We need to take a second here and just be totally honest with ourselves: HBO Boxing is no longer deserving of the distinction of being the “Network of Champions,” but more so “Relic of Yesteryear.”
This isn’t coming as a delayed reaction to yet another underperforming pay-per-view, the second starring both Gennady Golovkin and Roman Gonzalez, nor is it because they are on pace of having one pay-per-view fight for each fight on their normal syndication. It is coming because a three-year plus experiment to rebrand the network has ultimately left them creatively bankrupt and with a budget that is so small that they might as well be transitioning out of the game altogether.
How did it get to this point?
A pair of uneventful transitions of leadership, a stale culture that proved unable to adapt to change as well as the most basic of all functions, delivering the fights people care for, all have brought HBO Boxing to its knees with a total overhaul necessary to bring them up to speed in this new era of the sport.
When Ken Hershman came on board, the writing was on the wall that budget issues were going to be a huge deal, so Hershman had to immediately cut ties with Al Haymon and his expensive, but marketable roster, as well as Floyd Mayweather at the peak of his drawing powers to rival network Showtime. Hershman’s tenure at HBO also coincided with the heavy investments made on both Golovkin and Gonzalez to become stars, as well as Light Heavyweight Sergey Kovalev and current Junior Lightweight king Vasyl Lomachenko.
The Golovkin/Gonzalez experiment has to be considered a disappointment at best because with as heavily hyped and forced upon the public as they are, the two failed to establish themselves as a paid commodity as indicated by their pay-per-view numbers. Not only that, the continued insistence of pay-per-view is continuing to become a pitfall for them.
This year alone, it seems that the network is on track for a 1/1 ratio of regular network fights to pay-per-views with four fights to be aired on regular HBO and two pay shows with at least three more that can be potentially scheduled in the coming weeks. Outside of Saul Alvarez and Pacquiao, there is no attraction that can merit a hefty $60 price tag to accommodate their shrinking budget.
Things need to change to adapt the product to the changing landscape of the sport. One of the easiest ways to develop a star isn’t to feature them in walk over fights time and time again decrying their greatness, but to create a compelling match up, actually build up to it and finally strike when the time is right.
Did we get any of that in Golovkin/Jacobs? Besides hearing about how Golovkin is the most fearsome fighting force on the planet, there was very little fanfare about the fight which contributed to the final numbers. Last year, HBO told everybody that Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev were going to fight in a huge showdown, but you wouldn’t have known with how passively the fight was actually handled and that showed with a porous buy rate of 160,000.
Premier Boxing Champions has done a phenomenal job using this basic formula and so did HBO at one point, but there’s very little narrative or creativity when it comes to their booking and while we as fans love a good fight, we’ll be twice as happy for the drama leading up to it.
Why not a tournament like the Super Six or the Middleweight tournament held almost 20 years ago? If big name fighters like Pacquiao or Ward aren’t willing to take the gamble, then it is the perfect opportunity to find new stars on the cheap and have them evolve before our eyes.
Lastly, a change in infrastructure needs to come with a bit or rearranging and that has to do with some staff. As much as Jim Lampley has done for the sport, it really is time for Max Kellerman to assume his role as the lead announcer for broadcasts just like he did when HBO determined that Larry Merchant had to go. Keeping Roy Jones is a good idea and adding a third commentator that can be both impartial and informative would be a welcomed upgrade to an announcing team that might as well be pom-pom waving as they’re working.
I know it’s a laundry list of gripe, but it would be nice to see something new for a change. This post-Mayweather/Pacquiao era and the transition to giving access back to the public is what the sport needs and now is as good of a time as any to start making changes to ensure boxing takes a step out of the dark ages and into the forefront once again.