by David P. Greisman
The line ain’t that fine between showdown and showcase.
It’s fairly obvious when one fighter is there to win and the other to lose. It’s just as clear when that perception will become reality, when the heroes of the moment will be crowned victorious — and when those momentarily standing in opposition will not remain for long in a standing position.
There were no surprises on Saturday’s HBO broadcast of “Boxing After Dark.” In the main event, Saul Alvarez dispatched Kermit Cintron. On the undercard, Adrien Broner disposed of Martin Rodriguez. And in a fight that was only intended to be shown in highlights but was so brief that it was aired in its entirety, Gary Russell Jr. left Heriberto Ruiz displaced from consciousness.
On Thanksgiving weekend, the trio of Alvarez, Broner and Russell had their opponents served up to them on a proverbial platter.
Mismatches will happen. Fighters need foes to face on their way up through the ranks, when they’re looking to keep busy or when there’s just little better available. But mismatches don’t need to happen on HBO, which can get better value for its time and money, both of which are limited resources.
It was the weekend that marks the beginning of the holiday shopping season. This one broadcast, no matter what it cost, was an overpriced purchase, a gift that didn’t need to be given to Alvarez, Broner, Russell and Golden Boy Promotions, but one that they all gladly accepted nevertheless.
Boxing promoters, as with all businesses, seek maximum profit for minimum risk. Golden Boy got the best of both on Saturday, getting a license fee from HBO to pair Alvarez and Broner with, respectively, a fighter on the decline and a fighter who was never even on the rise.
It also promoted each in front of home crowds, Alvarez headlining in a bullring in Mexico, Broner the main event in an arena in Cincinnati, the card aired as a split-site telecast. Thousands came to each venue, adding to the revenue it was already receiving from the network, as well as from Mexican television for Alvarez’s fight.
Of the three designated opponents shown Saturday — Cintron, Rodriguez and Ruiz — only Cintron had what was deemed a fighting chance.
That is, Cintron had a chance, but only if he fought.
That is what has plagued Cintron in recent years. Once a fearsome puncher, he twice met a bigger, badder bully in Antonio Margarito and had all of his confidence beaten out of him. Since then Cintron has been tentative and tight, rarely showing fire, and never firing enough shots.
Despite Cintron’s decline, there was an “if” within the predictions for Saturday’s bout. If he could out-box Alvarez as he did two and a half years ago against Alfredo Angulo — another strong but slower junior middleweight — then he would have a better shot of pulling off the upset.
He didn’t fully commit to boxing. Nor would he commit to his power shots. What he wouldn’t do proved to be his undoing.
Against a hard puncher in Alvarez, Cintron did not sit down on the right crosses or left hooks that had once devastated and been all the backup he needed for his nickname of “The Killer.” His jab was lazy, too, and left openings for Alvarez to counter over it with right hands. One of those discombobulated Cintron in the fourth round, leading to a knockdown and begetting the beginning of the end.
Cintron never got his legs back beneath him. The steady body attack from Alvarez also contributed to that. Though Cintron wasn’t defenseless or in danger when the referee stopped the fight in the fifth, he was not reacting well to punches and was not giving any good reason for the contest to continue.
He at least had a chance against Alvarez, however minimal. Adrien Broner’s opponent had none.
Martin Rodriguez brought to mind a fall guy named Miguel “Miki” Rodriguez, who had been brought in a few years ago for the sham of a coronation that was Andre Berto winning a vacant welterweight title.
At least Miguel Rodriguez, three years prior to that, had been on the losing end of a title elimination bout against Carlos Baldomir. All that Martin Rodriguez had on his resume was 34 wins, two losses and a draw, all but one of those fights coming in his native Argentina. His only fight outside of his homeland had been in Australia, a loss three years ago to Willie Kickett.
Broner had knocked Kickett out about two and a half years ago.
Broner and Martin Rodriguez were fighting for a vacant title in the 130-pound division. The weight class has been limited in its depth for years. The belt was vacated when Ricky Burns, who was supposed to have faced Broner, realized that he would no longer be able to make 130 pounds and pulled out of the bout.
Broner-Rodriguez didn’t need to be for a title. The third-round knockout win for Broner also didn’t need to be on television.
But it was for a title — because sanctioning bodies would rather get a beltholder sooner so that it can get more title fights and more sanctioning fees. And it was on television — because HBO had previously latched onto Broner as a future star and, when it comes to the ordained heirs apparent, the network rarely willingly misses a chapter in such a fighter’s story.
That is why Alvarez and Broner had already been on HBO twice before this year; they’d shared broadcasts in March and June. Alvarez also had an appearance in September on the Victor Ortiz-Floyd Mayweather Jr. pay-per-view.
That is also why the network had agreed to show highlights of Gary Russell’s fight this past Saturday. HBO also showed Russell’s previous fight, an eight-round decision in September over Leonilo Miranda.
Though Russell is not signed with Golden Boy, he’s fought on many of their cards before. He is a former Olympian, and he is also advised by Al Haymon — who also works with Broner and numerous other stars, contenders and prospects.
Less than three years into his pro career, Russell is being touted as a future sensation. And his first-round knockout of Heriberto Ruiz looked sensational, even when considering that Ruiz, a former contender, was knocked out in eight rounds just two years ago and was knocked in two rounds just last year.
One hopes that HBO does not pay to show highlights of undercard fights, that it pays rights fees for a broadcast with the option of showing highlights of certain fights if it so chooses.
Though networks pay money to develop future programming — in this case, HBO has long had its goal of “Building Legends, One Round at a Time” and giving an early spotlight to those it will later have in starring roles — the development of future boxing stars should not be on the networks’ dime.
It should be up to the promoters who have signed the fighters to contracts — and the managers who are guiding their careers — to grow their investments so they may fulfill their full potential. If they cannot get the fighter a big fight or a good opponent, it is not incumbent on the networks to bail the promoters out.
Networks should be concerned only with their own numbers, in particular their ratings and their subscribers. Though there are fighters who will draw viewers no matter the opponent, the best way to guarantee that customers are happy is to take the characters and put them in entertaining features. Boxers should be in exciting or dramatic fights.
Broner’s and Russell’s knockouts on Saturday (especially Russell’s) were worthy of the highlight-reel. But beyond that, there was little excitement and little drama on the broadcast. Nothing unexpected happened. The fighters who were there to win, won. The fighters who were there to lose, lost.
We did not learn much of anything new about the victors. Alvarez’s win would have meant more if it had not said more about what Cintron isn’t than it did about what Alvarez is. The verdict is out on Broner until he is tested against a better opponent. And Russell is but a prospect running the usual route through faded names.
This is not the formula for compelling programming.
This is not the way HBO has said it would be anymore. It has turned down some mismatches but aired others. It has opted against some no-name opponents and famously said it would only air a handful of potential heavyweight fights.
This is also not what HBO is expected to be anymore, not with Ken Hershman, the former executive with Showtime’s boxing programming, coming on board early next year. There is speculation of a change in approach that could come along with the change in leadership.
“Boxing After Dark” handed out a few gifts this past Saturday. HBO should ensure that it is no longer the gift that keeps on giving.
The 10 Count will return next week.
David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. His weekly column, “Fighting Words,” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com.
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