Top Rank Boxing debuted on ESPN 40 years ago

Forty years ago today, April 10, 1980, the “Top Rank Boxing” series debuted on ESPN with the “Star Wars” theme music serving as the backdrop. It was the beginning of a historic 16-year run, appointment television viewing that showcased boxing stars, including Mike Tyson, Bobby Czyz, Dwight Muhammad Qawi, Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, Mike McCallum, Gene Hatcher, Freddie Roach and Donald Curry.

The debut card took place at Resorts International in Atlantic City, N.J., and featured four televised bouts, including charismatic middleweight Frank “The Animal” Fletcher’s decision victory over Ben Serrano.

“Top Rank Boxing” crisscrossed the country, partnering with an array of promoters who had hungry, fan-friendly fighters with devoted fan bases in venues such as Ice World in Totowa, N.J., and Showboat Sports Pavilion in Las Vegas. When the series ended in 1996, “Top Rank Boxing” was the longest-running nationally televised weekly boxing series in history.

Said Top Rank chairman Bob Arum: “I can’t believe it’s been 40 years. At that point, networks like ABC and CBS were airing fights in the afternoons, but because they paid so much, they aired many of the top championship fights. ‘Top Rank Boxing’ on ESPN was an invaluable outlet for up-and-coming fighters. Any great fighter that started to emerge in the mid- 1980s and 1990s all appeared, without exception, on ESPN. They all got their start on ESPN, and that’s something we are very proud of.

“Live boxing content was instrumental in helping ESPN become the powerhouse it is today.”

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  • It would be nice to see some of those matchups from back then. The library is untapped.

  • Me too. Ako Rin. In my mind, Bob Arum is the 2nd greats boxing promoter in History, behind the prolific Tex Rickard in the 1920’s. Arum is a living treasure in our sport of boxing (my humble opinion)

  • I loved watching those ESPN shows as a kid. The cards were a lot more authentic than what the networks were showing; ABC, CBS, and NBC would always feature championship bouts or top contenders with glossy records, while Top Rank would have main events with journeyman with records like 25-17-2 records. Vinnie Pazienza, Freddy Roach, Johnny Bumphus, “The Animal” Fletcher, Troy Dorsey, Tim Witherspoon, James Broad, Tommy Ayers were all regulars as well as some crazy ass journeyman like Vampire Johnson, Thomas “Shake and Bake” Baker. I always got a kick out of who they would pull out of the woodwork to fight. Often times it was like-“where the hell did this guy come from?”

    • Or Garing Lane, Mike Acey, Darryl Tyson… they’d appear on ESPN and USA all the time. I miss that.

  • I remember watching the very episode of Top Rank Boxing when it first premiered. I also remember the first episode of Tuesday Night Fights which premiered in 1982. Good times…

    • USA NetworkTuesday Night Fights tended to have better matchups and bigger name fighters. They even had a lot of world title fights. Bernard Hopkins defended his title a few times on Tuesday Night Fights in the early days of his reign. Pretty Much all of Charles Brewers defenses of his IBF Super Middleweight title were on TNF. I even think Shane Mosely won his first title, the IBF Lightweight belt against Phillip Holiday on TNF. I was bummed when they went off the air in 1998 or so.

  • Yeah!!! And I Steve Quinonez birthday is on April 10th and became a boxer with amatuer fights and 47 pro fights.

  • ESPN used to have a series (I really want to say it was affiliated with Top Rank) that began with an exceptional introduction that used a lot of percussion instruments for its theme. Sadly, I’ve never found a single clip of it on YouTube.

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