By Cliff Rold
This Saturday on HBO (10:05 PM EST) will be a busy card.
It’s a night as much about investment as it is in the action to unfold.
HBO is attempting to reestablish their way in a market where ESPN has joined Showtime as a serious competitor for top tier talent. The identity of the brand is in flux. The programming choices since Top Rank took their talent to the worldwide leader lay out a pretty clear direction.
Even without Vasyl Lomachenko, HBO is staking out territory at Jr. lightweight, middleweight, and in the lower weight classes for the time being. The main event this weekend, a Jr. lightweight title bout between Jezreel Corrales (WBA) and Alberto Machado, comes just as the network has announced what could be a fight of the year candidate on December 9th between Miguel Berchelt (WBC) and Orlando Salido.
HBO has aired several fights in the division over the last couple years. The return of Corrales indicates there may be more clashes down the road, perhaps even a showdown between Corrales and the winner of Berchelt-Salido.
Also on the card this weekend, along with the signing this fall of Daniel Jacobs, is the beginning of a multi-fight deal for 2008 US Olympian and two-time Jr. middleweight titlist Demetrius Andrade. Andrade is making his middleweight debut the same week HBO announced they would air the December 16th clash between the only man in class with a belt not named Gennady Golovkin, Billy Joe Saunders (WBO), and former titlist David Lemieux.
Andrade, Jacobs, and Saunders are clearly there to fortify the world after the presumed spring rematch between Golovkin and Saul Alvarez. Who fits where has yet to be determined but HBO is creating options their subscribers can get interested in.
So what of the third leg of HBO’s Saturday tripleheader?
Reading the tealeaves, this bantamweight unification bout isn’t just about the happenings at 118 lbs. This is probably as much about what we saw on September 9th as it is about this weekend.
September 9th was, of course, the sensational “Superfly” card that saw, among other things, the US debut of Naoya Inoue. Inoue looked as good as advertised for those unfamiliar with him; as devastating as always for the initiated.
The two-division titlist from Japan has the look of a fighter who could, sooner than later, be in the debate for best fighter in the sport regardless of weight class. Part of that will be, if he can navigate what’s left of his run through the 115 lb. minefield, a rise in weight.
It’s inevitable. And if it’s not Inoue, it could well be Juan Francisco Estrada or Srisaket Sor Rungvisai knocking on the door at 118 lbs.
When WBA titlist Zhanat Zhakiyanov (27-1, 18 KO) and IBF beltholder Ryan Burnett (17-0, 9 KO) square off this weekend, they won’t just be fighting for two belts. They will also be fighting for position to be the guy in the way of whoever lands in their class.
This is unification as a foundation for the future.
It’s a good recipe for long-term programming. Luckily for fans, we’re seeing plenty of this forward thinking right now. Showtime is doing much the same. Showtime’s Jr. middleweight tripleheader last weekend gave them ample options for the future. The close airings of the next Deontay Wilder and Anthony Joshua fights are obviously meant to build a showdown.
For fans of the lower weight classes, what’s happening this weekend is a positive sign that HBO isn’t pulling away from their recent investment in the lowest divisions after the fall of Roman Gonzalez. Anyone who saw Zhakiyanov’s title win over Rau’shee Warren in February knows the chances are high for good TV here. Burnett was, while not as thrilling, quite impressive in upending Lee Haskins in June.
For both men, this is an opportunity to expand their audience and build toward some bigger paydays that might not have been there a few years ago. As noted in this corner various times before, boxing is at its best when it doesn’t just arrive at a single destination but also lays out a map of where it might be headed in the near future.
What’s next always matters.
This weekend is a what’s next card. Burnett-Zhakiyanov might not exactly be a who’s next fight but it might be the next best thing.
Regardless of how many folks stayed in their seats last weekend, or how many changed the channel, no one can claim supremacy at Jr. middleweight without beating Erislandy Lara. He’s not always a thriller but he’s more interesting when he’s tested and bouts with a Charlo or Hurd wouldn’t see the same arena dump…Finally got around to checking out the Black Mirror. No more bacon and Peggy Carter just isn’t lucky in love I guess…Saunders-Lemieux should be interesting. For all the grief he gets, Saunders has two very solid wins over Chris Eubank and Andy Lee. He’s not a stiff…Speaking of Eubank, he and George Groves is going to be a blast as the WBSS whittles down to the good part of the super middleweight bracket. James DeGale is somewhere counting down to facing the winner from the field…Callum Smith is still the pick here to emerge from that group…Carlos Takam is a really solid late replacement foe. Anthony Joshua better keep his eye on the ball. He doesn’t want a Bert Cooper night on his hands.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]