By Jake Donovan
On its own, the news of Gennady Golovkin and Marco Antonio Rubio finalizing terms for an October 18 middleweight showdown is less about a blockbuster fight than it is about the ring activity of one of boxing’s most exciting rising stars.
For cable giant HBO, it also meant a big step towards filling in the blanks for its fall boxing season.
Prior to the news of Bernard Hopkins returning from a two-fight stint with Showtime to “come home” for a November light heavyweight unification clash with Sergey Kovalev, there remained a gaping hole in HBO’s boxing schedule from early August through late November. Kovales was preparing for a title defense versus Blake Caparello, in a fight that proved as uncompetitive in the ring as it was on paper.
The fight – or more specifically the latest showcasing of Kovalev – was the most-viewed of a split-site tripleheader that also included Brandon Rios’ 9th round disqualification win over Diego Chaves and Jessie Vargas’ points win over Anton Novikov in a matchup of unbeaten super lightweights. Kovalev-Caparello was viewed as the least competitive bout of the evening, yet still the most anticipated primarily because of the growing cult status of the unbeaten Russian knockout artist.
Given that, his two-round destruction of Caparello took on an entirely new meaning the moment it was announced that he would next face Hopkins. Fortunately for Kovalev and HBO, that news came 36 hours prior to the fight, making the mismatch a little more forgivable.
Event handlers are still on the hunt for a venue and firm date for the three-belt unification bout, other than the guarantee that the fight will take place in early November. Whenever it lands, it won’t mean an eternity since boxing was last watched on HBO, so long as Golovkin-Rubio definitively happens on October 18.
The two fights also help transition what figures to be an active home stretch for HBO. November 22 is already locked in for a pay-per-view event headlined by international superstar Manny Pacquiao in a welterweight title fight versus unbeaten Chris Algieri, who earned the assignment following his upset – albeit disputed – points win over Ruslan Provodnikov in June.
All signs point towards HBO penciling in November 29 for a Boxing After Dark event headlined by Terence Crawford. The unbeaten lightweight titlist is traveling outside of the country, but upon his return home is expected to sign off for a title defense versus Raymundo Beltran. The veteran contender agreed to terms earlier this week for the planned Thanksgiving weekend event, tentatively slated for Crawford’s hometown of Omaha, Nebraska.
Two weeks later, recently crowned middleweight king Miguel Cotto is scheduled to headline a December 13 card at Madison Square Garden. The hunt is on for an opponent – rumors have ranged from middleweight contender Andy Lee to former welterweight titlist Timothy Bradley, Jr. For now, the story behind that night is the fact that Cotto – who turns 34 in October – is scheduled to fight twice in 2014, perhaps as big of an upset as his nine-round thrashing of Sergio Martinez to claim the lineal middleweight championship.
In the event that Cotto-Bradley cannot get made, contingency plans call for finding a home for Bradley, who hasn’t fought on regular HBO since his narrow win over Ruslan Provodnikov last March, a fight that was hailed by BoxingScene.com as 2013 Fight of the Year. Four of his past five fights have come on HBO PPV, including his past two ring appearances – a points loss to Pacquiao in their rematch this past April, and a close-but-clear win over Juan Manuel Marquez last October.
Over the course of nine Saturdays in the 4th quarter of the 2014 boxing season, HBO will fill the gaps with some of the biggest names in the sport. Clearly, the network is saving up for a strong finish.
But what are HBO subscribers to do in the meantime?
Questions have arisen as to why HBO failed to secure fight dates for the remaining open weekends between now and mid-October. Finding a home for a fight in September was always problematic. There were never plans in place for HBO to air content on the weekends surround Floyd Mayweather’s ring return, when he meets Marcos Maidana in a September 13 rematch to their thriller this past May.
One week prior, Showtime airs an intriguing doubleheader featuring Adrien Broner – a former titlist in three weight classes and a proven ratings draw on both networks – and rebounding ex-140 lb. titlist Lucas Matthysse in competitive but winnable fights that are designed to hopefully lead to a future head-on collision.
HBO once had September 27 on hold for an originally targeted showdown between Kovalev and lineal light heavyweight king Adonis Stevenson. Those plans were scrapped once Stevenson fled to Showtime, who in turn hoped to have the date filled with a clash between Stevenson and Hopkins. Once it was announced that Hopkins and Kovalev would meet, September 27 seemed to have dropped off altogether from the schedule of both networks.
Neither network currently has live programming scheduled for September 20. Presumably the date will be geared towards Showtime recapping the aforementioned rematch between Mayweather and Maidana. Such coverage doesn’t prevent HBO from counterprogramming, a practice hardly uncommon for either cable powerhouse, though a proven struggle this year, one in which ratings have dipped.
Reasons for the noticeable absence of live boxing action in the remaining open weekends range from undesirable slots (Labor Day weekend, baseball’s World Series coverage) to simply not finding the right fights to showcase. Even if a fight as viewed on paper as a showcase, they’re presented with the idea that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, a practice that wasn’t always followed in a 2013 boxing season that was criticized in part as a down year for HBO boxing programming.
So again the question comes up – what’s in it for the average subscriber without live boxing for a 2½ month stretch?
It will be another four weeks before anything boxing-related resurfaces on HBO, but September 16 marks the return of The Fight Game with Jim Lampley. The series has been previously presented on a quarterly basis, but will move to a monthly format for the remainder of the year.
HBO will also offer segments of ‘2 Days’ and ‘Cornered’, along with accompanying content (24/7, Face Off) to properly promote the Pacquiao-Algieri pay-per-view show in Macau.
For the boxing fan who wants live action every weekend, the cupboard may appear bare for HBO over the next few weeks. When taking in the schedule as a whole and knowing what awaits down the road, the pieces in place for the sport as a whole could mean that Gennady Golovkin’s triumphant ring return is here before you know it.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox