by David P. Greisman
This came as a surprise to some, though there should be no real surprises in boxing. Not in a sport that boils down to business. Not when business breaks down any notions of loyalty. Not when the only loyalty is to the promise of money.
Floyd Mayweather was an HBO fighter. He is now a Showtime fighter. The man nicknamed “Money” walked, and that’s because money talks.
The money trail began long before Mayweather officially switched networks, starting with the departure of HBO Sports executive Ross Greenburg in 2011, continuing with Ken Hershman moving from Showtime to HBO to replace Greenburg, and culminating in Showtime hiring Stephen Espinoza to replace Hershman.
Espinoza had previously been the lead counsel for Golden Boy Promotions, and his connection to that company — one of the two main boxing promoters in the United States — helped lead to a close relationship with Golden Boy in his new role. Showtime began to show more Golden Boy cards, HBO less. And due to Golden Boy’s relationship with powerful boxing adviser Al Haymon, a massive number of Haymon’s fighters were suddenly being spotlighted on the network.
“Now why do you think [Golden Boy executive Richard] Schaefer’s getting all these dates from Showtime? Because he said he’s going to bring Mayweather over,” said rival promoter Bob Arum of Top Rank, speaking to reporters in July 2012, as quoted at the time by Ben Thompson of FightHype.com.
Arum wrongly predicted that Mayweather wouldn’t actually leave HBO. But his line of thinking, and that of others who work in or follow boxing, was that Showtime was seeking to set up an eventual Mayweather move.
“It’s been no secret in the sport that over the course of the past year Showtime has done all or maybe 90 percent of their business with Golden Boy Promotions,” said HBO blow-by-blow announcer Jim Lampley last week in a radio interview with The Mighty 1090 in San Diego with Scott and BR. “They have catered very favorably to fighters who are managed by Al Haymon, Floyd Mayweather’s manager, so this approach took place on a lot of different fronts. They worked as hard as they possibly could.”
Of course, the connection between Mayweather, Haymon and the adviser’s other fighters had been seen on HBO long beforehand. And Haymon, by having Mayweather and other boxers getting prime network airtime and major network paydays, has been able to attract numerous other titleholders, contenders and prospects into his ranks, giving him even more leverage.
While it’s entirely possible that Showtime was seeking to placate Golden Boy and Haymon in order to persuade them to help deliver Mayweather, it was also recognizable that the beginning of Espinoza’s regime running boxing at that network brought a noticeable change in the way it buys and broadcasts the sport.
There once was a time that Showtime seemed to settle into the dichotomy of it being second-place to HBO. It was HBO that lured former Showtime fighters over. It was HBO that carried the prestige of being the pinnacle for prizefighters. It was HBO that had the biggest audience and the biggest paychecks. Showtime, meanwhile, marked itself as catering to the hardcore boxing fans — its philosophy was “Great fights. No rights.”
Espinoza came out swinging, and spending. That was noticeable as more Golden Boy boxers — including some who had been groomed and featured on HBO — appeared on Showtime. There were more tripleheaders and quadrupleheaders. There were preliminary bouts aired on a sister network prior to the main broadcasts. There was the arrival of former “Friday Night Fights” host Brian Kenny, now serving as emcee for Showtime, giving its shows more of a big-event feel.
Business otherwise continued on as usual for HBO; it still made fights, including some involving Golden Boy and Haymon fighters. What Showtime’s moves did was establish perception as reality. More boxers would jump at the money being offered to fight on that network. More fans would see a need to subscribe not just to one premium cable outlet that airs The Sweet Science, but two. HBO wasn’t just facing a competing programmer, but a competing bidder.
A planned rematch between Victor Ortiz and Andre Berto went to Showtime.
So did Canelo Alvarez.
And so, eventually, did Mayweather.
“We made an aggressive and responsible pay-per-view offer. Now we move on,” said an HBO spokesman in a statement sent out last week following the announcement that Mayweather had signed with Showtime. “We are focused on the best boxing franchise in the television business. We are proud of the roster of superstar fighters and emerging stars who are scheduled to appear on the multiple HBO television platforms this year.”
Many writers have concluded that Mayweather’s move to Showtime is an industry-changing announcement.
That conclusion depends on whom, or what, you are analyzing.
In reality, the industry had already changed before, once Golden Boy’s stable and Haymon’s fighters began to appear en masse on Showtime.
In reality, having the biggest pay-per-view attraction isn’t as lucrative for the network as one would otherwise think — at least not directly.
“The pay-per-view business is more about the promoters and the fighters than it is about the network,” HBO’s Lampley said in that radio interview, noting that the network doesn’t get much of the revenue for those biggest shows.
“If you’re managing the boxing element correctly at a pay-per-view network, you’re just as concerned about what happens month to month and Saturday night to Saturday night, because that’s what builds subscribership,” he said. “Pay-per-view fighters don’t appear on regular nights on the network. And they got a huge marquee item. They got the No. 1 fighter in boxing, and they can say with absolute confidence tomorrow that they have greater prestige for their brand than they had before. Is it going to lead to more subscriptions for Showtime? Not necessarily.”
Lampley, of course, is representing the rival network. There is value in prestige, however. Mayweather moving to Showtime further cements the network as a major player — and that’s not entirely contingent on just how much of his six-fight, 30-month deal actually happens.
But beyond what Mayweather’s move could mean for Showtime and HBO is what it could mean for boxing.
Just as UFC’s deal with FOX meant a possibility of increased exposure for mixed martial arts, Mayweather’s deal with Showtime could increase his already heightened stature in — and for — the sport. Showtime is affiliated with CBS, which has a much larger viewership than the premium channels.
Mayweather’s fights will never be aired live on CBS, not when pay-per-view revenue is king. Yet with CBS comes more marketing muscle, more potential publicity. The Super Bowl was a few weeks back, but March Madness and the NCAA men’s basketball tournament will begin soon.
If done right, this synergy could bring energy to a sport that has of late been relegated to a niche audience.
Let’s neither overstate nor understate the meaning of Mayweather’s move. There’s no doubt that HBO would have preferred to keep him at the right price. But that network will continue to adjust to its competition’s moves, while seeking to still cater to its subscribers’ desires and demands. Its approach with boxing neither began nor ended with Golden Boy, Haymon or Mayweather.
Showtime has aggressively invested in building its brand. That began before Mayweather, and before the May 4 pay-per-view that will feature Mayweather against Robert Guerrero. Its real returns on that investment will center around subscribers, whether they recognize the shifting pugilistic paradigm, and whether they are willing to buy the rest of what the network is selling.
Mayweather will be richer. Numerous Haymon fighters will be richer. Golden Boy will be richer. And, as often happens with competing businesses, we could see other fighters and promoters getting richer as the networks lobby to position themselves at the forefront of the industry.
Professional wrestling peaked in the 1990s when WCW and WWE were going head-to-head for the top talent and in similar time slots. Showtime and HBO now will pour time and money into their products and the promotion of their offerings.
Beyond what all of this could mean to the fighters and the promoters and the networks is what this could mean to the fans.
Competition is better than complacency.
The 10 Count
1. I can’t wait to see what happens when Jim Gray interviews Floyd Mayweather…
2. Remember what I was saying last week about HBO’s infatuation with Adrien Broner being justified because he appears to be both a very good (and potentially great) fighter — and due to the high ratings he brings for the network?
Here’s this from an HBO news release:
“HBO Boxing delivered 1.4 million viewers for the live first-airing of Broner vs. Rees on HBO World Championship Boxing. Viewership peaked at 1.551 million viewers during Broner’s 5th Round TKO win over Gavin Rees. In his seventh HBO appearance, this audience number is the highest ever for Broner.”
3. Tony Thompson’s stunning second-round stoppage win over David Price this past Saturday exemplifies exactly why so many over-the-hill and out-of-shape heavyweights either remain in the sport for far too long or return from retirement far too often.
There is the reality that one punch can change the course of a fight — and the illusion that they will still be able to land that shot.
In Thompson’s case he actually did land a knockout blow, flooring the previously undefeated Price with a single right hook that looked as if it landed just behind his ear. Price rose on unsteady legs, and suddenly the bout was over.
Given that the 41-year-old Thompson came in more than 15 pounds heavier than he was for his loss last year to Wladimir Klitschko, this was a shocking conclusion to a bout that many felt was another case of a faded old name being sacrificed for the sake of helping to establish a new one.
Yet Price, a 6-foot-8 British prospect who had scored knockouts in 13 of his 15 wins, seemed as if his run of success had left him woefully ill-prepared in terms of technique. He pawed with a jab at the southpaw Thompson, a tic that had no force behind it and rarely looked as if it were actually destined for his opponent.
And worst of all, he brought his left hand back low every time.
Thompson began to measure for counter right hooks early into the first round, then attempted to land them over Price’s left hand several times. The knockout blow came when Price sent out a jab and, as the two fighters clinched, brought his left hand back to his hip. Thompson had nothing keeping his right hand from landing on Price. Once that happened, Price had nothing keeping his legs sturdy.
4. Thompson called out another tall British heavyweight after the win — the 6-foot-9 Tyson Fury — but he’ll need to wait another two months to find out whether that collision will come to fruition.
That’s because Fury will be making his American debut on April 20, when he will face former cruiserweight titleholder Steve Cunningham.
Forget Thompson and Fury for a moment. This story is great news for Cunningham.
Some wondered if Cunningham would be cast aside after his controversial split decision loss to Tomasz Adamek this past December. Afterward, promoter Main Events began looking toward Adamek’s next fight, which was initially expected to be Kubrat Pulev, but will instead be an as-yet-unannounced foe. Meanwhile, Cunningham, who is also promoted by Main Events, had to hope that his career wouldn’t be harmed too badly by the defeat.
Now he’ll be fighting on regular NBC, fighting for the No. 2 spot in the International Boxing Federation’s rankings, and fighting for a spot in a future bout that would establish the next mandatory challenger to Wladimir Klitschko.
5. One more example of a bout “marinating” past when it would’ve been best?
Jean Pascal and Lucian Bute will apparently finally be facing each other in a Montreal mega-match.
Several reports have said that Pascal-Bute will be taking place on May 25 — nearly two years to the day since Pascal lost to Bernard Hopkins, and almost exactly a year to the day since Bute got knocked around the ring by Carl Froch.
It could still be a real good fight, and it will still pack the fans in to see two of the city’s most popular fighters.
Alas, most of these matches only seem to get made when there’s no other option.
6. The good news: Antwun Echols could have fought this past weekend, but didn’t.
The bad news: Echols will fight again anyway.
The 41-year-old former middleweight title challenger was scheduled to step into the ring this past Saturday against a boxer named George Carter Jr., who is 27 years old and has a record of 8-0 with 4 knockouts. But Echols pulled out days beforehand “over a contract dispute,” according to the Quad-City Times.
As has been noted several times before in this space, Echols has won one fight in eight years. That one win came nearly three years ago, and came against an opponent who was 0-8-2. Since April 2005, Echols has fought 18 times, going 1-14-3. He is currently on a seven-fight losing streak. Every single one of his last six bouts has seen him get stopped in the third round.
But as the Quad-City Times noted in an extended feature on Echols — written prior to him pulling out of the bout — the badly (and I mean badly) faded fighter still believes he can vie for a world title and doesn’t yet want to retire.
It’s easy to understand why. He needs money to support his children. He doesn’t even sound certain as to how many kids he has: “Twenty-three, I think,” he told the newspaper’s reporter.
“I’ll do anything to take care of my family,” he said.
This isn’t the way to do it.
7. As inconsistent as Kendall Holt has been, the victory that Lamont Peterson scored over the former junior-welterweight titleholder was nonetheless impressive.
Peterson played possum in the first three rounds. He said afterward that his strategy was to ensure that he could guard against what he felt were Holt’s two best punches, the counter left hook and an overhand/straight right, before charging forward. Peterson’s trainer, Barry Hunter, said afterward that he wanted his fighter to slow Holt down, bait him in, make him come forward and then turn on the pressure.
Peterson looked sharp for a fighter whose last official fight was his win over Amir Khan 14 months before. He looked sharp because he had remained in the gym. But it’s also because he has underrated ring intelligence, from his body positioning to his punch placement, that go along with his physical ability.
His speed, power and smarts were clearly demonstrated in the combination that knocked Holt down in the fourth round, when he threw a jab to one side of Holt and, nearly simultaneously, looped an overhand right to the other side.
Holt never recovered. Peterson never allowed him to recover.
Holt had come in with a strategy, and Peterson quickly disposed him of it before, well, disposing of him.
8. Now we’ll likely get to see Peterson get a big fight against fellow top 140-pounder Lucas Matthysse. That fight could take place on May 18 in Washington, D.C., according to what Golden Boy executive Richard Schaefer told RingTV.com reporter Lem Satterfield.
“I don’t think he’s going to pose any problems for me,” Peterson said after the fight, upon hearing of this potential pairing. “A lot of times, you’ve seen my recent fights, I always have to track somebody down. They don’t really give me a chance to box. If I fight Matthysse, it’ll give me a chance to do a little bit of boxing and to bang when I want to.”
This is setting up a potentially great match-up and is keeping two of Golden Boy’s junior welterweights busy; Matthysse last fought in January. While many boxing fans would’ve wanted to see Matthysse’s next fight be a shot at Danny Garcia, the timing isn’t quite right — Garcia’s February fight with Zab Judah was pushed back until late April after Garcia suffered a training injury.
Making Peterson-Matthysse isn’t necessarily dividing and conquering. If Garcia tops Judah, and if Golden Boy then makes a fight between Garcia and the winner of Peterson-Matthysse, then we will get a true champion at 140 pounds — as opposed to “THE RING” magazine’s rush to reestablish championship lineage last year with Garcia’s bout against Amir Khan.
9. Lightweight prospect Mickey Bey Jr. was in the headlines last week for the wrong reason after testing positive in Nevada for elevated testosterone levels — with a testosterone to epitestosterone ratio of more than 30:1, according to state athletic commission executive Keith Kizer.
The state allows for a maximum of 6:1.In other words, Mickey Bey is apparently five times the man you’re legally allowed to be in Nevada.
Feel free to substitute his name into your Chuck Norris jokes.
10. Floyd Mayweather goes to Showtime. 50 Cent goes to ESPN2.
“Fighting Words” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com. David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Follow David on Twitter @fightingwords2 or send questions/comments via email at [email protected]