The networks are putting an end to all this fighting.
Not the increasingly vicious off-the-field NFL action, that is, but the recent, urgent resurgence of what was deemed the next best thing to on-the-field NFL action: boxing.
"It's sort of like pyrite, which is fool's gold," said HBO Sports Vice President Seth Abraham of this spate of coverage that since Oct. 17 has put 13 fights on NBC, where only one had been planned before, and 17 instead of seven on CBS. "It's definitely going to hurt boxing, this overexposure. The fans, the viewers, become confused about which fight's important and which isn't."
HBO is televising tonight's Aaron Pryor-Alexis Arguello WBA junior welterweight title bout and thus is concerned about dulled viewer interest, the bout being one of only nine or 10 prime-time, title-only fights picked up by the pay-TV service. ABC, with its similar proven interest in hypeworthy matches, plans to have Howard Cosell ringside for Larry Holmes' WBC heavyweight title defense against Randy (Tex) Cobb in prime time Nov. 26.
There is hope for the punch drunk. Prize fights, the most flexible of NFL substitute sports programming, should all but disappear from the air waves by December. That's the word from officials at CBS, where Sunday afternoon ratings are averaging slightly less than half last year's NFL autumn, and at NBC, which is missing nearly two-thirds of last year's tuned-in. The reason is the arrival of basketball, college and pro, which never looked so good to broadcast executives.
"I put it very strongly," said NBC boxing consultant (and ringside commentator) Ferdie Pacheco, speaking of his recommendation that the network's previously planned prime-time fight Nov. 20 (middleweights Bobby Czyz and Mustafa Hamsho) be the last of the year. "I just don't think you should show any boxing in December at all. That (Nov. 20) should be our capstone, boom, end of season, let's go home for the holidays and come back in January.
"This was purely an emergency matter," Pacheco said, "not to be prolonged, and certainly not sought by us or needed by us."
"Overexposure is a danger, but you can't overexpose a good thing," said CBS fight consultant Mort Sharnik. "The public is looking for earnest violence now. . . and they didn't find it in Division III football or Canadian football, and we'll have to see if basketball does. But boxing does. Competitive boxing."
That is, of course, open to discussion.
"The Spinks fight (Leon Spinks beat Jesse Burnett in a controversial decision Oct. 31 on CBS) should never have been placed on the air waves," bristled ABC's Cosell the other day, when prodded.
"I took one look at Leon Spinks before the fight . . . and nobody in the world knows Spinks like I do. I took one look at him. He was grossly out of shape, and should not have been allowed near the ring. And his opponent, who is closer to 40 than his purported 36, and who finds it hard to stand on his own two feet after six rounds . . ."
"Poppycock," said Sharnik. "If ABC would've had it (the fight telecast), it would've been heralded as a classic. And so it should've been."
There are other, more apparent lowlights in the recent ring glut: Ted Sanders' no-show for NBC's would-be middleweight grudge match with Alex Ramos, Hilmer Kenty downed by stomach cramps instead of Roberto Elizondo on CBS, Hector (Macho) Comacho's ennervating waltz around Melvin Paul.
In all fairness, though, this kind of thing comes with the territory. It's just that there's been so much territory.
"I will admit, boxing is a much more subjective sport," said Neal Pilson, president of CBS Sports, reacting to criticism of boxing coverage that he says is almost always misdirected at the networks.
"We put on Georgia-Florida (football), and we thought it would be a very close, good game," Pilson said, "And Georgia blew them away, 44-0, and I don't see anybody in the press saying we put up a mismatch . . ."
Another story in the ever-storied scramble for substitute sports came out of Rockville yesterday, from Lenny Klompus, president of Metrosports, which packages events for television and radio.
Klompus said Metrosports, which he said had a contract for the rights to the Hall of Fame Tipoff Classic Nov. 20 between North Carolina and St. John's, apparently has lost those rights to NBC.
"Ten years in the business, and this is the most unbelievable situation I've ever seen," said Klompus, whose company already was distributing the Classic to commercial stations as the first basketball entry in a new agreement to close-caption sporting events for the deaf.
NBC deferred comment to the Tipoff Classic people, saying no agreement had been reached.
Tipoff Classic attorney James Martin, who acknowledged that NBC had "expressed interest" in the Springfield, Mass.-based game, would neither confirm nor deny Klompus' story.