If there was any better indicator as to the health of HBO Boxing, one should look no further than their upcoming slate of programming which has been promoted seemingly under near anonymity.
“Superfly” features three critical matches in the Super Flyweight division, which has long been under the radar to casual fight fans because nobody knows who fights there and the fighters are not exactly easy sells to the public at large. The next week, Saul Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin face off in a fight that “real” boxing people want you believe is the biggest fight that could be made in the sport, and those same people are already winding up their excuse that the fatigue from Mayweather/McGregor has affected sales and not an anemic promotional effort as indicated by Oscar De La Hoya’s run-of-the-mill Mayweather induced outbursts. Finally, Jorge Linares faces off against Luke Campbell, but it is a fight so uninteresting that they’ve just decided to let it happen and hope people see it.
This has been the norm for the rudderless ship since Ken Hershman took over in 2013 and later stepped down to hand the reigns to Peter Nelson, but it is so much worse now than I originally thought it would be at the beginning of the year. Now I’ll admit that HBO is on my shit list pretty often, but that’s because it’s an easy target and despite everything, they only seem to be worse and worse off.
Take the news last month that Top Rank and ESPN just closed a mega deal that essentially ended a long-time love affair between Bob Arum and HBO. The deal ensures that Top Rank will be airing 16 fights over the course of the next four years, and keep in mind that this is a deal made purely due to HBOs unwillingness to deal with the power brokers in boxing. Arum’s decision to leave HBO was an easy one for him to make, especially since he had been stiffed multiple times over when it came to getting fights for Terence Crawford and Manny Pacquiao with them only bending for Vasyl Lomachenko.
Last year, Arum had to see HBO flat out refuse Pacquiao’s fall clash against Jessie Vargas because it would come into conflict with the Andre Ward/Sergey Kovalev pay-per-view and also had to forcefully stage Terence Crawford vs. Viktor Postol on a sure to fail pay-per-view that did just that. The windfall came out of Arum’s pocket and withered away the remaining amount of patience he had with the new regime as they actively began favoring Golden Boy Promotions and K2 Promotions, giving them dates well in advance and forcing Arum’s hand.
Pacquiao’s fight with Jeff Horn will probably go down as the biggest boxing event of the year behind Mayweather/McGregor, and the careers of Terence Crawford and Vasyl Lomachenko are about to take off in a big way with big fights waiting each of them, and HBO is going to have to deal with the fact that ESPN is going to air all of it. And for what? Well, pretty much the ability to have exclusivity to the likes of Roman Gonzalez, Gennady Golovkin and Sergey Kovalev.
Those three fighters, sans Lomachenko, made the bulk of HBOs programming over the course of the last four years and all of them have seen their stock hampered significantly. Golovkin narrowly avoided calamity against Daniel Jacobs last April to go right into a fight with Alvarez that he very well may lose, Gonzalez is aging rapidly in a weight class he’s too small for and might not avenge his defeat to Sriskrat Sor Rungsivai this weekend and Sergey Kovalev was knocked out so bad by Ward last month, he is contemplating whether or not this boxing thing is worth the trouble at all anymore.
This all happened in the span of three months, and the best they can say they’re doing to future proof their brand is introducing Japanese prodigy Naoya Inoue this weekend to eventually but Gonzalez out of his misery next year. They could have hoped to further their relationship with Andre Ward, especially after he twice beat Kovalev, but that might be off the table as Ward’s contractwith the network has expired and he may very well end up with Top Rank in the immediate future. Alvarez has been the biggest money mover the network has had since Pacquiao’s heyday, but the broadcasting team has done their part to turn him into a pariah as they puffed up their homegrown hero Golovkin.
Things need to change, but they are not going to. The battle has already been lost to Premier Boxing Champions and Top Rank’s deal with ESPN. Boxing is coming back to the public and it got there without nary a real fight. If anything, “The Network of Champions” did more to further this new evolution of the sport than hamper it and is only going to continue as their budget continues to dwindle and their cards become less and less frequent.
I’d say more about how the broadcasting team needs a complete and immediate overhaul, but Lampley and Lederman are iron clad in their positions and Max Kellerman has a much better gig going for him at ESPN despite having to listen to certifiable maniac Stephen A. Smith every day. They could have made a chance to re-establish ties with Al Haymon, who they banished from their networks in 2013, but Showtime and their affiliates are showing no signs of ending their partnership despite the hopes of some from the inside.
No, HBO Boxing is just doomed to fade away as a victim of their own minimization strategy implemented so many years ago. As much as we’ll miss the production values and presentation of their cards, something ESPN and PBC haven’t really gotten down-pat, we will be happy to move on once we see what we’re getting. From the looks of it, we’ll know sooner rather than later if HBO Boxing is ready to make a last stand or just go away quietly into the annuls of boxing history.