By Jake Donovan
You have to give Floyd Mayweather, Jr. credit. Most in the industry predicted that Robert Guerrero would land the May 4 assignment against boxing’s current biggest box office star.
The predictability factor was thrown for a curve with a random tweet from Mayweather Jr. earlier in the month insisting Devon Alexander was in the mix. The announcement of the fight with Guerrero itself finally came on Tuesday – buried deep as a subplot of what instead became boxing’s latest hot topic – a defection to Showtime for his next six fights or 30 months, after having spent his entire career on HBO.
For the second time in the past three calendar years, Showtime managed to steal from HBO the leading box office attraction. The other occasion turned out to be for just one fight - Manny Pacquiao’s ho-hum decision win over Shane Mosley in May 2011. However, it was just enough to change the power structure at HBO, which in effect caused a shakeup at Showtime as well.
There’s no telling what will come of this particular move. With both networks still barely a year into new leadership, another changing of the guard is highly unlikely.
What we can only hope to happen is for both networks to move on and begin shaping up their schedule for the near future.
For Showtime, this would mean adding some steak to its current sizzle, since their schedule to date has been purely fizzle.
Saturday night marks the network’s third of four consecutive cards that has endured a major hit in its main event. Cornelius Bundrage faces Ishe Smith in a 154 lb. title fight. The bout was originally meant as a chief support to a welterweight title clash between Devon Alexander and Kell Brook, which has twice been postponed due to injury.
The bout is responsible for two of the four scheduled Showtime main events promised to viewers to never materialize. Its original date of January 26 was instead headlined by a mismatch of a 140 lb. fight between Lucas Matthysse and Mike Dallas.
Next weekend, the network will attempt to pass off a lightweight fight between Richard Abril and Sharif Bogare as a worthwhile SCB main event. Lost in the shuffle is the canceled February 9 card, when Danny Garcia withdrew due to a rib injury, with his 140 lb. title defense against Zab Judah now scheduled for April 27.
The significance of the rescheduled date is that it now serves as a televised lead-in to the network’s big pay-per-view event the following week. There was initial concern about Golden Boy promoting a show “across the street” a week before a show that was thought to land on HBO PPV. How do you hype up a show on one network while actively promoting a card on the other?
That problem is solved. With Mayweather’s defection to Showtime after nearly 15 years on HBO, there is little standing in the way of bringing its entire stable – as well as that of Mayweather Promotions – over to Showtime.
Mayweather is the straw that stirs the boxing drink and there is no question that the network will bend over backwards to please him. It has already done as much for Golden Boy Promotions from the moment Stephen Espinoza was handed the reins.
It’s hardly unique for a network to put all of its eggs in one basket, especially when the benefiting promoter dangles the sport’s biggest attraction.
The sport was rumored to have been turned on its axis when Mike Tyson and Don King left HBO – the network that made the former heavyweight king hundreds of millions (and vice versa) – in favor of Showtime. Tyson became the network staple both before and after his three-year prison stint. Already the sport’s most identifiable star, he eventually became the highest grossing pay-per-view attraction in boxing history. Add to the mix Julio Cesar Chavez, who became a blockbuster pay-per-view star during Tyson’s incarceration, and Showtime should have been the runaway favorite as the industry leader.
Except that it wasn’t.
HBO still had in its possession at the time the lineal heavyweight champion. Evander Holyfield’s reign began with a knockout of Buster Douglas in a pay-per-view fight whose rights are owned by Showtime, but the heart of his reign – including his losing, regaining and once again losing the crown – all took place on HBO.
So, too, did the careers of his lineal predecessors – Riddick Bowe, Michael Moorer, George Foreman, Shannon Briggs, Lennox Lewis and Hasim Rahman all won and lost the sport’s biggest prize on HBO and its pay-per-view arm while the most popular heavyweight in the world fought on Showtime.
Chavez became a huge star on Showtime. Felix Trinidad and Terry Norris also gained considerably notoriety in supporting capacity on pay-per-view undercards. But it didn’t divert attention away from the slew of pound-for-pound stars performing on HBO, such as Pernell Whitaker, James Toney, Roy Jones and Oscar de la Hoya, among many others.
Several memorable moments were provided by Showtime and its pay-per-view template in the early 1990’s remains the standard to which the industry has since miserably failed to maintain. That was the benefit of having a promoter like Don King providing content, with a deep stable and a need to keep his fighters active.
It also meant putting up with the garbage shows offered on its Showtime Championship Boxing series.
Not unlike what we are experiencing today.
The staff at Boxingscene.com named Showtime as its choice for Network of the Year, a decision that was met with raised eyebrows by the site’s editors – as well as those at HBO.
Showtime had a terrific 2012 campaign from the perspective of new ideas. Tripleheaders and quadrupleheaders were regularly offered. Lead-in shows on Showtime Extreme showcased undercard bouts that normally go untelevised and whose results are limited to line entries in fight reports.
Golden Boy bringing most of its biggest stars – including Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez and (indirectly) Miguel Cotto, both of whom delivered the network its biggest ratings ever since tracking such statistics – were well-noticed by industry experts, as well as its efforts to bring boxing back to CBS, if only for a night.
But to paraphrase a familiar saying, pouring sprinkles on manure don’t necessarily make it a birthday cake.
Two months into the year, Showtime has yet to offer a worthwhile Saturday night main event. With all due respect to Cornelius Bundrage and Ishe Smith, that status won’t change this weekend. Nor will it change next weekend, not even when Daniel Ponce de Leon was originally scheduled to face Jayson Velez.
The network will try again in late April, when Danny Garcia and Zab Judah are scheduled to square off in their postponed 140 lb. title fight. By then, the network will have gained plenty of exposure in hyping up its May 4 pay-per-view event featuring its latest acquisition.
Barring injuries (or poor ticket sales leading to invented injuries), HBO will have aired five more cards from the time it was announced that it was no longer in the Floyd Mayweather Jr. business. On the night that Garcia and Judah are finally scheduled to meet, Sergio Martinez will face Martin Murray in a bout airing live from Argentina.
Top Rank will have provided three cards prior to that night, including the rematch between Brandon Rios and Mike Alvarado. A successful enough negotiating save in the next day or two will produce an April 13 showdown between Nonito Donaire and Guillermo Rigondeaux in New York City.
Life after May 4 doesn’t look too shabby for HBO, which has secured the rematch between Carl Froch and Mikkel Kessler. The winner will be in line for a rematch with unbeaten super middleweight king Andre Ward, who is already gaining traction in some circles as the best fighter in the world.
For the moment, the May 25 card is being packaged with a Jean Pascal fight against either Chad Dawson or Lucian Bute, depending on which report you believe and who holds the most binding contract.
For the moment, Showtime has the top news item. It’s newsworthy when the network is able to steal away the sport’s biggest star. It was big news when Pacquiao was brought over to the network by Bob Arum two years ago. It’s big news now that Mayweather is on board for the long haul, even if it requires an active imagination to believe he'll actually honor all six fights in his reported record-breaking contract.
In the meantime, HBO will find ways to remain in the news. Life will go on for the self-proclaimed Network of Champions. It did when Mike Tyson left. It did when Pacquiao briefly left. It most likely will now that Mayweather is gone.
What has yet to happen is Showtime – despite at times securing the sport’s biggest star – ever taking the lead.
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