The vast majority of people who see a fight watch it on television, through the view provided by a director and their crew. Even on the smallest of shows, directors lead their teams through thousands of decisions, executed with split-second precision. It’s a complex process, and every mistake winds up on display for the world to see.
The best in the business go mostly unnoticed, because their talent keeps the focus on a well-presented show. And one of the best in the combat sports business is Rick Tugman. If you’ve watched any sports on television over the past four decades, you’ve almost certainly seen his work as a director or technical director on NFL, college, and Arena League football, Major League baseball, college and Euroleague basketball, hockey, horse racing, cycling, tennis, and more. He’s also traveled the world to work on combat events including boxing, MMA, bare knuckle, Muay Thai, kickboxing, and wrestling.
Tugman shared an exceptionally generous amount of time discussing boxing on television with Bad Left Hook, covering everything from his work on Don King boxing shows 35 years ago through his tenure as the director for ProBox TV. He shared his thoughts on big picture subjects like the trajectory of the sports broadcasting business, as well as minute details like the geometry behind camera placement for a televised boxing show.
Among the highlights: His perspective on the end of Showtime Boxing after years as a technical director for ShoBox, the technical marvel and storytelling nightmare of remote integration, and his philosophy on how to bring a boxing show to life without distracting or confusing the viewing audience.
A transcript of our conversation, edited for length and clarity, follows.
DISCLOSURE: During the earliest conversations that led to this story, the subject and author came to realize that they had worked together on NFL Football and MLB Baseball broadcasts 10-15 years ago, but never actually interacted directly with each other.
The view from the Director’s chair for ProBox TVRick Tugman
BAD LEFT HOOK: Let’s start with your background in combat sports. We’re talking because of your experience directing boxing for television, so please give us an overview of your background in boxing and combat sports in general.
RICK TUGMAN: I started working as a freelance technical director. There was a company out of Las Vegas that spent the early 80s doing Don King fights. Because I live in Miami, and a lot of those fights were happening in Miami, I was hired because I was a technical director located here in South Florida. This led to other boxing events like Warrior, Iron Mike Productions, Del Monte Productions, Top Rank, ESPN, and even ABC Wide World of Sports, who took me with them to do a fight in Germany.
It was a sport that I enjoyed. That I just loved working on. Some years later, I was hired for a boxing event somewhere in the Carolinas or Virginia… I really don’t remember, but that was where I met Rick Phillips, who was directing the event. He also became the director of ShoBox for Showtime. We got along really well, he knew a little about me and my background, and we just had easy laughs and got along really well.
I’m not sure if I got on with Showtime because of [my friendship with Rick Phillips], but for well over 20 years I was involved with Showtime Sports. I did fights for them in the USA and overseas in London, and that led to me doing work with other boxing greats like Bob Dunphy, who was the director of Championship Boxing. I did some fill-in technical director work with him. And I had some really good opportunities.
I also worked on Showtime Strikeforce Challengers, which took me to London many times, where I also got to work on the Joshua-Klitschko fight at Wembley. That was an incredible atmosphere, just a great place for a huge sporting event. I directed the first two Golden Boy on ESPN events before ESPN took over production and started using their own people. I also produced the Mayweather vs Gotti exhibition that turned into a brawl.
What I learned and what I took from my work with Showtime was their approach. It was different than most networks, it was a more refined boxing show. More entertainment-like, led by executive producer David Dinkins Jr. And the experience from those events is where I adopted the style that I’ve applied to the shows I’ve directed.
Rick Tugman (left) and Rick Phillips (right) at a ShoBox eventRick Tugman
Given your background with Showtime, what was your reaction when the official word came down that the end was imminent for their boxing shows?
The rumors really started about a week, week and a half [before the official announcement], so I saw the news coming. The ShoBox schedule, which I hadn’t worked on in about a year, and also about a year since I’d done anything for Championship Boxing… I was a backup technical director on those, so the schedule diminishing was obvious. And you knew something was in the works, that something was going to happen.
It’s just sad. There are a lot of great people, and they are wonderful broadcasts. I’m not saying Top Rank or any of the others don’t have good broadcasts, because they do. It’s just a different style, and it’s a style that always impressed me and challenged me to do a better job. I feel for the people, because it’s a great staff.
What are they going to do now? Who is going to pick it up? I don’t know. But, the business is what it is. It’s a revolving door. One thing closes, and another opens. Same thing with HBO, when HBO went away… I forgot to mention earlier that I used to work boxing for USA Network, and that’s one that went away, too. It’s all just a revolving door. The fights are going to go somewhere, there’s going to be a promoter promoting something, so they’ll end up somewhere. But, I feel bad for the people who suffer when the business changes.
Rick Tugman (left) with camera operator Bill Tynan, ringside at Tugman’s final ShoBox eventRick Tugman
One of the things I came to frustration with during my time in television is that when you have a job that’s satisfying creatively and financially, you’re generally just waiting around for the hammer to drop and bring it all to an end.
I know that some HBO people wound up transitioning to DAZN after the HBO shutdown. I’d hope that whatever comes next for the Showtime team, whenever the next door opens in the boxing world, that same door presents itself to them as well.
In some instances, that’s happened. About ten years ago, Perform Group brought me in because they wanted an NBA-style director to do Euroleague in London. Then, later, Perform Group morphs into DAZN. And Danielle [Carey], the woman I worked with on that basketball event, is now one of the production people for DAZN.
Let’s talk a little about your other background, and the television you’ve done outside of combat sports. When you’re introducing yourself to strangers who ask what you do, what else do you tell them?
[Laughs] I like to say that I started as a technical director, and I got lucky. I did a lot with FOX Sports, which is of course how you and I sort of worked together, and these packages, these experiences [like Showtime], took me to other places. It took me to the World Series of Fighting on NBC Sports Network, which later became PFL. And to Glory Kickboxing, which we did fights for all around the world. And I also did a fight in Suriname for FITE TV, when Tyrone Spong returned home there, then another fight with Tyrone Spong in Istanbul where he broke his leg and it looked like rubber. I certainly remember that one.
Rick Tugman (3rd from left) directing a Glory Kickboxing show at Madison Square Garden’s Hulu TheaterRick Tugman
Being a technical director and working at the network level like I was, doing college football, also directing some college football, Big 10 hockey, events for Sinclair and American Sports Network, college basketball for NBCSN, directing and technical directing for a few other networks…
It’s a varied background, and [as a technical director] I’ve sat next to some very gifted directors. Especially at FOX, I sat next to Sandy Grossman, who was the lead director for CBS and FOX’s NFL coverage. I sat next to Bill Webb for certain shows, and the great Ray Tipton. These were my baseball directors, and they were just great. It’s an experience you can’t get anywhere else, and I’ve tried to apply it to the work that I do now.
So, I’ve done a myriad of sports, and it’s something that I think I bring to the table [for my boxing work].
Let me ask you about that transition from technical directing to directing. Because a lot of live sports directing is a “head up” role, watching monitors and replay sources, and planning multiple steps ahead for upcoming action.
It’s not the same experience as technical directing, which is often “head down” position by comparison, where you’re focused on rows and buttons on a switcher. You’re reacting in the moment to execute director commands. Maybe trying not to predict too much, especially if you’re not well familiar with your director, because of the way that assuming too far ahead, and guessing wrong, can cause problems.
What was that transition like for you when you started moving from your years as a technical director into a role calling shows yourself?
Um… [Deep breath]
And if you disagree with anything about how I tried to quickly categorize or define those jobs relative to one another, please don’t be afraid to push back!
[Laughs] No, no… I agree with some of the things you just said. And I’m not trying to pat myself on the back, but I think the reason why I had a good rapport with some of those directors I mentioned before is because I had their back. No director can see everything. Sometimes, when things move quickly, you need someone to fall back on.
A lot of the transitions, promotions, involve ADs [assistant directors] and TDs [technical directors] moving into director positions. I feel technical directors… And, no offense to ADs, don’t take this the wrong way…
[Laughing] No, please, go ahead.
I feel technical directors make better directors because they understand the flow a lot better. And when I say the flow, I mean the cohesiveness you have to have with a director. There’s a reason why NFL and networks travel crews together, because of their working relationship that makes the broadcast that much better. When I was working for FOX Sports, I was working with a director that liked me. The minute they may not like me? I’d be gone. It’s that revolving door again.
It came to that point with FOX, and a director who didn’t want to work with me anymore. Then, Sandy [Grossman] said, “I have an opening, I like Rick, I’ll take him.” And working with people like Sandy Grossman and Bob Stenner, it’s just a pleasure. They were the epitome of the NFL, and I feel lucky to have gone out on my NFL career with those two, for all the things I learned.
There has to be a camaraderie. So, when you say a technical director has to “look down?” Any good technical director knows where his fingers are, and is looking at the monitors. Every so often, you’ll glance down. But, you built your board. You understand how it runs, how you laid it out.
Now, I once had a power failure during a show I did with Sandy, and my monitor wall went out. The engineers start scrambling, and later they ask, “How did you do that and get through the show [without your video screens]?” And it was because I knew how my board, my monitors, my mix effects banks were set up. I’m only worried about making sure Sandy is comfortable as the director. If he wants to preview something, I’d do that for him, but for me? It was only for reference.
The video switcher, also commonly referred to as “the board,” used by a technical director to switch between cameras, replays, graphics, and other video sources. Rick Tugman
Well, let me ask you this now that you’re spending a lot of time directing. When you’re working with a technical director, do you appreciate it when they may audition something for you on the preview monitor in case you’re not seeing it on an individual source?
That’s a rapport that you have to make with your TD. Sometimes they’re into it, sometimes they’re not into it, and you just have to get through the show. Sometimes, they don’t have the experience. I had that with my TD on Glory, who became an excellent technical director for me. I taught the TD that I worked with on ProBox certain things, building certain effects, that sort of thing. And hopefully, help each of these people become better technical directors.
Because I had been there, and done that, now I moved on to directing. But, I’m constantly trying to help, especially with younger or less experienced crew. Right now, on a soccer show I’m directing, I’m teaching a younger crew certain things. For soccer, I’m TDing for myself because of the speed, but I’m still trying to help out the next generation.
Rick Tugman directing a remote integration broadcast for MLS soccer on FOX SportsRick Tugman
How do you like punching your own show [NOTE: Working as director and technical director simultaneously]? In my experience, maybe 1/3rd of the directors I worked with preferred to punch their own show. And, thinking about it, it was usually on smaller or regional shows, so maybe there were budget reasons the guys that want to punch for themselves were hired onto those broadcasts.
How do you like working as your own TD, versus when you have the support staff where someone else is executing your instructions for the presentation?
I don’t mind TDing for myself. I don’t like it, but I don’t mind doing it. Especially for soccer, since there aren’t many effects. When you have to go in and build a show with multiple effects, like for the NFL on FOX? You need a TD. There, we did so many effects, like one raising the ball and the field crew chains in situations where there were very close measurements for first downs.
But if there aren’t a lot of effects? I’m happy to TD myself. I don’t like it, but it’s a necessary evil given the business aspect of how things have changed. You have to go with the flow. But, I don’t want to worry about looking down and then I miss something. That’s the risk. If you look down for the board to execute something and then you look up to the monitors again to see you missed something.
But, I don’t technical direct anymore, other than for myself. Because I know I won’t yell at myself. Directors can sometimes be brutal [to their technical directors], but I try to direct with kindness. I’m a ‘Please’ and ‘Thank You’ person, even if I’m TDing for myself.
Let’s talk a little more about that crew camaraderie you’ve mentioned, or what military people might call “unit cohesion.” Unlike most major multi-cam sports shows, boxing usually happens as a series of one-off events. And outside of Las Vegas, the venues aren’t very consistent.
You worked NFL and MLB games. And when you do those, you’re in one of 30 or 32 cities, always the same stadium or arena. Even if you aren’t there, another crew from your company often is instead. And the local people that get hired may work 10 weekends a year for football, or 50 games a year for something like baseball, and there’s a lot more familiarity and consistency in the work.
How is it different, and how to you handle the challenges, for a boxing event that does not have the repetition, the frequency, and the top-to-bottom familiarity you can get in a more consistent team sport?
It’s tougher. It’s not like the NFL, where the crews are traveling together and you’ve all done it before. You have to hope for the best. Some of the crews, like the shows we did for ProBox in Mexico? There’s a language barrier. You don’t know the crew. I’m based in Florida, directing remotely, so there’s a delay in the cameras. It’s not an instantaneous feed.
I direct NWSL [National Women’s Soccer League] for CBS and Paramount from a studio here in Florida, and our cameras are brought to us over fiber, so there’s no delay. But, in Mexico shows and some of the other events I’ve worked on, there can be a three to five second delay sometimes. And there are no tally lights [NOTE: feedback lights to camera operators and technical crew indicating which camera or cameras are currently live on the air].
So, getting a crew to understand things is crucial. You have to convey things to them quickly or in advance in the best way that you can. What I like to do is create systematic notes. If this is your camera, this is your coverage, here are your assignments and what you’re going to do, boom-boom-boom down the list for all of their responsibilities. On the back side of the page, the same notes translated [for international crews that don’t work exclusively in English] for their language. And I make sure it goes out with the technical manager [NOTE: the on-site person in charge of coordination and execution across engineering, production, network, and broadcast team needs].
The other thing I also do is send out a diagram of how all the cameras should be laid out. What goes on platforms, how high they should be, photograph examples of placement and relative rope positions so things aren’t too low or too high. You send the instructions and all this out in the hope that it happens. I’m not there on-site to oversee the production in those situations, so you have to rely on people to do it. But visual documentation helps to make sure everything gets done the way it should.
With the camera crews, it’s kind of tough. You do your best, but the hardest thing with a lot of remotes is that there are no tally lights, so they don’t know if they’re on or they’re off [screen]. I learned a little bit of Spanish so I can call out camera numbers, certain words like calling the jib [NOTE: a lightweight crane that allows for fluid three-axis movement of a camera from one fixed setup position] the “flotando.” But, by the time you execute these things, it’s three seconds later before you see it. It’s really, really tough.
The WhiteSands Event Center in Plant City, Florida, set up for a ProBox TV broadcast. The jib is visible across the middle of the screen, with the base set up between two rows of tables on the right side of frame and the arm extending across to the middle of the ringRick Tugman
Let’s talk a little bit about the logistics of putting on a boxing show, because it’s like moving a small army, or maybe better to say like bringing the circus to town. Getting a production in and out of a facility and putting on a top quality broadcast is not a simple operation, and I’d like to hear how that impacts you on the creative side, and how you prepare on-site in the days leading up to the live broadcast.
The producers work with us on camera placement [and other setup decisions]. There’s a big technical book that gets put out that’s like the Bible. And that Bible has every [technical, layout, and equipment deployment] question you could ever have answered in there, every detail that you could ever want. That’s usually for the big, big, big shows.
We didn’t have [that level of document depth] for ProBox. Rich and I were able to get a consistent crew after a while and whip the shows into shape. Everyone knew their assignments. We had a setup day on ProBox, because we needed it. We were doing some shows in three languages. French, English, Spanish. And there’s a lot of audio attention needed. Sometimes the audio equipment wasn’t there, and that got rectified later when the owner bought his own production truck and the facilities were all our own. You didn’t have to worry about that, and we could consolidate the prep time and bring the production down to a one day set-and-shoot moving forward.
The ProBox TV production truckRick Tugman
The Bible for logistics, who drives who in what car, which cables are being run where— That falls upon a technical manager to coordinate all that on the largest shows. For the production? All I care about as a director is that everything is placed where I want it, and everything is right. We can see the ring from all the correct angles, there are no blockages, the lighting is right. That’s what we care about.
An example of creative instructions to help guide technical setup included in the “Bible” for ProBox remote showsRick Tugman
And the producer drives the train with the announcers. They are a huge part of a broadcast. Producers meet with them to talk about storylines, who will cover what, who talks about what for which fighters. You trust the technical manager to handle all the technical setup based on what you as the director and the producer of the show ask for, within what the budget limits us to. And then we go from there.
Without getting too artsy or philosophical, one thing that stood out about your ProBox shows, and one of the reasons I particularly enjoyed your work with them, is how your work presented the show beyond basic technical competence in showing the in-ring action. And basic, clean, competent presentation is nothing to dismiss, because plenty of smaller shows face challenges with that. But, there are ways to show the fundamental action and let the audience see what’s happening cleanly, and then there’s a way to bring the action to life in a fuller and more complete way.
There are two specific things that come to mind from your tenure on ProBox: One of the Mexico shows saw a fighter’s ear split, and you and the commentary team were able to bring that incident of a cauliflower ear injury to life in a way right in the moment, while a lesser presentation might not have even noticed or shown it clearly until after a fight was finished.
Second, there was a referee that was dangerously slow to intervene in a fight where Angel Vasquez’s corner was not protecting their fighter, and the fight could and probably should have been stopped rounds ahead of when it finally ended. You and your team brought it to life in a fantastic way. We didn’t just hear commentary speculate on if Vasquez’s corner would stop the fight. The visual presentation put the referee’s share of responsibility right on him, and we saw the referee and his lack of medical engagement between rounds in what looked like it might turn into a very serious situation.
Anything you can tell me about those two situations, or anything else that comes to mind, that helps illuminate how you prepare, what your creative goals or intentions are, or any sort of guiding philosophy you have to elevate your work above a more conventional, paint-by-numbers sort of show?
Listen, the way I approach this is that it’s not just an event for television. I try to bring the viewer into the ring, and into the venue. I’m not just thinking about the fight itself. There’s a bunch of stories involved with every fight. I mentioned a moment ago how a producer collaborates with the on-air talent, and they prepare for storylines we know about in advance. But, there are things that happen live that none of us can predict. And sometimes, the team in the truck or the broadcasters at ringside aren’t aware of everything that’s happening in the moment.
There was a Glory Kickboxing show I did in Denver, where the announcer was Mauro Ranallo, who we all know is a very competent announcer. There was a fighter that didn’t come out after the third round. Well, you have to rely on your camera people, and the camera guy [in the corner] heard what was transpiring, and immediately shot the fighter’s foot. I immediately instructed the technical director to take that camera, which was Camera 4, and you could immediately see the foot was swollen. And that’s why the fighter never came out. Well, Mauro saw it, and immediately responded.
It was incredible, and just one of those things about how you go about telling the story that’s beyond the story. You can’t just sit there on a wide shot and do nothing, because there are things going on around the ring that the viewer at home can’t see, and even the announcers can’t see.
Going back to the ProBox situations you mentioned, in the Mexico show, we knew quickly that there was a problem with the fighter’s ear. I instructed the camera operator to move in. And circle around, because he was set up on the wrong side [to show the injury], and get in there to show the injured ear. And we’re dealing with that language barrier, plus the delay, so now it’s actually three or four seconds later.
We were able to cover it, but not as well as I would have liked. Because a lot of camera guys are afraid to use their lenses. I always tell my camera people: “Don’t be afraid to use your lens. Your lens tells the story.” Zoom in, don’t be afraid to do a slow zoom in and help show the drama.
Talking about the other fight you mentioned, and the referee not getting involved when the fight should have been called earlier, the 90-degree camera showed the relationship and what the referee was doing on the back ropes with the commission. We could shoot the corners with our other three available cameras, and see the red and the blue corners.
The camera layout for a standard ProBox event: 1 and 2 are the “matched cameras,” the head-to-toe (1) and trunks-up (2) angles. 3 and 4 are handheld cameras on the ring apron. 5 is referred to elsewhere in this article as the “90-degree” camera, 90 degrees rotated from the primary camera point of view. 8 is the “jib,” a crane mounted camera that allows for fluid movement. 9 is a fixed angle showing the entire venue. Courtesy: Rick Tugman
Let me interrupt for a moment and have you give your specific definition for what you’re calling the 90-degree camera. Because that can be taken to mean something like an overhead camera in the center of the ring, orthogonally 90 degrees from the surface of the ring, or that could mean a 90 degree angle of view overall, or something offset 90 degrees from the primary position of your main cameras, showing the action from off to one side.
I would call the first thing you mentioned, the overhead view, just an overhead camera. When I’m talking about our 90-degree camera, it’s a viewpoint 90 degrees off from your main matched cameras.
For your main matched cameras, you have two shots from the front of the ring that are most of what a viewer sees. There’s a head-to-toe shot, and a tighter, trunks-up shot. They’re on an elevated position, and those are Camera 1 and Camera 2. They shoot directly towards the ring [and they’re the primary cameras for most of a fight].
Then, the 90-degree is off to the left or the right. Not a full 180 degrees around the ring, just off to one side.
Shooting from around one corner of the ring away from the primary viewpoint, basically.
Yes. Instead of head-on, we shoot from around one corner, and from a higher position.
Then, the other coverage we had is the jib on the right-hand side, which gives you the overhead, also. You’re covered from different angles by different cameras. Which is why I like that 90-degree angle, which is unfortunately something we lost in the later fights in Mexico.
You said a few things earlier about working well with the commentary team, about how guys like Mauro Ranallo can work in tandem with a good production team, and how a producer works in advance to make the most of those opportunities. With ProBox, you were very blessed with your on-air broadcasters, and I’d love to hear what you have to say about how that team, and the fact that you all worked together every two weeks, elevated those shows.
Because it’s one thing for Chris Algieri to say that a fighter’s ear split and will get cauliflowered. But when you can all work together to bring that to the audience, the show looks good, he sounds even better because he has visuals to work with, and the whole collective unit lifts everyone up together. You’ve told me that the team of Mike Goldberg, Paulie Malignaggi, and Chris Algieri are a standout group that’s also quite pleasant to work with. So, take a moment and say some nice things about those guys if you’d like.
We were very blessed with the announcer team on ProBox. Each of them provides their own view and experience, and they’re led by Mike Goldberg. Who not only does his homework, but he’s always on top of his game.
The producer there, in case I didn’t mention it before, was Richard Gaughan, the same producer I worked with at ShoBox. He also brought me along with him when he went to Glory Kickboxing and WSOF, and he’s a multi-award winner that really knows how to produce a boxing event. No delays, no nothing. Everything just flows. Fights after fights, no sitting around on the tale of the tape, waiting for someone to enter. His experience and his ability to get the whole crew on the same page brings a certain flow and a certain symmetry to everything.
So, he works directly with the announcers to go over the storylines and talk through scenarios that could further improve those points. During the show, he’ll be in the truck, and the commentators might be saying something about what’s happening, and he’ll ask them, “Well, how was he in his last fight?” Things like that to prompt them and help them while they talk. It’s my job to listen to him, listen to the announcers, and put the pictures to the words that are being said.
If Paulie talks about a fighter’s stance? I go to the wider shot so we can see their feet, or I might go to the jib for just a few seconds. I don’t like going to the jib very much, because I prefer to use it as a replay element. But, I might go to the jib to show the stance, show the distance. And sometimes, Paulie will talk about the reach. So, I’d go to the tighter shot. That’s called the tight-follow, that’s a shot that shows trunks up. And it shows the reach, how far the fighters are from each other.
Sometimes I’ll go to the apron cameras in either corner. Because I want my shows to be different. I don’t want to do ‘traditional boxing.’ So for my coverage? I have our guys make use of the wide angle lenses that we use. The wide angles are wonderful, because they bring the viewer into the ring. You really see everything that’s going on. But we try to further enhance that, create a cinematic look, shooting through the ropes. We’d establish it from a lower position, hold the shot for a beat or two, then have them [zoom in to visually] push through the ropes. It’s sort of like a movie, and I did that to mix up the coverage and make the show look bigger.
A “through the ropes” shot, seen halfway through the zoom in, from Round 6 of Jean Pascal vs Fanlong MengProBox TV
But, you can’t do these sorts of things without listening. You have to provide the pictures as the announcers tell the story. Then, by doing these things, you’re enhancing the story, and giving those announcers more to speak about.
You mentioned the jib, and how you try to use it for limited, specific reasons. I do love it when it’s purposeful. But one of the things that can drive me nuts about it on other shows? There are other broadcasters and their directors, and I don’t want to call anyone out by name here…
[Laughing] I know who you’re talking about here.
Well, it’s also not exclusive to boxing. But, there’s an approach that just absolutely falls in love with something like the jib, or a complex effect or graphic, and can’t stop forcing it into coverage. “Look at this jib we have! Look how hard we’re using this tool! Look at the way it floats and moves through space!” But, it’s not actually giving me a good visual presentation of what I’m trying to see!
That’s the mistake NFL shows can make with their sky-cam, the cable camera. It’s used too much. It’s a useful tool, I get it. But, in my opinion? It would serve them better… [Pause] In my opinion, they use it too much. That’s all I wanna say; I don’t want to badmouth anybody. Don’t want to badmouth a network or anything like that.
But, I tend to agree with you. I believe in the philosophy that I’ve learned from Showtime, which was a boxing show that was geared towards entertainment. And it didn’t use these things as often, as gratuitously, just because they had it. The philosophy is: Keep the viewer in the arena.
You don’t do what you see in pro wrestling, where they go from an apron camera on one side [of the ring] to the other. They mix it up like that because they have to in wrestling, because they’re trying to hide the punches and slaps. They have to cut quickly, they have no choice. We don’t have to do that in boxing. There’s no reason for it. There’s no reason for me as a director to jar the audience, to change the perspective of what the audience sees.
And this is one thing that drove me nuts. I directed World Series of Fighting, and it drove me nuts how a lot of directors would direct cage fighting. They’d go from left to right, and now the fighters [have swapped sides on the screen]. I have always gone home. And when I say “gone home,” I mean I’ve gone back to the main matched camera, then off to somewhere else. Because I don’t want the viewer being disrupted. I don’t want them jarred or confused. It’s one thing I think about.
I’m there to provide video support. It’s the same thing with a news show. You don’t want an announcer sitting there just reading the news. You have to support it, so you do that with visuals and graphics. And that’s my job. The job of the director. So, that’s what I try to do.
You talking about trying to avoid disorienting the audience leads into a question I have about something more subtle about the inherent limitations and biases of a television presentation. Because the presentation people get influences what people watching see, and how they perceive that fight.
Even if you’re trying to be absolutely neutral in terms of fighter bias, the way the boxers are moving and where they position themselves with respect to the geography of the ring limits your choices. And certain angles or camera positions make an aggressive fighter look more in command, versus others that favor the interpretation of a defensive approach controlling the fight.
The options available to you and the choices you make as a director ultimately influence how people digest and remember these fights for the rest of time. You have a pen in your hand, writing boxing history, and I’m just wondering how that influences your approach when you’re trying to objectively present the fights given the limited angles and positions available to you. Does that question make sense?
Yeah, that makes sense. When a fighter is on the attack, I try to mix it up. Because you ought to show all sides. And when I say “all sides,” I don’t mean chop it up into chop suey. I say that a lot when I direct, “I’m not going to cut this up like it’s chop suey.”
I always establish from the main matched camera, the head-to-toe, and then sometimes cut tight on the trunks-up camera from the same angle. Then, I might go to the right camera apron, depending. And I like to use the apron cameras the most because they show the same level and point-of-view that the fighter sees. Does that make sense?
Okay, so, I won’t go from one apron camera to the other, because I don’t want to jar the audience. And I won’t rush to chop through it, going from Camera 3 on the left apron, to Camera 1, and then to Camera 4 on the opposite side of the apron. I [take the time to] establish everything.
But, sometimes you have to back off and just let things happen. If a fighter is pushed into the back corner or a neutral corner? You want to cover that. So, you get a camera in there to shoot it. I don’t use the [apron camera] unless [the action] is right in your face. That’s another thing I like to say, is: “IN YOUR LIVING ROOM!” Because you have the wide angle camera, and the fight is happening right in front of you, and I say “IN YOUR LIVING ROOM!” to the camera guys because they [and the team in the truck] get a kick out of it. But, it’s true, because that’s what I’m showing the viewer. This is in your living room, you’re seeing the action. If I go back up high, you’re not going to see the same action you do down low.
Or, if a guy gets cornered… If you have a guy in the corner trying to cover up, the way the audience experiences that is drastically different depending on whether we’re seeing it from behind the corner or “facing” the corner. Just seeing an attacking fighter unloading a barrage of punches from over the shoulder of a cornered fighter reads very differently than the reverse angle, where maybe we see those punches landing on the guard as the cornered man slips and blocks.
What I normally do there depends on what corner it is. If it’s in one of the far corners, away from the handheld cameras on the apron? I’ll go to my Camera 2, the tighter, trunks-up shot. So you see the action closer. And, understand now, because we’ve talked about this– I never say I go to the jib, or I go to the 90-degree camera, because I don’t want to change the axis on the viewer. I’m always trying to think about the viewer’s perspective and what they see.
In the corner, with a barrage of punches, nine times out of ten I’m going to Camera 2, which is waist-up, tighter in the corner. That way, if something breaks, I have a place to escape to, which is my Camera 1, the head-to-toe camera.
Let’s shift back to remote integration, and how that’s changed and grown over the course of your career. You’ve used it not just for ProBox shows in Mexico, but other broadcasts for other outlets and sports as well. Can you start us off by just giving a brief sketch, basic definition of what we’re talking about when we discuss remote integration for live multi-cam television, and production on-site being separated from the control room location?
One of the things that’s changed in our business is how things are produced, meaning the way they’re done technically. Many sports broadcasts, including Major League Baseball, the NBA, hockey, have had budget restrictions applied to them. It’s not limited to boxing, it’s happening in all sports. And some people are, but many are not aware of it.
Technology has changed, and the industry has found ways to appease the accountants who want to slash production costs. Remote integration has grown as best as it could, so we can deliver a decent product for the viewer. While many of us have adapted, many events now don’t even travel the announcers. And that’s what we do on the soccer broadcasts I direct.
Well, let me interject a bit, because the two things you just mentioned, soccer specifically and announcers in general, are probably the likeliest thing people will recognize about this as a technical production concept. Soccer fans have heard about their announcers working from a studio outside of the stadium for years now. And, during COVID, a lot of people who watch other sports may have read stories about how the commentary team for other sports were not on-site, either.
This is steps beyond even that, where you as the director or the technical director, and the entire control room crew, are not in Mexico when the ProBox Mexico shows when those shows are happening. You’re all working in Florida.
A second row view of the ProBox TV production truck, the control room used for both Florida shows and remote integration international eventsRick Tugman
That is correct. The technicians, the engineers, have found a way to do this. The producers, directors, and announcers are at a studio location, and the camera feeds are delivered to us at a central location. The soccer I direct now is the same way.
There are things that you lose with that process. On a college basketball game I directed for NBCSN, and the announcers on-site with me were able to see an injured player around the corner. We couldn’t see it [on cameras], but the announcers saw it because they were there. I heard the announcers talk about it, and immediately sent a camera around that corner to get a shot of the injured player. You can’t do that unless the announcers are on-site. Those stories get missed, totally.
When we started doing boxing events in Mexico [for ProBox], our production team was in Florida. You mentioned the story about the fighter with cauliflower ear, and you have to rely on your camera crew to tell that story. These things come from preparation, and you have to rely on your crew. But, there are things that will happen, and you’re just going to miss them. That’s the way it is.
With soccer? It’s a tough situation. The announcers are with us, and they only see what we see. We miss some of the story by not being on-site. Especially with basketball. With basketball, the announcers are on the court. They aren’t up in a booth somewhere. So, while this system can work in some instances, you can only tell certain stories if you’re actually there.
I am sensitive to the other side of it, to a degree. If the money isn’t there to cover everything on location, I am glad we have this technology now that enables us to get a presentation, even if it’s limited, rather than getting nothing at all. In the pre-streaming era, a lot of notable fights, especially internationally, didn’t have an outlet here in the USA.
I think in certain sports, having the announcers there is just such a bonus. But, the business is the business. I’m a working guy like anyone else, I get hired to do the job, and that’s it. All you can do is prepare and deliver the best show possible.
And that’s one thing I loved about Richie Gaughan, my producer from Showtime and at ProBox, is that he’s so very thorough. Preparation, planning for storylines, is something that he embedded into each show, and that I learned from him. Planning ahead is so critical for a successful telecast, and he’s one of the best at it.
Rick Tugman (left) and Rich Gaughan (right)Rick Tugman
Well, while you’re praising people, I know you’ve had a lot of positive things to say about past directors you’ve worked with, the things you picked up from your time working combat sports for Showtime. You’ve also mentioned a few things that are pet peeves, like breaking axis of action, or overemphasis on jib shots. So, as a guy that makes these shows, and also presumably watches these shows to see the good or bad, any other things you appreciate or get annoyed by when you watch someone else’s broadcasts?
There are a lot of really good broadcasts out there, and everyone has their own style. I can’t knock success, and there are a lot of good, successful directors out there. We’re talking now because you liked my style, you said nice things about the work we did, and then we start talking and we found out we had a previous working relationship.
There’s a reason for taking every shot. I never want to be distracting to a viewer, and I don’t want to lean on the same shots over and over again. You want the show to look bigger. And you want to use shots that make the show look bigger. I like a lot of movement. I don’t want a camera that’s just going to sit there and stay static.
And, in boxing, injuries are such a part of the sport. A cut is important. Do we like to look at them? I don’t particularly like to see them, but you have to show it! And you can’t show it by being wide. You have to get in tight. And I like movement, because movement creates drama, and that keeps it interesting to the viewer. One of the pet peeves I have is guys using the same shot over and over again. Mix it up. Don’t let the show get stagnant. That’s my big pet peeve.
Repetition, and static, absence of movement.
Yeah. A lot of directors are just repetitive. Same wide shot, same this, same that, over and over and over. They don’t mix it up.
You parted ways with ProBox back in June, and you’ve had some very nice things to say about the primary people like Mike Goldberg and Richie Gaughan in particular. With [Gaughan], having worked with him extensively before ProBox, I’d assume you two will work together again…
Well, I hope so. [Laughs]
Well, I’m a guy who spent 15 years on and off some of these sorts of crews, sometimes as a somewhat essential regional hire, and sometimes just a local hire as a lower level flunky. So, on behalf of my tribe, are there any other people on the technical or camera crew you’d like to recognize?
Because a unit only works when everyone can pull their weight. And this obviously wasn’t a PPV level, Showtime Sports budget sort of event. But, it was a damn good show, and I’d like to give you the chance to call out anyone on that crew so they can see their name in this story, and know that even three or four months down the line, you still remember and appreciate them.
Thank you. Richie and I were very proud [of the crew we had]. They listened, they did exactly what we asked, and we were able to be creative together. That crew did a great job. We had a great replay and playback team, Jennifer [Lingo] and Matt [Lehtonen]. The audio team we assembled, led by a guy named Santiago [Dobles], they were wonderful.
It took us a while to iron out all the details. This was a complicated show, because you had English, Spanish, and sometimes another language. We were sending feeds to China, to Canada, and the main broadcast was being seen all over the world because of YouTube and the subscription service.
Chris [Algieri], Juan [Manuel Marquez], and Claudia Trejos, they were all just wonderful and such a pleasure. Everybody brought something to the table. Sharni [Yerke] in graphics, everything just melded together. It felt like we really built something special in Florida, and it was a great time. There were growing pains when we started, but we were able to refine it to a network standard which anyone would have been proud of.
And that came from a consistent, talented crew. We didn’t want it to be a local cable boxing telecast. And you can see the difference, it was evident in the productions. I know your readers noticed it, and I appreciated that [from Bad Left Hook’s coverage and live audience comments during ProBox events].
NOTE: After our interview, Rick sent a list of other crew members he didn’t specifically name in his original response that he wanted to acknowledge, including technical director Gio Guerrero, engineers Fred Chocce and Blas Russo, utility Vince Fugett, Jr., and the camera team of: Mark Inman, Bobby Sanchez, Evan Stewart, Vincent Fugett, Sr., Jose Carlos Ortega, Hugo Munez, Jose Bueso, and Javier Leon.
Left to right: Claudia Trejos, Chris Algieri, Rich Gaughan (Executive Producer & On Air Producer), Paulie Malignaggi, Jim Sorensen (Production Manager), Ruben De Jesus (COO ProBox Promotions & Matchmaker), Garry Jonas (CEO ProBox Promotions), George Jakovic (Producer also now Talent Talk Show moderator – formerly with HBO Sports), Juan Manuel Marquez, Doug Deluca (Executive Producer & also currently Co-Executive Producer with Jimmy Kimmel LIVE), Rick TugmanRick Tugman
Well, I’m very sad to see you gone from ProBox, but it does sound like you have plenty of other things keeping you busy. I guess I’ll have to start watching women’s soccer now if I want to keep seeing your shows.
Hey, I’m having a good time. And I do some [non-boxing] things for DAZN from a facility in Denia Beach, Florida, which is right by the Fort Lauderdale airport. It was nice of DAZN, they asked me to direct [a boxing show] for them. And I would have loved to have done it, but I was in Italy at the time.
Well, I know I’ve had you talking for a long time, so I promise we’ll wrap up soon. This is already going to be the War and Peace of Bad Left Hook interviews.
Let’s wrap up with advice for young production people. There are not a lot of places for people who think they want to do live sports to get school experience doing extensive multi-cam field production. It’s the hardest thing to teach at the college level, because it’s all an orchestra that has to play together, live and in real time, with no safety net.
What do you tell aspiring sports broadcasters? Meaning the technical side, not on-air talent. When I taught, I used to tell people that if there was anything else they could do for a living and still be happy, to go do that instead. But, for the people who can’t… What do you tell a young person that’s driven towards your line of work?
My career actually started in 1974 as a film courier for WPLG, an ABC station here in Florida. I was 16 when I moved here, and not quite 18 when I got that job. And, after a few months, I kicked myself in the ass and said, “Hey, stupid, why don’t you learn something about this business?”
So, I started coming in seven days a week, 15 hours a day, and I started learning. I learned how to do Chyron [graphics], I sat in the control room, and that’s where I got started on the control room background that I have. One thing led to another, I’m helping on the weekend, and the weekend assignment editor there was a name people may recognize, John Zarrella. [Imitating a broadcaster voice:] “John Zarella, CNN, Cape Canaveral.”
John Zarrella was the weekend assignment director, and also the midday noon news producer. He was a one man band! And there was opportunity for me to come in and learn. Then, when an opportunity opened up for a weekend newscast director, I walked up to the executive producer and asked him to consider me for that job. Then, he points his finger at me, and he says: “Rick! Consider yourself considered!”
He comes back to me 10 minutes later, and tells me to come in that weekend to try out for the job. Which was a job I’d already been doing anyway! They gave two or three other people a tryout, I got the job, and that’s how I really got into television. So, when I tell people how I got my start, I tell them to get an internship, take any opportunity, show an interest, be around, and you will not regret it.
That’s the only advice I can really give. And it’s not easy! Just try to get in anywhere you can, show an interest without being a nuisance. I would always try to show somebody who asked how I do things and why I do things when I was a technical director. But, there weren’t that many people who did. It’s one of the things that really pays off, though.
And I have to relate it to my own experience. If I didn’t meet Rick Phillips in Virginia once upon a time, would I have ended up at Showtime? I don’t know!
I got lucky with Fox Sports, some people knew me, so they gave me a shot doing hockey. And from that, some directors got to know me. I had also been doing Mets spring training, and the director for [New York City TV station] WWOR doing spring training baseball was the same director who was hired for baseball by FOX. His executive producer wouldn’t let him do baseball and made him back out, but by then I was under a contract. So, they moved me over to Ray Tipton, the director for the Philadelphia Phillies, and I worked with Ray for years, up until about 2013.
I was very, very fortunate. That’s what I tell people. Seize the opportunities, because they aren’t always out there.