Tess: Preparation paramount in calling the action
Announcer Joe Tessitore explains what it's like to be on the road with "Friday Night Fights" and preparing for a typical telecast.
"So, do you have to drive up to Bristol all the time?"
"No? Then, where do you go to work?"
"Bradley International, O'Hare and DFW."
That is a typical cocktail party conversation that comes my way like a revolving door with no exit. Explaining to people that my commute means three flights a week through Chicago brings about distinct reactions. They shake their heads, not being able to relate. Or they just keep coming at me with the curiosity of a 6-year-old at SeaWorld.
When are you ever home? Do you sleep on the plane? Weren't you just in Vegas last night? Didn't I see you on TV just before I came here?
I guess you don't realize your job is unique when it's all you know. Even one of the editors at ESPN.com suggested to me that I detail being on the road with "Friday Night Fights." So here goes:
This week, we are fortunate to have two great and somewhat easy locations to deal with. Plus, the fights are solid. On "Wednesday Night Fights," we will be at Mohegan Sun in Connecticut to see Olympian Jose Navarro take on Vernie Torres. And come Friday, we will be in sunny Florida for unbeaten Yusaf Mack (20-0-2, 14 KOs), who will take on power-punching Alejandro Berrio (24-4, 23 KOs).
First off, the work week really never starts and ends. Every day includes massive amounts of Internet reading of every boxing Web site that is worthy of attention. (And yes, I do read the message boards. You guys are sick!)
Also, the phone rarely stops ringing. There are two kinds of phone calls I receive. The first type is ESPN-related. You can't believe how many conversations in a day I have with a producer, director or our head programmer. These range from production schedules to my thoughts on potential fights.
The other calls are purely boxing. I talk to managers, trainers, fighters, promoters and plenty of boxing writers. Many of them are folks you would know. They are the types considered the movers and shakers of the boxing biz. I strongly believe information is a weapon in this business. Sometimes, however, the volume of information can be dizzying. This business changes as often as a slot hostess in Vegas.
Saturday night is spent watching whatever other network is broadcasting fights, invariably followed by phone calls with my boxing insiders. If I am near one of the Saturday night shows in the Northeast, I will often attend. For example, last week I worked as the blow-by-blow voice of the international broadcast of the Ricky Hatton-Luis Collazo fight in Boston. Sunday morning is full of Internet reading. Sunday afternoon is spent writing my weekly feature for this boxing Web page.
Monday is the last of my two days at home with my wife and two children. I will use this day to prepare for the week ahead. I pack up, print out notes, scan CompuBox analysis and read biographical information.
Then, come early Tuesday morning, I am off and running. We become road warriors. This crew is my second family, each armed with its own distinct skill set, and more frequent-flier miles than one could ever use in a lifetime.
We come from all over the country. From Long Island, New Hampshire, Illinois and Phoenix, the day starts for ESPN boxing. The core group includes about 12 of us. We all arrive with a mission. And it is to be accomplished in less than 36 hours.
For example, this week the crew will land at the airport Tuesday morning, drive to Mohegan Sun to set up cameras, lighting and sound equipment. We will meet with the featured fighters at 3 p.m. for production interviews. We will go over all the details of the fight. We get all the inside info and frame the story lines for the broadcast. This week, Navarro will tell us how he will get the win. Moments later, we will hear a rebuttal from his opponent.
We will shoot the fighters warming up, shadowboxing and posing. At least four fighters will go through this process. It takes as little as two hours to complete. Truth be told, trying to get four fighters and their entourages together in that amount of time is perhaps as challenging as anything we do.
After the fighter interviews we head to the weigh-in. You never know what you are going to get here. We track down trainers for info, promoters for changes and commissioners for rulings. We find out some of our fights may be in jeopardy because of weight, medical exams and licenses. We hope it all stays intact. It rarely does.
Show time is now only 24 hours away, and we haven't even unpacked at the hotel. Our producer, Robbie Beiner, will try to get everyone together for dinner. It is a time to catch our breath and go over the plan. We discuss how and what we are going to do with the broadcast. What time we need to be where, why we should do or say this or that. It's like an offensive coordinator laying out the game plan to his football squad.
Beyond the playbook being inked, it is now the first time we start to feel the buzz of the event. We are out on the town getting a sense of things.
Director Rick Beczynski says, "One of the most of amazing things is how big it is when we roll into some of these towns. Beyond the major-market pro sports towns, you have to understand that this is a real big deal when ESPN comes to town. We've been to airports that are smaller than convenience stores. We can take ESPN where other sports can't.
"We have been from military bases to Indian casinos. A lot of these fights are in places that don't hold major sporting events. That makes for a lot of challenges for our technical crew. That's what sets it apart from every other ordinary football and basketball game you see."
Rick's right. But there are a lot of things that set us apart. Like the fact that we have to prepare for anything.
On the day of the fight, the crew gets into game mode. The producer calls me early in the morning and goes over the final rundown. I have already been up reading the Web sites and articles. Now it's all about our show.
By late morning, the technical crew goes off to the arena to spend its entire day in a production truck. The crew prepares tapes, graphics, video and audio for the show. It is a mind-numbingly long day for them. They are enclosed in a small area working under tight time constraints and a lot of pressure.
Teddy and I stay back at the hotel. I spend the day typing the notes I have compiled from a week of prep work and those fighter interviews the day before. This takes me hours. Usually, I print out 30 pages' worth. By late afternoon, I leave my room. Teddy and I see each other at the hotel gym for a workout, but we never talk about that night's fights. We want to keep it fresh for the broadcast. In boxing terms, you could say we don't leave it in the gym. In this case, we literally don't leave it there.
I arrive at least two hours before the broadcast. As soon as I get there, I go to the truck. Ninety minutes before the show, I will voice some segments.
About an hour before the show, I go to the locker rooms. I visit with every fighter who could possibly be on our air. I take note of last-minute information. I always wish them well and I always pray for their safety. This is the one moment that I fully realize what is about to take place. That look in a fighter's eye in the locker room and the smell of either fear or ultra-awareness are things you cannot deny.
Fifteen minutes before air, we are in place at ringside. We rehearse the opening of the show briefly. We finish our final preparations and it's on.
The easiest part of the job is when we are on the air. You never know what will happen, but that is the very reason we love it.
When the show ends, we decompress for a moment.
The killer part of the job is about to happen. You just boiled down all that work into 120 minutes. It is 1 a.m. You get back to the hotel and you realize at 5:30 a.m. you have to pack up, drop off the rental car and fly to another city to do the whole process over again. It's like "Groundhog Day" meets "Broadcast News." Three o'clock fighter intervews, weigh-in, production meetings, dinner, hotel, prep work, type it all up, arrive on location, live show.
This week, we will be live from Connecticut on Wednesday night, then flying to Florida first thing Thursday. Next week, we will do Montreal followed by El Paso, Texas. I feel as if I could make side money verifying maps for Rand McNally.
Now, throw in red-eye flights from the West Coast that keep you up all night and you have an idea of how tiring it can be. But this assumes no curveballs. And there are always curveballs.
You learn to hurdle canceled flights, bad weather, horrible directions, unavailable hotel rooms, radio interviews and computer problems.
It's all worth it. Give me one Cintron vs. Estrada, Litzau-Nolasco, Brinkley-Spina. Give me a Sam Peter knockout or a guy making his pro debut. Give me Teddy debating with a studio guest. Give it to me every week no matter how much travel, how many groundhog production days.
It is a great job, and hopefully you understand it a little bit better now.
Joe Tessitore is the blow-by-blow announcer on ESPN2's "Friday Night Fights."