|07-01-2009, 03:47 PM||#1|
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Bring Your Own Bum...
This is by Carlos Acevedo. Pretty damn good, IMV.
"Bring Your Own Bum" HBO & The Mysterious Star Making Machine
Not long ago, HBO anointed certain fighters--among them Victor Ortiz, Robert Guerrero, James Kirkland, Andre Berto, and Alfredo Angulo--as the superstars of the future. Then the marketing and hype began in earnest, aided by an interesting mix of ingredients--the media, the promoters, internet forums, corporate speculation, and certain sociological and demographic determinants as well. Indeed, prospect-hyping is one of the most fascinating and frustrating aspects of the fight game today. In a sense, the process of manufacturing stars is as mysterious as it is obvious: The stars are the ones with HBO credit lines. The real question is are they stars because they are on HBO or are they on HBO because they are stars? Now is as good a time as any to break out the Magic 8-ball and find some answers.
So what is it that makes a network settle on a fighter as being a potential star? In the case of Victor Ortiz, whose applecart was upset by Marcos Maidana last Saturday night, one of his chief potential superstar virtues was his hardscrabble background. Everywhere you turned you would read or hear about his struggles as a young man, much of it very moving. But there is no shortage of human-interest stories in boxing, and to pretend that Victor Ortiz has a monopoly on suffering solely to ratchet up the hype is silly. The Peterson brothers, Lamont and Anthony, also share similar backgrounds of deprivation and poverty. Homeless as children--not in orphanages or foster homes, mind you, but living on the streets of Washington D.C--the Petersons overcame exceptionally bleak circumstances to become success stories. They, too, are young, talented, and personable. But no one is rushing to proclaim them stars.
And what about someone like Kassim Ouma? As a young boy, Ouma was kidnapped by the National Resistance Army in Uganda and spent years as a child soldier during a bitter guerilla war. Despite his extraordinary life story and his rousing style, Ouma never received the star treatment. Indeed, in 2006 he was brought in at a considerable size disadvantage as an opponent--or is patsy a better word?--for then middleweight champion Jermain Taylor. Perhaps if he had been babied like some of the "saviors" in boxing, he might still be a money earning titleholder and not a faded ex-contender spiraling toward the end of a short career. But Ouma did not have the luxury of fighting tinplate opposition in exchange for gold back after gold back. Over the course of a 34 fight career, Ouma has faced, among others: Jermain Taylor, Sechew Powell, Verno Philips (twice), Marco Antonio Rubio, Angel Hernandez, Kofi Jantuah, Roman Karmazin, Alex Bunema, and J.C. Candelo. Had he been tabbed a star by HBO, his career would have been much different; certainly he would have had fewer difficult fights.
In addition to tough backgrounds, Angulo, Ortiz, and Kirkland all have in common kamikaze styles. They are exciting fighters. Kirkland in particular seems committed to mayhem in the ring. But exciting fighters can also be found with surprising regularity if you switch channels once in a while. A short list includes Tomasz Adamek, Delvin Rodriguez, Ricardo Torres, Pavel Wolak, Edwin Valero, Vic Darchinyan, Israel Vasquez, and Tavoris Cloud, just to name a few. Are they as talented as Ortiz, Kirkland, and Angulo? Maybe, maybe not. But why not find out? Why do only a few exciting fighters with personal interest stories make the grade? Some fighters do not have the right connections or are not attached to favorite son promoters (like Golden Boy, curiously given blank dates by HBO). It is interesting to note that of the five overhyped future superstars of boxing, three of them are Golden Boy fighters. It is also interesting to note that the V.I.P. treatment did not begin for Kirkland, Guerrero, and Ortiz until they were pried away from their original promoters.
Some members of the boxing press, more given to cheerleading than analysis, are also guilty of perpetuating hype. Once a fighter is "chosen," he is immediately in every column and on every website, almost as if there is a strange partnership between the media and HBO. Victor Ortiz was fawned on not just by Oscar De La Hoya and forum ranters, but by various media outlets apparently unfamiliar with the word "objectivity." Dan Rafael, for example, named Victor Ortiz "ESPN.com Prospect of the Year" for 2008. This award, as meaningless as the WBC Youth Intercontinental title, is more or less a publicity stunt. What is interesting, however, is why and how specific prospects are chosen for propaganda and why others are not. Often, the chosen few are not as impressive as some would lead you to believe. When cooing over Ortiz, Rafael writes of his "exciting" win over "hard punching" Dario Esalas as if Esalas is anything other than a human floor mat. Ortiz had a hard time with Esalas and was dropped in the third round. Tough fights are part of boxing, at least in theory, but Esalas has lost 11 of his last 12 fights and 16 out of his last 20. He has been knocked out 11 times and has been dropped, fact checkers take notice, at least 15 times in his career. All fighters deserve respect, but Esalas is the epitome of a tomato can. Yet Ortiz is praised for struggling against a pug who was once stopped in the first round in 2003 by an opponent, Miguel Angel Suarez, with a record of 2-16. Suarez has since improved to a more respectable 4-25, with 16 of his losses by knockout.
To make matters worse, three of the last four "ESPN Prospect" award winners were exposed less than a year later. Even before being sandblasted by unknown Brandeis Prescott in one round last September, for example, Amir Khan, "ESPN Prospect of the Year" for 2007, had been dropped heavily by a completely shot Michael Gomez. Willie Limond and Rachid Drilzane, not exactly household names, had also floored him. Still, Khan was somehow projected to be a superstar. When a hyped prospect struggles against opponents whose sole purpose in the ring is to be steamrolled, alarms must ring, but too often keyboards bang out superlatives instead.
And just what was it exactly Ortiz in the ring to merit accolades? The buzz many prospects generate is disproportionate to their accomplishments. Looking good against stiffs is a prerequisite in boxing, not an achievement. The kind of soft opposition Ortiz has faced over the years is a good starting point for a prospect, not for a savior. But the HBO marketing strategy, feeding selected fighters with stiffs, is not a good way to develop stars. This has been proven by some of the deplorable ratings the network has drawn over the years with mismatches like De La Hoya-Forbes, Klitschko-Austin, Klitschko-Brewster, Cotto-Gomez, Pavlik-Lockett, Taylor-Spinks, and Andre Berto versus anyone other than Luis Collazo.
Built up fighters of years ago are completely different from the manufactured fighters of today. Rocky Graziano, for example, was a built up fighter, but he still got in the ring with Tony Zale three times and Sugar Ray Robinson once and gave hell to everyone who stood in his way. Compare that with a manufactured fighter like Jermain Taylor who, during his heyday as a "star," earned some dubious decisions, fought junior welterweights and junior middleweights, bored everyone to tears, and failed to score a single KO over a span of four years. If Rocky Graziano did not try to destroy everything in his path during his build up, no one would have cared and his paychecks would have suffered mightily. Taylor, however, kept raking in the cash from his HBO contract despite the underwhelming nature of his performances.
In addition, fighters in the 30s and 40s fought 10, 15, even 20 times a year, so it is only natural that a few lesser lights would slip into the schedule of, say, Sugar Ray Robinson or Ike Williams. Today, a "chosen" star fights three times a year, with two of the fights against a) an opponent 10 years older; b) an opponent 10 pounds lighter; c) an opponent immediately tabbed an 8-1 underdog; d) a policeman; or e) all of the above. The third fight is often against a competent opponent against whom the corporate fighter usually ekes out a debatable split decision. Yet, fighters incapable of drawing crowds and ratings still pull in hefty purses from HBO because...well, because, does anyone know the answer to this question?
With its well-publicized budget woes, HBO would be better served by putting on competitive fights instead of the lamb-to-the-slaughter routine. Maybe hyping both participants is a good idea as well. Profiles on HBO telecasts in which only one fighter is mentioned are as transparent as transparent can be. Years ago, good fighters also took on journeymen and trial horses, but their pay was commensurate with the quality of opposition. In fact, most of these fighters, until the television age took hold, were paid on a gate percentage basis. There was no HBO welfare check back then. Fighters were not given millions of dollars and a BYOB invitation. BYOB in this context meaning "Bring Your Own Bum." It is the job of a manager and a promoter to build up a fighter. For a network to get involved in that area seems awfully fishy. Superstar status has to be earned and not bestowed by HBO.
As far as Victor Ortiz is concerned, well, he is a talented fighter. Why not leave it at that?
|07-01-2009, 04:17 PM||#4|
Sex Tape Flop Artist
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Nothin new. Get a guy wit an excitin style and some skills, put him on TV, and feed him bums til he becomes a star. Then test him. If he fails, hypejob. If he wins, legitimately elite.
|07-01-2009, 04:22 PM||#5|
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I disagree to an extent. HBO isn't just looking for a good fighter, or a human interest story, or style of fighting. They are wagering on a complete package. They can't make the fighter win, but they can give him the fights. They look at all the prospects and find the one that is not only going to win, but sell.
So in theory, yes the author is correct. There might be a better fighter out there than the one they are hyping. Thing is that other, better fighter won't bring in the viewers as well as the prospects they choose. Or so they are betting.
|07-01-2009, 04:23 PM||#6|
Up and Comer
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Nice article. I'm inclined to agree, but this isn't exactly a new idea. HBO is in business WITH a business; they have to hedge their bets on a fighter that can be exciting, and of course their investment will try to be protected.
|07-01-2009, 04:24 PM||#7|
no guts no glory
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|07-01-2009, 04:34 PM||#8|
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Very good piece, I liked it. Well written too...at least much more so than most of the boxing articles that people churn out on the internet.
I wish the author would have really delved into the motivations of HBO though(as to the actual reasons they seem intent on hyping dubious "stars"). Or at least done a bit of speculation. Its a something of a mystery to me as well.
But a good read.
|07-01-2009, 04:41 PM||#9|
Slicker than your average
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Ive always seen Andre Berto as a complete hype. Talented fighter but i dont think he is the real deal.
Great point about Jermain Taylor, he was hyped to the max, he got two debatable decision over Hopkins and struggled with smaller fighters like Kasim Ouma,Cory Spinks and he probably should of lost to Winky Wright, he lost twice to Pavlik, whom i dont rate that highly either albeit he is exciting, he also lost to Froch having dominated the fight.
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