Where does the time go? Back in 1998 I was a much younger version of myself (weren't we all?) and I was a relative newbie on the boxing beat. And with that, I was an avid viewer of USA's 'Tuesday Night Fights'. Don't get me wrong, I had watched it as a fan, but I had really grown to appreciate what it meant to the sport as I began covering the game in ernest a couple of years earlier.
Yeah, it was a real buzzkill when it was announced by the network that they would cancel the beloved series that summer.
It was recently it's 25th anniversary of it's last telecast which took place at the legendary Blue Horizon in Philadelphia (which seemed to serve as the unofficial home of the series). Which brought about a lot of fond memories from fans who miss 'TNF'.
Which brings a smile to the face of Brad Jacobs, who was the Programming Consultant for the series, and is now the COO of Top Rank.
"It's great," Jacobs told SNAC.com. "I mean, when you were living in the moment, we did very well, especially by today's standards with ratings. But still, when fans say that they saw it, they like it, whatever it may be, this many years later, it's definitely gratifying to hear that people like it. they watched it, they want it to return. All the things that go along with it -- it's really nice to hear."
And what did Jacobs do in his role for 'TNF? Well, basically a bit of everything.
"I oversaw the entire 'Tuesday Night Fights' series from a programming perspective," he explained. "Meaning who was fighting, when they were fighting, where they were fighting. I also spent a lot of time on the production side of the team, working on how to present these fights, what they were going to look like. My tentacles were everywhere."
One of the strengths of this franchise was that unlike most boxing series on networks today, they were not tied to one promoter. They were an open shop to any promoters that had fighters they wanted to showcase nationally and move up the ladder.
"The word was out there: if you had something interesting, send me a proposal, and we'll see if we can get it done."
courtesy of Brad Jacobs
So if you were a fighter who wasn't under the umbrella of a name brand promoter, you could gain valuable exposure in front a loyal hard-core audience. "It was very good that we weren't married to anybody in that environment, and it worked well for that series," said Jacobs, who was in charge of setting the 'TNF' schedule two, three months in advance.
Outside of the occasional night where there was a dog show, "We knew every Tuesday night, except for eight or ten for the year, 9 o'clock came, we had to deliver a show," said Jacobs, who added this point: "Regularity was key."
Throughout the year, not only could you see up-and-coming prospects, but names such as Larry Holmes, Roberto Duran and George Foreman were spotlighted. And perhaps most importantly, the elite boxers of that era who wanted to stay busy in-between their appearances on premium cable had a bridge platform in which to ply their trade and keep their tools sharp.
Name a major boxer from the 80's and 90's, and they were probably on 'TNF' at a certain point. Jacobs notes that Mike Tyson was probably the only guy that wasn't featured at least once on USA.
When 'TNF' went dark, it was then that the boxing industry truly understood how vital this series was for developing fighters and moving careers along.
"A lot of people found that out. Lets start with the fighters, that series showcases a lot of fighters, and now you're taking those fights out of the mix. So that was very difficult. I think it most effected the HBO's and Showtime's of the world, mostly HBO, because we would groom a lot of guys for them. Or we would give guy who were on the network, who had maybe lost a fight, a chance to return," stated Jacobs.
He admits, even Top Rank (which has an exclusive output deal with ESPN) would benefit from a modern day 'TNF' that would bring familiar opponents onto their platform versus their boxers. It always helps to have B-sides that are known by the public.
Overall, it wasn't just the fights, with Al Albert and Sean O'Grady calling the action, there was always a fun, light atmosphere to these broadcasts. In addition, there would be incredibly unique moments. Who can forget Rock Newman and Marc Roberts nearly scuffling on-camera. Or when Tyrone Trice called out James Toney, who certainly didn't back down from the challenge.
There was the unforgettable ending to the first meeting between Riddick Bown and Elijah Tillery. Or Brian Barbosa literally getting knocked out of the ring -- and KO'd -- by Antwun Echols. And then you had the memorable pre-fight antics of Anthony Hembrick as he faced Booker T. Word, only to get stopped in one in front of his fans.
Yeah, stuff always seem to happen on these Tuesday evenings. Mostly, it was entertaining.
courtesy of Brad Jacobs
Jacobs says, "Literally, at the beginning, we sat down as a group, we said, 'this show is two guys sitting at home watching a fight. And that's what it sort of turned out to be. The good, the bad, the in-between. They would call it, they'd have fun. We never took ourselves too seriously."
Now, it's seriously missed.
In 1991, Oba 'Motor City' Carr, was considered the next champion from the famed Kronk Gym, and 'TNF' had an interesting gimmick for his October date the year -- the fans would decide who he'd face on this night as they voted from a pool of four candidates through a 1-900 number.
"I'll take all the credit for that one," said Jacobs, chuckling at the memory. After coming up with the idea, he ran it by Emanuel Steward and Bill Kozerski, with the money going to charity.
Eventually, it was former lightweight champion, Livingston Bramble who got the call from the masses.
On the night of October 8, at the Palace in Auburn Hills, Michigan, Carr was sent down twice in the first round, but rallied to win 10-round split verdict.
"It was a helluva fight," recalled Jacobs.