Behind The ScenesBoxingESPN History

“Battle” ready: Tess’ takes on co-hosting ABC’s BOTNS, calling ESPN’s PacMan-Horn fight

Studio host and play-by-play voice Joe Tessitore is accustomed to big events. During the college football season, he has a knack for being involved in key games that go down to the wire – akaThe Tess Effect.”

While football season is still a few months away, Tessitore has a particularly big week ahead, even by his standards. Thursday night, he will co-host ABC’s reboot of the famed Battle of the Network Stars series (9 p.m. ET), alongside fellow ESPNers Mike Greenberg, Cari Champion and Cassidy Hubbarth. Editor’s Note: The series was taped earlier this spring at Pepperdine University – the site of the original shows years ago – in Malibu, Calif.

Tessitore then will be ringside this weekend in Australia with boxing analyst Teddy Atlas to call the much anticipated “Battle of Brisbane” between WBO welterweight champion Manny Pacquiao and undefeated No. 1 world-rated contender Jeff Horn (Saturday, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN and ESPN Deportes).

Tessitore spoke with Front Row about being part of the new BOTNS, a series he watched regularly growing up.

Did you watch the original BOTNS series?
I was a kid of the ’70s, then high school in the ’80s. Those were prime original BOTNS years. In terms of impressionable age, Greeny and I are right in the Battle wheelhouse. To be hosting it on the original campus, with the same events and set up, was like being transported back in time.

What do you remember about the original BOTNS series?
I was always amazed by how seriously the celebrities took the competition. Heck, Gabe Kaplan and Robert Conrad almost came to blows. Welcome Back Kotter [Kaplan was the lead actor in the ’70s ABC sitcom] versus the tough guy [Conrad] from the battery commercials. For some reason, [Happy Days actor] Scott Baio always stuck out to me as a good athlete. Of course, I loved Happy Days. And ABC producers weren’t bashful about showcasing [actresses] Lynda Carter, Valerie Bertinelli, Charlene Tilton and Catherine Bach in swimsuits. Even better was how much they crushed it in the events. BOTNS was like mixing Studio 54 and the Wide World of Sports with an open bar.

What did you enjoy about being part of the series reboot?
Aside from Jimmy “JJ” Walker in the dunk tank, aside from Erik Estrada convincing modern Baywatch stars, he is still an American sex symbol. … It was network TV fantasyland for two weeks – the oddest mix of TV celebs spanning generations. Honestly, you had to stop yourself from laughing every moment of the day with the surreal circumstances you were experiencing. It was a lot of work, yet it never felt that way.

What star impressed you the most with his/her athletic ability?
There were some young stars who were good athletes. LaMonica Garrett, who plays Mike the secret service agent from [ABC’s] Designated Survivor, looks like an NFL player. Corbin Bleu from Disney’s High School Musical can flat out run. Kelly Hu can fly as well. Vanessa Lachey was great. Ted McGinley was a sensational swimmer. And some of the [Freeform’s] Pretty Little Liars stars are ridiculously strong athletes.

But, I was most impressed with the older stars who’ve stayed in excellent shape and can motor. This will blow your mind, but Isaac [actor Ted Lange] – the bartender from the Love Boat, Anson Williams – Potsie from Happy Days, both Tootie [Kim Fields] and Blair [Lisa Whelchel] from The Facts of Life all have game. Then there was this stunner – the Osbourne kids [Kelly and Jack], of whom [parents] Sharon and Ozzy would be proud. That pretty much sums up how wacky the past month has been.

Do you have any good stories from the tapings?
You couldn’t believe the conversations and situations you ended up in with the most eclectic mix of celebs. … Someone said to me, “You went from calling the College Football Playoff with [Alabama head coach] Nick Saban earlier this year to now broadcasting [The Brady Bunch’s] Greg Brady [actor Barry Williams] taking on Dr. Michael Mancini [actor Thomas Calabro] from Melrose Place, while [actor] Taye Diggs roots them on.” Yet the circus of it all didn’t matter. It was pure competition. They went all out, and we loved it.

Tessitore on calling the Pacquiao vs. Horn fight in Australia

What are your expectations for this weekend’s “Battle of Brisbane” fight in Australia?
“This is a huge win for mainstream sports fans and an even bigger win for loyal boxing fans. For years now, fight fans have been conditioned to spending big money multiple times a year in order to watch the global stars of the fight game. Now they can just turn to ESPN on a Saturday night. They can take it all in the same way they do for other high-profile championship events like the College Football Playoff or the NBA Finals. This level of event – a Manny Pacquiao title fight, and a card filled with rising star prospects – is just as special.

“I love the movie script storylines coming to life. The local hero, the undefeated upset-minded Jeff Horn, is taking on the living legend world champion. He is going to do it in front of 60,000 fans, outside in a stadium atmosphere, and they all believe their real life Rocky can pull it off. Teddy and I have been on-air ringside partners for over 15 years. We have called hundreds of fights together.

“This will be far different than any of those, and we can’t wait. I can only imagine how special it’ll be for Teddy to have his former world champion Timothy Bradley join us on the broadcast especially considering that not long ago those two were going up against Pacquiao as a team.”

Back to top button