The infighting between the television networks and boxing promoters intensified today as Madison Square Garden began its big push on the Ken Norton-Duane Bobick fight Wednesday.
The National Broadcasting Co., which is showing the fight on home television, turned out executive vice president Al Rush and Joe Garagiola to emcee a news conference.
Mike Burke, president of the Garden, was first to make an allusion to the allegations of scandal that caused suspension of ABC's U.S. Boxing Championships. Then Rush and even former heavyweight champion Joe Frazier, who owns Bobick's contract, belittled the Muhammad Ali-Alfredo Evangelista title bout at Capital Centre, May 16. That fight is promoted by Don King, promoter of the suspended tournament.
Burke said, "We welcome you (media representatives) to the Garden so you can see boxing is active, well and clean in Madison Square Garden."
Rush was next to the microphone, and said. "I don't want to go deeply into what is on going elsewhere. What ABC does is their affair: what CBS does is theirs. This (Norton-Bobick) is not the setting up of a tournament of relatively unknown fighters who will develop later.
"This is a big event. We expect big ratings.
"We don't sign promoters, stage fights or whatever seems to be going on in boxing at other networks."
Rush was asked if he thought ABC would go ahead with its telecast of the Ali-Evangelista bout.
"There is a lot of talk it may not occur," Rush said. "I don't know."
A spokesman for the Capital Center stressed today the Ali-Evangelista fight would be held.
Frazier said. "I feel this is going to be a good fight." In a slap at Ali and his challenger, whose credentials have been questioned. Frazer said "Who's that guy (not mentioning Ali by name) fighting?"
"Evangelista," someone replied. Frazier grinned and said, "Oh."
After the news conference, Rush was asked if his network had encountered any resistance from advertisers as a consequence of the unfavorable press about boxing recently.
(Hank Schwartz, an official of the World Television Championships tournament, said last week that he had to drop telecasts of the tournament on an independent network because sponsors were unwilling to buy time due to the unfavorable press about the ABC-sponsored tournament.)
"No, I haven't heard of any effect on advertising," Rush said. "Schwartz had the same kind of thing as ABC - a tournament. We have two big names and we don't have to worry about their rankings; everybody knows them.
"It's like a Super Bowl against amateur bouts. We beat the other two networks in getting this bout from Mike Burke. They wanted it. We have no options on any fighters; no return bout clauses; no tie-in with a promoter. We don't own any fighters like the other networks. If an AliNorton or Ali-Bobick bout were offered to us, we'd grab it in a minute."
A member of the Garden organization said that ABC is putting together a three-hour program for the Ali-Evangelista bout, to crowd in enough commercials to help pay Ali's $2.7 million purse. Evangelista will receive about $85,000.
While Bobick persistently ridicules the notion of being The Great White Hope, he concedes some people will come to the bout to root for him because he is white.
"My boss over there (pointing to Frazier) laid out a lot of money because he thinks I can win," Bobick said.
"A lot of people can't identify with two blacks fighting in the ring. Some people are prejudiced and like to see a black fight a white. I hope those people stay home."