By Lyle Fitzsimmons
It looked like a banner night for HBO boxing.
Though its Saturday card from Montreal was inconveniently (for fans) matched up with a dueling 10 p.m. ET event on Showtime, it seemed the boys from the “Network of Champions” had nonetheless called the driver’s seat as the evening commenced.
Their main event – Chad Dawson vs. Adonis Stevenson – featured the single most-decorated fighter of the weekend, and that match was the only fight on either TV card that had a title belt on the line worthy of actual mention. And as the initial bouts on each broadcast wound their respective ways from borderline interesting to numbingly boring, it wasn’t as if either cable entity was gaining ground.
But it didn’t take much longer for that vibe to change.
Once the shock passed from seeing Stevenson’s left hand collide with Dawson’s skull – and hearing the markedly different interviews that followed (on your knees, Max, really?) – more than sufficient time remained to make the dial switch to catch what quickly became one of the year’s best shows.
In fact, had HBO known what was coming, it might have asked Andre Ward to glove up.
The back half of the junior middleweight match between Erislandy Lara and Alfredo Angulo could alone have carried the night, what with the winner rising from a pair of knockdowns and the loser suffering the sort of ghastly eye injury that illustrates why fans – and the AMA – pay rapt attention.
As it turned out, though, even a tumultuous slugfest ended by a fractured orbital bone was no better than runner-up to the Marcos Maidana-Josesito Lopez welterweight throw-down, which is sure to be fondly resurrected during holiday season when the year’s top rounds and fights are discussed.
If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor.
If you have, you already know why it’s worth another watch.
And if you’re scoring at home, you’ll acknowledge another clear win in a charmed spring for what had long been perceived as the kid brother of premium-cable boxing.
Showtime became the de facto network of Golden Boy Promotions after HBO severed ties with the company in March, Mexican heartthrob Canelo Alvarez passed his legitimacy litmus test against Austin Trout in April and Floyd Mayweather Jr. cashed his first pay-per-view check with the network’s logo by outclassing Robert Guerrero on the first Saturday in May.
Add in a jolt of Lucas Matthysse two weeks hence, and it’s good to be Stephen Espinoza.
“The momentum has been created by the wealth of talent at the top of the 140-, 147- and 154-pound divisions,” said the Golden Boy attorney-turned-Showtime fight boss, whose business card formally labels him as executive vice president and general manager of Showtime Sports.
“The credit goes to the boxers who have stepped up and accepted the challenge of participating in the highest profile and most important fights. It’s been an incredible run, and there’s no end in sight.”
The next small steps toward superiority come June 22 when Adrien Broner meets Paul Malignaggi and July 13 when Bernard Hopkins faces Karo Murat in Brooklyn – before another giant leap on Sept. 14, when Mayweather and Alvarez get together at 152 pounds in Las Vegas.
But if you’re waiting for Espinoza to plant a flag and declare victory, don’t hold your breath.
“To be honest, to stop and think about where we rank versus our competition is not a productive use of time,” he said. “There are much better questions to ask, such as will Adrien Broner pass his welterweight test against Paulie Malignaggi, or is Lucas Matthysse the most feared man in sports, or can anyone slow Marcos Maidana down? Our ratings are way up. The excitement from the fans is at a fever pitch, and we are building toward a September event that might be the most significant fight in a decade.”
Meanwhile, Saturday night’s biggest victim faces another huge reclamation project.
A clear winner over Hopkins the last time he’d tasted success 15 months ago, Dawson arrived in Canada trying to purge his soul of the stench of a TKO loss to Ward last summer in Oakland.
Instead, the 76-second blowout creates an even more difficult challenge for “Bad” Chad as he tries to regain the mojo that once propelled him to the fringes of legitimate pound-for-pound lists.
His former trainer, for one, is not sure such a return is likely.
“Surprised it was so quick, but not surprised (Stevenson) bombed him,” said ex-light heavyweight contender John Scully, who worked with Dawson for a pair of Hopkins fights and the Ward loss before the two parted ways. “The power and Chad’s mental state were a bad mix.
“Coming off that bad loss, getting a new trainer and having to defend your title against a murderous puncher in his hometown is not a recipe to instill supreme confidence. Feels like he is done. I guess it will depend on his promoter and what type of strings they can pull at HBO.”
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This week’s title-fight schedule:
IBO super flyweight title – Johannesburg, South AfricaTags: HBO , Showtime
Gideon Buthelezi (champion) vs. Edrin Dapudong (No. 16 contender)
Buthelezi (13-3, 4 KO): First title defense; Held IBO belts at 105 and 108 pounds
Dapudong (28-5, 16 KO): Third title fight (0-2); Lost to Buthelezi (SD 12) in November
Fitzbitz says: “The incumbent won close when the two met seven months ago, and little figures to change in a rematch on the champ’s home turf.” Buthelezi by decision
IBO strawweight title – Johannesburg, South Africa
Hekkie Budler (champion) vs. Nkosinathi Joyi (No. 3 contender)
Budler (22-1, 6 KO): Third title defense; Held IBO belt at 108 pounds (2010-11, one defense)
Joyi (23-1, 16 KO): Eighth title fight (5-1, 1 NC); Held IBF and IBO belts at 105 pounds
Fitzbitz says: “Joyi was considered the top man at 105 until a surprise KO loss last year, but it seems about time for him to regain previous status.” Joyi in 9
WBO featherweight title – Dallas, Texas
Mikey Garcia (champion) vs. Juan Manuel Lopez (No. 4 contender)
Garcia (31-0, 26 KO): First title defense; Sixth fight in Texas (5-0)
Lopez (33-2, 30 KO): Twelfth title fight (9-2); Held WBO belts at 122 and 126 pounds
Fitzbitz says: “Garcia is positioned as the star Lopez was a couple years ago, giving the Puerto Rican plenty of motivation to reclaim past status. It says here he’ll do it in a thriller.” Lopez in 10
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full- fledged title-holder -- no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Last week’s picks: 2-1
2013 picks record: 32-20 (61.5 percent)
Overall picks record: 495-172 (74.2 percent)
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.