Boxing may be poised for a television revival, with new networks bringing the sport into more homes.
When USA Network bowed out of the industry last month, there was a fear that the sport, which once thrived on network television, would be relegated to premium cable and pay-per-view.
But as evidenced by TNT's boxing debut this week and the beginning of ESPN2's "Friday Night Fights" next week, the sport is far from disappearing from the masses.
"Basic cable is essential for the health of the sport," Showtime executive producer Jay Larkin said. "It is in position to fill the void left by network television. The loss of USA's fights was a major loss to the industry. ESPN seems to be stepping up and TNT experimented with it. The more boxing available on basic cable, the better it is for the sport of boxing."
TNT's rating for its first boxing card Tuesday night was 24 percent higher than its NBA ratings, making it more likely that the network will consider adding more fights in the future.
Fight fans also were treated last weekend to the Oscar De La Hoya-Julio Cesar Chavez bout on pay-per-view and Evander Holyfield's defense against Vaughn Bean. The Holyfield fight was Showtime's highest-rated since Holyfield-Tyson I and TVKO's De La Hoya-Chavez fight was bought in about 700,000 homes, the third most for a non-heavyweight fight.
Lennox Lewis defends his share of the heavyweight title Saturday on HBO against Zeljko Mavrovic.
"There are a lot of positive things happening in boxing and Mike Tyson has not been in the ring," said Lou DiBella, senior vice president for HBO Sports. "People always talk about the black eyes and bad days for boxing, but lately it's been good."
Tyson was in the news last weekend, and could be back in the ring by the end of the year if he is reinstated by a Nevada commission. Despite the success of the last week, Tyson remains the biggest drawing card in the sport.
"There is clearly a tremendous public interest in Tyson," Larkin said. "There is no more evidence of that than the enormous press turnout at his hearing last week. When he is at his best, he can beat virtually anyone on the planet with the exception of Holyfield."
But there is still a clamoring for a unification bout between Lewis, if he wins Saturday, and Holyfield, who still must make a mandatory defense. A Lewis-Holyfield fight would not come until the spring.
HOME RUN DERBY: Baseball fans will be kept up to date with the great home run race and the NL wild-card chase the final weekend of the season.
ESPN will show the Cubs-Astros game at 8 p.m. EDT Friday night with live cut-ins of Mark McGwire's at-bats against Montreal. TBS will show the Braves-Mets game.
Fans in Chicago get a rare doubleheader Saturday on Fox, with the Braves-Mets at 1 p.m. EDT and Cubs-Astros at 4 p.m. Fox's New York affiliate chose only to air the Mets game.
FX will show the Cardinals-Expos game at 4 p.m. EDT Saturday and viewers watching late games on Fox will see all of McGwire's at-bats.
ESPN2 will take viewers around the country Sunday to see parts of any game affecting either the home run or pennant races.
NBC and Fox both made their selections for their first game in the first-round of the playoffs. Fox will show the Yankees against the AL West winner on Tuesday at 8 p.m. EDT and NBC will show Game 2 Wednesday.
TUBE BITS: ESPN was unable to show Sammy Sosa's news conference Wednesday after he hit two homers because of audio problems. Fox Sports Net and CNN/SI offered live coverage. ... ESPN, in conjunction with SporTVision, unveils a new technology on its NFL games Sunday, displaying a yellow line that will appear to be painted on the field at the first-down marker. The device, "1st and Ten," gives viewers the ability to clearly see the first down marker during the play. ... After three weeks, NFL ratings are not up to their $17.6 billion price tag. "Monday Night Football" ratings are 13.6, an all-time low after three weeks and 11 percent behind last year's numbers. ESPN, which has yet to have a compelling game, is down 14 percent. Three-week national ratings for Fox and CBS were not available yet from Nielsen.
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