By Jake Donovan
The industry continues to buzz with speculation regarding the future of American cable giant HBO. A statement was made earlier in the week that the network has passed on plans for the next bout involving unbeaten lightweight champ Adrien Broner, which is rumored to be a June 22 showdown with welterweight beltholder Paul Malignaggi at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
HBO’s Ken Hershman made an announcement that suggested a terminated relationship with Golden Boy Promotions, whom promotes Broner but has taken nearly its entire stable of fighters to rival Showtime.
“In order to achieve our goal of the best fighters, in the most compelling matchups, we’ve decided to focus our efforts and resources on those strategic relationships where we better share common goals in business philosophy,” Hershman said in a statement which confirmed that Broner’s two-year run on the network was momentarily coming to an end.
The news came just one month after HBO was aglow with Broner during and following a 5th round knockout of Gavin Rees in Atlantic City. The bout was his seventh straight appearance on the network, dating all the way back to his April ’11 points win over Daniel Ponce de Leon.
While a proposed bout with Malignaggi will land on Showtime – or somewhere other than HBO – the statement wasn’t meant to be interpreted as HBO permanently exiling Golden Boy Promotions or closing its doors to any other promoter. More so, that the network is in the habit of presenting the best fights possible and enjoying long term success with those whom they conduct business.
“Every promoter is welcome to do business with us. We are in the business of making great fights that the fans want to see,” the network said in a statement, though not attributed to any single entity. “We will take a call from anyone.”
HBO was prepared to secure June 22 as a fight date, one that Golden Boy Promotions requested as it was willing to still do business with the network. The decision to pass on the fight came with the concern that Broner would eventually follow the rest of the Golden Boy stable to Showtime, which has become the trend ever since Stephen Espinoza –a former attorney for the California-based promotional company – succeeded Hershman as head of its sports programming.
Having recently lost Mayweather to Showtime long term had many speculating the end of HBO’s reign as the industry leader. However, ratings tell a different tale, as the network continues to post strong numbers despite the absence of a bona fide superstar thus far in the year.
More than 1.2 million viewers tuned in for the March 16 showdown between Tim Bradley and Ruslan Provodnikov, in which Bradley survived several major scares and a 12th round knockdown to take a narrow points win. The bout came on the heels of 48-year old Bernard Hopkins once again defying Father Time with an historic title winning effort over previously unbeaten Tavoris Cloud.
Couple those bouts with Broner’s win over Gavin Rees and its season-leading tripleheader in January, and HBO has posted a solid schedule. The first quarter concludes with a rematch of a bout hailed by many as the 2012 Fight of the Year, when Brandon Rios and Mike Alvarado once again meet. Their sequel takes place March 30 at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.
“Our ratings are up; we’re off to a good start,” the network continued in an e-mail response. “It’s not a great start, but we’re pleased with the ratings that have been produced from our lineup so far. When you consider the superstars in the sport that haven’t yet been on the 2013 schedule - Andre Ward, Manny Pacquiao, Juan Manuel Marquez, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. – it says a lot about the ratings trend.”
Chavez Jr. is slated to return in late June. The time frame is in conjunction with the completion of his nine-month suspension after testing positive for marijuana following last September’s thrilling loss to Sergio Martinez, who returns to HBO on April 27. The lineal middleweight king faces Martin Murray in his native Argentina, with the bout serving as the lead in a split site doubleheader also including a heavyweight showdown between Chris Arreola and Bermane Stiverne.
April also includes a pair of cards from Top Rank. An April 6 show airs on sister network HBO2, with Brian Viloria defending his unified flyweight belts against Juan Francisco Estrada in Macau, China. One week later marks the highly anticipated super bantamweight championship between lineal king and reigning Fighter of the Year Nonito Donaire and unbeaten Guillermo Rigondeaux.
Late May boasts a super middleweight rematch between Carl Froch and Mikkel Kessler. Plans are also in place to hopefully secure the May 25 date as a split-site doubleheader, with the second leg potentially featuring a civil war between Jean Pascal and Lucian Bute in Montreal, Canada.
Scanning the year-long schedule through late May, a trend comes to mind other than a list of great matchups: the variety of promoters involved in the aforementioned shows.
While there exists the accusation of HBO freezing out Golden Boy to appease promotional rival Top Rank, the network offers its schedule and past history as proof to the contrary. Its next four confirmed dates feature compelling fights from DiBella Entertainment, Goossen Tutor Promotions, Matchroom Boxing, Sauerland Event and the possibility of a rare joint venture between Canadian powerhouses GYM Promotions and Interbox.
Suffice to say, there is plenty of evidence to support the network’s claim that “our doors are wide open.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board, Yahoo Boxing Ratings Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox