which will be embraced by the millions of boxing fans across the country," said Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC and NBCSN.

All six fighters were on hand for the announcement decked out in suits and posing inside a boxing ring, including with International Boxing Hall of Famers Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns and Roberto Duran.

"It's bringing the world back into boxing," Broner said. "Right now, boxing only reaches out to certain people. That's why certain people, when I walk around, don't know me. They might know me from certain antics I do, but they don't know me from boxing. With NBC coming back, it's people that don't follow boxing that can come back into boxing. This is definitely great for the sport, and they want me to be the LeBron of boxing.

"... This is what they needed. They needed me, and I needed NBC. It's 'AB' on NBC. I'm definitely ready to put on a great show for NBC. It's my time. Think about it, Showtime had [approximately] 21 million [subscribers] and NBC got 115 million. It's the biggest outlet."

Haymon, who does not speak to the media and rarely appears in public, was not seen at the news conference and made no public remarks.

All the boxers on the series will undergo "rigorous Olympic-style and random drug testing" with input from the Cleveland Clinic, Jones said.

NBC will produce the broadcasts, and the prime-time telecasts will be hosted by Al Michaels, a veteran blow-by-blow man from his days at ABC and the voice of NBC's "Sunday Night Football." Michaels will work with Leonard, but the rest of the on-air lineup was not announced. NBC is also planning pre- and postfight coverage of the cards on NBC Sports Network.

Most of the Haymon fighters who will now appear on NBC have been supported in recent years by Showtime, whose spokesman Chris DeBlasio declined to comment on the move that takes away much of Showtime's top talent, at least for several bouts.

Jones said the boxers were not exclusive to NBC.

Haymon, who manages or advises more than 150 fighters, is not a licensed promoter, so the cards will be promoted by the companies he works closely with, including Warriors Boxing, Goossen Promotions and DiBella Entertainment.