When Thomas Hauser tore the HBO budget apart in September, with a cut of $15 million dollars announced for the next boxing year, his criticism towards Ross Greenburg was deserved.
His plan to bring the stars of the future, coincidentally all promoted by Golden Boy, was an epic failure. Victor Ortiz quit against Marcos Rene Maidana, James Kirkland is in jail for possession of firearms, Chris Arreola was very one-dimensional for the classy Vitali Klitschko, and his F-bombing was hardly in the HBO role model criteria. Plus Alfredo Angulo left it too late against Kermit Cintron, who is hardly a presentable character.
The analysis of HBO’s 2009 boxing programme is as up and down as the current stock exchange this year. It began with a bang, as Andre Berto, the only highly hyped HBO star to make it to world stardom, surviving a middle round revival by Luis Collazo to eke out a unanimous decision. A week later, Shane Mosley demolished Antonio Margarito, after the added extra hype to the fight when Margarito was found with an illegal substance in his handwraps. HBO had a much better January than predicted with two competitive fights producing storylines for the media to develop a fairytale effect.
Then came the first Boxing After Dark tripleheader, the first of many poor cards on HBO. With Nate Campbell failing to make weight for the main event against Ali Funeka, HBO struggled to keep the public interested in the main event, by dismissing the fight and slating Campbell for his hypocritical standard. On the undercard, Sergio Gabriel Martinez and Kermit Cintron gave us an ugly clash of styles and a controversial contest that was stopped by the referee, then restarted again, with all sorts of confusion inside and outside the ring. Then came the main event. Campbell against Funeka dragged even if it was an intense fight. But the overall card looked a little rough and over-priced. The advertising was all revolving around Nate Campbell, nothing about Funeka, nothing about Martinez and Cintron. Campbell let HBO down with his unprofessionalism.
The Boxing Tribune’s Fight of the Year followed with Juan Manuel Marquez showing us all that technique overpowers fury in an outstanding fight that maintained HBO’s higher quality of match-ups. There were no criticism of Greenburg at this point, but three Golden Boy cards out of the first four riled promoters such as Gary Shaw and Don King, who promoted the other non-Golden Boy fight card of Campbell-Funeka. They began to voice their disgust at the biased HBO date schedule, protesting that Golden Boy got first pick and how impossible it was to book a date with the broadcasters. The stirring continued, and after time, unravelled one of HBO’s biggest failures this year, the prospect’s failure to make the promise land.
The next Boxing After Dark featured James Kirkland headlining, who steam-rolled through Joel Julio. Victor Ortiz did the same to Mike Arnaoutis and Robert Gurrero bailed as a result of a head-butt.
Five highly uncompetitive fights later; among them was Manny Pacquiao’s kayo of Ricky Hatton, which kept the stakeholders happy with Pay-Per-View numbers higher than expected. The fans were already in depression mode as the other fights, only three rounds went against the HBO backed fighters and all of which were won by Antonio Tarver against Chad Dawson.
Miguel Cotto was a welcome face to HBO bosses. They expected something big, especially with the Puerto Rican Parade on the weekend. Cotto struggled and his performance didn’t match expectation, even if it was gripping. Then, HBO lost one of their prospects. With Summer cancellations proving to be a thorn in Greenburg’s side, HBO and Golden Boy were counting on Victor Ortiz to pull out the goods against Marcos Maidana. After a rush of blood to the head, Ortiz failed to capitalize on the bright start and after much persuasion from the crowd, fought Maidana’s fight which turned out to be an entertaining slugfest. This was another Fight of the Year candidate, but viewing was down since the poor Spring scheduling.
This saw the demise of HBO sports and resulted in the 20% budget cut expected for next year. This, and the catapulting of Showtime, who had launched a unique six man Super Middleweight Tournament which had captured the imaginations of all the boxing media and fans, resulted in criticism towards HBO directors. Lack of imagination, no creativity, bias towards Golden Boy, was only some accusations thrown out by boxing fans. But when do we know best, we’re always completely ignored by HBO, are we?
That’s what needs to be changed. HBO need to listen to the call from the public. That’s what Showtime have done, and they’re competing with HBO, which was unheard of 12 months ago.
Looking at figures mentioned in Hauser’s article, $3.2 million for Dawson-Tarver II after twelve rounds of tedium action. Even Max Kellerman, a HBO analyst that rarely voices opinions on his own broadcast, described the rematch as a fight “that nobody wanted to see.” So why waste a high percentage of your budget on an useless bout? Why not fork out $3.2 million to provide a better undercard for Pay-Per-View events.
Another mistake HBO made was turn down Carl Froch vs. Jermain Taylor, a fight that united a nation here in the UK. Not only that, they preferred Jemain Taylor vs. Jeff Lacy, seeing it as a more “entertaining affair.” And just to rub salt in the wound, Showtime paid around a $1 million less on the Froch-Taylor broadcast than HBO did on Dawson-Tarver II.
Pushing and pressurizing contenders is not the way forward. Arreola didn’t deserve a shot at Vitali Klitschko because he stopped Jameel McCline. He was not equipped to fight a Klitschko, or anyone near his calibre. If broadcasters only paid more attention to developing a charismatic fighter such as Arreola, instead of heavily hyping and over marketing him, maybe he would turn out to be a future world champion. HBO asked Arreola to run before he could walk. In boxing, that is unforgivable.
Bob Arum backed up Don King’s argument “HBO gave all their dates to one promoter, whose stable has now been wiped out. They would love to give us dates, but they can’t. They’ve committed dates to Golden Boy, who now has no fighters except retreads to put in. It was the wrong decision when they made it and now it’s coming home to roost.”
It’s not often I agree with Arum, but he was right. Pressure was growing on Greenburg, and didn’t he know it. Now was the time to pull it out of the bag and show us why he’s in the job.
The revival started with Dawson-Johnson II, a delayed rematch which saw how much Dawson has progressed under the wing of HBO and Showtime over the past year. A truly dominating performance, but not action-packed. Then Golden Boy receive yet another date, this time an over-priced Lucian Bute vs. Librado Andrade II which ended much quicker than expected and Guzman-Funeka was just a farce, nothing else to it.
Of course, I missed out the minor point in Manny Pacquiao and Miguel Cotto, which achieved 1.25 million hits. But why the throw money away at events, just to out-price Showtime?
I’ll ask the same old age question. What would you do if you were the head of a major broadcaster right now?
The first thing I would do will be settling the Manny Pacquiao vs. Floyd Mayweather Jr. dispute settled. Set a date, mark the stadium. But don’t focus all the attention on that match-up. If they’re being stubborn again, show them the money or show them the door. You can revolve things around a big fight, but don’t lose out on another enticing bout because you showed no interest as you were concentrating on Mayweather-Pacquiao, which could not materialize. Then add 12 competitive fights, one each calendar month, all of which are mouth-watering match-ups, ignoring bigger washed up former superstars and concentrate on the real ‘Champions’. The #1 in their weight class, not alphabet bashers.
Get Chad Dawson an opponent with a pulse. He’s talented, don’t feed him Tarver and Johnson because he’ll be waiting for years for Bernard Hopkins, who’ll never fight Dawson. Jean Pascal or Tavoris Cloud could make a sound fight with Dawson, no need for a big name.
Forget about the heavyweights unless Klitschko vs. Haye can be made. It’s the only match-up out there worthy of live coverage. Another Klitschko vs. Small Mouthy American doesn’t do it for me, as the end result is very predictable.
Ignore Kelly Pavlik until he gets into the groove of things again. Names like Lucian Bute would make a good fight, Paul Williams even if Pavlik feels confident enough. Maybe Felix Sturm will be tempted to come out of Germany is he is to train with Freddie Roach. If he decides to fight Gary Locket and Miguel Espino, don’t give him the pleasure of manipulating you.
Rival Showtime’s tournament with your own. The light welterweight tournament is highly likely for 2010, with Devon Alexander, Amir Khan, Marcos Rene Maidana and Victor Ortiz in the potential line-up. Any of those fights make good viewing, and Ortiz-Maidana II must be a ratings winner.
Get the little boys more coverage. Koki Kameda vs. Daisuke Naito might not be your cup of tea, but I would watch it over any Angulo vs. Tomato Can any day. Include American Brian Viloria with talented Ivan Calderon and show the rematch between Edgar Sosa and Rodel Mayol. Don’t pay out a seven figure pay-check, but give them something to feed off, a bit of exposure.
Stop concentrating on races, it’s just plain naive. Trying to get Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. on an undercard to get the Mexicans interested isn’t going to work. Giving a post-prime and mentally battered Miguel Cotto another date against a second grade fighter such as Clottey just because he’s Puerto Rican is lacking testicular fortitude to show authority. I understand where they’re coming from but it’s hardly a necessity. I don’t think the Mexican fans will feel discriminated because they miss out on Chavez Jr. again.
Give equilibrium to all boxing promoters. Cherry-pick the best match-ups, not the best promoters. They’re all hyenas, none of them are innocent. Treat them all the same way.
HBO has the power to change the sport, but it feels like they’re suffocating the fans’ needs and give Dana White something to smile about. Boxing needs HBO, but HBO needs someone to help lift some weight off their shoulders. Maybe Showtime is doing just that with the tournament, directing some limelight towards their broadcasting strategy, but HBO need to grab the concept of boxing again, what it means to the people of America and the fans of the Sweet Science. They need to create the buzz that surrounded the sport in the 80’s, with your Hagler’s and Leonard’s.
The sport is relying on Ross Greenburg, but can he deliver?