by Cliff Rold
Make sure the DVRs are ready.
Make sure a DVR is in the house.
This Saturday night, Showtime goes live with a Welterweight main event featuring undefeated Selcuk Aydin and former Featherweight and Jr. Lightweight titlist Robert Guerrero. It’s a good match that could turn into a great fight.
The one thing known for certain is this: HBO doesn’t have a subscriber or pay-per-view show going head to head on the same night. Enjoy it while it lasts.
It’s going to get hairy from here.
Counter-programming in boxing between the two biggest boxing banks is nothing new. It happens often enough to remain a subject of interest. It’s been seldom enough to be overlooked between spots.
August will be a fairly dry month for the sport all around. It’s no surprise. August, historically, is not bonzo box office for the sweet science.
September is usually the beginning of a huge fall push. Starting September 8, it’s all-out war. The battle lines between HBO and Showtime, and between Golden Boy Promotions and Top Rank, will force fans to make choices aplenty.
Remember the old camera ads ending with the question, “Is it live…or is it Memorex?”
In September, the question will be, “What do I watch live…and what do I reserve for DVR (or next week’s replay)?”
The counter-programming drama will take place on the following dates:
• 9/8: Andre Ward - Chad Dawson (HBO); Devon Alexander - Randall Bailey (Sho)
• 9/15: Sergio Martinez - Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. (HBO PPV); Saul Alvarez - Josesito Lopez (Sho)
• 10/20: Nonito Donaire - TBA (HBO); Danny Garcia – Erik Morales II (Sho)
And that’s just the beginning. As dates fill up, look for more conflicts in the fall. The announcement at BoxingScene.com that Adrien Broner would be making his next date on Showtime leaves open the possibility for October 6 to become a date to watch for sure.
Boxing fans, easily frustrated by their favorite sport already being limited too often to late Saturday night fare, will decry the choice being forced on them. In a sport clinging to its niche in the mainstream sporting consciousness, a sound argument can be made about this being a lot of foolishness. Fighters need to be seen.
These choices mean some inevitably will be seen less than others.
Is there another argument to be made, an argument that this counterprogramming can be a good thing?
Competition can be healthy.
In the 1980s, Don King and Bob Arum went to war and fans were rewarded. While Arum promoted the bulk of the Fab Four battles, King still managed to snare Tommy Hearns-Wilfred Benitez and Benitez-Roberto Duran. For the former, fans were treated to Wilfredo Gomez-Lupe Pintor in support. The two titans pushed each other and, while fans were deprived of some key matches, they got more than their share.
In the early 1990s, Don King took his ball and went across the street to Showtime as his feuding became more focused on HBO. Under pressure to produce, fans got some of the best fight cards of all time. Mike Tyson-Razor Ruddock I was supported by Simon Brown-Maurice Blocker; the rematch supported by Jeff Fenech-Azumah Nelson I. The trend continued for years, even with Tyson in prison, Julio Cesar Chavez leading numerous memorable bills.
HBO floundered in spots, left without Tyson and presenting occasionally turgid offerings like Terry Norris-Brett Lally and George Foreman-Jimmy Ellis while superior fare was reduced to their TVKO experiment in monthly pay shows. The best stuff, fights like Michael Moorer-Bert Cooper, Ray Mercer-Tommy Morrison, and James Toney’s battles with Michael Nunn and Mike McCallum, all found limited audience and are too often forgotten today for their quality.
HBO dug in and got better. The Holyfield-Bowe series, the reign of Pernell Whitaker, the rise of Roy Jones, and the birth of Boxing After Dark played against King’s shows and additional offerings from Britain like Nigel Benn-Chris Eubank II and Benn-Gerald McClellan. It was a hell of a time to be a boxing fan.
Of course, counter-programming was kept to a minimum then. Competition was more general than direct. There were rare flares. Holyfield-Bowe III was slotted to go up against a free Fox Network showing of Tyson-Buster Mathis Jr. in 1995. A Tyson injury, and allegedly flagging ticket sales against the superior match, scuttled the showdown.
It was still on the table.
Where competition stinks is when both sides try to hold serve. On the dates already in play, it appears one network has a superior main event to the other or neither is really trying. In September, it is HBO with the more can’t miss fights, though the Alvarez/Chavez showdown could favor “Canelo” since it doesn’t cost an extra 50 or so bucks.
The October showdown is a night where both shows can go to DVR and not feel too missed. It is anticipated Donaire will face off with Jorge Arce in a gross mismatch, a cynical and likely successful ploy to boost Donaire’s stock with a highlight reel beating. Garcia-Morales II is two times too many.
If the major networks, and promoters, are going to do this then they need to bring it for real. Sure, there are some gems being made for undercards, but that’s not the same as main events. An old adage in boxing is ‘without a main event, there is no event.’
If fans have to make choices, make those choices hurt a little and boxing could be the better for it. Dare to go for real daggers. For instance, Martinez-Chavez is clearly a better match than Alvarez-Lopez, making the latter nothing more than a stab at proceeds.
That’s death by a thousand cuts instead of real heavy blows. Bring the big guns and fans have to sit around all week strongly weighing what to watch. Often, they will find a way to pick both. For a model, look no further than professional wrestling.
During its last boom period, in the late 1990s, both WWF (now WWE) and WCW provided fans a ‘Monday Night War’ with their two biggest shows, Raw and Nitro, head to head weekly. Before WCW fell apart under a terrible business approach that concentrated too much power in the hands of aging contract players, the wrestling industry set cable television ratings and gate revenue records.
They played a game of one up on one another and fans were rewarded, at least for a time. If this war of promoters and networks in boxing is to go full flame, they have to do the same or they only hurt each other. They have to decide they want to beat the other guy more than hurt them.
Fans have to demand quality for their dilemma.
There have to be real choices for this to be worth it.
The Weekly Ledger
But wait, there’s more…
Mendez Moves on a Mando: https://www.boxingscene.com/argenis-mendez-now-fully-focused-on-salgado-rematch--55253
Broner Needs a Step Up: https://www.boxingscene.com/-unaccomplished-mr-broner-review-ratings-update--55321
Ratings Update: https://www.boxingscene.com/forums/view.php?pg=boxing-ratings
Picks of the Week: https://www.boxingscene.com/boxingscenecoms-television-picks-week--55319
Cliff’s Notes… 50 Cent versus Oscar De La Hoya is funny but time will tell if it results in fights anyone cares about…Where is Anselmo Moreno? Why sign one of the best fighters on the planet and not let him spread his wings? More Chemito please…If Sakio Bika gets the Carl Froch date, thing about what that says for Froch. His softest touch in years would still be a tough out. More Froch please too…Having seen Dark Knight Rises twice, it’s safe to say three times on IMAX is a given. When the Bat plane shakes the theatre, life is good. When Anne Hathaway is playing Catwoman, perfection is achieved. She blows Julie Newmar and Michelle Pfeifer into the litter box and sets the new bar.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene and a member of the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]