By Keith Idec
EPIX plans to televise a heavyweight title fight apiece on three successive Saturdays, beginning Feb. 18.
New HBO Sports president Ken Hershman cannot envision his network broadcasting a single heavyweight championship match in the foreseeable future.
When asked if there’s a heavyweight fight he could see purchasing for HBO, Hershman said, “It’s hard for me to point to one.”
The former Showtime Sports executive definitely doesn’t expect to buy Vitali Klitschko versus David Haye, a fight that could be made if Klitschko (43-2, 30 KOs) defeats fellow Brit Dereck Chisora (15-2, 9 KOs) on Feb. 18 in Munich, Germany. Hershman didn’t think Haye had a chance to beat Wladimir Klitschko (56-3, 49 KOs) in their July 2 unification fight in Hamburg, Germany, and he wouldn’t expect Haye (25-2, 23 KOs) to fare any better against Wladimir’s older brother.
“I thought they did a great job, before I came [to HBO], of building the David Haye fight,” Hershman said. “But I didn’t think David had much of a chance. I just think he’s an undersized heavyweight. We saw him at cruiser, and it didn’t feel like it was that competitive of a matchup in the ring. But I thought it was promoted well as a big fight. But I don’t see anybody standing there today that I think could challenge the Klitschkos in a way that’s really going to surprise anyone.
“Now, the reality is Vitali is getting up there in age . At some point, he has to slow down a bit. They’re amazing athletes, and I don’t know when that will be. But at some point [they will]. And hopefully then we can start to bring up some new talent and maybe someone will surprise us. Maybe a [Robert] Helenius or somebody like that. [Alexander] Povetkin. Maybe somebody will surprise us. But again, these are European guys, they’re not Americans.”
Therein lies Hershman’s problem. He wants to make heavyweights relevant again among his subscriber base, but he needs an American heavyweight in whom the public can believe.
Former Michigan State football player Seth Mitchell (24-0-1, 18 KOs) showed some promise in his HBO debut Dec. 10, but his impressive second-round stoppage of Timur Ibragimov (30-4-1, 16 KOs) doesn’t exactly make Mitchell ready to challenge one of the Klitschko brothers.
“That is a weight class that has just languished for so long,” Hershman said. “It’s really no fault of the Klitschkos that No. 1, they’ve been just so dominant in the ring and, No. 2, have a great business model where they are, in Germany. I don’t criticize them at all for the way they’ve conducted their careers and their business. It makes total sense. Unfortunately, it hasn’t helped the U.S. heavyweight market and we haven’t seen those young Americans coming through the ranks that we feel we can invest in and that could be the future.
“It’s a dilemma, and I don’t ignore or pretend that the heavyweight division isn’t hugely important to boxing. It is. Hopefully we’ll get, in the next year or two, some prospects that we think we can really count on to really energize the U.S. component of that market. But right now, I don’t see it in the immediate future.”
Keith Idec covers boxing for The Record and Herald News, of Woodland Park, N.J., and BoxingScene.com.