HBO: You’re Blowin’ It Sons, You’re Blowin’ It!
By Brian Gorman, Doghouse Boxing (May 29, 2010) Doghouse Boxing  
Like the claims of boxing’s death, repeated prognostications about HBO’s imminent fall from its perch at the top of the sport’s echelon have been greatly exaggerated. In fact, in the all-important hierarchy of boxing media coverage there’s HBO, then there’s Showtime, then there’s ESPN and everybody else.

We have learned, however, that in America no one is untouchable, something the boxing world knows full well: The moment that those on top start resting on their laurels of believed invincibility – such as Max Baer and Mike Tyson
– is when they are most vulnerable.

If we can agree that a matchmaker’s charge is to give the fans the best fights and bouts between the best fighters, and preferably both, then HBO’s mixed results of the last decade far outshone its poor product this year.

Simply put, even with the push from the intriguing Showtime super middleweight tournament, HBO has shifted into cruise control and, worse yet, it’s not even steering anymore.

The quality of its matches has deteriorated and it continues to acquiesce to elite boxers avoiding each other in obvious situations, and it’s not a coincidence. If the network recognizes its current shortcomings and wants to change, here’s a blueprint to turn it around:

1) If you know the winner before the first bell rings, think twice about agreeing to air the bout.

To date HBO has had ten cards this year including over 20 fights, and I’ve incorrectly predicted the winner in exactly two – Tomasz Adamek beating Chris Arreola April 24 and Joan Guzman decisioning Ali Funeka March 26 (which still went on despite Guzman weighing a whopping nine pounds over the lightweight limit of 135). I’m not that good.

After a June 5 Miguel Cotto-Yuri Foreman main event that at least provides uncertainty if not excitement, most of the summer schedule features more of the same. Here’s an early betting tip: Take Tim Bradley, Juan Manuel Marquez, Devon Alexander and Chad Dawson, and buy me a drink with your winnings.

That’s not to say it’s all bad – undercards featuring Joe Greene versus Vanes Matirosyan (June 5) and Tavoris Cloud against Glen Johnson (August 7) are slam dunks, but there’s no excuse that solid contests like these serve as the exception rather than the rule. Maybe the suits at HBO have a problem…

2) Flex your muscle.

Here’s a quiz that anyone who reads this site will ace: Who should Tim Bradley have fought next? Easy, Devon Alexander, right? How about Manny Pacquiao? No doubt there, Floyd Mayweather. Nonito Donaire? Vic Darchinyan, of course. Sergio Martinez? Paul Williams.

Year after year, boxing fans constantly endure obvious top-flight showdowns that never materialize, and HBO should accept its complicity in this problem.

How is it, just as one example, that Bradley-Alexander will not occur, but HBO will feature Bradley and Alexander against Luis Abregu and Andres Kotelnik? Why does it allow promoters and sanctioning bodies to dictate its programming schedule?

Note to HBO: You have the greatest amount of money and exposure for a fighter. You have no equal competition, and yet you make exclusive deals with promoters, often reserve dates for fighters without a named opponent and fail to make promoters follow through on their promises to match fighters you agree to showcase together. (See Yuriorkis Gamboa and Juan Manuel Lopez.)

You hold the cards. You have the leverage. Worried that Bob Arum might get upset if you exhibit your strength over his promotional firm? He’ll come back to you, if he knows what’s good for Top Rank. He’ll have to.

3) Let stars be made in the ring, not in the boardroom.

In the past couple years, HBO has christened several young prospects as its next generation of stars: Chris Arreola, Victor Ortiz, Alfredo Angulo and Juan Diaz. One by one, they all lost when they stepped up against top ten veterans.

Consider Andre Berto. Despite several HBO showcases, he didn’t earn his lofty status until he gutted out a tough win over Luis Collazo, followed by victories over Juan Urango and Carlos Quintana, all respectable opposition. The Collazo bout especially showed the essence of prizefighting – the boxers’ purses that night are already guaranteed, so they’re actually fighting for future purses.

Maybe the prospects named above will still materialize into stars, maybe not. But until HBO stops attempting to manufacture stardom and starts demanding that prospects earn their stripes, and their fan followings, in the ring, they’ll relegate themselves to being another promoter instead of the epicenter of the sport.

4) The number of shows you put on in a year shouldn’t matter.

In the past two years, HBO’s total shows have significantly declined; however, while that has some impact on its product top to bottom, it shouldn’t affect the most important piece of the program, the fights of the year.

Consider my list below of HBO’s number of shows and best fights of each year of the 2000s.* There’s little if any correlation between the two. Instead, the network just has to deal with less margin of error.

In the 2000s, the best fights have been terrific in spite of Roy Jones, Jr. Bernard Hopkins and, later, Floyd Mayweather, Jr. alternating with gimmees and showcases. The total shows spiked back up in 2006 and 2007, two years considered poor overall by most. And last year, HBO had a very good year in spite of only 20 shows.

Fans will care little whether HBO puts on 20 shows or 30 shows in a year if it nails the ten best.

5) Make sure your matchmaker is a boxing guy first.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the fights the fans demand to see. I’ve said it before and will say it again, most people reading this could serve as matchmakers, in terms of the fights that should get made.

Perhaps this all seems unduly critical, but consider: Imagine for a few moments that you, the fan, could by and large give final approval and veto to the most important fights our sport has to offer. Now just think about the possibilities. Guess what, fella? You were just HBO for those moments. Would you have done it the same way they are?

HBO’s Biggest and Best of the 2000s

2000 (29 shows): Erik Morales – Marco Antonio Barrera
Shane Mosley – Oscar De La Hoya
Felix Trinidad – Fernando Vargas

2001 (29):
Floyd Mayweather, Jr. – Diego Corrales
Marco Antonio Barrera – Naseem Hamed
Bernard Hopkins – Felix Trinidad
Lennox Lewis – Hasim Rahman I & II

2002 (23):
Vernon Forrest – Shane Mosley I & II
Floyd Mayweather, Jr. – Jose Luis Castillo I & II
Arturo Gatti – Micky Ward I & II
Lennox Lewis – Mike Tyson
Erik Morales – Marco Antonio Barrera II
Oscar De La Hoya – Fernando Vargas

2003 (23):
Ricardo Mayorga – Vernon Forrest
Vassily Jirov – James Toney
Arturo Gatti – Micky Ward III
Lennox Lewis – Vitali Klitschko
Shane Mosley – Oscar De La Hoya II
Antonio Tarver – Roy Jones, Jr.
Manny Pacquiao – Marco Antonio Barrera

2004 (21):
Winky Wright – Shane Mosley I & II
Cory Spinks – Zab Judah
Lamon Brewster – Wladimir Klitschko
Juan Manuel Marquez – Manny Pacquiao
Antonio Tarver – Roy Jones, Jr. II
Roy Jones, Jr. – Glen Johnson
Antonio Tarver – Glen Johnson
Bernard Hopkins – Oscar De La Hoya
Erik Morales – Marco Antonio Barrera III

2005 (22):
Erik Morales – Manny Pacquiao
Winky Wright – Felix Trinidad
Antonio Tarver – Glen Johnson II
Floyd Mayweather, Jr. – Arturo Gatti
Jermain Taylor – Bernard Hopkins I & II
Miguel Cotto – Ricardo Torres
Wladimir Klitschko – Sam Peter
Antonio Tarver – Roy Jones, Jr. III

2006 (33):
Erik Morales – Manny Pacquiao II & III
Shane Mosley – Fernando Vargas I & II
Floyd Mayweather, Jr. – Zab Judah
Floyd Mayweather, Jr. – Carlos Baldomir
Bernard Hopkins – Antonio Tarver
Jermain Taylor – Winky Wright
Marco Antonio Barrera – Rocky Juarez I & II

2007 (28):
Kelly Pavlik – Jermain Taylor
Juan Manuel Marquez – Marco Antonio Barrera
Floyd Mayweather, Jr. – Oscar De La Hoya
Floyd Mayweather, Jr. – Ricky Hatton
Miguel Cotto – Zab Judah
Miguel Cotto – Shane Mosley
Ricky Hatton – Jose Luis Castillo
Paul Williams – Antonio Margarito
Bernard Hopkins – Winky Wright
Manny Pacquiao – Marco Antonio Barrera II
Joe Calzaghe – Mikkel Kessler

2008 (29):
Paul Williams – Carlos Quintana I & II
Kelly Pavlik – Jermain Taylor II
Nate Cambpell – Juan Diaz
Juan Manuel Marquez – Manny Pacquiao II
Joe Calzaghe – Bernard Hopkins
Antonio Margarito – Miguel Cotto
Juan Manuel Marquez – Joel Casamayor
Bernard Hopkins – Kelly Pavlik
Manny Pacquiao – Oscar De La Hoya

2009 (20):
Andre Berto – Luis Collazo
Shane Mosley – Antonio Margarito
Juan Manuel Marquez – Juan Diaz
Paul Williams – Winky Wright
Manny Pacquiao – Ricky Hatton
Miguel Cotto – Joshua Clottey
Marcos Maidana – Victor Ortiz
Vitali Klitschko – Chris Arreola
Chad Dawson – Glen Johnson II
Manny Pacquiao – Miguel Cotto
Paul Williams – Sergio Martinez

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