"I thought in terms of actual content and the fights that we saw, I thought this was the best we have seen in the last 25 years of boxing. I went through all of the fights that were played and I went back and thought about all of the other years and I just think this was spectacular. Now that's the good side. The bad side is the officiating, I thought, was not even close to that level, and that's a shame because when you are putting that good of a product out there, the one thing that can turn boxing fans off when you have that great product is bad officiating, whether it's reffing or judging. But because of the great content, I thought 2013 was a great year for the sport," stated Showtime commentator Al Bernstein, who looked back on some of the high and lows for boxing in 2013 and discussed the future of the sport heading into the new year. Check it out!
PC: Al, great talking to you. What a time to be a boxing fan. What did you think of the year we had?
AB: Well, here's the thing. I have said it on the air, on the Boxing Channel, and a number of other places. I thought in terms of actual content and the fights that we saw, I thought this was the best we have seen in the last 25 years of boxing. I went through all of the fights that were played and I went back and thought about all of the other years and I just think this was spectacular. Now that's the good side. The bad side is the officiating, I thought, was not even close to that level, and that's a shame because when you are putting that good of a product out there, the one thing that can turn boxing fans off when you have that great product is bad officiating, whether it's reffing or judging. But because of the great content, I thought 2013 was a great year for the sport.
PC: For me, as a viewer, it appeared you guys were busier this year than any of the years in recent memory. Did it just seem that way because they show fights on Sho Extreme and we're getting more fights or did you guys double the amount of shows from previous years?
AB: We did, and when I say for boxing, I mean everybody, but as far as Showtime was concerned, we did do a lot of shows because we did a lot of fights. We had a lot of matches on the shows and it was a special year and they have made a tremendous commitment to boxing the last 2 years at Showtime. Stephen Espinoza and Les Moonves of course, the head of CBS, has personally made that kind of commitment and that's why I think some of the funding and resources were available to make boxing special and I feel we did that. Not only were the matches great, we upped the ante as far as production; they added Brian Kenny as a host at the desk and we put every resource that you can put into production to light. It's been a terrific year.
PC: I really enjoy Stephen Espinoza bringing it back to like it was in the golden years of boxing. I mean, between Sho Extreme and regular Showtime, sometimes we are getting 7 fights a night and that kind of got lost in boxing.
AB: Yeah, I enjoy it too. It's a double-edge sword. If you put 4 fights on, the danger...and we've had this once or twice, but not often, but the danger is that you can have 4 fights that go the distance and if it don't work out as well as you would like, it's a long night of boxing that might not equal thrilling entertainment. Because the matches have been very good, we really haven't had that problem hardly at all and what we have is a lot of value for boxing fans. We do get to see more fighters that way. I mean, this last card that we had is a perfect example. We had 4 fights on the card; we had fighters at slightly different levels, but everybody was certainly close to a championship level or on a championship level, but they were from different weight divisions and it was great to see 8 different fighters. It was a lot of fun. It keeps me up past my bedtime, but it's okay.
PC: When you bring in someone different to the commentary team, sometimes it takes awhile for guys to get accustomed to one another and that creates uncomfortable moments. You seemed to pick up well with Paulie Malignaggi right from the beginning.
AB: Yeah, I felt good from the beginning. I have worked with, goodness, a zillion partners (laughing). One thing I think that is kind of a hallmark for my career is I have been able to blend in with most people. But I gotta give Paulie credit because I believe, number one, he is a natural at it and he's done a superb job and he is a team player. He wants the whole broadcast to be good, and yes, it did feel natural. As you go, you fine tune things and we have done that over the year, but I felt like it was a very natural fit. I was privileged the time I was able to work with Antonio Tarver as the third man and he did a terrific job as well. His style is a little bit different from Paulie's. So I have been fortunate these last few years. Normally I work a two-man booth with Steve Albert all of those years, but fortunately the boxers that have done it with me have been excellent and really good teammates.
PC: Was there a rising star from the telecast this year that really stuck out in your mind heading into 2014 and you will keep eyes on them?
AB: The one person that I think demonstrated to all of us that he is a force to be reckoned with and will be is Keith Thurman. Until this year, we all looked at Keith Thurman and said, "Powerful puncher, seems like a good fighter, pretty good technician, but how good is he?" This year, he's fought two real tough customers. Diego Chaves is a very good fighter. Paulie, in fact, was scouting him because Paulie was supposed to fight him in July; there was talks about that fight and he told me, "I looked at films of this guy and he's good." And when I looked at the videos before he fought Keith Thurman, it was confirmed. He was terrific. And Keith Thurman has done two things. He did the same thing in both of his fights against Chaves and the one against Jesus Soto Karass. He suffered adversity early. Against Chaves, he got hit with some big punches and realized he had to box a little bit. He did box and then got back to his power game and stopped Chaves. In the Jesus Soto Karass fight, if you remember, he was hit with a monstrous overhand right in the first round and it almost caught him cold. He rallied from that, kept his head about him, and rallied for a victory. Not to throw dirt on him, but that very night, you look at the difference between how Keith Thurman reacted to early adversity and how Adrien Broner did. Both of them got hit hard early. Thurman was able to shake it off, figure out a way past it, and win, and Broner wasn't. Keith Thurman is the goods and I believe that in another fight or two, he is likely to be an opponent for Mayweather and if he gets a 38 year old Floyd Mayweather, I think it's gonna be a very fun fight to watch.
PC: On the flip side of my previous question, is there someone who you were expecting them to kind of light the world on fire and they somewhat disappointed?
AB: Let me think for a second...I was trying to think of somebody that was a super disappointment and I can't think of anyone off hand. Well, I guess one thing could be...and it's not really disappointment, but I have to be honest, I kind of thought Lucas Matthysse...and I never predict fights before I announce them, but I thought Lucas Matthysse, and I wouldn't say I picked him to beat Danny Garcia and he fought well, but I...maybe I'm saying the wrong thing. Danny Garcia could easily be in that category that I just put Thurman in with the year he's had and how he's been fighting, even though he's already a champion. I guess I thought that fight would be so competitive, it would go right down to the wire. And it was a very competitive fight, but Danny Garcia clearly won it in my opinion and that was a little bit of a surprise to me.
PC: And while I have an AB in Al Bernstein, I wanted to get your opinion on two other AB'S, Adrien Broner and Andre Berto. They both have different, but similar roads ahead in the sense that they were both in very rough fights. How do you see the comeback trail for those two individuals?
AB: I think Berto is in a different position because he is a little more shopworn and he's had injuries; recently a shoulder injury. So he's had injuries and he's suffered several defeats. So Berto, and he's age 30 now I believe, so for him, it's a little tougher road back. And these days, you don't get any gimme fights if you fight on Showtime or for the most part on HBO. You don't get gimme fights. You surely don't on Showtime these days. So it's gonna be difficult for Berto. Now Broner is in an interesting situation because his problem...his big problem... one of his problems is I think he is fighting 2 weight classes too high at 147. At 135, he was able to beat those fighters with his power; even though he didn't throw a lot of punches, he was able to beat them with power. He was physically a little stronger than them. He could fight tall and not get hit with a lot of punches, but at either 140 or 147, in my opinion, he's gonna be facing monstrous punchers who are a little bit bigger and I think for Adrien Broner, it was absolutely essential if he wants to put his career back on track, he needs to get himself back down to 135. He only had a couple of fights at 135. He moved up from 130. He should be able to get to 135 because he's physically not that big, and see what he can do at that weight division. I'm not optimistic for Adrien Broner at 140 or 147.
PC: And before I let you go, I know you have the book out and it's doing well. Where can people get it at and how has it been received?
AB: It's been out for a little bit and it's doing well. It's called "30 Years, 30 Undeniable Truths About Boxing, Sports and TV!" It's been really well received and they actually have been writing about it a lot on Twitter today. It's a fun book about people I have encountered along the way of 30 something years of commentating and kind of talking about things I have seen, bringing people behind the vail if you will. And a lot of stories in there about the early days at ESPN, so it's for sports fans in general or just for anyone who remembers those early ESPN days, so they will get a kick out of some of those stories. But the best place to pick up the book is at www.amazon.com or www.barnesandnoble.com. It's a print book, an E Book, and also I did an audio version in which people can get, so that was kind of fun.
PC: I wish you a great 2014 in boxing and outside of it, it's always a pleasure to speak with you and here is hoping for another great year of boxing.
AB: Thanks Percy. It is always good to talk to you. Keep up the good work covering boxing and luckily boxing has people like you on the internet that keeps telling people about it and hopefully in 2014, the mainstream media in the United States will pay more attention to boxing and realize it's a great time in the sport. Thank you very much again!
[ Follow Percy Crawford on Twitter @MrLouis1ana ]