Time for TV's tale of the tape:
In this corner, NBC's boxing consultant, Ferdie Pacheco. Age: 54. Weight: 185 (he wishes). Experience: Three years advising the network. Total bouts recommended for broadcast: 62 (since 1980). Record: 61-1.
In the far corner, ABC's boxing consultant, Alex Wallau. Age: 37. Weight: 180. Experience as consultant: Six years. Total bouts: An estimated 100 (since 1977). Record: 50-50 (putting it charitably).
"Ladies and gentlemen, your attention please. The winner by knockout in 11 seconds of the first round, the Miami fight doctor turned TV announcer, Ferdie Pa-CHECK-o!"
These last few months have been the best of times and the worst of times for boxing on television.
On one hand, it's been mismatch city. There hasn't been a fight fan born who didn't have 20-20 vision with hindsight. But anyone who saw three abominable acts on ABC and CBS in the last few weeks had to feel insulted.
Two weeks ago ABC brought us Marvin Hagler versus Caveman (or is it Cave-in?) Lee for the middleweight championship of the world. The result? Lee started seeing stalagmites at 1:06 of the first round.
Reached by phone this week, ABC's Wallau declined to discuss the fight, which some boxing sources say the network had to show in order to "buy in" to the broadcast rights of a Hagler-Thomas Hearns bout later this year. Still, Wallau did not dispute a stunning quote attributed to him by Boston Globe columnist Jack Craig.
"We didn't expect Caveman to win and we didn't expect the fight would be competitive," Wallau told Craig, "but we hoped he would do better than he did." Fine. You may hope you can sing better than you do, but you don't go on the Ted Mack Amateur Hour to entertain people.
Last week, ABC came back with Dwight Braxton versus Jerry (The Bull) Martin for the WBC light-heavyweight championship. Martin had challenged for the title twice and been knocked out twice, once by a fighter Braxton dispatched. The predictable result? Martin was knocked down twice in the second round, sleep-walked through the other rounds, and lost on a TKO in the sixth.
On the underside of this card, ABC showed a middleweight punching bag named Dennis Quasimaise against Edwin Rosario. Quasimaise ought to be called Quaisimodo. Your kid sister could take him out. He had been knocked out in either three or four of his last four fights (some boxing sources were losing count). Result? First-round knockout by Rosario.
On Feb. 27, CBS put on Thomas Hearns versus Marcos Geraldo. Call this one the Phantom Fight of '82. Geraldo, once a fine fighter who had become a meatball in recent bouts, pulled a Caveman Lee at 1:48 of the first round without anyone seeing him be hit. When CBS said it would show a replay of the "knockout punch," commentator Gil Clancy said, "Oh, good, I didn't see it the first time." Neither did he see it the second time, the third time or the fourth time.
Now for the good news.
Over at NBC, the boxing competition has been more intense than ever. Two draws last Sunday alone. Slugfests, wars, upsets, disputed decisions. Pacheco doing postfight interviews in the ring, trying to keep the angry fighters and managers from each other. Granted, we don't see many "name" fighters, but that's exactly the point.
NBC (read Pacheco) prefers to put two evenly matched D fighters against each other rather than pit an A fighter against a D fighter.
Although ABC passed on Larry Holmes-Trevor Berbick last year because it feared the fight would be a farce, the network too often will go with the A versus D combination if that's all Don King or Bob Arum will give it.
"Gimme ratings," ABC says. "Gimme names." Vice President Jim Spence should be credited for his commitment to prime-time boxing on free television, but his network has to drive a harder bargain with promoters. ABC not only brought us Cave-in. It also carried Holmes-Lorenzo Zanon and Holmes-Scott LeDoux (otherwise known as the Howard Cosell toupee removal fight), and several other forgettable shows.
Cosell himself has been known to criticize the quality of certain ABC fights. He says he's removed himself from boxing recently to concentrate on his outstanding new "Sportsbeat" series, but the fact remains he was nowhere to be seen at ringside for the buffoonery his network recently aired.
As for CBS, the Hearns-Geraldo sickout may have been an exception. Focusing on lightweight brawls especially, boxing consultant Mort Sharnik has improved the quality of the network's bouts tremendously over the last two years.
It's Ferdie, however, who wins the golden glove award.
Unlike ABC's Wallau, who must report to corporate higher-ups, Pacheco has carte blanche to buy the fights he wants. You can't accurately assess Wallau's record at ABC because you don't know how often his advice is overturned. Pacheco, who was Muhammad Ali's personal physician for 15 years and knows every manager and corner man from here to Tijuana, is rarely questioned.
A doctor, artist, novelist, screenplay writer and on-air commentator in his spare time, Pacheco's main job today is negotiating for NBC. He's had one semidog fight in three years--Wilfred Benitez versus Tony Chiaverini on a Friday night in 1980. The other 61 have been bangers.
"Are they evenly matched? That is the yardstick," Pacheco says. A promoter will come to him with a list of proposed fights. Ferdie will keep saying no until he finds one he likes. He depends on instinct more than records. He'll take a 3-9 guy rather than someone who's 10-2 if his gut tells him the 3-9 fighter will match up better.
He's like the racing secretary in a thoroughbred race. The idea is to weight the horses in such a way that it comes out a dead heat at the finish line.
"Are they evenly matched?" Pacheco repeats. "You cannot go wrong with that. The only way you can go wrong is when a network executive comes to you and says, 'We need the ratings. We need an A fighter against a D fighter. Go get me Greg Page beating up on the garbage collector in the Bahamas.
"They (ABC) tend to go with mastodonic, dinosauric fighters. We tend to go with little human beings against each other."